“20 Questions With” Todd Rowland And The AEG Crew! AND WIN A FREE GAME!
Hello and welcome Todd Rowland, Edward Bolme, and Jeff Quick to 2D6.org’s “20 questions” and answers from the readers segment. In my opinion AEG has done a fantastic job with the Collectible Card Game and the None Collectible Card Game market, bringing us the long standing, rich, and detailed world of Rokugan for almost 17 years now. AEG has a fairly large stable of games so far including the one game that has stood up to the Magic the Gathering Juggernaut; Legend of the Five rings. Also in this fine stable are games such as the newly released Thunderstone: Advance, the dark yet direct conflict fun of Nightfall, and the Dungeon Delver Tomb and its followup Cryptmaster. Not only that they have a great lineup of games coming out this year ready to break the mold including 3 Euro-Games in the world of Tempest and the hotly anticipated Smash Up, where else can you find Zombie Ninja Robot Dinosaurs? Shufflebuilding couldn’t sound more fun.
These are just a few of the games they have produced!
2D6.org: Todd could you please introduce yourself and your co-workers and for those who may not know tell us what you all do at AEG?
TR: I’m Todd Rowland and I’m the Director of Marketing for AEG as well as the Senior Brand Manager. At our company a Brand Manager basically is a product director/producer, bringing together the team of game designers, artists, graphic designers, and playtesters who bring a product to life. The position has to wear a lot of hats, such as art direction, marketing direction, packaging design, and more. I’ve been with AEG for 8 years now, having worked on products such as Legend of the Five Rings (CCG and RPG), Warlord, Thunderstone, Nightfall, and the upcoming Smash Up and Tempest line. Edward Bolme is one of our project leads. He has many years of experience in game development and joined AEG in 2010. He is currently leading up the Tempest game line and brings a wealth of proficiency in rules writing to all of our games. Jeff Quick also joined AEG in 2010, and is also a industry veteran. He describes himself as the person you’ve never heard of who’s worked on the most stuff you’ve played! We hope to change that, Jeff is a real talent in pulling together a great product and we have him on Thunderstone: Advance as well as work on various other projects.
2D6.org: There is a lot of interest in the three “Tempest” games coming out. Will these games be on display or available to demo at Origins and Gencon this year?
EB: The Tempest games are not slated to be at Origins this year, however, we plan to have them at Gen Con. At this time we have not solidified exactly what form they will be in. My personal prognosis is that we will have a couple of print-on-demand samples for each title, so they will look and feel like the final product.We are still planning our Gen Con events, although I suspect that access to Tempest demos will be very limited (the current prognosis is that demand for Smash Up demos will be high). The best bet to get a Tempest demo will be to attend AEG’s Big Game Night. Or be a member of the press.
2D6.org: Can any of you speak further about the thought process behind creating a Euro style game in a setting or universe?
EB: Style and story are key to any shared world project. Life was not fair during the Renaissance, and similarly, life in the City-State of Tempest is very definitely unfair. This means that often one of the first considerations is creating a game that is asymmetrical. Games that are perfectly symmetrical have a much more difficult time reflecting the various factions and groups found in Tempest, because no two factions
stand on equal footing.Second, Tempest is alive; it’s a place filled with living, breathing people, each with personal goals and agendas. Thus a game that tells a story is a better fit for Tempest than a game that is abstract.Finally, the game needs to be about the people and the city. But the beauty here is that a Tempest game can be about a street urchin picking pockets, or a senator navigating the halls of government. It’s a very big playground, and there is a lot to explore.To help game designers with all this, we have developed a game design resource for their use, with character biographies, loads of art, suggestions, and more.
2D6.org: How would you describe the complexity and depth level of these games? We recently witnessed the success of the American-Euro game “Lords of Waterdeep” from Wizards of the Coast which could be considered a “Light Euro”, will all of these games be in that vein, are they heavier, or will they cover the gamut?
EB: The Tempest games vary widely. This is and always has been our intent; we want gamers of all stripes to be confident that a Tempest game is always fun, no matter their play styleCourtier, by Philip DuBarry, is a lighter, more tactical game. Players sway key courtiers in the Royal Court to advise the queen to grant petitions. It plays 2-4, takes about 45 minutes, has the shortest rules, and is very accessible.Mercante, by award-winning designer Jeff Tidball, is (in my opinion) the most purely Euro of our three launch games. In this economic warfare game, players compete at auction for cargoes, manipulate the market… and even steal or buy senatorial favors. It plays 3-5 and lasts about an hour.
Dominare, by Jim Pinto, is an epic area-control game. Players build a cabal of conspiratorial agents with the goal of secretly controlling Tempest. With scores of unique agents belonging to ten different factions, there are limitless ways one can build a conspiracy, and each game plays out very differently. This is the most gamerrific of the three, plays 2-6, and takes up to 3 hours.
2D6.org: Speaking of Courtier, Dominare and Mercante, what was the thought process that led to putting them all in the same world?
TR: Many years ago we were thinking more and more about our board game opportunites. AEG has a track record of creating and developing vibrant and engaging worlds (Rokugan, 7th Sea, etc.), and we wanted to bring that to the board game area. We thought, let’s make a setting where designers can explore the world, telling various stories through what you do in the game, exploring characters’ lives, etc. Once we had that idea down, we set out to create and publish games that would fit that mold. The idea of the shared world existed long before Courtier, Dominare, and Mercante. They were made to fit it, at least Dominare and Mercante. Courtier was a great find!
2D6.org: AEG got its start with the collectible Card Game market in the mid 90’s with the fantastic Legend of the Five Rings, since then the card game market seems to be the company’s focus. Is this because they cost less to produce? Are they easier to design? Do they involve less financial risk?
TR: Well, we come from the card game background and we find we have a skill in developing them. It isn’t our only passion in games, as Tempest will show. That said to answer one of your questions; yes cards are in general more cost effective, due to only needing to print them, without bits and pieces. However as you can see in Thunderstone Advance, we include a board and quite a lot of bits and pieces, as we want to improve the entire experience of the card game beyond just the cards.
Financial risk is always there. Any game can hit and any game can flop, you never really know until it gets to the fans. It’s often difficult as you do have rose-colored glasses right up until it goes on sale. Everyone at the company has bought into the idea, the playtesters have as well, or you wouldn’t be creating it. I think that’s why it’s perfectly valid for everyone at a game company to say “yeah I love every game we make “Even the games that the general populace didn’t care for”. If we didn’t love them, we wouldn’t have made them!
2D6.org: Speaking of card games, what are the future plans for Thunderstone: Advance and its future expansions? Will future expansion be compatible with the original Thunderstone or is it being phased out?
JQ : Like its namesake, Thunderstone rolls on in grand fashion. Fans will see at least 2 expansions this year, starting with Caverns of Bane in July. We’re releasing modules that create variant ways to play. And by the time you read this, we’ll have put up our FREE print and play of the original Thunderstone cards.
Go to www.alderac.com/thunderstone and download the cards from the original Thunderstone base set, revised and updated to the new Thunderstone Advance look. To an extent, this free print and play is a trial balloon to help us gauge interest in older cards. If lots of people download it and tell us it’s awesome, and ask us to please do more, that’s going to help us understand where the audience is. So far, it’s gotten positive feedback, but more response is better.
Since I’m a big-hearted mountain of a man, here’s some sneaks of TS8 cards. I’m biased, but I do happen to think they’re awesome. This is what I consider to be the most dynamic illustration of a gelatinous cube ever made.
However, as you note, we’ve taken steps to address that in recent (and ongoing) design parameters.
And here’s a real crowd-pleaser of a hero, the Patternmage. She’s going to make your life a lot simpler down in the caverns.
2D6.org: Deck Building card games are entertaining but they can feel slightly predetermined with an actions success known before you take the action. Have you ever considered a randomizer die to Thunderstone? Perhaps a 6 sided die that ranges from -2 through a +2 to increase the randomness of the dungeons? It does seem that AEG is trying to address this with the new cards in Advance that allow you to draw more cards when entering the dungeon, but there is a certain feeling you gain from rolling the bones.
JQ: We have talked about that, and rolling some polyhedral dice would certainly be true to some of the inspirations behind Thunderstone. Different members of the design team have different opinions on that. To an extent, I would offer that the determinism of the game is more feature than bug. Cards come with a built-in set of randomizers: card type (village, hero, monster, other), gold value, gold cost, XP, etc. Each spot on the cards comes with a nicely functional number range. Judicious use of these can do the job without having to add a Fudge die.
This has the additional advantage of rewarding good play. Since you know the corvaxis are in the dungeon (for instance) you can think about what’s left in your deck and use that information to help you attack with more or less confidence. Or you can avoid buying cards that will make attacking them more difficult. This kind of design increases dynamism in the game using existing aspects. I’m fond of that elegance.
All that said, one of the things I really appreciate about Thunderstone is how rewarding it is to tinker with the game. I love the variants and house rules people come up with, and I love how easily the game absorbs them and keeps going. Again, a wide spread of house rules feels very true to Thunderstone’s roots. We might well add dice at some point in the future. But people modding the game to play that way right now is pretty sweet all by itself.
2D6.org: Nightfall is a fun game that provided a really fresh take on the Deck-Building genre by adding in direct head-to-head combat. Can you share your future plans for Nightfall expansions? Are there any new features or mechanics we can look forward to in the next expansion?
TR: Well we are already putting the wraps on Nightfall 6 and beginning the basic design work on 7. The iOS has been a great boon for the game, and we’re glad that Playdeck is hard at work bringing more content to it as well. We do have a new “Summon” mechanic coming in Nightfall, but i won’t pull back the curtain too much on that one yet. Also for those who have not yet tried the game, we have released a combo-bundle pack of Nightfall and Nightfall: Martial Law so be sure to ask your local store for it!
2D6.org: Tomb is a fun game that gets requested quiet often for game nights; it just fits the bill for a good dungeon romp. What can you tell us about Tomb “3rd edition”, will it be backwards compatible with the earlier editions of the game? It would be entertaining to see the personalities from Legend of the Five Rings and their unique set of skills competing with “Classic” Tomb characters.
TR: “Tomb of Iuchiban” was an idea we have worked with for quite a while, to the point of even announcing it and coming THIS close to printing, but we finally put the brakes on it. We found that while Tomb is a great dungeon romp indeed, and L5R is an amazing fantasy samurai experience, when put together we weren’t getting chocolate in the peanut butter. We were getting something that was less than the sum of the parts.
For Legend of the Five Rings to be Legend of the Five Rings, you have to have all that goes along with it. Honor, dueling, glory, dishonor, Shadowlands corruption, a vibrant world and story, ninja, shugenja, etc. For Tomb to be a real dungeon romp, you need to be able to run in and kill monsters and take their stuff with wild abandon. The two just weren’t jiving. We’ve since shelved that project, and we pull it down on occasion when someone has a potential Breakthrough Idea(tm) but for now we’re leaving it on the back burner.
2D6.org: Tomb originally released in 2008 and was followed up by Cryptmaster in 2009. While some people thought the rules had some issues, overall the game was fun and a blast to play, how come the game seemed to stall after the release of Cryptmaster? Did you ever consider just going the “Talisman” route and throw out a new expansion every 6 months with some new counters, cards, and characters?
TR: Tomb was one of our first board games released, and as such we were still pretty new at that market, and frankly we weren’t entirely sure what to do next! Tomb was a success, selling through more than one print run, and Cryptmaster sold through it’s initial run as well. Following that we had so many other opportunities going that we didn’t return to Tomb immediately, and the false start of Tomb of Iuchiban was there too.
2D6.org: While other companies seem interested in importing other designs for American distribution, AEG seems content to keep things “in house” – why is this?
TR: We are a pretty creative group of people. We enjoy the creation process and development process of the game. That said we are not opposed to the idea of importing, we just have to see something really unique to have us consider it.
TR: I think Kickstarter is interesting to watch right now. I think we’re still seeing the rush of excitement that will eventually settle into less and less projects. Perhaps larger, but fewer. That said, I don’t think that kickstarting a project is something AEG would rule out. In-House production is still the case regardless of if it is Kickstarted or funded through normal means.
2D6.org: It does seem like the board game hobby is starting to go main stream with games showing up in the big store retailer’s space like Barnes and Noble for example. I know AEG has always been a very strong supporter of the hobby store how do you feel about these changes?
TR: Well, when we did the Adventurers, it was carried in Barnes and Noble for a time. We try our best to support the hobby game stores because that’s generally where one finds new customers. That said a rising tide lifts all ships, and if people are finding the hobby via larger stores, then seeking out more of it at the local hobby store, all the better. They were still exposed to it.
2D6.org: AEG has always used some fantastic artwork in the games they produce. With the rising costs of games, is this something we can always look forward to in future releases?
TR: Well you’re asking the right guy! Despite not being able to draw a straight line, I love art direction. It’s probably the favorite part of my job. I’ve been known to corner Edward or Jeff on Skype to just bounce ideas for art images off of them. So yes you can definitely count on continued quality art.
2D6.org: Legend of the Five Rings RPG: Second City Box Set is the RPG’s first boxed campaign set in years what else can we look forward to in the RPG line?
TR: Right now we are in the middle of our “Elements” series for the L5R RPG, which is a new concept. We have one book dedicated to each of the Five Rings, with a focus on all things that deal with that concept. For instance in the Book of Air, not only do you learn about Air kami and Air spells, as you might expect, you also learn much more about archery, weather, and the philosophy of Air as it relates to politics, monastic life, and more. It’s a very deep study of the element. The Book of Earth is next in line, and it will deal with the stoic nature of that element, as well as more about nature, defense, and other topics.
This summer at Gen Con we are hosting a large multi-player event for the RPG that will tie directly into the current storyline of the Clans in the Second City. For the first time the generally xenophobic Rokugani are expanding their borders, and much like anything else, every Clan wants to outdo the other in the eyes of the Imperial Court.
2D6.org: Are there any other things from AEG we can look forward to?
TR: Well in case I haven’t yelled loud enough on the internet yet, check out Smash Up! It’s a quick and fun card game with a ton of replay-ability and depth. Not to mention acres of area for future growth and expansion (which of course we love, as we had already developed nearly 20 decks when we had to settle on 8 for the release!). Smash Up will be our big non-L5R focus at Gen Con this year, with Tempest our focus at Essen. Be sure to come by our Big Game Night at Gen Con Indy and I’ll personally teach you Smash Up!
2D6.org: Some really fantastic answers from AEG. I am really looking forward to seeing the release of Smash up and Mercante! Thank you again Todd!
TR: Thank you!
We at 2D6.org would like to thank Todd, Edward, and Jeff for taking the time out of their busy schedules to answer these questions. ALSO for our readers we are giving away a copy of Nightfall!
How can you win? Simple, post a reply to this article stating what you liked about it and who would you like to see as the next guest. 1 entry per person, if your question was chosen to be submitted to AEG, you will get 3 entries for posting below, Good luck! Remember you have to post a comment below to be entered in the contest.