This is the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series. I'll be asking some influential game-gurus some hopefully searching questions about the dark art of game design. And marketing. And Kickstarter.
Oh, and alcohol!
First out of the box is Marcin Świerkot, founder and owner of Awaken Realms. Marcin describes, on the company's website, how himself and a friend decided to leave their jobs in the Financial Sector, start following their passion for gaming, create inspiring games and devote themselves to the hobby they love.
Founded in Poland, as a war game miniatures-painting company, you might be mistaken for imagining this is all they do. But one search on Kickstarter will dispel that myth immediately.
For the love of Kickstarter
Awaken Realms have triumphed with a number of successful campaigns. ‘The Edge’, a miniatures skirmish game. ‘This War of Mine’, which was developed from the successful video-game of the same name. And most recently, a stellar campaign for ‘Lords of Hellas’, a vast game of Territory Control. But not only that, there is so much more: Resource Management and City-Building; Commanding Armies and building Monuments to the Gods; Adventure-style Monster Hunting and Quests.
Marcin managed to take some time out of his super-busy schedule to answer some fatuous, and hopefully not-so-fatuous questions. It was done via email, so I’ve taken the liberty of leaving the answers exactly as he gave them. His English is waaaay better than my Polish, so who am I to think I’m the grammar police!?!
11 QUESTIONS (because 11 is one more than 10)
Marcin, a nice easy question to begin with– Beer, Wine, or Spirits?
Well, I am from Poland so I guess I can't really say anything else than Vodka, right? 😉
Do you remember where you were when Lords of Hellas was born, and was it conceived in mechanism or theme first?
Um, actually I think it came to be listening to Michał Oracz during one of the discussions. Not many know, but Michał is huge on...hmm... some would have called it "consipiracy theories." I would call it alternative views on many things ;). You see, there are A LOT of things that are very strange in the old times and we don't really have a clue about them, but we need to teach something in schools, so we are making mainstream line of history and then throwing out everything that does not fit.
It is obviously a reasonable approach, but it leaves a lot of interesting things behind. But yeah, overall I would say it was theme first and then gameplay.
What game inspired you to dream the dream of Awaken Realms?
Hmmm... I think this would be mostly computer games. I was playing a lot of computer games and Magic the Gathering from the tabletop. Originally, like many people, I wanted to do computer games - but we started from miniatures and then moved to board games and it is quite an awesome place to be honestly. You can have much more human interaction during board games. But who knows - perhaps we will also make a computer game one day ;).
Does a successful Kickstarter campaign like Lords of Hellas lead to sleepless nights?
Oh, definitely. People usually see Kickstarter success, but what they don't see is the amount of work you need to put into it. It is just massive - but one thing changes - you have a HUGE amazing, supporting community behind your back and it lifts a lot from your shoulders. When you have such great support, you don't feel all those nights.
Were you surprised by, and prepared for, the speed of buy-in for Lords of Hellas on Kickstarter? Stretch-goals were being passed quicker than Usain Bolt doing his weekly shop!
Nope, definitely not with this tempo. Obviously we had prepared some of them... But man, it went through the roof on the first day. Fortunately I have an amazing team that stayed with me really late hours to prepare new stuff.
Which game or mechanism, by another designer, makes you think, ‘Wish I had thought of that?’
That is a great question... Obviously in there is tons of that, but in territory control games I think my personal favourite would be Game of Thrones declaration of actions. Very simple, simultaneous for all the players, yet giving you so much choices and great moments.
I am also huge fan of ‘Chaos in the Old World’ by Eric Lang and the mechanic of destroying regions is really awesome. I think those are the top picks that comes to my mind.
But overall I think there are no places for that mechanism in Lords of Hellas - those are just two of the biggest I appreciate in other territory control games.
How many hours of playtesting are you and the team likely to have done by the time Lords of Hellas ships out?
So in total we had done probably something like 1000 tests, with average game time of 1.5 - two hours. Funny thing - I played around 200 games myself and still play the game with excitement and that tells a lot about replay ability of this title.
Is it easy to balance the books for games with as many components as This War of Mine or Lords of Hellas?
Oh, not easy at all. It is more complex than people think - I like to compare it to writing I.T software, where you can't have holes in every little interaction. What is probably the biggest task (and many tend to ignore it) is to make a very rich and deep game BUT make it approachable at the same time.
We want to go big in our titles in the open and play option, where just like with computer game you can learn the game whilst playing the game. But what we are doing now is just baby steps, but we hope to master it in time and it will be a new standard in the industry. We like to dream big!
What is the one piece of advice you would give to any would-be game designers?
Well, I think Adam Kwapiński (game author) would be best for that type of advice, but I can give you one from developer/publisher standpoint:
TEST THE GAME ON PEOPLE ASAP!
This is the single most important thing you can do. Got an idea? Just do paper components, do not care about balance, wording and all that. Just test the concept and see if the game is actually exciting.
I have seen so many games that work like gold on paper (even made few myself), but then when you start playing it they are just incredibly boring.
What was the biggest, single lesson you learned from the This War of Mine campaign which is helping Lords of Hellas?
Oh man... hard to choose, there was so much.
I think single biggest is don't try to do everything yourself. Get a great team that you trust and share tasks with them. Such huge games just can't be done by one person in reasonable time - and most of the games are bigger than they seem.
I am a very lucky man to have an amazing team and this is why we are able to pull off those big titles.
And finally… What’s next after Lords of Hellas? (Whisper it in my ear… I won’t tell a soul…)
I think at this point I can officially say, that our next game is going to be NEMESIS. This one is special - it has been in development for over four years! Once again we are teaming up with Adam Kwapiński (author of Lords of Hellas) and we add to the mix Rebel, who is biggest polish Board Game publisher.
I am certain that this game will be amazing. If you like survival sci-fi horror - this is THE game for you.
Awaken Realms are definitely a game company on the up. They aim high: a breadth of scope and scale of ambition match an ethos of offering great design coupled with a deep gaming experience.
By their own admission, they had teething-troubles with This War of Mine when it came to production delays and shipping. But Kickstarter isn't Amazon! It is a development and presentation platform. Games which might never get backing in normal circumstances get a chance to live. Ideas are given room to breath, by the collective power of individuals believing in the same dream as the designers.
And with each new game, Awaken Realms are learning, adapting, growing and sharing a unique vision with those who want to be part of their strange, beautiful journeys.
All Hail the new Lords of Poland!