Interview: Mike Strickland



Today, we “sit down” with Mike Strickland, the junior half in the father-son team that has created, TAU CETI: Planetary Crisis.  The title is currently on Kickstarter and navigating right along towards its funding goal.  TAU CETI is an epic 4X space game in which you utilize a unique alien race’s ability to gain power and influence within an intergalactic alliance.  In the vein of Merchants and Marauders and Xia: Legends of a Drift System, if you like sandbox style adventure games with many paths to gameplay, you’ll likely want to check this one out!


First off, Mike, describe TAU CETI: Planetary Crisis in one sentence.
TAU CETI: Planetary Crisis is 4X game for 1-5 players where you are an operative for an alien race competing for power in a newly formed alliance, all while dealing with ever increasing planetary crises which affect various resources in the game and make things more challenging as time goes on.

Of course, space is immeasurably vast, so I don’t want to restrict you. In that case, give us the design’s elevator pitch.
There are numerous ways to earn power in the game, and you can form many different hidden agendas, allowing for multiple paths to victory.  Each character and/or alien race has many different advantages and disadvantages, so variable player powers are heavily emphasized.  Also, the hex system is modular, so each game is different, giving it a high re-play value.

Tell us, why TAU CETI? Where did the idea for your game come from and how did it all begin?
We (my dad Stan and I both are the designers) were originally inspired by Ben Bova. His legendary vision of the future, and his novels about space exploration are fascinating to us.  We are fortunate to know him personally, and our conversations with him about space eventually led us to develop this game. Of course, we have always been fascinated with space and are big science fiction fans.  So it was inevitable we were going to create a sci-fi game.  We chose to center the game in our neighboring star system, Tau Ceti, as it was a somewhat familiar name, yet wasn’t overused like Alpha Centauri.

TC gameplay

Is the universe of TAU CETI based on anything in particular? Or have other literary/cinematic worlds influenced the make and style of your own?
From early on, we wrote a short story which we would base the game on, as we didn’t want to create just a game with some mechanics.  We wanted it to mean something.  As the story goes, a strange signal enveloped the galaxy for a millennium, sort of subliminally leading various alien races to one star system – Tau Ceti.  Upon their arrival in the strange new world, they began to form a new alliance, known as the Tau Ceti Authority, in an effort to maximize comparative advantages and trade among the cultures and civilizations, and ultimately promote economic prosperity, peace, and solidarity.  Shortly after the formation of the new alliance, mysterious crises have begun to ravage planets within the system, causing panic and hostility, and a need for swift resolve.  As players enter the world of TAU CETI, they will be forced to make challenging decisions. Will you go after money, exploit resources and manipulate the system to your own advantage?  Or will you focus on gaining knowledge and promoting peace and morality?  Ultimately, these are questions we face today in the world we live in, so we wanted to apply these principles to TAU CETI.

Can you give us a quick breakdown or general sense of a player’s turn?  What kinds of actions can one perform and what mechanics drive game play?
All players start each round by participating in the Enlightenment phase, where each player is dealt two cards – one Crisis and one Specialist. Each player proceeds to play one card by placing it in the Active deck. The Active deck is revealed and crises are either initiated or prevented, depending on which cards are played. Certain Specialists can prevent crises, so a crisis may not always be initiated.  But when one is, a certain resource in the game will be affected, which may impact some players and not others.  There are many reasons as to why certain players will want to play one particular card over another, and players do not know who played which card.  So there is a lot of decision making, strategy and speculation during this phase, which runs very quickly.

The Action phase follows with each player taking one action at a time until all players’ actions have been used. So things move quickly, and there is not a lot of downtime in this phase. Each player starts off with four actions per round, but may lose up to one action or gain an additional two throughout the game.  There are ten different types of actions you may take, and there is no restriction on taking the same action more than once.  So you have a lot of freedom of choice in this phase, giving it a sandbox feel. Most of the actions are centered around exploration, special interplanetary missions, production of resources, upgrading your starship, buying and selling commodities and expanding your influence.  Management of resources is also essential in this phase, so you must monitor your energy and money carefully as it continues to fluctuate. Additionally, production costs and commodity prices continue to rise throughout the game as they become affected by crises, so things become more challenging as the game progresses.

With all that explanation, I may know the answer to this question already!  Did you create TAU CETI with a particular audience in mind or geared toward a certain style of gamer?  Who do you think it will appeal to most?
When we designed TAU CETI, we were aiming more toward those who enjoy moderate to heavy euro and strategy games. Those who like games like Eclipse, Merchants & Marauders and Merchants of Venus will enjoy this game.  It’s got a heavy emphasis on economics, exploration and battle.  We really tried to take all of our favorite mechanics from games we love, and mesh them all together to create a unique 4X adventure.

Okay, I gotta know then, do any of the crises involve space pirates?
That is a great question, who doesn’t love space pirates?!  Actually, all of the crises are based on events like viruses, nuclear meltdowns, magnetic storms, volcanic eruptions, atmospheric anomalies, asteroids, etc.  However, the NPC (which is an expansion included with the Special Edition) introduces a rogue living starship, which is sort of a pirate in a sense, because it tries to take over your sector influence and steal your knowledge!  It really adds an exciting element to the game, and will keep players on edge. There are also ways to manipulate it toward affecting another player.

The tiles in the game look very interesting.  There appear to be a few different shapes and configurations.  What was the inspiration behind that design feature and what do think it adds to TAU CETI?
Yes, the tiles are unique.  The standard hex tiles have been used so much that we wanted the game to have a different look. Josh Willhite, a user on BoardGameGeek, actually recommended the larger jagged looking hex shape to us, and we decided to go with it. We also added a smaller version of it, as well as some even smaller hex tiles to fill in empty spaces, which are referred to as “dark matter” in the game.  The unique thing is, when two or more dark matter tiles are touching, they become one sector.  So depending on how the hex system is set up, which is completely modular, you can create some interesting sector formations which allow you to quickly jump across portions of the star system. Ultimately, the hex system can be set up in endless combinations each time you play, adding a high replay value.

TC ship mini

The miniatures are very impressive!  Who designed those and who is making them?
Thank you!  We wanted the miniatures to be special from the beginning, and had them designed specifically around each alien race’s level of technological advancement, strengths and weaknesses and their planetary environment. Mechanoid created most of the star ship designs, and Charles Oines designed the NPC starship, as well as one other one that will be revealed in a stretch goal. They both did an awesome job conceptualizing the starships, and really captured the essence of the game and alien races.  We will be using to create the masters for each model, as they are able to achieve a very high level of detail, which we will then send to our manufacturer to create the molds.  These will be plastic injected in solid colors as seen in the prototype.

Which is your favorite alien player race and why?
I sort of favor Dr. Krenji the Xunon with green skin who pilots the flying saucer!  He’s got an intelligent persona, and likes to sit back and excel in science and exploration while all the other aliens are busy stabbing each other in the back and fighting over petty resources!  Plus he had to struggle to get to where he is, but his persistence and hard work eventually earned him a seat in the alliance.  Now he’s trying to save an entire star system from total destruction.  I think we can all relate to his story in a way.

Given that games evolve dramatically through the design process, what’s one mechanic or element that you had to drop because it just didn’t work?
Another great question. From the very beginning (way back in 2013 when we started designing the game), it was primarily pick-up and deliver.  In fact, the whole crisis concept (which the game is centered around) was based on a pick-up and deliver mechanic.  Not that that’s bad, but it just wasn’t “fun,” and it was too simple.  Ultimately, we needed the game to be fun and challenging at the same time, so we had to scratch the pick-up and deliver mechanic and redesign that part. Upon this transformation, we decided that in order for the game to fit in with the epic vision we had for it, we were going to have to add a lot more interesting mechanics.  Not only that, we needed to mesh them all together in a way that made sense, and felt connected. So the whole crisis idea turned into a bit of hand management involving cards, and all the other aspects of the game started taking a different direction as well.  We really wanted to have a bit of something for everyone, so there are variety of mechanics in place now.  After a year of solid play testing, we are very happy with how it has turned out.

Can you give us anymore teasers about possible stretch goals in the forecast?
We have been planning the stretch goals for a while, and tried to include a nice variety of things from component upgrades and new exotic technologies, to new alien races and starship miniatures. While we really want to unlock component upgrades such as thicker player pieces and even special upgraded translucent “space” dice, we are most excited about the new alien races that are forthcoming. We have two planned and ready to roll out, which will each include a unique player board with special abilities and their own color of player cubes, a new planet and hex tile, and a new starship miniature. The first alien race we unlock will add a 6th player option to the game, so we are anxiously waiting to unlock these!

What was the best part about working with your dad on this project? And seeing as how we just celebrated Father’s Day, what else do you and your dad like to do?
My dad and I have always been close, and I’m very fortunate for that.  We also have the same interests, both sharing an affinity for space, science fiction, and board games. So it has given us time to work together on something we’re both passionate about.  We bounce ideas off of each other a lot as we share the same office space, and so the process has been very enjoyable and rewarding.  When we’re not working on the game, we enjoy spending time with our family, which also includes our 3 wonderful Shelties. You might occasionally hear them in the background while we’re recording our game play videos!  Our favorite pastime is going out for hot wings and beer while discussing our new game ideas, but of course, who doesn’t love that?

Thanks, Mike, for spending a little time with iSlaytheDragon.  I know your game will be right in the wheelhouse of our site’s founder, Wolfie!  Now all that said, I’ve saved the most important question for last: If an alien race came to earth tomorrow, what board game would you insist on playing with them and why?
I like the way you think!  I was first going to say XCOM, but I’m a peacekeeper, so I’m going to go with Merchant of Venus. We could teach the aliens about peaceful trade, they could give us some of their exotic technologies and maybe we could develop the next galactic empire together!


Well, it sounds like there may be hope for the universe, after all!  If you think TAU CETI: Planetary Crisis is in the stars for you and your gaming group, warp over now to the campaign page.  The project is nearly a third of the way funded and will run until July 21, 2015.  If you’d like to join in forging the direction of a brave new star system, you can do so for a pledge of $59 which includes all stretch goals the game earns, as well as shipping within the U.S., Canada, U.K, and Germany.  And did I mention it has cool minis, too!


This article was a paid promotion.

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. Man, this does sound like a game I would get into. BRING IT ON BABY.

    Incidentally I recently made a short film set in Tau Ceti… about a major planetary crisis. Coincidence? Almost definitely. Should they name a planet after it? Also almost definitely.

  2. Yes, I think there most definitely should be a planet named Grey Haven! We must have telepathically picked up the idea behind this video, because it’s right on par with our game! So cool!

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