“20 Questions” 2D6.org Interviews StoneBlade Entertainment (formerly Gary Games)!
Stone Blade Entertainment was founded in 2010 by by Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour champion Justin Gary originally under the name of Gary Games and their first release Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer hit stores in August of 2010. Ascension was designed as a fast paced deck building game created through the joint input of Justin Gary, Brian Kibler, John Fiorillo, Rob Dougherty, with artwork by Eric Sabee. Since its release Ascension has seen 3 stand alone expansions all designed to be part of a grand story arc.
Stone Blade Entertainment currently sells its award winning deck building game, Ascension as both a physical product and iOS app. In May of 2012, Ascension had over one million games played online and was number one on the iOS charts for paid apps!
Of course Ascension isn’t the only game coming from Stone Blade Entertainment, Solforge (a digital trading card game) is a collaborative effort between Stone Blade and industry veteran Richard Garfield best known for the venerable game Magic: The Gathering.
2D6.org: Justin please take a moment to introduce yourself and tell us how you became involved in the board game industry? What one game first got its hooks into you (and no fair claiming Magic: The Gathering unless it truly was your first game!)?
JG: No fair not letting me claim Magic: The Gathering! It was obviously a huge influence on me, but from a young age I played all kinds of games. Game night was a regular event with my family including things like Monopoly, Sorry, Uno, etc. The first hobby board games to really hook me were Talisman and El Grande.
2D6.org: Some of you were professional Magic: The Gathering Pro tournament level players travelling all over the world competing in tournaments. Do any of you still actively compete or even want to compete at the tournament level any more?
See above. To add to that discussion, I really think the game play dictates the business model. Some games are better suited to a CCG style purchase pattern, some to LCG, some to traditional boardgame, some to fixed micropayments (e.g. League of Legends). The key thing is to provide great value to your customer and give them lots of great gaming for their money. Everything else is secondary to that.
2D6.org: For those who may not know, what can you tell us about Solforge? What kind of game is it and is it electronic format only? What OS’s (operating systems) will it support and will it allow play across differing OS’s (can I play it on my Android Tablet versus an iOS user for example)?
Solforge is a digital trading card game designed by the team at Stone Blade (myself, John Fiorillo, Brian Kibler, etc.) and Richard Garfield (the creator of Magic). It will be available on iphone, ipad, Windows PC, and android devices. You can play across platforms and your collection will sync between them (e.g. if I buy something on my ipad I will also have it on my PC). The game is totally free to play and you can earn cards just by playing. We really worked hard to make the game easy to learn but with a lot of depth that really makes it a great game to play for 5 minutes or for hours at a time.
2D6.org: Speaking about iOS, how is the iOS expansion of immortal heroes coming along and when can we anticipate a preview showing up? Will the free-to-play Ascension app replace the current one made by Playdek and/or will the online server for it be shut down? Finally are you planning on releasing more promo packs for purchase as well?
According to our discussions with Playdek, Immortal Heroes should be ready by the end of June this year. There will also be some more promo packs to purchase on the current app. Once Ascension Online ports over to iOS (estimated in July 2014) then it will replace the Playdek app (though the Playdek servers will stay up to support current users at least until the end of 2014). We are working with Playdek to make sure the transition of players is as smooth as possible and we won’t start a transition until we have a 10/10 product ready to launch on iOS.
2D6.org: Solforge uses the free-to-play or “Freemium” format. For some people the “Freemium” format has a stigma of “Nickel and Diming” customers to death. Will there be a “Pay once and forget it” payment option for those who want to avoid “freemium” games?
This is not your typical freemium game. You can buy cards directly either in randomized packs or non-randomized options. There will always be new content, so I don’t know that you can “Pay once and forget it” but we won’t stop you from being able to play with cards you own and challenge people to games, etc. So its not like you won’t be able to play unless you keep paying.
2D6.org: Will the Alloyin have a Shaper, and if so is it ready to be spoiled, or is the Shaper concept not a good fit since one of their themes is leveling cards faster?
There is an Alloyin Shaper in the faction starter decks we are releasing this month! In fact, it also features the art from one of our kickstarter backers! We spoiled the effect on our Ascension Online celebration stream, so I’ll tell you that it grants armor to creatures when you play level 1 cards. The specific stats and numbers I’ll save for the release.
2D6.org: The artwork for Solforge looks fantastic, are you using the same artist who did the artwork from Ascension (Eric Sabee)? So far the artwork I have seen strikes me as a new artist, if you did change artists will Eric continue to do the artwork for Ascension?
We are using different artists for Solforge. Eric has his work cut out for him keeeping up with the demand for new Ascension art! He is cranking away on Set 6 right now!
2D6.org: Speaking of Ascension, where did the original idea for the game stem from? Was it an attempt to create a better Deck Building game or an evolution of the deck building genre itself? What influence do you think your years of playing Magic: The Gathering (if any) had on your original design?
Certainly Magic was a huge influence on the creation of Ascension. As soon as I first played Dominion (the first deckbuilding game) I knew that there was something special there. The idea of condensing the deckbuilding experience inside of a boxed game was very inspired. After many many plays of Dominion, however, I got bored- once I knew what the available cards were, I basically decided on s a strategy and just had to wait to see how things played out- there was very little excitement and variation from game to game. Ascension was inspired by the idea of combining the flow of a Magic draft into a boxed deckbuilding game. Because new cards are revealed all the time, the game changes and no two games are the same. That plus removing things like action limits, a dozen different piles of cards to setup, and complicated reaction cards, made Ascension very streamlined and fast- and perfect for a quick tabletop game (in less time than it takes to set up a game like Dominion) or a lightning fast game on a mobile device or tablet.
2D6.org: Ascension is unique in that it has an overall arching story line tying the original release and all the expansions together. Was this part of the original design or added in as afterthought and who came up with the idea of the story line?
I came up with a bunch of the original story ideas when I was first designing Ascension. I love creating fantasy worlds (ever since my days playing D&D) and the Ascension story arch was a really fun one to flesh out. I owe a lot to team members like Geordie Tait who wrote a bunch of the story and flavor text, and also to Eric Sabee’s art which inspired the “feel” of each of the factions in Ascension.
2D6.org: Ascension originally released in 2010 and since then has seen 3 expansions following a small, large, small, expansion format. Are there any more expansions planned for Ascension, will the next expansion be a “large” expansion, and will it start a new story arc? Will this new expansion offer any new game mechanics or just build on what has come before? Do you see the current block format for Ascension staying the same, or are there other types of releases planned for the future?
Yes! Rise of Vigil is hitting stores in early April (or you can get it from us early on ascensiongame.com or at our booth at PAXEast) and it is a big set with brand new mechanics. It will be followed by a small set due out this summer. This is a really fun block that changes a lot about the way you evaluate cards. A new card type, treasure, can make it correct to buy “weaker” cards because there are treasure cards that come with them. In addition, the new game resource, energy, can turn bland cards into powerhouses and because energy isn’t spent like Runes and Power, it can lead to some pretty amazing turns when you turn on all of your energize powers.
2D6.org: With Ascension growing not only in popularity but in depth with each passing expansion, will Stone Blade ever consider allowing fans to submit ideas for the game?
Absolutely! We like seeing fan ideas for cards on our forums on ascensiongame.com and we love to hear from you on our facebook page or at conventions with new ideas. Ascension is going to be around for years to come, and we love to have fans be involved in making it better each year.
2D6.org: The Company originally started off as “Gary Games” what prompted the name change and are there any other types of games we can expect from this new company or will Soul Forge and Ascensions remain your only IP’s for the foreseeable future?
We changed the name for a few reasons. First, we think the name Stone Blade is pretty sweet (check out urban dictionary to see the gamer slang meaning of the term). Second, Gary Games put a little too much emphasis on me. Though I started this company, it is successful because of all the awesome people on the team and I want the company name to reflect that. Finally, we are growing from being a company that just produces hobby board games, to a digital game company with multiple IPs that we hope to grow over the years. The “Entertainment” title reflects that.
2D6.org: Ascension and SolForge both have quick to learn rules and fast card based game play. Is this something you strive for in the games you make, or is it just how these two projects worked out?
This is a key part of my design aesthetic. Though I have been known to play long complicated games, I generally strive to make games that are accessible and easy for people to get into. I think the hobby gaming world has a lot to offer, but most people can’t access it because the games are intimidating, complicated, or require too much commitment to play. I strive to make games that will expand our industry by being easy to learn and quick to play, but that still hold on to the depth that hooked all of us into hobby gaming in the first place.
2D6.org: Kickstarter.com love it or hate it is becoming a strong force in the board game market. As a designer and publisher what is your take on Kickstarter.com and its effect on the hobby?
2D6.org: Solforge actually used Kickstarter.com for funding; do you foresee using Kickstarter.com for future projects? Do you think Kickstarter.com alienates part of your customer base and if yes, do you think the rewards out weigh the risks of using Kickstarter.com?
I’m guessing our ascension online kickstarter answers this question.
2D6.org: Kickstarter is a great opportunity for game designers new and old to get projects up and running. From a customers perspective there is concern about a distinct lack of playtesting and polish, do you feel this is a valid concern? I realize publishers can create lackluster games but there is a perception that publishers have a vested financial incentive to see a games success and are less likely to release a sub par property. Do you think Kickstarter.com for lack of better wording has shifted the risk onto the consumer?
This may come as a shock to you, but plenty of games lack playtesting and polish, whether they are kickstarted or not. At the end of the day, it is up to the consumer to decide if they think a publisher/designer is credible and will make a good product. Whether you make that decision on a kickstarter page or at your FLGS, you still have to make that call. I think kickstarter lets fans interact directly with creators and influence the final product in a way that is certainly net positive for everyone.
2D6.org: Finally, do you think we will ever see other projects in the Ascension universe, perhaps books or even an RPG?