Q&A with Jamie Noble-Frier – The Noble Artist

Jamie Noble-Frier Interview - Hero Master

Jamie Noble-Frier is an artist and board game designer and genuine nice guy. He can be found at The Noble Artist and the Hero Master Facebook pages. I got to ask him some questions!

Jamie! For those who don't know you can you give us some background and information on your latest project?

Hi Nick! I’m launching a Kickstarter campaign in September for my first board game as a publisher, Hero Master: An Epic Game of Epic Fails. For the past 10 years I’ve worked as an artist for board games, and during that time began researching the development process while I was looking for clients in Facebook groups and forums. As I learned more it became less about understanding the industry for the client's benefit and more for my own self-interest!

As a complete fantasy nerd, I wanted to create a board game experience that I’m sure is familiar to anyone who has played an RPG: The dysfunctional party heading out on a doomed quest. I loved talking about and hearing about the experiences of people who didn’t end up as the smooth talking monster crushing party, but the guys who struggled at every turn due to their own incompetence.

Originally, I released a series of amusing greetings cards for gamers that had “critical fail moments” as a test for the humour and art-style. They were released on Kickstarter a couple of years ago and still remain popular today. That set in motion the full design and testing of Hero Master: An Epic Game of Epic Fails, where you play the worst heroes in the land of Snoozehaven. So bad in fact, you’re oblivious to the dragon swooping above your favourite tavern burning local farms. It takes Snoozehaven’s boldest and bravest to pile into the tavern in droves before you finally realise, and by that time it’s too late to join one of the parties that actually has some credibility. As the dust settles, you look around to see the same few dopey faces staring back at you.  Reluctantly you agree to venture out, all with the same plan of getting as much gold as you can to leave this awful party for good.

Expect a squabble for the title of Party Leader (first player) as you try to prove who the best in the party is, avoiding the bungles of your fellowship (take-that mechanic) and ensure that you’re not out of steam when you encounter the last monster each location (hand management). There’s a small element of deck building and character improvement if you manage to dispatch a few monsters, but it may be tricky. This is not a co-operative game and you guys really are awful!

How is it being an artist and game designer? Are you hoping to become the UK answer to Red Raven Games?

Being an artist and a game designer is great! I have so much creative control, but I have so little social life! It’s a lot of work, but I love it, and get totally consumed by it. There’s always something to do, and it’s great to not have to worry about the overheads of paying an artist, as it’s my own time I’m using. Red Raven Games is definitely an inspiration! I’m still of the school of thought that if you can’t do it yourself hire someone else, it’s important to play to your strengths and that’s why I’m hiring help for the promotional side of things.

Fortunately, aside from game design, art is one of the biggest parts of the game, even in marketing, so I can create my own promotional material and get the hired help to tell me how best to use it! I’d say the main issue is feeling a little overwhelmed sometimes and not having a direct person to bounce things off. Fortunately the gaming community is such a great bunch, I’ve been able to turn to them for support and met some awesome people, like Stijn my main play-tester.

What was the inspiration for Hero Master?

The inspiration for Hero Master: An Epic Game of Epic Fails was of wanting to recreate a little bit of humorous nostalgia and a board game that had a similar amount of interaction as actually playing the RPGs it parodies. As I say I’m a complete fantasy nerd, so everything I’ve absorbed has an influence on the game, from the obvious Dungeons and Dragons to flawed characters I loved in books by Joe Abercrombie, and the humorous adventures in Robert Rankin books.

I love strategy games, and I love solo games, but one of the main directions I wanted to take with the game was to get some great banter and player driven narrative going round the table: “You sneaky rogue, do you remember  when we were doing XYZ and your rogue did…”. We have seen it in all our play-tests.

Hero Master isn't as light as it looks, in fact there is a fair bit going on, what was the hardest thing to cut from the game?

You’re right! That’s one of the biggest compliments and regular comments we’ve had. Wrapped in its light-hearted art-style and comedic quips, there’s a deep strategy in the first stage of each encounter. The players have serious decisions to make due to the need for hand management, trying to take the Party Leader (first player) token as late as possible, and get their best attack down in the earliest slot and countering any possible bungles with their own or using combos that are created by combining their race and class decks.

The game has been through some serious iteration. It’s unrecognisable from how it first looked. The theme remained the same, and it’s still reliant on card play, but so much has been axed. I think the hardest thing was the original map tiles that had like a warren on different rooms that players had to fight through. It was a little too arbitrary though and made things more complex. I like the complexity in the meat of the game (during the encounters) and wanted to get the rest a bit more streamlined.

How does your art and board gaming connect?

The connection between art and gaming has been great for me. Gaming was my inspiration to follow the art path, and now art has been the vehicle for me to get into the designing of games. I started out copying art from my old ‘Warhammer Armies’ books when I was a kid, and never thought I could actually make a living from drawing all the stuff I wanted to. So much so in fact I bailed Art College after a year and studied Media instead as a steadier career possibility. I really wish I hadn’t but I did meet some great people.

Some years later, I returned to college and studied video game design, and got back into concept art too. Art has allowed me to meet loads of names in the board game industry, and they’ve all had a hand in guiding me through the design and publishing process. It’s been great to have those guys and girls to bounce my questions off. I’m hoping that this experience will in turn make me more knowledgeable and like them, I can pay it forward to people like me now. 

Hero Master: An Epic Game of Epic Fails launches in September and is published by The Noble Artist. You can find more information on the Facebook page or by joining the mailing list.

Nick can also be found at Board, Deck & Dice