Words by David C. Obenour
Dusk is beginning to set in but the waves are just starting to really pick up. Grabbing your board you get the feeling that something about this run might just be special. Like really special. Squinting through the setting sun, you paddle out as you start to plan out how you could ride The Perfect Wave. Open drafting your way through maneuver and trick cards, The Perfect Wave is a game from Jason Mowery and Chase Williams of pattern building and managed risk as you ride out the day’s last wave.
Off Shelf: How did The Perfect Wave begin and was it always a surfing game? What first clicked about it that excited you about the two coming together?
Jason Mowery: The Perfect Wave was always a surfing game. I had a dream in which I was watching a casino dealer spread playing cards out across the table, then flip them all over by flipping just the first card. I thought that domino-like motion of the cards flipping looked like a wave on ocean!
When I woke up, that got me thinking about a game about surfing. Chase and I had the idea that players would create their own “perfect” wave throughout the game, but simultaneously need to get their surfer far enough out in the water by the end of the game to actually catch, surf, and score points from the very wave they’ve created. We knew we had something very unique when we came up with the mechanism where you can only place cards onto your board in the spaces above and to the right of your surfer token, but at the end of the game, you only score the cards that are above and to the left of your surfer token! This creates a very fun puzzle and an interesting arc to the game.
Chase Williams: The exciting part was finding ways to make it “feel” like you were surfing while you played the game. The most effective element here seemed to be moving your surfer further and further out and then watching the cards turn over as you went back to shore. This just made sense and when you flip the cards over and the art displays the crest of a wave getting smaller and smaller, it just clicks!
OS: Before working on The Perfect Wave, how much did you know about surfing? Did you learn anything about the sport or culture while working on the game?
JM: We really only had basic knowledge about surfing when we started, but we’ve certainly had fun learning more about it as we designed The Perfect Wave.
CW: We did quite a bit of research regarding surfing terms and found ways to create trick cards and goal cards that made logical sense when you read them. Obviously, a lot of these changed through the development cycle, but we learned the terms nonetheless.
OS: Playing the finished game, what about surfing do you feel was best captured by the game?
JM: The goal really wasn’t to create a game that is a detailed simulation of surfing, but rather have the surfing premise mesh simply and seamlessly with the mechanics of the game. Even players who don’t know much about surfing can enjoy The Perfect Wave due to it feeling intuitive and thematic. Throughout the game, you’re planning and creating, and then it leads up to this exciting moment at the end when you get to reveal all of your Wave and Trick cards, and you see your wave travel across your board with tricks being performed on just the right spots of your wave.
OS: Were there any additional mechanics you had tried but just ended up not working out?
JM: As you play The Perfect Wave, you play your cards facedown to your board, but you can secretly look at them at any time. A very early version of the game included a memory element where, once you placed a card facedown, you couldn’t look at it again until final scoring. We were experimenting with the idea that there would be more suspense when you reveal your cards at the end. Did you create a successful wave or did you make a mistake along the way that will cause a wipeout and reduce your final score? Ultimately, we decided that most people don’t love a memory element in games, and that it could potentially cause a player to have a really disappointing end to the game if they did make mistakes. So, the final version of The Perfect Wave is much more positive, breezy, and satisfying.
CW: Yes, the memory element was certainly discussed and kept coming back up for discussion after being shelved. Ultimately, the decision came down to complexity and keeping the game simple enough for the majority of players. Jason constantly considers the players perception when we are designing and ensures the mechanics we choose achieve the dual purpose of being fun and logical.
OS: Did you watch any surf videos while making the game? Are there any that you’d suggest gamers watch to get in the spirit or gain a deeper appreciation of surfing as a sport?
JM: I wound up watching all of the documentary series 100 Foot Wave. I was completely enamored with it. My eyes were seeing the footage of these incredible athletes riding these monstrous waves but my brain almost couldn’t process it and believe it was real. Absolutely amazing! I highly recommend it.
OS: Is there anything significant about the components of the game? The surf boards, names of cards, the surf wax tokens, the surfers illustrated in the tokens? Small easter eggs that players less familiar with surfing may not have picked up on?
JM: Until I watched 100 Foot Wave, I had no idea the biggest waves in the world are in Nazare, Portugal. Each Goal card in The Perfect Wave references a famous surfing location around the world. The Goal card that rewards you for having the highest sum of Wave card numbers – the biggest wave – is of course titled Nazare!
Since you play your cards facedown on and above your board, we really wanted the card backs to be as beautiful as the card faces. The card backs have birds, clouds, etc. on them, so as you place your cards throughout the game, you wind up creating a very beautiful panorama.
Each wave card has a number on it that represents the wave’s size at that given moment, and the wave’s image on each card is in proportion with its number. The 12 has a massive wave on it while the 1 has a tiny one. This just adds to the intuitive nature of the game. Numerically, your wave has to stay the same size or get smaller as it comes in toward the beach. So at the end of the game, it’s fun to reveal your wave cards in descending order and almost “animate” your wave.
Each Trick card is named after a real surfing trick, and the requirement on some of them have a fun nod to the actual maneuver. For example, the Trick card that scores you 20 points if placed above the rightmost card in your wave (the beginning of your wave) is appropriately titled Drop In!
CW: In addition to what Jason mentioned, I really appreciate elements like the dock where cards literally “wash away” as the game progresses. I always enjoy when games combine theme and mechanics.
OS: Knowing that nothing lasts forever, I also really appreciated the biodegradable tray for the game. Were involved in any of those decisions or were the component conversations largely happening over at The Op?
JM: That was not our idea, but we were certainly thrilled when The Op decided to make the insert and print the rulebook using recycled materials. It’s just one more thing that makes Chase and I really proud of the overall presentation of The Perfect Wave! Since this is essentially a game about being in sync with nature, this was a very smart move by The Op team!
CW: Agreed. The Op Team did an amazing job with the entire production.
OS: The Perfect Wave has a really unique art style, I was wondering if you could talk about some of its inspiration and what you enjoyed about what illustrator Patrick Spaziante was able to capture?
JM: My original prototype artwork had a very cartoony style to it. Patrick and The Op team really elevated the entire look and feel of The Perfect Wave by taking a soulful vintage approach instead, almost like old postcards from tropical locations. Even the rulebook looks like an old competition pamphlet from the 50s or 60s with its crease marks added right into the actual graphic design… a nice touch by The Op team! The Wave cards are the heart of the game, and Patrick just made that water look so beautiful and inviting. Also, players start the game with two tokens that let them do special things as they play. I originally called them Tide tokens, but The Op had the cool idea of turning them into Surf Wax tokens. Perfect!
CW: Working through art design with Jason is always a fun process. Jason is an artist and while he doesn’t claim to be a graphic designer, he certainly excels in this area. When we first got started, I had a very specific idea in mind and when presented, Jason stated it was “the exact thing he didn’t want”. [laughs] Once he pitched his idea of the 50’s and 60’s postcard and the blue and orange color scheme, I was all in as made much better since for the overall “feel” of the game. The Perfect Wave is a clean and simple game that deserves a clean and simple art style.
OS: Working together on The Big $core, this is the second game you worked on. What were you excited to revisit and what were you excited to change up for The Perfect Wave?
JM: The Big $core and The Perfect Wave are very different games. Other than trying to keep things intuitive and streamlined, Chase and I don’t really have a specific design style that we stick to. We’re always looking for that next unique and fun idea, and we just let the design go where it needs to go in order to get the most out of that idea.
CW: The Big $core is a much “larger” game in terms of components, mechanics and length. What we settled on quickly was ticking all the boxes for an easily accessible game that seemed familiar to people that dont play a lot of hobby games but gives them a taste of what that world of games is like without jumping too deep into the pool.