I am counting down the days till UNPUB4. To help get everyone in the UNPUBING spirit (no, I did not make that word up, @dicehateme did), I am going to talk to a couple of board game designers I have met on the UNPUB circuit who will also be demoing their game at UNPUB4.
If these new interviews are not enough you can click on the links for and read other interviews done over 2013 of other board game designers, such as Paul Owen, Charlie Hoopes, and Nathaniel Levan, who will also be attending UNPUB4. So let me stop ranting about how UNPUB4 is the best prototype only board game convention in the world and how you should attend (more info at www.unpub.net) to play my game Post Position and every board game designer's game that I have interviewed, and get onto something actually worth reading…like me talking to the board game designing team Alf Shadowsong and Kiva Fecteau.
I first met Alf Shadowsong and Kiva at the UNPUB protozone at Congress of Gamers in Rockville, Maryland. They brought a game title Tiny Epic Battles that I played over and over again with Paul Owen.
Alf Shadowsong: We first unveiled Tiny Epic Battles to the public at Congress of Gamers.
Dr. Wictz:I know you guys are bringing Tiny Epic Battles with you to UNPUB4, could you give a quick overview of the game?
Alf Shadowsong: You are an Ant Queen defending your colony against a neighboring colony. You choose which personalities and actions to take with you to the battlefield, and how many ant hills and resources you want to commit to action--all represented by simple pictures on your 50 active cards.
Lay out your starting anthills, your deck of resources, and your deck of personalities and actions. On each turn, play a personality and an action, paying resources for each. Then decide whether you feel strong or clever enough to attack. After the best two out of three contests, create a new deck to play with from the 140 total cards you control, and forge into the fray again.
Dr. Wictz: What did you learn playtesting Tiny Epic Battles?
Alf Shadowsong: People not only played with the prearranged decks we'd put together for them, they then wanted to go the extra step and create their own play decks. All this is doable because it can take only 2 minutes to play a game and another 5 minutes to put together a new deck between sets of games.
Dr. Wictz: Has Tiny Epic Battles changed since you started presenting it at UNPUB events?
Alf Shadowsong: A powerful piece called the King has been removed because of balance issues. We changed a number of the other cards because of ideas we heard about making play seem more fair. We reorganized the card reference sheet to incorporate a section specifically for battle actions. We also changed the theme from a generic tactical battle game to one where queen ants are protecting their colonies to make it more unique.
Dr. Wictz: What inspired the theme for Tiny Epic Battles?
Alf Shadowsong: The idea came from watching Animal Planet and Discovery Channel.
Dr. Wictz: I know you are also taking a few other games to UNPUB4 as well. You mentioned a game called Shigami that is about a land where war has been outlawed.
Alf Shadowsong: Correct, and because war has been outlaw the resolution to conflicts and disputes is settled in the annual Shigami contest. Each person with a dispute to settle brings a team of six combatants or artifacts, each chosen to complement the others in a particular order.
The player chooses six cards and stacks them in a particular order, hoping that the speed, attack, defense, and special abilities of each will build upon each other to result in a high level of clout, or tear down the clout of the opponent. Each player flips one card simultaneously, and the effects are tabulated until all six cards have been played, or until one player runs out of clout.
Dr. Wictz: And you also mentioned to me you were bringing two corporation themed games.
Alf Shadowsong: Yes, one is called Kuchukua. In Kuchuka you want control of the corporation. But so do others. You attempt to manipulate money, votes, and influence in play in order to gain an overwhelming number of any one of them before your opponents.
The second game is Gridrunners. Up to six players take on personas who all have something in common - they want to infiltrate the computer of an evil global corporation to steal information to support their own individual causes. To do that, they'll send avatars into the system to build paths to the core and out again, trying to avoid agents and viruses. They each have unique attributes and control programs that help change the environment of the game. In the end, how much information you control is the only thing that matters.
Dr. Wictz: Why do you love making board games?
Alf Shadowsong: As far back as I can remember, I never enjoyed playing games as much as creating games for others to play. My favorite video games, board games, and computer games growing up were always those games that let me create entire scenarios, objectives, or even worlds for other people to play in. And so making board games is a natural progression for any mad scientist like myself.
Dr. Wictz: How did you two get into designing board games?
Alf Shadowsong: I created my first board game when I was five. I remember thinking to myself that Chutes and Ladders wasn't very much fun, so I created my own version out of construction paper and glue. And just like today with my current games, everyone loved it and everything was spelled wrong. A trend I happily continue today.
Kiva Fecteau: I agreed to become the executive producer for Shadowsong Industries to complement Alf's skills, like being able to spell very creatively. After immersing myself in the atmosphere of his creative genius for so long, I've actually found myself waking up with a game in mind.
Dr. Wictz: How did you meet your designing partner?
Alf Shadowsong: A small temporary construct of hell on earth named Stroyka, a theater company we're all glad to have survived.
Dr. Wictz: What inspired you two to work together to design board games?
Alf Shadowsong: Too much drugs and alcohol. Ok, not really, since neither of us do drugs or drink more than occasionally. The real answer: necessity, possibility, and luck.
Dr. Wictz: What are the benefits and challenges of designing games as a team?
Alf Shadowsong: The benefits obviously come from the fact that many hands make for light work. Multiple perspectives - no one person can see something through anyone's eyes but their own. Having even one other person there allows you to find solves for problems you might never have known about otherwise. We find strength in the different skill sets and abilities that each person brings to the project. The challenges come from that same idea of multiple perspectives. One person wants to develop in this direction and the other person wants to go in another. What makes for a truly successful team is the ability to complement and compromise.
Dr. Wictz: A very good point and a great way to conclude. Thank you Alf & Kiva for talking to me today. If you want to learn more about games designed by Alf Shadowsong & Kiva Fecteau you can visit their game page on the unpub website or find Kivia Fecteau on one of the Facebook game designer groups.