Interview with Dennis Consorte – Co-developer of Scrapyard Empire strategic game
You may remember I posted an article about a Kickstarter campaign for some steampunk cards by the people behind steampunkgoggles.com. Well after a very successful campaign with that, they’re at it again with a strategic board game called Scrapyard Empire. In order to get an understanding of the campaign and what it can do for you, my dear steampunk, I managed to talk to Dennis Consorte; one of the co-developers of the game.
Could you give a brief background of the team involved? We’re a group of people who work together and like to do fun projects like this that challenge our abilities, as a way to keep things really interesting. I founded our new company,Galliant Games to keep our game-related projects separate from the “day job.” I’ve been in the web design and online marketing industry for around 15 years, and I”m a total geek at heart, which makes boardgames and steampunk a perfect fit. Other members of the Scrapyard Empire team includes resident gamers Jonathan Pack and Ben Froiken who designed most of the core mechanics of Scrapyard Empire with feedback from me and the rest of the team. For artwork, we brought in Mike Lees as the lead artist, and Joemel Requeza for the character art. We received an abundance of praise for the artwork that Mike did for our last Kickstarter project, a deck of Bicycle-branded Steampunk playing cards. However this game is a larger scale project and it was too much work for one artist to handle alone. In addition, our team of graphic designers made the boards, icons and card layouts, and our writers developed the content for the game as well as our marketing campaign. All in all there were more than 12 people on the team for this project, not to mention all of the playtesters, friends and reviewers who provided valuable feedback.
This Kickstarter campaign is a board game. Are board games a particular interest of yours?
Absolutely. In fact, they’re an interest of everyone here on the team. We’re all highly creative people and playing and developing these games provide a creative outlet that just doesn’t feel like “work.” Some members specifically like traditional euro-games, while a few members stick deck-building games. Plus, we all grew up playing Magic: The Gathering. Lately we’ve been playing Ascension and we’re trying to find time to squeeze in a game or two of Settlers of Catan. The different styles and levels of gamers on our team really contributed to the final product and its appeal to a broad audience.
Is their a typical way of thinking through the rules of a strategy game?
I don’t think there’s any one way to play any particular game. You have to rely on your strengths, and then push yourself on the things that you’re not so good at. As for me, I tend to be very analytical. Meaning to say, I play like an old man and think through every move as if it were my last. Others like to make quick, gut decisions. With a set collection card game like Scrapyard Empire, there’s a lot of strategy involved that generally requires some up-front planning when you’re dealt your cards. Not only do you have to think about what you’re going to do to win, but you have to anticipate what your opponents plan to do, and find ways to sabotage them. It’s a unique balancing act of collecting the cards you need to win, while harvesting special abilities that you can use to offset the characters and cards of other players. In addition, there’s a small luck component with dice, meaning that you have to plan a few different directions based on the roll of the dice.
As far as designing the rules for a strategic game, I believe that it really varies from project to project. For example, when we had first started the planning for Scrapyard Empire, it was a completely different idea than what it is now. It started out as a much lighter card game and that was fun. Then we introduced dice and it became more fun. Then we introduced characters and special abilities and suddenly it had depth. With every new idea we had, we playtested it to see if it fit the game, and adjusted the rules, as well as the number of cards in the deck. After months and months of playtesting, we now have a game we’re very excited about.
The game is split into two parts (Basic & Deluxe). If a bidder gets the Basic edition, can they add the Deluxe features at a later date (eg, after the campaign has ended)?
You can add Deluxe components after the campaign is over, however the Basic Edition comes in a much smaller box. Most gamers like to keep everything nice and tidy in the box so that parts don’t get lost or damaged. So, we’d highly recommend going for the deluxe version if you plan on obtaining all components. However, we made the individual pieces available as add-ons, for those people who may not want everything. For example, some people may want to try the base game first since it’s a much smaller investment. Then if they like it, they can expand the set to get all of the pieces at a later time.
The game is already near its target, what do you think the secret to a successful Kickstarter campaign is?
Research, planning, and marketing. With Scrapyard Empire, we wanted to create a game that wasn’t like any other game currently available. We’re a pretty diverse group of gamers, so we put our own knowledge and individual research into bringing a new game to the market.
We had every step of this project mapped out with deadlines and deliverables, with each team member responsible for a different area. We had weekly meetings to go over the timeline and I praised people for jobs well done, yet cracked the whip when required. Without deadlines, projects can drag on forever and never get completed.
Besides developing the game, we reached out to a ton of gaming websites, blogs, cafes, reviewers and podcasts to see if they’d be interested in talking about or reviewing Scrapyard Empire. Members of various tabletop gaming groups playtested the game, so by the time the Kickstarter project went live, there was already a bit of buzz surrounding the project, which is super exciting!
Also, don’t leave out your international backers – they make up 30%+ of the Kickstarter audience. We tried to anticipate this before the campaign and found a discounted international shipping company with rates lower than USPS. However, we soon learned that there are services like Amazon that have distribution centers around the world, which can help with reducing shipping fees further, as well as eliminating some customs fees. The community has been very helpful in educating us on this and we’re learning every day.
My final thought on a successful Kickstarter campaign is this: the easy part is launching the project. After your Kickstarter project is live, it becomes a whole new beast. You need to be constantly reaching out to websites, updating your backers, implementing feedback, and so much more. It’s a fulltime job and you have to be able to adapt. During a campaign, a backer may point out a possible issue and you’re going to need to respond. One’s first impulse might be to reply defensively or not at all. Don’t do that. Once you post a comment on Kickstarter, you can’t delete it, so choose your words carefully. Regardless of how it’s delivered, you need to take comments as constructively as possible and respond professionally.
The additional components in the Deluxe range look wonderful, who is the designer?
The player mats and deluxe edition packaging were designed by Kaitlyn Harris based on my vision for the aesthetics, and the mechanics guys’ usability requirements. Every member of the team participated in the brainstorming and feedback for the designs. The 3D CAD models for the miniatures were created by Vinyas Rao, based on his interpretation of Mike’s artwork and our feedback to keep them true to a steampunk aesthetic, and true to the overall vision for the game.
What are the components made of?
The cards are standard, quality playing cards. However we are going to set a new stretch goal for a linen finish for that extra touch of class and durability. The player mats are made of the same material and the center board is cardboard. Currently, our plan is to make the miniatures out of resin (plastic is a type of resin). There are many types, and we’ve been lucky enough to have been educated by a number of model makers. The challenge with our invention concepts is that they have some delicate details. We will have to make the pieces more solid-shaped in order to cast them properly, without lots of pieces that have to be glued together, so that they don’t break. We’ve been speaking with a few experts about the design changes that will be necessary to produce quality game pieces without sacrificing too much with the aesthetics. In a worst case scenario, it’s possible that they could be made from pewter, but this can get very expensive. Right now we’re looking at a resin that has some metal in it, and we might give it a metallic finish. We’re working out some costs, which will determine the final product composition and size. If we can swing it, we’ll set a stretch goal to make them a bit larger than the standard 28mm size that’s common for these types of game pieces.
What additional rewards are being offered for going above target?
It’s funny, we had these mapped out at $5-10k intervals all the way up to $200k before the campaign. However, learning from other campaigns, we didn’t want to be overzealous, so we capped them off around $60k. Then after launch, we had lots of conversations with backers and learned that they had other ideas for ways to make the set cooler. Adapt. For example, we’ve got stretch goals for blank cards that you can draw and write on to create new characters and inventions. However, from speaking with people, they’d rather see improved quality, like a linen finish. Learning from this campaign, we’d probably get feedback on our stretch goals from the community before launch the next time around. Some of the really cool stretch goals include Kickstarter Exclusives, meaning that when the campaign is over, they’ll never be available again. These include a new, never before seen invention, and collectable stickers. Other stretch goals will make the product better overall, such as metallic ink on invention cards. I could talk for hours on this but the best way to see all the steampunk goodies is to check out our game on Kickstarter!
You can also take a look at the splendid things they do with lenses and strapping at steampunkgoggles.com