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“20 Questions” 2D6.org Interviews StoneBlade Entertainment (formerly Gary Games)!

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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?

Brian Kibler and Patrick Sullivan are still very active in the tournament scene.  Myself, John Fiorillo, and others all play periodically and have been thinking about getting back into the game more competitively (I am still hungry for a Hall of Fame induction), but it takes a lot of time to be good at Magic, and right now all of our attention is focussed on making games and growing Stone Blade Entertainment.
2D6.org: Magic: The Gathering is a venerable franchise that hit the market in 1993 making it officially 20 years old this year. What is your opinion on the evolution of Magic: The Gathering over the years? Do you think Wizards of the Coast has done a great job updating the game and keeping it fresh? If you could make one change to the game what would it be?
That is a lot of questions! I think Magic has done a great job evolving and growing over the years.  Wizards has made several really smart decisions like introducing planeswalkers into the game, and releasing Magic 2013 (etc.) to mobile so more people can play it.  Selfishly, I wish that WotC would let those on the Hall of Fame ballot get invitations to Pro Tours so I could come out and play again- I think it would be good press for them to bring back all us ProTourasouruses.
2D6.org: Over the years the Collectible Card Game market has diminished and slowly given rise to the set pack or “living card game” format. Do you feel this will become the dominant format for deck building style games in the future? Do you think the CCG model will eventually go away permanently? The CCG market isn’t diminishing, its just very hard for a new game to break into that market because audiences are much more savvy now.  We know playing a CCG costs a LOT of money, so we won’t usually play more than one.  Game companies that don’t have an established property have to find ways to make their games a good value for the customer.
Take a look at our games, for example.  Ascension is a fixed box game with expansions.  This is great for people because they don’t have to spend a lot of money to play and don’t feel like they have to chase after new cards to be competitive.  Solforge, is more of a traditional TCG model where you buy packs and build your own deck, but we are trying to revolutionize that model by making it free to play.  You can earn all the cards you need just by playing, so you don’t have to go broke trying to keep up with new content.  Some users will spend money to get things faster, others will play more to earn the content they want. Though all of the models you talked about will stay around, I really think the Solforge model is going to become more dominant in the years to come.
2D6.org: You knew this line of questioning was leading somewhere, Ascension as a series has used the “Living Card Game” (LCG for short) format for all of its releases, yet it looks like with Solforge, Stone Blade Entertainment will be using the collectable gaming format. Will Stone Blade start using the collectable game format for other games or is this a unique one off that best fits with the electronic medium Solforge is using?

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.orgWill 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.orgWith 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.orgThe 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.orgAscension 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.orgKickstarter.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?

Kickstarter is a fantastic resource for fledgling game companies.  It is  a great way to reach out directly to your fans to make projects better than they could ever be.  Rather than selling out to investors who will force compromises on your games (or worse yet, never being able to make games at all) now creators can ask the fans what they want, and be beholden only to them.

2D6.orgSolforge 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?

I sure hope so!  We had a comic book as one of our stretch goals in the Ascension Online kickstarter.  We didn’t make it yet, but people can still contribute on our paypal page here: http://www.ascensiongame.com/paypal Paypal donations still count towards our stretch goals- so you can help make an Ascension comic book a reality!  Either way I hope to create comics, books, and RPGs in the Ascension Universe someday soon.
We at 2D6.org would like to thank StoneBlade Entertainment for taking time out of their busy schedule for this interview! We look forward to what the future will bring some this very talented crew!
Thanks for reading 2d6.org. If you would like to see more of these interviews, please leave a comment below!
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“20 Questions” A Community Driven Interview Presents: Stone Blade 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.


Now is the chance to ask YOUR questions! Justin Gary and his design team have graciously agreed to be our guest for “20 Questions”, a community driven Q&A segment where You submit your questions, WE at 2D6.org gather the 20 most popular questions, and then we conduct an interview!


-Reply Below-

Nothing is worse than Question and Answer segment where the questions you care about the most are never asked. We need  YOU to submit  your questions and we will gather up the best questions in one week and conduct the interview!

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“20 Questions” 2D6.org Interviews – Mantic Games!

Hello and welcome Ronnie and Chris from Mantic Games to 2D6.org’s “20 questions” and answers from the readers segment. Mantic Games was formed in 2009 and already has a stable of great games including Warpath, Dwarf King’s Hold, Project Pandora: Grim Cargo, and the recently released Dreadball! Standing out in the crowded miniatures market can be tough to do but Mantic Games is up to the challenge with some great games and great miniatures.

2D6.org: Could you please take a moment to introduce yourself, tell us how you became involved in the board game industry, and describe where the idea for Mantic Games came from?

R: Sure – I’m Ronnie, CEO of Mantic Games! I became involved in the industry whenI first joined a Wargames club at junior school, starting with Airfix Napoleonics– and my life just went totally wrong from there!

I progressed on to WW2 and then discovered fantasy – GW was just starting (this was before Warhammer!) so dabbled in D&D and others – but once I found Citadel miniatures I was hooked.

I had worked at GW during my university days and as I started looking for a job they had just been taken over and were really starting to do some fun things. I joined as a management trainee – then next thing I knew 15 years had flown by!

I have always believed that this is a hobby and it must be fun, enjoyable and if you genuinely mean to promote big battles it has to be affordable. This has always been a big driver of mine, and as it became clear to achieve this I would need to create a new path – and so Mantic was born!

2D6.orgMantic Games seems set to pick up some of the slack that has been created by Games Workshop’s blind eye towards anything that isn’t 40K. Do you think there is room in the industry for competition in the miniatures market or do you think Games Workshop has a choke hold on table top miniature gaming?

We definitely believe there is room for competition – GW bring in an enormous number of new hobbyists into the hobby but it’s not long before you discover the huge number of other manufacturers out there making quality stuff. Privateer Press and Fantasy Flight have both done tremendous things and created some really quality stuff, and we know we can compete in the same sandpit, and even grow it ourselves.

2D6.orgWarpath is a tabletop miniatures game set in the 28mm scale in a Science Fiction themed futuristic universe. Are you finding it challenging to introduce this new Intellectual Property to such a crowded market? What new mechanics does Warpath bring to the hobby and in what way do you think these changes improve the Miniatures Game hobby?

We know it takes time and we’ve done Warpath in reverse of Kings of War. With our fantasy range we launched four armies and then the ruleset, with Warpath we launched two and the ruleset at the same time, in a beta format. We know it takes four armies – and that’s infantry, vehicles and flyers – to make Warpath work as a sci-fi game. In fact we’ll more than likely be Kickstarter that!

Warpath is currently still in beta development and the community has been fantastic in helping iron out the niggles. We think the alternative activation system is pretty funky, making the game feel more interactive and speeds it up, which is the big difference between Warpath and Kings of War in that there is a lack of regimented troops. Speed, easy of use and the ability to play timed games are all great reasons to try the game out, which is available for free download from our website: http://www.manticgames.com/Hobby/Gaming.html

2D6.orgWarpath is still a young system with room for growth. There are 4 factions released so far what can we look forward to in the future?

Definitely – there’s a whole galaxy to explore! We are firm believers in needing four factions before a game system can become real, it happened with Kings of War, and now that we’ve got the foundations laid we’ll be working on expanding the ranges for them and introducing a couple of new factions. Plague and Rebs are two that we’ve had requests for…

2D6.orgAs someone who spent way too much money in my youth on Warhammer 40K and finally got fed up with the steady power creep, can you tell me what you are doing to avoid this same pitfall? Maybe I am in a minority but I found it frustrating to know that in 3-6 months my chosen faction would be outclassed by the new race and the vicious cycle would start all over again when the “New Codex’s” were eventually released.

Ah power creep! This won’t happen with us because there are no “Mantic Codices” -you’ll only ever need the core rulebook which will feature the army lists for all of the races which will be internally balanced and tested by the community ensuring that the game remains fair and fun.

2D6.org: Kings of War is a fantasy themed table top miniatures game that already seems to be fairly well developed with undead armies, dwarves, elves, and other fantasy races. Are you finding it challenging keeping 2 miniatures games supported and still feeling unique?

Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough months in the year to be able to release everything we want to but good planning has helped. Kickstarter too has been a blessing and we’ve got an awful lots of miniature kits coming out for Kings of War – the range is getting a massive boost. Provided we keep the new releases coming, the events and demonstrations supported and just keep chatting to the community, then supporting the systems and keeping them unique isn’t a problem.

2D6.orgI have to say I am really impressed with how inexpensive the line of Mantic Games is to get into. The Kings of War Two-Player Battle Set for example is approximately $80 US with 95 miniatures in the box. This seems to be a strong price leader in what is known to be an expensive hobby. Do you feel your low price for entry is a strong selling point for Mantic Games? I hate to keep comparing you to “the other guys” but I know for a fact they are not selling stuff this inexpensively.

One of many! We believe that building an army should be affordable. We’ve all wanted to put down a massive army of the tabletop but price is a limiting factor, so we’ve tried really hard to eliminate that as an issue. Building an army should be an enjoyable experience. We’re deliberately not cheap, we don’t want to make awful looking figures, we want to blend affordability with quality.

2D6.orgMantic recently completed an EXTREMELY successful Kickstarter.com campaign for the hotly anticipated Dreadball- The Futuristic Sports Game! On the surface someone who hasn’t taken the time to look into this game might think it’s simply a re-theme of BloodBowl. A thorough reading of the rulebook tells a very different story though! Where did the idea for Dreadball come from? Bloodbowl is obviously American Football but Dreadball seems like a whole new sport marrying Rugby, Soccer, some Hockey, and maybe Lacrosse to create something entirely new.

DreadBall came from a desire to make a fast, fun and tactical sports game that was easy to play. We’re both sports fans and board games fans, and Jake has created something that blends elements of all of those real-world sports to ground it in reality – this is a game that could be real – and then gave it this clean futuristic aesthetic which appeals to the hobbyist in us. Writing background and coming up with team names and colours schemes is all part of the fun, it’s a board game, a hobby game and it doesn’t feel wrong. The only similarity with BloodBowl is that they are of the same genre, like a first-person shooter video game, or make of sports car.

2D6.orgI am not afraid to admit that BloodBowl is my all time favorite game but you have changed up so many things that I might be looking at a new favorite! Some changes are simple, like changing to a hexagonal game board, while some are major, for example only half as many players on the field, only 5 actions per side, and gameplay that doesn’t reset every time a player scores. Am I correct in saying that your primary goal was to speed up the gameplay while still keeping the feel of a violent sports game? What is your “30 seconds Convention Sales Pitch” about why people need to check out this game?

Heh – you’re quite right! People should check out this game because it’s easy to learn, fast to play and competitive, offering plenty of tactical choice with gorgeous art and best-of-class dynamic models, that will be continually supported by the manufacturer with new releases, events, tournaments and an engaging, passionate community. It’s frantic – games can be dominated by rampaging Marauders or can hinge on your Striker making a last-ditch attempt to score on one dice to save the game. It’s compelling, engrossing and you can play game after game after game and still learn something new and, most importantly, have fun.

You come out of a match and you have a story to tell, anecdote after anecdote, and it’s easy to get over-excited by it because I’ve almost certainly gone over my 30 seconds!

2D6.org: I really like the design decisions that went into Dreadball including the streamlining for ease of learning the game. For example anything that gives a bonus or penalty is taken as a number of dice rolled versus adjusting target numbers which can get cumbersome at times. Might I ask why you went with a D6 system? Did you ever ponder a D10 system or maybe even a D12 system to really allow a wide range of abilities especially for future races?

Yes – the original idea was for a D10 system and it’s something we cut out straight away and changed to D6. There’s something familiar to everyone about a D6 and that’s what we’re trying to attract – we want this to appeal to as board an audience as possible. From the most seasoned BloodBowl player to Jimmy who has played Monopoly, everyone has come into contact with a D6 and it gave us plenty in terms of the variety that we can offer. We can add or subtract the number of dice you can roll, different player types get different bonuses, different races get different bonuses within that and then you add in the MVPs and the Special rules and even team composition and you’ve got so much variety and choice that not having the extra four sides or whatever was never really an issue.

2D6.orgDreadball comes with multiple teams and league play already designed into the game, can you tell us what future plans you have for Dreadball? What can we look forward to in Season 2 and Dreadball Ultimate? Gamers love for our games to be continuously supported what plans do you have for future races and teams? Will there be a Season 4 and beyond? Will the game continue to evolve?

The game is going to receive massive support next thanks in no small part to our amazing Kickstarter crowed. We’ve actually funded two further seasons with a target release date of April and August respectively which will see over 20 new MVPs and 8 new teams – and we’ll even have big multi-hex creatures and a new multiplayer board!

Beyond that we’ve DreadBall: X-treme, an illegal version of the game played out of the fringes of space where fouling and death has far more common, petty criminals fight vile, sadistic aliens who oppose the Co-prosperity sphere, and gangsters run teams fueled with drugs and performance enhancers. We’re really excited by X-treme and one of the most interesting things about it is you can take mixed teams, so you can play with a team made up of robots, veer-myn, Judwan and humans if you want to – it’s going to make up for some really interesting match-ups.

After that the world’s our oyster! Events and tournaments are a big deal and the game will certainly evolve over time. We can’t wait to see what the future holds.

2D6.org: Are there any plans to incorporate any new MVP’s, teams, 3-hex mechs or beasties that were not included in the Kickstarter at a later date for the game? Will the Forge Father team get a 3 hex mech for season 3?

For sure, we have ideas that didn’t quite make the Kickstarter or we’ve had since. We’ve got so much to produce at the moment that we’ll probably stick with what we’ve got for the time being but never say never, there’s always a potential Season 5!

The great thing about the multi-hex creatures is that Jake see’s them working kind of like MVPs, so rather than race specific variations, anyone can take them (most of the time anyway – I can’t see a Nameless Spawn playing alongside the Zees, they’d probably bug him too much!)

2D6.orgWhich MVP’s will be shipping with the first Kickstarter packs? Will the Season 2 Judwan team have a Skill 3+? Can you have more than one “Keeper” upgraded Guard on a team? Any hints on team 13 or Mega-Mini #5?

Oo cripes! 8 MVPs will be shipping with the first Kickstarter shipment – Gorim Ironstone, Lucky Logan, Slippery Joe, Reek Rolat, John Doe, Number 88, The Enforcers and Wildcard. Buzzcut who is in the book will ship slightly later, and Wildcard will be getting downloadable rules ahead of the release of the Season 2 book.

Season 2 is currently being written at the moment so it’s all subject to change. The Judwan are looking pretty cool though!

Yes, you can have more than one Keeper upgraded Guard on a team – provided you’ve got Guards who get the required experience and roll well 😉

Erm… well, an idea for an X-treme team might revolve around the prison system… As for multi-hex number 5 – you’ll have to wait and see!

2D6.orgDreadball was a fantastic deal for those who backed it on Kickstarter.com, for my $150 I know I am going to be getting more than my moneys worth in fun and enjoyment. For retail customers though do you have a price point and what they will be getting in the retail box determined yet? Have you set up a way for retail customers to get some of the extras available to Kickstarter backers such as premium game boards, full teams, and MVP’s?

Yep – the core game is £49.99 and $74.99 and again thanks to the Kickstarter we’ve been able to improve the core box by adding in plastic hex bases, a plastic ref bot and 4 players to the already considerable contents inside – rulebook, game board, 16 players, 13 counters, roster pad, 54 cards and 18 dice. MVPs and individual team boxes are all available for our retailers to pick up and those stores in our partnership program get access to some of the more… different items, like the Premium game boards.

Kickstarter has really allowed us to improve our offering to retail as well, and whilst we came in for a little bit of flak from those who thought we were sucking up sales for our retailers, we’ve actually increase the pull-through that those stores will have, because of the excitement and buzz that surrounds the game, and the improvements we’ve made.

2D6.org: Will you continue to engage the Kickstarter community for feedback or any new ideas for Dreadball like when the Kickstarter was going?

Absolutely. With new greens, expanded range of concept art and new game ideas, we want to involve those people that made it happen as much as possible. In fact our DreadBall Forum has already gone live and there’s actually DreadBall blogs and Facebook pages springing up, so the channels in which we can have those discussions are also opening up.

2D6.org: Kickstarter projects are notorious for being long in the development tooth, prone to delays, and occasionally a slight let down, yet Mantic Games has promised to go from Kickstarter funding date to delivery in approximately 2 and a half months {Editors Note: Mantic DID make their delivery deadline}. When some projects take up to a year to ship you guys are doing the impossible for the second time, what is your secret?

Preparation and experience. We knew what was feasible and what wasn’t. We carefully built in extra shipping dates in knowledge of our limitations and we’d lined up some incredible artists and sculptors who knocked the briefs straight out of the park at the first time of asking. DreadBall has three shipping dates, because we don’t people to wait until August to get their game, but similarly we can’t produce that many sculpts and that much tooling in 2 months, so careful management and planning was required.

And that’s what’s great about our team – there’s two guys on the Kickstarter project itself, but behind the scenes they’re supported by a dedicated group of operational-type people who got the ball rolling immediately so we could not only meet but exceed the expectations we’ve laid our for ourselves.

2D6.org: Kickstarter.com love it or hate it is becoming a strong force in the board game market. Mantic Games seems to have success using both retail outlets and Kickstarter.com, can you tell us the advantages and disadvantages of using each outlet?

Sure – Kickstarter is great for many reasons. My personal favourite is the buzz it generates around the game, the community gets excited and that “infects” other people and draws them, and the whole feeling goes viral. We received emails telling us it was the best Kickstart they’d ever been a part of, that it was really fun, and everyone misses it when it’s over, that journey. This has led to there being a community from day one, which means you’ll be able to find an opponent, you’ll be able to go online and there will be people with the game ready to talk tactics or relive their last game with you. It’s an immense marketing tool. The other thing of course is that it funds the development so you can make the expansion quicker – we’ve got the funds to pay for two whole expansions and all of the tooling.

The risk of course is that it’s unknown – retailers are tried and test, and Kickstarter relies on the goodwill of the backer. It’ll only take one or two people trying to take advantage and mess it up to threaten the platform, so there’s always the risk that it’s not sustainable – what happens if someone doesn’t deliver.

Retail partners are great because they talk to people we can’t and are reliable and enthusiastic and push it. The disadvantage of using them is they could have 10, 20 or 100 different ranges to sell, so we have to make sure we’re generating the exposure and a compelling enough product to pull customers in and persuade them to buy.

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 play testing 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?

There is an inherent risk of putting money up front for a game that is untried – there’s a risk to the games designers reputation if the game is a flop. There’s a risk of something going utterly bananas and it going all wrong and threatening Kickstarter as a viable platform, so there’s plenty of risk involved, which the consumer will bear the brunt of if they’ve pledged. Project creators need to be realistic with their aims, expectations and clear about what they are delivering.

We made a conscious effort to put forward our reputation and knock over any boundaries we thought would hold people back from pledging. We posted the rules online, we posted gameplay videos, concept art, greens, figures, figures from our ranges, testimonials and screens from our play test days so that our backers knew they were getting in on something that was tested, something quality.

I think consumers are savvy and vocal, the best Kickstarters will be those that look quality and with a proven track record in my opinion, and those thinking about backing are able to tell to an extent if something sounds like it’s going to be good or bad.

2D6.org: What can you tell us about the business and financial side of publishing games? How much easier did the successful Kickstarter campaign make it for you to get Dreadball created? Do you think that the $150 price tag would have scared off consumers at the retail level even though it seemed to “Fly off the Shelves” as a Kickstarter supporter level?

The DreadBall Kickstarter has given us two expansions, 20 MVPS and 8 teams that would never have made it onto the 2013 release schedule – it’s really moved us onto the next level. Tooling and sculpting a brand new game like that is expensive, we got the game to a point and then backers not only finished it but grew it exponentially, and that couldn’t have been done with the resources we had otherwise.

The $150 package was designed with the backer in mind so that we could give them an absolute tonne of stuff – something that both Reaper and Sedition Wars did very very well. That was the bad thing about going last, Reaper has set an expectations of what you could get for a miniatures Kickstarter, and so it had to look a good deal in comparison.

We believe the $150 tag did in fact scare some people off backing because it’s a heck of a lot of money for a board game, despite the fact that after adding on the extras, the average spend was over double that, which is absolutely incredible. The game is not cheap, and neither do we want it to be – rather it’s affordable and quality, and that was really what we were trying to push.

Kings of War did the $100 tag very well too, in fact it went a bit mental but we were expected the final rush we got!

2D6.org: Mantic Games seems to have created a fairly well thought out mythos with multiple games hailing from that mythos including Warpath, Dreadball, and Project Pandora. Can we look forward to any novels in this futuristic universe?

Novels, comics and more games – we’re in the entertainment business and we can’t wait to start expanding the universe through other media.

2D6.org: Speaking of Project Pandora, what can you tell us about it? What plans do you have for the future? Is it a standalone game or can we expect expansions? What gameplay mechanics do you think stand out as the most unique or well rounded?

Project Pandora is a fantastic little standalone game and we’d very much like to do a second one and an expansion, similar to Dwarf King’s Hold. It’s something we’ll come back to at some point, it’s a game we’re pleased with. It terms of the mechanics we’re most pleased with, I think the different way the action tokens work when compared to Dwarf King’s Hold, the exploding canisters and the differing way the two forces work.

2D6.org: Do you have any closing comments for our readers, possible future project hints, or any other surprises we can look forward to?

Thanks for watching Mantic Games and keep watching – we’re only just getting started and the future holds very exciting things indeed (oh, and don’t forget to sign up to our newsletter and like us on Facebook to keep up to date with the exciting going-ons)! {Link}

We at 2D6.org would like to thank the team at MANTIC GAMES for taking the time out of their very busy schedule for this interview. With the release of Dreadball I know their hands are going to be very full for quite a while! We look forward to what the future brings from Mantic Games and their talented staff!


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20 Questions With… Jake Thornton Designer of Dreadball and Ronnie and Chris From Mantic Games! A News Segment Where You Ask The Questions!

The miniatures gaming scene is a crowded market full of games covering every genre from elves with bows to futuristic juggernauts battling it out in space for galactic dominance. In this crowded scene it is hard to stand out from the next new thing but a company called Mantic Games is doing just that. Mantic Games is bringing together the best sculptors, game designers, artists, and writers from around the world to produce fantastic models that are fantastic to collect, fun to paint, and phenomenal to game with.

Well known industry veteran and game designer Jake Thornton who you can learn more about on his blog quirkworthy has teamed up with Mantic Games to produce the kickstarter.com success DREADBALL which recently completed a highly successful, $728,985 campaign!! Dreadball looks to bring some fantastic miniature based  gameplay meshed with a brutal futuristic sport that will make for some really entertaining one off game and/or league play. Combining elements of Lacrosse, Hockey, and a little bit of Rugby Dreadball is set to resurrect and immensely improve upon a game that was near and dear to my heart growing up as a young board gamer. It’s no secret that Blood Bowl is the only game I have ever played to get a perfect 10 from me and yet DreadBall is about to take that formula to 11!

Now is the chance to ask YOUR questions! Jake, Ronnie (The Boss Over at Mantic), and Chris (Web and Events Co-ordinator) have all graciously agreed to be our guests for “20 Questions” where You submit your questions, WE at 2D6.org gather the 20 most popular questions, and then we conduct an interview!

Curious about miniature gaming? Clamoring for a sneak peak at DreadBall? Craving hints about Mantic Games next Project? Now is the chance to ask your questions!


-Reply Below-

Nothing is worse than Question and Answer segment where the questions you care about the most are never asked. We need  YOU to submit  your questions, you have until  Friday The 2nd of November, then we will contact them for the interview!

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“20 Questions” 2D6.org Interviews – David Sirlin From Sirlin Games!

Hello and welcome David Sirlin to 2D6.org’s “20 questions” and answers from the readers segment. David Sirlin is a game designer with a pedigree for designing asymmetrical games that are as balanced as possible, definitely not an easy task. While Sirlin Games was formed in 2005, David actually got his start in games through the Video Game Industry. Sirlin was an assistant game designer at 3D0 and he helped balance the popular video games Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix and Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. David was actually in contact at one point with Capcom, the Video Game Company responsible for the Street Fighter franchise, in an effort to license the character rights for what would eventually became the well received Yomi. Sirlin Games is responsible for creating Flash Duel, Puzzle Strike, Yomi, and the soon to be detailed Codex: Card-Time Strategy that David has been working on for years. David is a very passionate and opinionated game designer who isn’t afraid to express his feelings on various topics in the games industry!

2D6.orgDavid, could you please take a moment to introduce yourself, tell us how you became involved in the board game industry, and describe what first inspired you to start designing board games?

DS: I worked on video games for years, and on way more designs than people realize. I actually lead a pitch department at one company to come up with designs that client publishers wanted. Like how to adapt game X to Nintendo DS, or how to make a new type of game out of some existing IP, etc.

It was really frustrating to see so many good designs never get made for reasons totally unrelated to the design itself, it was always some business thing that would end up being a problem. So I thought about making some small game on my own where I could be guaranteed to reach completion. What if I could make whatever I want, and make it as good as I could, and didn’t care about schedule? Yomi was that project, so that’s what got me started. Eventually I would focus full time on it.

2D6.orgBeing responsible for balance in a series of games as highly regarded as Street Fighter must have been very daunting and challenging. Do you think this is what drew you to design asymmetrical games or were you attracted to asymmetrical game play before Street Fighter?  

DS: It definitely wasn’t being responsible for balance that drew me to asymmetric games, because that responsibility came after more than a decade of playing them. Street Fighter and other fighting games had long shown me as a player that there’s so much to explore in all the character matchups that make the game more interesting. Wherever I saw the idea of “more than one character” in a game, it almost always made it more interesting: Warcraft and Starcraft have different races and Magic: The Gathering has different decks. I’ve just always been into this sort of thing, so games without a bunch of different characters can feel flat by comparison.

2D6.orgAre you currently performing the roles of both Designer and Developer? How do these roles differ for you and which do you find more difficult? What percentage would you say each role plays in the whole of a game getting published?

DS: Those roles are very different, and different people who help me out are often better at one or the other. Design is about coming up with the idea, architecting the system, and trying to express a certain “flavor” such as a character who is aggressive, or a character who is tricky and fast, and so on. Developers tune that and polish it until it works well when played hard by experts. Which role I focus more on depends on the game.

For Puzzle Strike, it’s very extreme where I allow development to come from my group of playtesters, not from my own balance claims. I often challenge them and make them prove some balance claim if it doesn’t seem right to me, but I only really play referee there. I trust their expertise as expert players. The better I am as a player in a game, the more active role I play in development. Though I do lead the development either way, so I guess it’s just a matter of whether I’m a team member in addition to the leader, or just leader.

As for what percentage each role has, the answer is that both together add up to very little. Their importance is huge, because design and development define how good the gameplay is. But as a percentage of my effort to publish a game, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to production. Let’s go over some graphic design stats, for perspective.

Yomi has 11 boxes: one box for each of 10 characters, plus a large box to hold everything. There were 2 other boxes of different configurations I ended up not using. All of those boxes underwent many, many revisions. Puzzle Strike has 2 boxes now, though it’s had 6 boxes over the years. Flash Duel has had 4 different boxes.

The Puzzle Strike rulebook is very graphically intensive. Making that alone took weeks and weeks, and it’s had dozens of revisions. Flash Duel’s rulebook is also very graphically intensive and it took weeks. Yomi has had several rulebooks—the most recent public one is at www.sirlin.net/yomi/rules—but there’s a new one in the works that has many more graphics.

These 3 games have at least 3 logos, though really more because of past versions and expansions. There’s a logo for the Fantasy Strike universe, which took more than 50 revisions. I’ve done dozens of revisions of the Codex logo, too. And 56 different card frames for Codex, each of which has fairly elaborate graphic design.

Yomi has 10 different cardbacks, each a rotationally symmetric abstract design that has to convey the personality of a character. Just these cardbacks took a whole lot of revisions over the course of months. I’ve already created the next 10 cardbacks for the expansion. Flash Duel has 24 different cardbacks.

My point is that this is what takes up most of my time. This stuff is on the “critical path” as they say in project development, in that it’s what pushes the ship dates out as long as they are. I do all the graphic design myself, which I guess is pretty unusual. I don’t know even know if other board game designers are designing boxes, rulebook layouts, cardbacks and so on, maybe some are.

I do game design as my hobby, when I’m not “working.” Figuring out how a system should be, thinking of how to solve some problem we’re having, checking in with testers to referee their conflicting claims about balance. I do that all the time throughout the process, “when I’m not working.” But production is the limiting factor. That other stuff gets sorted out along the way, during the very long time it takes me to handle all that graphic design.

2D6.org: Sirlin Games has taken a unique direction in game design by offering a complete competitive community on the internet and a full fledged community driven tournament scene.  What part do tournaments play in game production and consideration, how much do they help sales, and how quickly do tournaments show imbalances in a games design? When you start work on a new game design, do you start with tournament play already in mind?

DS: I think when making a game I ask, “Should this game ultimately make sense and hold together, or should it be a sloppy thing that ultimately does not?” You’re framing it as related to tournaments, which it is, but it’s more of a core issue than that. A game that is “made for tournaments” just means that it doesn’t degenerate into some boring or broken thing when played hard by experts. So that’s something I’d hope anyone would strive for. There is somewhat of a clash of cultures I think, in that it seems many board games don’t strive for this when more competitive video games do. If a game is solid enough to hold up to intense play, it can also be enjoyed on a casual and non-serious level, so if I’m going to go to all the trouble of making a game, I’d like it to work well for both audiences if at all possible.

As for actual tournaments, that’s almost beside the point. I very much want them to happen though. And in the testing process, I think tournaments are very valuable. There can be a lot of speculation and talk about some claimed balance problem…and then you have a tournament and some completely other thing turns up as a major problem. Maybe the original claimed problem was a non-issue. That’s the difference between talk and talk about theory and people actually trying their best to win in practice. It just really helps to know what the real issues are if you have more tournaments.

After release, preparing for and playing in tournaments can keep a game interesting for a long time. I played the same version of Street Fighter for over 10 years in tournaments, for example.

2D6.org: Do you have any plans for upcoming tournaments? Can you talk about any upcoming events on your site or any conventions where you’ll be running competitions for Yomi, Flash Duel or Puzzle Strike?

DS: We have online tournaments all the time at FantasyStrike.com, we generally announce them on the front page and in the forums. We’ve also had tournaments at PAX East and PAX Prime. I didn’t personally attend Origins or GenCon this year, but I believe Game Salute ran tournaments for my games at those events too.

The biggest thing in the works on this front is an annual event, possibly called Fantasy Strike Expo, that would take place in June in San Francisco. There would be tournaments for all my games (and for Street Fighter HD Remix and Puzzle Fighter HD Remix) as well as demos of some in-development stuff. This is a ton of work to setup, and I’m not 100% sure it will happen this year, but the probability is looking very high. Your readers could even help out a bit by telling us how many of them might be interested in attending such an event.

2D6.org: What have you learned about growing a tournament scene? How do you feel about the progression of the Yomi tournament scene so far, has it grown in the ways you have envisioned? Are you taking any steps to help it grow further?

DS: As I said earlier, one big step would be to have an official, annual tournament that is the most prestigious one of the year. Players get seeding in the bracket by doing well at other tournaments at conventions, or game stores, or wherever. We’ve already had some encouraging steps by tournaments being officially included at the last two PAX events, so that’s been great. I think the online tournaments at FantasyStrike.com are going to be more popular over time as well, especially considering we have some really great graphical and user interface changes in the works for the site, to make it an even better experience.

2D6.org: You have a reputation for being an extremely opinionated designer who isn’t afraid to voice and defend your beliefs when it comes to game design especially in regards to the Collectable Card Game market. Scuttlebutt in the industry is that your next game will indeed be a customizable card game. Can you tell us about the model you will be using for this customizable game? How do you plan to balance things between the “Preconstructed Deck” and the “Living Card Game” format?

DS: Instead of selling random packs with artificially rare cards, I’ll just…sell regular boxes with cards, you know. You mentioned the On Life Support Card Game format. That’s a format for card games that are inherently dead (they can’t really be played for years and remain interesting) without new cards being injected every month or so.

The main design challenge I’ve faced in my new game is how to make a game that can be interesting for years regardless of whether new cards are released or not. So it’s pretty different in that regard. Another related issue is that if you ask what is the best number of cards for a game, meaning the number that gives the game elegance and lots of variety with no chaff, I think you get a pretty different answer than if you ask what number of cards makes the most money. So that’s another reason my approach differs from the OLSCG model, I mainly care about making whatever is the best game.

As for balancing decks, the decks you’ll be able to buy will be as fair as we can make them against each other, and you can construct new decks by mixing and matching parts of those pre-constructed decks. We have quite an advantage in balancing a game that works like that.

A helpful analogy is the Marvel vs. Capcom style fighting games. In a game like that, you pick a team of fighters from a large pool of existing characters.If we make sure each individual character has the tools it needs and is relatively fair, then we can make sure that every possible team of 3 characters you could even dream of making is at least viable, and reasonably powerful.

Codex will function like that, allowing you to customize your deck by combining pre-selected sets of cards. As long as each set works on its own, every possible deck combination can be viable. Contras this with in a normal CCG where far less than 0.01% of possible decks are viable (or something like that).

2D6.org: Very few details about this new game are available beyond a possible name of Codex and that it is inspired by Real-Time Strategy video games such as StarCraft and Warcraft 3. Can you give us some new details about this project and elaborate on the game play? How are you bringing two formulas, which seem so different, together without sacrificing the strengths of either? Will it be 100% card based or a combination of cards, tokens, and a possible map or board? Do you have a genre picked yet or are you concentrating solely on balanced mechanics for now?

DS: This will probably surprise you, but the gameplay of Codex is basically done right now, for the entire game, including every card. It needs more testing for balance (probably a lot more). It’s at a stage where, right now, I am not really aware of balance problems but I know full well that this is just because I haven’t discovered them, not because there aren’t any. I’ve also already completed graphic design on the game’s 56 different card frames.

The thing is, in addition to balance testing (which takes kind of a long time), I need hundreds of pieces of art that will costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in total. Plus more boxes and rulebooks and playmats and whatever else the production phase requires. And it will take years to complete all of that and ship the game. Because the lead time is so long, I’m very hesitant to explain the workings of the game. If it were a more normal game like “just another CCG,” I’d be doing as much promotion as I could right now. But because it’s so unusual, there isn’t really anything that works like this… I really would rather not let other companies have years to use the main mechanics before I can even ship it.

I will say that it is a card game though, not a board game. It’s much easier to play with playmats, but that’s just to help you keep track of which cards are in which zones. It uses the concept of heroes in a very similar way to the video game Warcraft 3, and it also has the concept of a tech tree. The main feature of the game is capturing the concept from RTS games where you have access to several possible strategies during gameplay, and as you are committing to a certain plan, your opponent is also committing to his or her plan. There’s a kind of dance that can go on about which direction you’re each going, and built-in leeway to allow you each to change course.

That concept (the dance of which strategies you are each choosing) is core to RTS games, and I’m really happy that I’ve been able to capture that. It’s a case of trying to get at the essence of a game and capture that in a different medium, so it reminds me of my work to capture the essence of a fighting game with Yomi.

2D6.org: Are there any more games in the Fantasy Strike universe planned?

DS: After the expansion for Yomi, I’ll release Codex next—if I can figure out how to pay for all that art, that is. I don’t know anything for sure after that. I have messed around with several designs, and I’m not sure which are good enough to be taken to completion. A couple of them are pure cooperative games, to give you some idea of what I’m working on.

2D6.org: You are definitely a designer who has a finger on the pulse of the electronic generation. Can we look forward to iOS and Android versions of any of your games? I know you have partially answered this question previously in another forum but I am hoping for an update and wanted a thorough interview.

DS: I have tried for years to make iOS versions of my games happen. A lot of independent groups have started but then ended up doing nothing. A major developer was going to do it, then mysteriously backed out just because the web versions we have exist at all. Actually, doing a cross-platform thing with the web version and iOS is going to be amazing for players once that finally happens some day. I still am pushing for this, and there is maybe a deal on the horizon for it, but no work has yet started. I have a feeling it’s going to be a while still, but that we’ll get there.

2D6.org: Puzzle Strike just finished a very successful Kickstarter.com campaign which saw the release of the 3rd edition of the game and the standalone expansion Puzzle Strike: Shadows which should be hitting full retail channels at the end of October. What changes have occurred between the 2nd and 3rd edition and for someone who has never played Puzzle Strike do you think Shadows is a good jumping off point or should players start with 3rd Edition?

DS: There are several different kinds of differences. I think there is a lot of confusion that the 3rd Edition has better balanced characters than the 2nd Edition’s upgrade pack. That’s actually not the point of 3rd Edition at all. Here are the kind of things that are different:

1) The combine chip was changed to cost $1 each time you play it. I think this helps strategy because “rushing down” (doing lots of combines and crashes early to try to win qucikly) hurts your economy. That’s an interesting trade off, and it happens to match how RTS games like Starcraft work. Rushing early has some sort of risk/reward to it. It also really opened up the design space for expansion chips and allowed them to be more elegant than they otherwise would be, without the need to add clauses to keep combines in check. Several character chips were changed to be more “tournament compatible” with that new -$1 combine feature.

2) The free-for-all mode is completely different. It no longer has player elimination, and anyone can crash to anyone or attack anyone. Usually this is terrible in FFA games because it means you just gang up on someone (using your pre-arranged alliance before the game even started), but the unusual workings of this mode solve that. This FFA mode is possibly the best feature of all in the 3rd Edition and we’ve gotten really, really positive feedback on it. Many chips are reworded to support the concept of attacking/crashing to anyone.

3) More powerful puzzle chips. If we were going to have a new edition anyway, I figured we might as well use all the feedback we had from months of tournaments to know which puzzle chips were not used very much. Some of the weaker puzzle chips were powered up, and this is a case where they also just became more fun! Training Day, for example lets you put the new chip you get in your hand for use right away, rather than in your discard pile. Knockdown went from a boring effect to a really strong rushdown-enabling chip.

4) A new Panic Time mode that pushes the game toward conclusion if it goes too long.

5) New components. Due to players liking the extra components in the Upgrade Pack for 2nd Edition so much, now you get game boards and screens to hide your chips in the box in 3rd Edition.

Note that you can take advantage of most of that with a 2nd edition set. Just treat your combines as having -$1, use the panic time rule, use the new free-for-all rules (freely available at www.sirlin.net/ps/rules). Treat any chip saying “next opponent” as letting you choose which opponent. It’s up to you if you feel like using any errata about anything beyond that.

2D6.org: Can you give some insight into the development process that went into creating Puzzle Strike? Were you trying to evolve the mechanics of Dominion much in the same was as Thunderstone did or were you already working on converting the game play of Puzzle Fighter into a board game? Where did the unique idea to use chips in place of cards come from? Will we ever see a card version of Puzzle Strike?

DS: Puzzle Fighter’s gameplay has been on my mind for over a decade. The specific way it handles the comeback mechanic is really interesting and subtly different than how most games do it. So for a long time I’ve looked for ways to put that into other games.

As far as Dominion, I guess I had a different reaction to it than most people. I found the lack of interaction to be pretty problematic, and the lame-duck feature to be a problem as well. Meaning it’s possible to be so far behind in VP that you can’t win, yet you’re still in the game (to cause havoc, to kingmake, etc). Starting with some basically blank cards in your deck makes for a slower start. Lack of characters / asymmetry is in general a problem to me, but here it’s even more of a problem than usual. It means that usually if a strategy is good for you, it’s good for everyone else too. I just didn’t find it a deep enough experience.

And so Puzzle Strike addresses each of the things I mentioned above. Asymmetry, more interaction, a faster start (character chips are in your starting deck), and the win condition completely changed to a thing that is interactive and tends to give close matches, with comeback potential. And by the way, chips in a bag instead of cards in a deck for easier shuffling.

2D6.org: There has been some backlash by a minority in the community about the multiple editions of Puzzle Strike in a short time span (although my understanding is that 1st to 2nd edition was barely more than cosmetic changes?) what would you say to the critics who complain this was an unfair business practice?

DS: The 2nd Edition was just a move to large scale manufacturing instead of having every single set made by hand. It also marked a real improvement in manufacturing quality (I didn’t realize there were going to be problems with the first edition manufacturing) and it allowed the wholesale price to be low enough that stores could even carry it at all. There were only some minor gameplay changes, basically stuff tournaments had told us at that point. The impetus behind that edition wasn’t gameplay, but it seemed better to implement those few changes rather than intentionally omit known ways to improve the game.

As for 3rd Edition, I listed all the types of changes above, at length. Would you say it’s a better game? If not, then we’d all agree there is no reason to make a new edition. I happen to think it’s dramatically better. A lot of things came together at once to make that even possible, from the Kickstarter success allowing a large enough run to add components people wanted, to the strategic improvements on the combine change, to new FFA mode that’s been a big hit. We also had run out of supply and needed another print run. I just can’t imagine holding that back.

Another way to think about it is to think about some far future date. You can use 10 years if you want, or 100 years. How are we going to have the best game by then? By making a commitment to not learn from feedback? That’s not going to do it. The best way is to make the best game you can at each point in time, and allow that improvement process over time to happen.

I think some people think that “more playtesting” is some kind of substitute answer. It’s not. Playtesting is vitally important, but games deep enough to be played thousands of times, you’d expect to learn something, rather than nothing, from how players interact with it after release. Starcraft, for example, had something like 11 or 12 updates over 10 years. It’s not that Blizzard should have playtested the game 10 more years before releasing it. It’s more that they released an incredibly good game, and managed to improve it several times, pushing their quality far past that of any competitor in that genre.

2D6.org: Multiple editions shows that the game is successful and selling out in the retail marketplace, are you finding the sales improving with each new and improved edition of the game?

DS: I don’t even know the answer to this for Puzzle Strike 3rd Edition, because it’s not quite even fully released. Though it’s absolutely true that the 2nd Edition brought the game to a much wider market than the first, because of the scale I was able to manufacture it on and the price I was able to get it down to. Likewise, Puzzle Strike 3rd Edition should be even more accessible, because it’s $49 now instead of $59, with more components, and an even better 3-player and 4-player mode. So I’d expect it to be able to reach even more people, but we’ll have to wait and see if that’s actually the case. I certainly do think that potential new players are in a better situation now though, because if they hear the game is good, they can buy a fantastic $49 base game, compared to the old situation of a $59 base game with everyone saying, “and you’ll really want to components in the $25 upgrade pack too.”

2D6.org: What are your favorite chips in each of the Puzzle Strike sets? Which ones ended up with the exact right blend of cost, effectiveness, balance and fun that you are the most proud of?

DS: This sounds like an easy question, but it’s actually really hard because of my memory of the design process. There are some chips that stand out in my memory like 10 or 100 times more than others, but that’s because they were very controversial or hard to balance, or enabled all sorts of possible strategies that we had to check were actually fair. So that’s all I can think of right now, ha.

Wartime Tactics (a character chip in Shadows) is one in that last category, you can do tons with it. Very powerful, but powerful in an interesting way, so really good for the game. The puzzle chip Hundred-Fist Frenzy (also in Shadows) was one that was really hard to balance. It was claimed brokenly strong and then proved to be so in beta tournaments, then we finally figured out a discard clause for it that made it actually fair.

In the base set, a bit more time has passed so maybe I can more easily answer the actual question. I like Gem Essence, because it has a good mix of simplicity and versatility. And I like Lum’s Living on the Edge chip because of how much it tempts you to be greedy. Though now that I think harder about development, I remember how hard Troublesome Rhetoric was to figure out. Giving your opponent a “troublesome choice” that isn’t totally obvious every time was very difficult (took weeks and dozens of suggestions that didn’t end up working out), so I’m pretty happy we finally figured out how to do it.

2D6.org: What would you say to the detractors making a fuss over Shadows being a standalone expansion versus an expansion only box? I personally think offering new customers more options makes great business sense but apparently not all agree. Can you give us any hints about the next Puzzle Strike expansion?

DS: I’ll point out that Dominion and Dominion Intrugue are the same way. Anyway, the thing is that the goal was to reduce the cost of the base set down to $49, and effectively doubling the print run size by making sure the expansion had exactly the same physical specs was a way to do that. There are really good economies of scale, and that’s a big reason for it. As counter-intuitive as it might seem, taking some gems out of Shadows would increase the cost of the base set and would not decrease the cost of Shadows by very much.

Also, it’s just less risky as a publisher to be able to sell either of two things to anyone, in any game store. Yet another issue is that some people have the 2nd Edition and would want to buy Shadows but not buy 3rd Edition. Those people would have the new combine chips, so that’s a bit of a plus.

As for further expansions, well, I’d like to first point out that there is a lot of replayability already. 20 characters is 210 2-player matchups. And the number of total effects in two sets of Puzzle Strike is like 4 sets of Dominion. I think you could play thousands of times without exhausting what’s there. If the game sells well and people want more though, then my plan would be to do one or two 15-puzzle-chip mini-expansions. These wouldn’t be standalone, so it would just be the minimum components needed. The best way to make those happen, if you’re interested, is to tell some friends to buy Puzzle Strike 3rd Editon or Shadows. My attention is on Yomi and Codex right now, but I would do those puzzle-chip expansions if there really is demand.

2D6.org: The second edition of Flash Duel was released in 2011 with some great upgrades, are you planning to revisit this game any time soon or is Puzzle Strike and Yomi your current focus?

DS: I’m actually really happy with Flash Duel 2nd Edition exactly as it is. I have no plans for it right now, and I just hope it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. It was kind of my experiment to see if putting two expansions plus base set all in the same box for the same price as the previous edition was enough to really wow people. The normal approach would have been to split that up into 3 separate products so that together it would have cost more. Tell me it worked by buying it, ha.

I should also say that we are almost ready to launch the online version of Flash Duel at fantasystrike.com. It actually has 8-bit animations for every move from every character, so that’s pretty awesome. I don’t know the release date yet, but we are very far along with the functionality. Almost every game mode is currently working in beta form.

2D6.org: Speaking of Yomi, can you give us any hints about the Yomi expansion you are working on? Will we see new characters, abilities, or game play mechanics unique to the game? Are you set on releasing all future Sirlin Games through Kickstarter.com or was Puzzle Strike a unique situation?

DS: Yes, I’m working a whole lot on Yomi right now. Especially the boxes and graphic design stuff, which as you heard earlier is my main job. There are 10 new characters, the same ones you’ve seen in Flash Duel and Puzzle Strike Shadows. There are several new mechanics, too. Quince uses illusions to sometimes play two combat cards at once, while Bal-Bas-Beta can keep his enemies at long range, making it difficult for them to even hit him. Gloria can heal herself several times during a fight (and we’re very on the ball here about not letting that work in a way that stalls games too much) while her sister Gwen is the opposite: she starts out *dying* and desperately tries to rush down before her hourglass runs out, so to speak. All this stuff is compatible with the base characters though, so there is nothing so new that it becomes a different game, or anything like that.

Also I’ll reveal the thing I’m actually most excited about: I will have a 2v2 mode. It will also have a 2v1 mode and a single-player mode, by the way. The 2v2 mode is just great fun though, I mean seriously great. And it also works with the base characters.

I think a Kickstarter release will be a good idea when the time comes. It worked well for Puzzle Strike.

2D6.org: Yomi has a lot of fantastic artwork, how much does that magnitude of artwork add to the cost of manufacturing a game? It seems to me that creating a game with a wide variety of great artwork while keeping costs down is a challenging balancing act what percentage of costs goes towards artwork in a game like this?

DS: It’s very expensive and very time consuming to get all that artwork. Even describing to artists what it all should be takes a while! And then there’s art direction, all the time taken by artists to draw, and then the thing that’s been the biggest time sink of all: waiting around for artists to even start drawing. I have no secret here, in fact I’m looking for someone else’s secrets or something. Expensive and time-consuming art is the biggest hurdle to releasing any of my games. You asked for a percentage, and I don’t really know, but let’s just say “most of it” goes to character art on Yomi. Though manufacturing could be as much or more if the run is big enough.

2D6.org: Kickstarter.com love it or hate it is becoming a strong force in the board game market. As a designer and publisher who has used retail channels and Kickstarter.com successfully, can you tell us the advantages and disadvantages of using each outlet?

DS: For some, the advantage of Kickstarter is they can do a project at all, rather than not do it. A subtle difference is that for others, they could do it either way but Kickstarter means the downside risk of throwing $100,000 or more at some project and losing all of it is kept in check. So this means something that is “too risky” to make becomes possible.

There are some downsides to Kickstarter, though in the end, probably they are not as important as the upside. One downside is losing some percentage of revenue to various fees. For example, I think I had to pay something like 18% or 20% to Kickstarter, Amazon Payments, and extra fulfillment fees for the hassle of dealing with Kickstarter. So if that exact same number of people had simply pre-ordered, it would be 20% more revenue. The other “disadvantage” is that Kickstarter really pushes developers to develop as much “extra stuff” as possible, because that’s how to be successful there. I sort of wish that somehow it pushed developers to develop as little extra stuff as possible instead, so that all that time could be spent on the core thing, but oh well. Finally, another drawback is that it really takes a ton of time to run a Kickstarter campaign.

Like I said though, I think the overall advantages outweigh that. Judging by the trends I see in board games, it seems that many other developers also think Kickstarter is overall a positive experience, too.

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 play testing 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?

DS: I think this is a good concern, and I share it, but I don’t have any real insightful answer. Kickstarter definitely is enabling more bad quality games to be made. But it’s also enabling more great games to be made that probably wouldn’t otherwise be made. So yeah I think the burden is on the consumer to try to sort out one from the other. That’s really hard to do though, because you kind of have to play a game to know if it’s good, and you often can’t do that with Kickstarter projects.

Now, that wasn’t a worry for Puzzle Strike because it was an already known game, and the 3rd Edition was even fully playable online when the Kickstarter was up. The same will be true of Yomi next year or whenever that is on Kickstarter. If you only have the reputation of the developer to make your buying decision, that’s tough because it’s entirely possible you’ll end up wrong in your guess on the game’s quality, in either direction.

2D6.org: What can you tell us about the business and financial side of self-publishing games? How much easier did the successful Kickstarter campaign make it for you to get Puzzle Strike 3rd edition and the Shadows Expansion published than the earlier editions?

DS: While I personally think making a great game better is a no-brainer, I am also aware that the realities of marketplace are quite different. It’s much safer financially to release more expansion of a great game, than to make it better. So it was very unclear to me how many people would be interested in the new Puzzle Strike. It’s especially hard when a few people complain a lot, because you can’t tell if that’s everyone’s opinion, or if tons of people are not represented by that opinion and that actually a lot of people really want it. So I felt it was very risky to release it without Kickstarter. And had I decided to take that risk, there is no way in the world that I would have done a print run large enough to reduce the price and include more components.

So bottom line: yes, Kickstarter made it a lot easier to publish Puzzle Strike 3rd Edition than the previous editions. Though I should say that in another sense it was harder, because there’s a huge time commitment involved with Kickstarter. So it was “more work” but that work made it “not financially crazy.”

2D6.org: Finally, why did you leave Alexander Alekhine out of “Playing to win”? Do you think Alexander Alekhine falls into one of your already described tournament archetypes or is he a different archetype?

DS: I had certain player archetypes in mind ahead of time, and I filled them in with whoever I thought fit. There is no particular reason Alekhine wasn’t included, and it’s no slight on him as a player in any way.

We at 2D6.org would like to thank David for taking the time out of his very busy schedule for this interview. We look forward to the retail success of Puzzle Strike and his new project CODEX!

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