miércoles, 28 de septiembre de 2011

Speaking with Designers: David MacKenzie

Good games aren't made overnight. They need nurturing and sometimes they need to be broken down and rebuilt from the ground up. A good publisher knows that and David MacKenzie knows it. He's the owner of Clever Mojo Games, and he's designed a few games like Ogre Castle and last year's surprise hit, Alien Frontiers from Tory Niemann. A Kickstarter project that has gone thru three printings, it's success has spawned an expansion, Alien Frontiers: Factions. Also, a new game from Isaias Vallejo, Sunrise City, has gotten a lot of attention for it's unique scoring mechanism. It's origin story is a good read and it wouldn't have happened without David's help. We talked about these games, which are still on Kickstarter for a few more days. Check them out here and here.

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First thing: Congrats on not one but two very successful Kickstarter campaigns. You've had that before with Alien Frontiers but what were you're expectations for two simultaneous campaigns?

I was a little concerned that we might overtax the Kickstarter community with two projects running at once, but it turns out that was not a problem, after all. Combined, the Sunrise City and Alien Frontiers:Factions projects have over 1500 backers and more than $75,000 in pledges. My brother predicted 2,000 backers and $100,000 in pledges, but I'm not sure we can hit that with only one week remaining.

What stands out to me about the games, and got me onboard with a pledge, where the themes. Especially with Sunrise City, putting a vision together and executing it on the board seems great. How are game mechanics and theme developed in Clever Mojo's games?

Sunrise City started out as an entry in a print and play contest on BoardGameGeek.com and went through several months of design and rule adjustments before settling into its current look and feel. Mechanics evolve through play testing and more play testing. The zone bidding mechanic, for example, started off as blind bidding with all players having the same set of different value tokens, but that seemed a bit boring and a little predictable so we switched to a larger set of bid numbers and players would choose a subset of their tokens to use each round. We soon determined that this led to no predictability at all and made bidding a true guessing game, removing all strategy. The final solution was a priority bidding system where the most recent bid is the winner regardless of who bid previously, but with a double-bid option that allows a player to lock in a winning bid if they choose.

I know a few people who are not a fan of expansions. They like the game “as is”. What do you think about tinkering with your game? Are the seeds for an expansion there since the original design or were they dug up post release?

Alien Frontiers: Factions was developed by the game's original designer, Tory Niemann, after the original game was released, and I believe that most of the elements were designed in response to comments made by the gamers who love the base game. Almost from the beginning, there were requests for a fifth player, so we developed rule adjustments that would allow that. Similarly, players thought that the open knowledge scoring made the game susceptible to king making, leader bashing, and analysis paralysis. We added the Agenda cards to allow some secret scoring potential so you can't really be sure who to bash or who to crown. This may also take some of the pressure off of making "the perfect play". The new Alien Tech cards continue the creative additions that we started with the previous Space Crane and Mind Control Helmet cards. The Factions boards, for which the expansion is named, were aimed at improving the re-playability of Alien Frontiers. Each Faction board gives the owning player a unique ability and allows a new ability that any player can utilize for a cost. The drafting selection system we use means that players will have different faction combinations in play every game, mixing up the options and strategies each time you play. We plan to support the Factions expansion with ongoing Faction Pack boosters that will introduce new Factions, new Agendas, and more Alien Tech. Alien Frontiers will definitely be a living and evolving game.

I like that both games seem to have very balanced ways of scoring. That is, one bad move won’t doom you and a player can recover from a bad start and not just hope to be lucky. That said, AF uses dice. Did you ever think about reducing that element while designing?

Dice were the driving force in Alien Frontiers right from the start and we embraced that chaos in the game design. The dice provide a leveling influence where an unskilled player can get lucky rolls and an expert gamer can have unknown obstacles to overcome. However, there are lots of ways to control the dice through the Alien Tech cards. The dice manipulators and dice reusers give the players the power to make a bad roll into something better. With Sunrise City, it was just the opposite. We knew from the start that dice would have no part in the game. Randomization is introduced through the random drawing of zone and building tiles, and in the drafting and use of the role cards. Beyond those factors, players have absolute control of how they develop the city and advance their scores.

Finally, board games are growing but are not yet at a point where you can just grab a great title off any shelf. What do you think could happen so board games grow beyond its current scope and find a way into more people's homes?

Many people still look at board gaming as a kid's activity, so doing more to show the family and adult aspects of board gaming will help to advance the hobby. Consider taking Alien Frontiers to the mall or coffee shop to play. Take Sunrise City to the library or café. Let new people see the fun and puzzle solving aspects of modern hobby gaming and we'll get more and more people involved. Gaming is more than just Monopoly and Scrabble; we just have to show the public how much more there is.

We thank David for his time and remind you to check out his games and Kickstarter campaigns:

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