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“20 Questions With” Colby Dauch at Plaid Hat Games!

12 June 2012 4 Comments

Hello and welcome Colby Dauch and Jerry Hawthorne from Plaid Hat Games to 2D6.org’s “20 questions” and answers from the readers segment! Plaid Hat Games is a company that came out of nowhere and delivered the fantastic game Summoner Wars. Summoner Wars has turned into a full blown expandable line with well over a dozen different factions, expandability through reinforcement packs, and a very well made and cost effective Master Set that includes some nice extra bits for your money. Plaid Hat is also responsible for Dungeon Run, a dungeon delving game with an interesting twist at the end (lets not forget the soon to be released Dungeon Run 2) and the highly anticipated Mice and Mystics, a thematic story driven Dungeon Crawl that delivers the adventurous feel of stories such as the “Redwall” series of books and the “Tale of Despereaux”.

 

2D6.orgColby, could you please introduce yourself and your co-workers and for those who may not know, tell us what you all do at Plaid Hat Games?

My name is Colby Dauch.  I am the owner of Plaid Hat Games and the designer of Summoner Wars.  As far as co-workers go they are all freelancers or inventors and I’m running the operation with their contracted aid.  I’ll be fielding most of the questions with the exception of Jerry Hawthorne stepping in on a couple of the Mice and Mystics questions.  He is a friend that I made while being involved in the Heroscape community.  We went on to do freelance design work together.  I am now publishing his game design – Mice and Mystics.

2D6.org: Starting a gaming company from scratch can be a risky proposition with its own challenges, what would you say has been your greatest challenge and what advice would you give to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps? How hard is it to maintain a profitable games company in this day and age?

Profitability is a bit of an ongoing joke in this industry.  It’s incredibly elusive.  The thing about board games is that nearly everyone that plays them tends to get an idea for one.  And since you don’t have to go to film school or learn how to program code to see your vision come to pass, and nearly anyone can work and save hard enough to come up with enough money to do a print run of a small game, there tends to be A LOT of noise in the board game space.  There is also the matter of hobby board games having a bit of a sticker shock issue on those new to them.  Many are trained to believe that board games should cost $15 at Wal-Mart.  We can’t come close to that, but everyone in the industry tries their best, and it makes profit margins thin.  My advice:  Spend some time creating games just for the fun of it before you decide it’s the right choice to make it into a business venture.

2D6.orgIt is my understanding that you were already affiliated with the gaming industry prior to starting Plaid Hat Games. What was the reasoning behind your choice to start your own game company versus working with an established game company such as Fantasy Flight Games or Rio Grande?

Fantasy Flight would have been a good fit for my game I think.  But again, there is a lot of noise and my attempts to show them the game went unnoticed.  I also showed it to Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast but they weren’t interested in stretching their necks out on a new IP that didn’t stand up, sing and dance, and make the suits understand why it would be worth doing.  I didn’t bother finding a third strike.  I already had aspirations to start a game company, not just publish a game.  So if the big guys didn’t want it I would decide to do it myself.

2D6.orgDo you think attendance at conventions helps with the success of a game and do you think your recent presence at Origins was a success for you?

Conventions give you a chance to connect with your fans.  We try hard to build a relationship with the people who love our games and this gives us an opportunity to do so.  As far as Origins goes, it was awful this year.  The hall looked dead and we lost money.  It’s too bad, but I think it is just losing to GenCon.  They are both summer cons and they are within 2 hours of each other.  Origins can co-exist, but I think not at the size they’ve maintained in the past.  They’ve got a lot of overhead wrapped up in that big hall.

2D6.orgWhat is your view of the relationship between the community and a game publisher and how important is it to a publisher to have independent game reviews?

Before doing Summoner Wars I was an uber fan of Heroscape.  I built www.Heroscapers.com to support the community that grew around that game.  I have tried to implement that community mindset while growing Plaid Hat Games.  I think the community gives us a chance to show the people buying our products that we aren’t a faceless business.

Reviews help a good game rise to the top.  Reviews got Summoner Wars noticed as more than just more noise from a startup publisher.

2D6.orgKickstarter.com is getting a lot of attention from the board gaming community, some positive, some negative. What are your feelings on Kickstarter.com (especially how other publishers like Tasty Minstrel and Steve Jackson Games are now using it to fund games)? Do you think companies using Kickstarter.com will lead to lower overall quality since a producer isn’t as financially tied to the success of a game?

I think Kickstarter.com gives people the sense that they are a part of making something happen.  That is a good feeling to have.  That sense that you are helping something that you think is really cool come to pass.  So I understand why it works. I also understand why companies would want to take advantage of that.  Especially when they see consumers give nearly a million dollars to Steve Jackson to reprint Ogre.  That is a lot of money in our business.  But every time I personally consider Kickstarter.com I feel a bit dirty about it.  When I know I’ve got the money as a company to fund a game on my own, I don’t know that I would feel right telling the consumer that THEY have got to be the ones to make it happen.  It feels a bit like cheating doesn’t it?  I believed in a game I had, I funded it, and I sent copies to reviewers all over the place to get it noticed.  I took a lot of PERSONAL risk for an idea that I REALLY believed in.  If I’m honest I feel a bit jealous when I see the Kickstarter route seemingly pulled off so easily.  Maybe this is a case of if you can’t beat them, join them. We tossed around the idea of doing a tongue in cheek Kickstarter that basically says, “We can fund this, but we heard you guys like to give money to people on Kickstarter, so here we are.”

As far as producers being tied to success, I think everyone wants to be successful in something they are doing, whether it was their money or that of others.  I think many people may even feel more responsible with other’s money, I know I would.  But is such a lower barrier to entry healthy?  I’m sure that there have been and will be some great games that would not have seen the light of day if not for crowd funding.  But I’ve got to believe that people have also spent their money on something that turned out to be disappointing.  When the disappointing projects outweigh the exciting ones, can the system sustain itself?  I don’t know, but I think all of us who follow board games as an industry are staying tuned to see what happens there.

 2D6.org: Personally I am not a large supporter of Kickstarter.com but when I see companies offering discounts for pre-orders it gets my attention, is this something we can see more of in the future?

You are a referring to our pre-order promotion for Mice and Mystics (plaidhatgames.com, check it out) {Ed Note: http://www.plaidhatgames.com/store it is worth a $25.00 savings}. This was my little experiment in response to Kickstarter.  If a known entity pitches an exciting project and offers incentives not unlike those often found on Kickstarter projects, but puts it up for pre-order on their site rather than Kickstarter… what happens?  If the experiment is successful in helping us be profitable then I’m sure you’ll see us continue to explore these kinds of things.

2D6.orgThe Tablet gaming market is definitely exploding with some companies such as Days of Wonder expressing a surge in sales for their cardboard games coinciding with the release of Tablet versions of their games. Summoner Wars is due out for iOS soon, are there any plans for an Android release? Any chance we will see other Plaid Hat Games on a Tablet anytime in the future?

Playdek (our partner in building the iOS version of the game) has been telling folks that Android versions of their games are coming.  I view my relationship with Playdek as a partnership.  I think you can expect that to continue so long as it is successful for both sides.

2D6.orgThe gaming market is definitely growing, with big box retailers such as Target and Barnes and Noble selling board games now, do you think this is good for the hobby as a whole? Will we see any Plaid Hat Games in the big stores any time soon?

I think it is a sign of the growing success of board games.  I think the more stores that want to carry and sell board games the better.  Success breeds success.  I think we are getting noticed and I think that is a platform for getting into these bigger stores.

2D6.orgMice and Mystics is causing a great deal of excitement in the community, advertising itself as a fun adventure game that can be played by family members as young as 7 Years old (family friendliness is extremely important to me and is part of every one of my reviews). What was the inspiration for Mice and Mystics itself? Where did the idea for a more family orientated type of game come from and can we expect more family friendly games in the future?

Why did I produce it?  Because my buddy Jerry designed it, I thought it was a cool idea, and I believe in him.  I’m going to let him tell you why he designed it.  Mice and Mystics designer Jerry Hawthorne:

Thanks Colby. I’ll gladly answer this one. See, I am a dad of two great kids. I’m not an expert in early childhood development or anything, so when my daughter was struggling with learning how to read a few years back, I was desperate to find a way to help her. I was convinced that she just needed something to inspire her to read. She loves anything with mice, so I thought that if I could create an activity to accompany reading, it might help her in some way. I started designing a mouse story that could be played like a game. Later we discovered she had a learning disorder that is very similar to dyslexia, but by that time Mice and Mystics was already taking on a momentum of its own.

2D6.orgI understand the game is still in preproduction and not all the components have been finalized but is there any chance we might see a gameplay video posted soon? Could you give us some more details on the gameplay? What separates it from your average co-operative Dungeon Crawler and how exactly are the story driven mechanics intertwined with the gameplay?

My plan is to have Rodney Smith of Watch it Played produce a game play video using one of the first copies off the press airshipped over.  Whether that comes to fruition before the release I don’t know, but we are making a go of it.

The game is a story telling game in that it tells a specific story that you are going to play and read your way through.  And then a lot of rules of the game (including the ability to introduce chapter specific rules in the storybook) are designed to help tell an emergent story as you play your way through.

Why is it different than an ‘average’ co-op dungeon crawl?  Well Jerry is a great big fan of co-op dungeon crawls.  So don’t be surprised if you feel that inspiration in the game.  But what sets it apart is that many of those dungeon crawls try to tell a story and don’t always do a super exciting job of that.  Mice and Mystics however really helps players feel the story and it is a really great story.  What you are signing on for with Mice and Mystics is an interactive story telling experience.

2D6.orgMice and Mystics is definitely ripe for future expansions. Can we look forward to downloadable story books or possibly boxed expansions in the future? Can you go into greater detail about future plans including any estimated time frame for future releases?

 They are already in the works.  No time frames yet.  As with any game success will drive the attention we pay to it.  And according to the buzz and pre-orders I’m expecting success. J

2D6.orgThis question is directed at Mr. Hawthorne, how complete was the game when you presented it to Plaid Hat Games, had it already gone through playtesting or was it still more of a concept at that time? How has the playtesting process compared to Summoner Wars?

 You can call me Jerry if you like. To answer your questions, the game was nothing more than a collection of ideas and a framework of mechanics when Colby and I discussed moving forward. Colby asked if I felt that I could have a playable prototype by a certain date. I worked incessantly on it in my limited spare time (can I really call it that if I’m constantly filling it up?). When I officially presented it to Colby and a few other people whose opinions are gold to me, I had 3 chapters finished and all the basic elements in place. My prototype included only enough components to run the first three chapters and had been lightly tested by me, my children and 2 friends.

Because of the nature of this game compared to Summoner Wars, the playtesting process is quite different. Summoner Wars is so easily played on Vassal independently and by numerous skilled volunteers. M&M needs play groups who are willing to devote time to testing the chapters, so I spent a considerable amount of time and money to create playtest prototypes to send out to selected groups. Once the game is released, the testing process for future releases will be easier because of the amount of folks who will have actual physical copies of the base game and there will be more familiarity with the system and our goals to create cooperative adventures that appeal to a wide age range, are fun, and challenging, and encourage teamwork.

2D6.org: For our overseas readers, how long before they can see a translated version of the game? Do you have any distributors in Europe for example set up at this time? If this is not in the plans, what are the chances of seeing a translated rulebook and the cards in downloadable PDF format? I know of some European families who would love to be able to enjoy this family orientated game with the none-English members of their family.

We have international distributors that will distribute the game in English.  We are a young company so our foreign language print runs are still on a case by case and deal by deal basis, so I have no announcements on that front yet.

2D6.orgWhile we are on the topic, can we look forward to any other games getting translated into additional languages in the future?

Summoner Wars has been successful.  It is getting noticed internationally.  The two starter sets are in German and there are plans to do Summoner Wars products in French, Italian, Chinese, and Portuguese.

2D6.orgI really enjoy painting miniatures yet I realize not everyone feels the same. Are their any plans to release pre-painted miniatures for Mice and Mystics?

No plans as of now.

2D6.org: The collectible card game format was definitely a popular design for many years but it seems to be slowly phasing out in favor of the “Living Card Game” or “preset” format. Do you think Summoner Wars arriving in a preset format was part of the games early success? Do people just want to open a game box and have a game ready to play or is there still life in the “build your deck before you play” style of game?

I think in the world of CCGs you are either: Magic, Pokemon, or failing.  I think concerning CCGs most everyone falls into 1 of 3 categories: ‘I play Magic I can’t afford the time or money for another CCG’ or ‘I used to play Magic, I got out of it, it was too expensive.  I’m not interested in getting into another CCG’ or ‘I’ve heard the horror stories about how expensive CCGs can be, I’m not interested.’  But I think people still like to play games that expand and change over time.  They like more and fresh injections of an experience they really enjoy.  The expandable what you see is what you get model is something I loved in Heroscape and mirrored with Summoner Wars.  I don’t think it would have been a success without that model.

2D6.orgYou really tried to appeal to multiple play styles with Summoner wars. For those of us who hate to chase ”rares”  you offered the game in a preset format and for those who like to really fine tune a deck there are the reinforcement packs. Has this format proven successful for you and do you think this might be the future of Collectible Card Games?

Yes it has been successful.  Yes, it is my opinion that the CCG model is a dead breed with a couple of monolithic exceptions.

2D6.orgSummoner Wars currently has 16 Factions available, reinforcement packs, and even a boxed Master Set for a very reasonable price, what plans do you have for the future? Can we look forward to more Factions, portable neoprene boards, competitive faction sleeves (nice for competitive mirror matches), a return of faction dice, or even Deck boxes?

Our next Summoner Wars venture is more faction packs for the various factions.  This means new Summoners, new champions, new commons, and new events.

As far as accessories go the faction dice are being remade now.  The more successful Summoner Wars is the more viable various further accessories will be.  The trouble is you want to have a variety, which means smaller print runs of everything, which means the products are prohibitively expensive.

2D6.orgSpeaking of future factions what can you tell us about the next faction set to release? Any new play mechanics we can look forward to? Perhaps you could speak a little bit about the challenges of designing a new faction that is fun to play yet balanced versus a growing number of other factions?

Next up is the Cave Goblin Summoner Frick which takes the horde tactics of the Cave Goblins in a different direction and the Guild Dwarf Summoner Bolvi who builds structures.  The challenge in second Summoners is making the deck feel unique while still maintain the general feeling that has been established for the faction.  Balance continues to be a matter of playtesting. 

2D6.org: Magic the Gathering has been releasing Duel Decks for a while now. These “theme based” packs are not necessarily competitive or evenly matched with other preset decks on the market but are designed to compete with each other. Have you ever considered producing any theme decks like this for Summoner Wars? Perhaps a one off set such as “Dragons versus Phoenix”,” Zombies versus Survivors”, or “Ninja versus Pirates” just to come up with a few random off the wall ideas.

I guess our version of this is the 2 starter sets: Phoenix Elves vs. Tundra Orcs and Guild Dwarves vs. Cave Goblins.  I don’t really have much of an interest in creating a one off product that doesn’t keep the rest of Summoner Wars in mind when balancing it or creating its theme.

2D6.orgWhat can you tell us about the Second Summoners and how will they affect game play?

They will come as ready to play decks, which I know a lot of players appreciate, but they also really expand deck building opportunities as you cross over units from one Summoner to the other.

2D6.orgFor a new player looking to get into the world of Summoner Wars where do you recommend they start? Is the Master Set the best starting point or can you recommend factions with easier play mechanics?

We usually say if you want to give the game a try the starter set is a good place to start.  Since every product has unique stuff in it this lets you try the game out while still getting decks that you are going to really want if you get into the game and start buying up everything.  The Master Set is a good place to start if you know you dig the game and want to just jump in and have some variety with your first purchase.

2D6.org: For those of us who live in more rural communities with smaller game stores and rely on Amazon.com is there a chance we might eventually see a Master Set style box for the other factions?

Nope.  Everything we release will have unique stuff in it.  We are continuing to reprint stuff as it goes out of stock, so tracking down those other decks you want shouldn’t be too difficult.  The Master Set has a really low profit margin for us.  It is a deal to get people into the system.  Grouping other decks into a master set when they don’t need all that packaging isn’t something we want to do.

2D6.orgMage Wars and to a lesser degree Conquest Tactics seem to have roots based on Summoner Wars, do you take these imitations as a form of flattery and do you see a new genre of games being spawned by Summoner Wars much in the same way Dominion created a new genre of games?

I don’t know much about either of those games.  Other than Mage Wars looks, to my eye, pretty close in name, logo color and font style, and tag line text… I don’t feel very flattered.  It feels to me rather like the purposeful introduction of market confusion.  In 2009 I released Summoner Wars: The expandable card game of tactical combat.  Arcane Wonders is releasing Mage Wars: The customizable, card-driven tactical board game of dueling mages.  Even if the game plays nothing like Summoner Wars (and I really don’t know) why are they releasing a product that so closely mimics elements of our marketing and product design?

Concerning game design imitations: I think of games as a type of craft.  As with any craft inspiration often comes, in part, from what came before, and sometimes this comes by way of a big easy to point to example like Dominion.  I think Risk Legacy could also become one of these touchstones in the future.  It would be exciting to see Summoner Wars have a positive impact on the craft.  Things like attack values, and range, and special abilities, and moving on a grid, and rolling dice for combat are all part of the craft that I pulled from with Summoner Wars.  I hope I added some things to the craft as well.  I’m also not sure that imitation is the right word for what I just described.  I think inspiration is a better word.  I’m not sure direct imitation should be encouraged.  I think imitation suggests walking the line of a type of plagiarism.  Like Stan Lee invents Spider-Man and everyone loves Spider-Man, so I start to make and market blue and red action hero figures called Spider-Guy.  I think that would be an example of imitation and I think imitation that direct is harmful, as its intent is to introduce market confusion in an effort to profit off of someone else’s intellectual property.

2D6.orgSummoner Wars has a well thought out universe and even influenced Dungeon Run. Do you foresee any other games appearing in the Summoner Wars universe, perhaps even a Role Playing Game?

 I don’t think anyone currently on our staff is prepared to do a Role Playing Game, but I won’t say “never.” We do plan to do more with the IP.  “Dudes on a map” is probably the thing I’d like to do next in Itharia.

2D6.orgWhen Dungeon Run 2 releases can we look forward to expansions or will this be a standalone product that finishes off the line?

Dungeon Run 2 will be stand alone but it will be an expansion as well.  Everything in the 2 sets will be cross compatible.  Will we expand further after that?  That will depend on its popularity I expect.  Dungeon Run has a dedicated fanbase, but not nearly the size of Summoner Wars.  We think we are really improving the game with Dungeon Run 2.  We will see where that gets us.

2D6.orgWhat changes can we look forward to when Dungeon Run 2 releases? Will it be a simple cleaning up of the rules or can we look forward to a complete reboot?

 We actually have an article on our site that answers this question quite well so allow me to link you off to that: http://www.plaidhatgames.com/news/20

2D6.org: The board game market definitely has its most loved genres; it seems you can’t walk 2 feet in a board game store without bumping into a Space Opera, Fantasy, or Trading in the Mediterranean themed game. Yet aside from Sentinels of the Multiverse and a few other examples the super hero genre seems to be largely untouched which I find interesting since I think every kid in the world has at least looked at a comic book sometime in their life. What are the chances that a company whose name rhymes with Plaid Hat Games is secretly working on a game that might change this trend and what can you tell us about it?

I’ve been pretty public about the super hero game I’m working on.  I talk about it on our podcast as developments happen with it.  I’m really excited about it because I feel like we managed to make some stand out super hero characters and a game that does a good job of being both tactical and producing emergent storytelling moments.  It will be card driven, but the city deck will also act like a board that players move around.  Players will either play as a team of 4 young super heroes running around the city solving crises that pop up and protecting the city from the villains, or as villains and their minions running around creating havoc and destroying the city and cornering and beating up the heroes.

2D6.orgFinally is there anything else we can look forward to arriving from Plaid Hat Games in 2012?

Mice and Mystics, more Summoner Wars, and we may just squeeze out another big box sci-fi project inside of the year.

2D6.orgSome really fantastic answers from Plaid Hat Games. I am really looking forward to the release of Mice and Mystics and further information on that super hero game being worked on. Thank you again Colby and Jerry!

 

We at 2D6.org would like to thank Colby and Jerry for taking the time out of their busy schedules to answer these questions.

Next up is Wizards of the Coast! Check back soon for a question submission thread!

Michael V K
View all posts by Michael V K
Michaels website
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4 Comments »

  • Michael V K (author) said:

    Late breaking news, Jay from Rio Grande Games is scheduled next after Wizards of the Coast, Stay Tuned!

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  • Peter Schott said:

    Interesting interview. I hadn’t read too much about PHG before and admittedly really got interested when Mice & Mystics started getting some hype. I think the project would have done well as a Kickstarter and can see why some companies have gone that route – no loss in capital if not enough interest and they can always choose to publish it themselves later if they want to. (my minor counterpoint to their Kickstarter argument) Of course, to each their own and I’ll admit to still being pretty tempted by M&M. I’ll be looking at a couple of the videos to see how that first chapter plays and it’s definitely on my “almost ready to buy” list – just want to make sure I can justify the price. :)

    I appreciate the brief touch on Summoner Wars & Dungeon Run. I don’t know that our group is quite ready for those, but my interest is now piqued.

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  • Friday Knight News - Gaming Edition: 15-JUN-2012 | Game Knight Reviews said:

    [...] Looking for details about the folks behind Summoner Wars? Michael VK @ 2d6.org has a great interview with Colby Dutch & Jerry Hawthorne from Plaid Hat Gam… [...]

  • Robert Manore said:

    Great interview! Mice & Mystics definately on my “gotta have it” list!

    Looking forward to hearing what Jay from RGG can tell us! Keep up the good work 2d6!

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