Mole Rats in Space Q&A with Matt Leacock and Margaret Garrou

Mole Rats in Space
Designer: Matt Leacock
Publisher: Peaceable Kingdom
Year: 2017
MSRP: $19.99
Players: 2-4
Play Time: 20 min
Ages: 7+
Rules Available Online: Yes
BGG: Mole Rats in Space

I recently had a chance to review Peaceable Kingdom’s new game, Mole Rats in Space. The game was designed by Matt Leacock and is a bit of a departure from Peaceable’s usual fare. Matt Leacock and Margaret Garrou from Peaceable Kingdom were kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding the game. Before we get into things I just want to say thanks to Matt and Margaret for taking the time to answer my questions!

Margaret Garrou

Games Product Development Manager, Peaceable Kingdom
Margaret Garrou

How did the relationship with Matt come about?

Peaceable Kingdom has been a fan of Matt Leacock’s games Forbidden Island and Pandemic for years. As a company that produces cooperative games, we were extremely keen to work with Matt, the inventor of two of the most popular cooperative games of all time. We were introduced to Matt by Susan McKinley Ross, the inventor of Qwirkle and the Peaceable Kingdom game, Hoot Owl Hoot. After a few years of bouncing ideas off of Matt, one finally stuck. Peaceable Kingdom is thrilled to be publishing Matt Leacock’s first cooperative game for kids!

What was the process of developing/publishing Mole Rats in Space like?

Peaceable Kingdom pitched Matt the idea of a cooperative version of Snakes and Ladders, the ancient Indian game, but on a round-style board where players are trying to reach the center. Matt was intrigued by the idea and came back to us only a few days later with the concept of Snakes and Mole Rats. It instantly made sense to us because mole rats are cooperative animals and snakes are mole rats’ only predator.

Once we agreed on this concept, Matt quickly fleshed out the game further and began a months-long process of play testing it with friends, family, and strangers at conventions. He kept detailed notes about his findings from play testing and the tweaks he made to the game based on that. Matt’s developmental process was very thorough and collaborative. Working with Matt was a pleasure and a highlight of our year!

Was Matt involved in any/all changes from initial design to final publishing of the game?

*The initial game had the mole rats running around an underground burrow with snakes popping in and out of it. We decided it would be fun to anthropomorphize our mole rat characters by putting them up in space. They are tough little creatures who are used to the dark and live and work cooperatively—who better to send up into space! *

Matt was involved in the game design every step of the way. The final board, cards, and paper components are reflective of the designs that Matt sent us. At the last stage of the design process, Matt play-tested the final version of the game to help us put the finishing touches on the package design, components, and rules.

Might we see more games from more well-known designers in the future?

Hope so! ☺ Peaceable Kingdom currently carries games designed by Peggy Brown, Susan McKinley Ross, Joyce Johnson, and Department of Recreation (to name a few). They are all designers who have successful games in the marketplace.

The game is a bit harder to win than standard Peaceable Kingdom fair. Was this a concern at all during development?

Peaceable Kingdom was looking to reach a slightly older game player than most of our current games, which range from ages 2-6 years. Mole Rats in Space seemed to have the right amount of complexity to keep gamer kids engaged and because it’s a cooperative game, appeal to non-gamer kids who can help each other if the game feels difficult. The rules are definitely longer and more complex than Peaceable Kingdom’s other games, but we feel confident that families who enjoy our cooperative games will love the challenge!

Matt Leacock

Game Designer
Matt Leacock

Where did the idea for Mole Rats in Space come from?

Peaceable Kingdom approached me, wondering if I could design an entirely new cooperative game for them using snakes and ladders as a starting point. The idea sounded like a fun challenge. Earlier, they’d given me a blank slate to design on and I’d struggled for well over a year to come up with any ideas at all. It’s amazing how powerful constraints are to the creative process. While exploring the idea, I thought it might be fun for the players to be lemurs or naked mole rats. Lemurs attracted me because they’re adorable. Naked mole rats also sounded goofy and interesting, but I didn’t know much about them at the time. I learned that naked mole rats are eusocial animals – they live in a colony like ants – they are incredibly cooperative, and they made a perfect fit for the game.

What was it like designed a game for a much younger audience in mind?

I didn’t adjust my process much at all, except to be sure that I tested with younger people. I brought the game to the neighborhood after school group that did a lot of testing for me and also mailed sets out to friends and colleagues with younger kids for blind testing. As for the design, I tried to ensure that the decisions were interesting and meaningful, but that the decision space wasn’t extremely large given the (short) target playtime. I settled on a structure where the cards are easy to execute – you either move left or right on most turns – but the implications aren’t always straightforward. It pays to look ahead and communicate with your teammates about their plans so you can coordinate moves.

Was the game a design you had shopped around, or was it created specifically for Peaceable Kingdom and their audience.

I designed it specifically for Peaceable Kingdom and their audience.

Was the theme the same from the start? If not, what was the original theme or did it just come about after mechanics were in place?

I settled on mole rats fairly quickly, but initially had them fleeing their underground burrow from the invading snakes. Peaceable Kingdom wondered if it might be better if the game were set IN SPACE. The idea struck me as odd initially, but I quickly saw how the space setting could open up some really fun possibilities. You could blow snakes out the air vents! And the story seemed both sillier and more full of tension. Ultimately, the game turned out a bit like a rated G version of Aliens with everyone fleeing the ship before time runs out.

It was only after we decided on the theme, that we learned that mole rats make the perfect astronauts since they can survive with very little oxygen, never get cancer, don’t feel pain, lead extraordinarily long lives, and live together in a colony.

The game is a bit harder to win than standard Peaceable Kingdom fair. Was this a concern at all during development?

No, the game is very finely balanced with that difficulty very much in mind. I worked closely with Peaceable Kingdom on the balance: it was important that the game gave a good challenge to the kids and families to keep them coming back for more. We logged and played well over a hundred games in near-final form in order to tune it. I was amazed at how the addition or removal of 2 or 3 cards could make such a large difference to the overall difficulty.

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