Mystic Market: Interview with Game Designer Ken Gruhl

Mystic Market
“Mystic Market” is a new game produced by Think Fun that is delightfully imaginative, beautifully designed, and absolutely addictive to play

“Mystic Market” is a new game produced by Think Fun that is delightfully imaginative, beautifully designed, and absolutely addictive to play, the game creates a world that will surely captivate and delight any fan of Fantasy.

“Mystic Market” is a card game that places players in the role of merchants in a fantasy-world marketplace. You must buy and sell magic potion ingredients and adjust them based on the shifting “value track” which is altered by various events. In the end, the shrewdest players will collect the most coins and subsequently win the game.

What sets “Mystic Market” apart from other games is how much thought, detail, and vivid imagination was put into each and every aspect. For instance, the items for sale at the market include dragon scales, Phoenix feathers, orc teeth, kraken tentacles, mermaid tears, and pixie dust. Anyone who is a follower of fantasy will appreciate the mention of mythical beings and their associated accessories, yet the “Supply Shift” cards tell deeper stories. Pixie dust costs can skyrocket in rainy seasons since rain is pixies Kryptonite. Mermaid tears can be lost at sea, krakens burrow deep into the ocean floors making their tentacles hard to get to, orcs will fight fiercely for their teeth, phoenixes migrate to restart their life cycles, and a disease known as “dragon rot” can destroy scales. This information is enough to kickstart an entire fantasy world, with intricate societies woven throughout it, that is befitting of a novel. It is this cleverly-worded attention to detail that makes this game so truly captivating.

Game designer Ken Gruhl is the mastermind behind “Mystic Market” and he recently discussed the game via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in games and how did you enter the toy industry?

Ken Gruhl (KG): I’ve had a love of playing games for as long as I can remember. Growing up, playing games was a staple of family evenings. Although board games lost out to sports and other hobbies in middle school, my love for them was reinvigorated in high school when I was introduced to “Settlers of Catan.” That game got me hooked instantly. I took a crack at designing my first game in college, which was laughably bad, and never looked back. I volunteered to work a booth for a publisher at New York Toy Fair, ten years ago, and slowly started meeting more publishers and building up connections. I’ve been fortunate enough to have several games published, and have been able to pursue game design full time for over two years now.

Mystic Market
“Mystic Market” is a fantasy-themed game based on the principles of supply and demand.

MM: How did you come up with the concept for “Mystic Market” and how long did it take to design?

KG: In my design process, I come up with tons of ideas, then only test the ones that excite me. I usually pick the ones that excite me based on if I think there will be a selling feature to the game, or something cool about it. For “Mystic Market,” I had an idea about a simple stock manipulation game, which used gravity to adjust the market. The mechanism would be fun, simple, and functional. Once I had the mechanism built, I played around with the game mechanics for a while, so I’d say it took about three months in total.

MM: How different was the prototype from the final version?

KG: Very! For one, it was called “Milk Market,” about buying and selling various milk types, like goat milk and unicorn milk. I made the ramp in the game out of wood, and used wooden barrels. I also didn’t have potion cards in the game. All of these things were changed by the fantastic development team at ThinkFun. On top of the new theme, they added some great art, tweaked the gameplay and added the potion cards, and switched the barrels out for clear bottles filled with glitter… I mean Pixie Dust.

Mystic Market
“Mystic Market” is a beautifully designed game that is fun for all ages.

MM: One of the most eye-catching things about this game are those little potion bottles filled with sparkly glitter. How did you get inspired to include those pieces?

KG: I wish I could take the credit, but that was a great insight and development by the ThinkFun team. It’s a good thing they didn’t keep with the milk theme, as I can only imagine the smell of spoiled unicorn milk in those bottles.

MM: This game is so incredibly imaginative; how long did it take you to think up all the marketplace products and the causes for the value shifts?

KG: Ahhh, this interview is making it look like I did none of the work. ThinkFun came up with this fun fantasy setting, and they also added in the value shift cards and storyline. It’s one of the fun aspects of being a game designer. Sometimes the publisher will not touch the product at all (for better or for worse), and sometimes they pour a lot of time into development to make sure the product is perfect (for better or for worse).

MM: Given what an immersive world you’ve created with just a few cards, are you a big fan of the fantasy genre and might you ever consider writing a novel set in the “Mystic Marketplace” realm?

KG: I do love the fantasy genre, and a lot of the entertainment I consume is based in it. As your readers may gather from this interview, my writing is not stellar, so I’ll leave writing the Mystic Market novel to someone more capable. Any takers? #ghostwritemysticmarket?

MM: How did you find Think Fun?

KG: ThinkFun has been on my radar since I started designing games. Their products have great aesthetic appeal, and I love the idea of games being educational, while actually being fun. I have been pitching games to them for around eight years now, but it wasn’t until more recently when what I was designing fit their high standards.

Mystic Market
Ken Gruhl is the game designer behind “Mystic Market.”

MM: What’s your favorite thing about being a professional game designer and seeing your inventions in stores?

KG: I get a kick out of hearing stories from people who play my games, and how it created something memorable for them. It’s still wild for me to think that I created something that someone else is playing and enjoying. I’m extremely lucky to have found a passion, and then actually be able to pursue it full time.

MM: What is some of the most memorable fan feedback you’ve gotten?

KG: Another game I co-designed called “Happy Salmon” has produced a ton of interesting and hilarious stories. I’ve heard about 120 people all playing in a single game of it. It’s a loud game, so I can only imagine the decibel level. I’ve also seen some peoples “battle wounds” of running into things while recklessly playing “Happy Salmon.” I have heard of some heated feuds during “Mystic Market” games, but I’m guessing there won’t be any “battle wound” stories unless people are playing it wrong.

MM: Can you give us any clues about other games you’re currently working on?

KG: I’m a big fan of the puzzles that ThinkFun makes. I’ll just say that I have been taking a few attempts at those. My wife is great at puzzles, so I pick her brain as often as she’ll let me. We also just had a baby, so I’m looking forward to coming up with children’s games. Turns out 7-month olds aren’t great game playtesters yet!

MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

KG: I want to keep designing, and keep learning. There is so much to game design that I know I’ll never master it, but I’m going to try.


“Mystic Market retails for $20. To learn more, see here.