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Gladius live on Kickstarter

1. Tell our readers who you are.

Hi Everyone! I’m Victoria Caña, a producer for Wizards of the Coast by day, and an award-winning indie game designer by night. Before I got into the games industry, I did work in a bunch of different fields: management consulting, marketing, ad tech, consumer insights, fashion PR, creative writing. Over time, my dreams changed, but I’m thankful I went on this exploratory journey to find my true passion: making awesome games that empower marginalized creators and players. 

2. What was the first board game you remember playing?

It was Slamwich, an educational dexterity game about making sandwiches (essentially Slapjack for kids). Another early board game I played was Diploma Dogs, which the box describes as “The game that makes learning fun!”. I think it achieved that goal for sure. You play as one of six tiny stuffed dogs with backpacks (Geography Dog, History Dog, Math Dog, Language Dog, Health Dog, or Science Dog). And, get this: when you answer trivia questions correctly you get to fill your dog’s backpack with bones and biscuits. How adorable! I loved playing Diploma Dogs with my sister growing up and I highly recommend it for families with young children. 

3. What are your favorite board games right now and why? 

My current favorite games are Kolejka (a game about fighting to get the items on your shopping list in Communist Poland), Rising Sun (an an area control strategy game set in feudal Japan), Rococo (a euro game where you play a dressmaker running a ball), Yokohama (a game about building a successful business in Meiji period Japan), and Just One (the fun-for-all Spiel de Jahres-winning party game). I enjoy many types of games and am generally down to play anything, but games with good reviews and interesting themes appeal to me the most.  

4. Tell us about Gladius.

Gladius is an award-winning board game of spectacle and sabotage for 2-5 players. You play as cunning Roman spectators trying to make the most money by betting on and rigging the gladiatorial games. Each round, players secretly place bets on competing gladiator teams. Through the skillful use of underhanded tactics, players can help and hinder teams to alter the outcome of each battle. The player with the most money at the end of three rounds wins! We’ve demoed Gladius hundreds of times at gaming conventions over the past few years, and I’ve noticed that people who like card games, video games, bluffing, and Rome have a very high likelihood of enjoying Gladius. We also attract a lot of people who like our game’s fun, lighthearted art style. 

5. What was your inspiration to create the game?

A lot of different factors came together that led to the creation of Gladius. First, my co-designer Alex and I met veteran game designer Stone Librande at the Tribeca Games Festival. He told us that if we want to be game designers, we should try to make a game out of cards. While thinking about what we should make a game about, we found inspiration from two different games. First, Domina, a video game where you run a school of gladiators. Second, Council of Verona, a betting and bluffing game themed around Romeo and Juliet. We love Roman History and liked the idea of spectating the gladiatorial games as opposed to being a gladiator. We also really enjoyed Council of Verona but wanted something a bit heavier. These different forces led to the creation of what we now know as Gladius! We’ve been working on the game for the past three years now and are excited for it to launch on Kickstarter on February 18. 

6. What are the most challenging issues that you’ve come across in designing a board game?

The most challenging issue when designing a game is picking a direction to push the game in. When we start with a design it can go a million different places depending on so many different factors: what you as the designer want, what newer players want, what seasoned board gamers want, what publishers want, what playtesters want. All these different opinions are in constant conflict with each other and choosing which direction to choose can be daunting. 

7. What aspects of board game designing do you enjoy the most?

I love the blue sky phase when there are no limits and you think of crazy ideas and get excited about how awesome they could be! I also enjoy the playtesting phase because seeing your game in the hands of players helps you learn about how to improve it. Through playtesting, you get to observe what parts of a game are working and which ones are not. On top of that, you get to connect with people face-to-face and meet new friends and fans. 

8. What were some hurdles you’ve overcome, as a woman, to get to where you are in the industry?

The tabletop industry has come a long way, but it is still so hard to be a woman designer let alone a player. People still give me weird, skeptical looks like I’m in the wrong place when I go to game stores, events, and conventions. Sometimes people think I’m an “assistant” and only acknowledge my co-creator, who is a man, as a designer when we’re both demoing the game. And worst of all, I’ve had to overcome bullying. My sister and I were bullied by a high-profile game designer who was judging a game design contest we were in a few years ago. He made fun of us and our game in front of a live audience, and he didn’t do that to any of the game designers who were men. To top it all off, right after the judging panel ended, half of the audience came up to us one by one to apologize for the judge’s behavior. That’s how we knew it was really bad – it was so bad that complete strangers in the audience felt compelled to apologize to us for bad behavior they witnessed.

9. What has been the proudest moment of your career?

In addition to making a great game, one of the goals for Gladius was to help my co-creator Alex get into the games industry. In a surprise turn of events, Gladius ended up helping me get a job in the games industry. I was a management consultant at Deloitte before I became a producer at Wizards of the Coast, and honestly, it was a great transition because I spent all my free time designing and playing games anyway. I had just never thought that I could be in the industry because of the imposter syndrome I feel as a woman of color. I’m so proud and happy to be here because now I can show other women of color that they can make games too! 

10. Do you have any other board games in development or currently available that you would like to share with our readers?

My co-designer Alex and I have a few other prototypes that we put on hold to work on Gladius: Red Cliffs (a wallet game where you play a strategist during the pivotal battle of China’s Warring States Period), Hot Takes (a party game/liar’s dice hybrid about dishing out hot takes and guessing your friends’ stances on them), and Dim Sum Rush (a game about eating the tastiest and cutest dim sum).

Kickstarter Guide: Concept – The perils of picking a game

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This series of blogs will set out to give first time, small scale tabletop games designers practical advice on how to take your game from initial idea to fulfilling a Kickstarter. It’ll focus on Kickstarter for two reasons, one, it’s the crowd funding site that I have experience with, and two, it’s the main one used by game developers.

So, who am I and why am I talking it you? My name is Jenny and I’m part of a husband and wife team that runs Man O’ Kent Games, set up in 2018. We currently have two successful Kickstarters, SSO and Moonflight, and have two more planned for this year (2020). As such, I’d like to share with you all the things I’ve learnt in hopes that it’ll give you the best head start.

The first thing to consider when developing a game is which idea is the best to start with. Most game designers have lists and lists of ideas; now this may not be true for you, maybe you only have one idea which you’re passionate about. But how to develop that idea and take it to the next level?

Firstly, play as many games as possible of the mechanic you want to develop. This is not only fun (who doesn’t want an excuse to buy boardgames for research?) but will help you problem solve through development, and check to see if your idea has been done already. If you find that it has this is not a barrier to creating it, you might just have to find a new angle.

If you have a mass of ideas, first make 3-5 of them into very basic prototypes, I mean stickers, old bits of card and meeples/counters harvested from other games. We have a box full of bits from old games just for creating prototypes bought from charity and Pound shops. This prototype will sometimes throw up issues or design problem that will make it easy to cull your list down. If you only have the one idea this advice still stands, get it made and written up. This will help you think about it in real game play terms rather than just as an abstract thing.

So, you have a comically shonky prototype, what’s next? Play it! Play it and re-write it and play it and re-write it as much and as often and with as many different people as you possibly can. Playing it as early as possible will let you know immediately if your game idea is fun. This can be a bit soul crushing when you realise it’s not fun but you have to move on. Sometimes it’ll seem fun to begin with and like it really, really, no honestly, really will work but it just won’t. Again, soul destroying especially if you’ve spent half your evening shouting “why won’t you work!” but again you just have to move on.

Assuming that your game is fun and initially working there’s one important thing to consider. Have a nugget which you don’t want to compromise on; your game’s soul. It might be a theme or a mechanic it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, right it down and whenever you have a major re-write or are struggling with the development, check that piece of paper and make sure its still true. The second important thing to consider is that everything else is up for grabs. If it’s a worker placement, for example, then you can’t be precious about the theme, otherwise your neat fun idea will become an unruly mega beast which will be nigh on impossible to make.

Now you have a prototype, what’s next? See my next blog on how to pick a game to Kickstart.

Review: Moonflight (Tabletop Game)

Developer: Man o’ Kent Games
Kickstarter launch: 9/18/2019

What is it?

Moonflight is a tabletop deck building game with an interesting twist. While you spend a good amount of the game building your deck, the winner comes down to the person who can unbuild their deck as well.

Moonflight takes place in a mythical fay land called Moonflight. Moonflight only exists under the waxing of the Hunter’s Moon. Players take on the role of the leaders of Moonflight, a Jack, and must have the most powerful deck by the end of the night.

What did I think?

Moonflight has all the amazing qualities of a deck building game. You gain resources in order to buy playable cards. You try to build the most powerful deck you possibly can. I also really enjoy the twist of unbuilding your deck, which adds an extra layer to strategizing. Not only do you have to build the most powerful deck, but you have to weed out the cards that aren’t useful to you in order to win.

There’s also the concept of “the Turn,” which helps in unbuilding your deck. Each card has 2 sides, the black side and the white side. You start the game by using the black side. Once your marketplace is dried up, “the Turn” happens, flipping each card to the white side and changing their abilities. While the black side has deck building abilities, the white side has deck unbuilding abilities.

Another aspect of this game that I love is the fact that you can play by yourself. Not everyone has the ability to play with friends all the time, but you can still get that itch to play a tabletop game. There are two options for solo play: Score More or AI Mode.

In Score Mode, you attempt to get the highest score you possibly can, which can hone your deck unbuilding skills. In AI Mode, you can choose AI player cards to play against. You take the turns for these AI players based on what the card tells you to do. This gives you a more competitive feel for the game, while still playing by yourself.

The artwork is absolutely stunning. It really gives you the feeling of being in a fay land. Considering I’m obsessed with faeries, I am obviously in love with this artwork. The prototype cards were sturdy and comfortable to hold. They reminded me of my favorite tarot deck, which was extremely pleasing.

The instructions were easy to understand and broken up into manageable parts. They have a section for the more experienced players, but most of the rule book is for non-experienced players. The terms are clearly defined and the rules are laid out in a way that really helps new players to understand the game.

Do I recommend it?

I do! Moonflight is a fun, fantastic, and fascinating deck building/unbuilding game that will keep you entertained. Consider supporting Man o’ Kent’s Kickstarter for this game, it will be live tomorrow, Wednesday, September 18th, 2019.

You can print and play Moonflight now here. You can also play via Tabletop Simulator here.

Indie Spotlight: Island

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Island is survival roleplay game made in retro graphics. You don’t just deal with hunger and thirst, but also with more realistic factors like fear, cold, and condition of your feet. You start the game without any skills at surviving and must learn along with what you see the most fit along the way: Train to become better at fishing when near a beach, learn to identify fruits when in a jungle. The game is meant to push the player under constant pressure until being able to escape the Island.

Island was inspired in its first iteration from classics like Robinson Crusoe and Mysterious Island. This was at first a tabletop roleplay game for one afternoon scenarios. The game was so addictive, and I realized that it was adaptable to video game form.

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The release date for Island in September 2019. It has funded on Kickstarter a few days ago. We will develop it for PC, Switch, 3DS, and possibly PS4 if the stretch goal is met. Before and during the Kickstarter, the public response has been amazing. We received many support & feedback messages. Many are eager to test it, quite a lot of people offered their help for the beta testing phase. It will also be possible to test the during some game festivals.

Kickstarter Preview: Psi Wars

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It is the 37th century. Competing warlords have harnessed the knowledge of creation, using it to create powerful armies. This knowledge has spread across the galaxy unchecked causing mass-extinctions. Most of humanity has been wiped out. The Galactic Alliance has enlisted your help. Hyper-Card technology allows you to take part in planetary battles and help re-establish order in the galaxy.

In Psi Wars you’ll use advanced technologies to create an army of forces in order to fight for control of your planet. Creatures battle psyonically, physically, and through cyber attacks. To win, a player must use their army to crush their opponent’s forces and reduce their lab to 0.

Developed by Michael Wohl (a self professed old school gamer) and his son, Adeev (who usually wins their games), Psi Wars is a fast playing futuristic themed deck builder for 2-4 players. I chatted with the boys about Psi Wars and the game design process in anticipation of their Kickstarter launch.

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What prompted the development of Psi Wars?

Michael: My son Adeev and I have been playing games for years, including all sorts of card games. Since I have been a gamer for 40 years and an an entrepreneur for 30 (thanks to gaming) – I had a lot of experience to pull from, both as a gamer and a developer. I really felt games that had absolutes, such as games where a 5 always beat a 4) were missing important elements of life. A 5 has a better chance of beating a 4, but not 100%. In life there are no absolutes, which could be reflected in a game. We realized that we could create a multi-dimensional game that had relatively simple rules with tremendous degrees of freedom of decision-making. This would lead to highly creative strategies – a beautiful balance of creativity and reasoning. We went through so many iterations and refinements together. I like Decision-Making research, Game Theory, etc, which is at the heart of Psi Wars.

Adeev: My dad and I like to play a lot of games and watch movies together. We started bending rules of some games and really enjoyed the process. We thought we could expand this idea.

What did you think about the design/playtesting process? What did you like/dislike?

Adeev: It was a really fun and educational experience. I was able to create something from my imagination. I kept thinking of new cards and abilities and would share them with my dad. I created spreadsheets with tons of ideas. It was really fun doing this with my dad, we learned a lot together and I now know what it takes to launch a business.

 I was always a bit impatient about getting the game out there and always excited for new ideas. I even started counting down the days until launch. I even get to go to game conventions for ‘work.’ I mean, how cool is that?

Michael: The design and play testing was a highlight of the entire process. Our goal was a beautifully balanced game. Every time we changed a small rule it would change us and how we played. We’d see if there was a way to ‘game’ the rules, etc. Once it was refined, we sought highly sophisticated players of other strategic card games and their reaction was wonderful – nobody has played anything quite like Psi Wars. It was invigorating to recognize the excitement they found in playing our game. The other piece was working with all of the artists around the world to create an artistic vision that works also as 3D animated lenticular cards. We were lucky to work with some amazing people to produce outstanding art. Everyone flips out over the 3D cards. From the start, we wanted the game to be mesmerizing from an artistic and sensory perspective. I think holding back Psi Wars until it was really ready to launch was hard. We worked on it for over 2.5 years and we are dying for people to play it. We are very curious to see what all of the amazing minds in the world do when they start to construct/personalize their own decks and strategies. We have non-random expansion packs in the works.

What do you hope your audience gets/takes away from the game?

Michael: Really appreciating the card art while kicking some serious butt through mind-bending strategies that make you jump up and down and scream like we do when we play.  A new joy that playing Psi Wars brings through creative strategy and decision-making. Navigating the fog of war with perfectly imperfect information, which helps so much to understand how to thrive in the world.

Adeev: I hope they have as much fun and enjoyment as we do playing Psi Wars.

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Psi Wars is great intro to deck builders for new players and a intensely fast playing game for experienced ones with striking art that really evokes its sci-fi theme. Check it out on Kickstarter May 15th. Keep up with their progress and updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Top 10 (Nerdy) Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund

So here we are, deep into February with March right around the corner.  It’s the beginning of tax season and with all that’s fit to buy, I’m going to offer up my top ten choices to spend a tax refund on:

10. Steam Wallet

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First off, Steam is addicting. With a sale for every season and weekly deals the year round, I suggest you dump part (or all) of you refund into your steam wallet. When the Spring sale starts, you won’t be able to cry you don’t have money in your bank account; it’ll be right there on Steam waiting for you to spend.

9. Kickstarter

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Following a close second to the constant games on sale are games yet to come out. Feeling nostalgic for a game you used to play? There’s likely a reboot, or an anniversary edition being crowdfunded on Kickstarter. I’ve got my 20th Anniversary Whiskey Box Edition of Deadlands coming and I can’t wait. New ideas abound there as well. There might be an awesome game you don’t know you’ll love just waiting for you to back it.

8. VR Equipment

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Virtual reality is hot, even Pornhub is into it (so I’m told). The high end phones, and even the PlayStation all have VR tech waiting to gobble up your cash.  There are inexpensive models you can purchase for your phone if you’re not ready for a setup the same price as a full console.

Read the rest of this entry

Indie Developer Spotlight: Beneath Nexus

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Indie Developer Spotlight: Beneath Nexus

by Michael Wells

Disclosure: I am a backer of Beneath Nexus on Kickstarter. Also, while I have not worked on this specific project, I have been in discussion with Silverclutch Games to provide writing for a future project.

Silverclutch company logo

It’s time for another developer spotlight! This time around we’re talking about Silverclutch games about their upcoming release Beneath Nexus. We had a chance to talk to Tom and Chris from Silverclutch at Too Many Games in Oaks, PA (check out our convention impressions here and here) and now we’re pleased to feature them and their project on our site.

The Project:

Beneath Nexus game logo

From their website:

Beneath Nexus is a dungeon crawling card game for 4 to 6 players. Discover powerful treasures and unlock forgotten secrets in your quest to reclaim the city of Nexus. The Heroes combine their unique skills and powers to overcome the trials of The Blight Lord who uses fiendish monsters and dark magicks to destroy all who delve Beneath Nexus.

Beneath Nexus is a tabletop card game that offers an exciting roleplaying experience in a quickplay format. It is inspired by Dungeons and Dragons and other tabletop RPGs and aims to recreate the feel of those games using predetermined heroes with decks of unique abilities. One player takes on the traditional GM role and plays the Blight Lord, a boss character for the other players to take on. To do so, the other players choose heroes that are drawn from traditional role-playing class archetypes and must strategize how best to use their complimentary abilities to overcome the monsters and spells that the Blight Lord arrays against them.

Beneath Nexus is currently up on Kickstarter and has nearly reached 75% of their goal at time of this writing. Take a look and consider backing this exciting project.

Developer Interview:

I sent a few questions to Silverclutch Games and Chris took some time away from their Kickstarter and Convention schedule to respond.

What made you want to get into game development?

Tom and I have both played games since early childhood. Tom developed his passion for gaming when he was introduced to Magic: the Gathering in the 3rd grade. I played the classics with my father, and he was relentless. Instead of a healthy hobby, my passion for gaming lies more so in my hunger for revenge against my dad for absolutely decimating my brother and me for years in Risk, Stratego, Checkers, and Uno. We began gaming together when Tom joined my Pathfinder RPG group when we were in college. Both of us have always been curious about how games work and have been ready to criticize any game that comes our way. We ended up making games because we knew what we wanted to play and wanted to share those ideas with our friends.
How did Silverclutch Games get started?
Silverclutch Games is a product of my desire to own my own business and Tom’s desire to create awesome games. Tom was developing an introductory dungeon crawler for a handful of months when I approached him with the idea to start our own game design business. That was June of 2015. We incorporated in August, 2015, with the plan to create accessible, easy to learn games that engage the hobbyist gamer.

 

What were your inspirations for Beneath Nexus?
Tom and I are huge fans of D&D, Dungeonworld, etc. We play roleplaying games regularly, but many of our friends can’t be bothered with the hefty rulebook and long playtimes. That bums us out! Beneath Nexus was created so that new players and casual gamers can get a taste of the fantasy adventure genre without having to do homework in the meantime.
What about Beneath Nexus is most interesting/exciting to you as a designer?
We tried a lot of different things, mechanically, with Beneath Nexus. We wanted it to be easy to learn, quick to play, and interesting for both hobbyists and newbies, so we had to experiment with a bunch of different ideas. What excited me most about the process was translating player feedback into mechanical changes. A lot of hobbyists tested the game, so their comments were very direct and specific. The casual gamers that had much more general feedback were the most fun for me because the playtesting notes became a puzzle of vague notions after a few play throughs. Tom seemed most excited by the balance of the asymmetry of the game. Making sure the Blight Lord wasn’t too weak or too strong was a huge task when we incorporated it. Tom dug into it immediately and really shined there.
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I had the chance to play two games of Beneath Nexus at Too Many Games and was very impressed by how polished and balanced the game is. A great deal of obvious care went into the design of the heroes, their abilities, and the ways that they interact with each other. Using the whole party’s abilities in just the right way to overcome a challenge feels a bit like the moment in Magic: The Gathering when the cards in your deck line up and play just right for that devastating combo. Meanwhile, the Blight Lord’s abilities and Monsters keep players on their toes and can easily punish careless or reckless play. The game looks like it is rewarding for players on either side of the table.
The game is already available in a print and play format if you want to give it a go. I can’t wait for the physical game to be released. For more information about the game and Silverclutch Games, check out the Beneath Nexus Kickstarter and their website.