Q&A with Michal Vitkovsky

Michal Vitkovsky - Shiver Me Timbers

I had the privilege to ask some questions to Michal Vitkovsky about his game Shiver Me Timbers. This game is now live on Kickstarter!

What are some of your favourite things about Shiver Me Timbers and why? 

There is so much to like about the game… But there are three things that really stand out to me and that make me smile whenever I get the game to the table. First off, I think we really crammed a whole pirate life into the box. There is so much you can do. You can fight ships, you can pillage fortresses, you can search for treasure, you can trade, you go on missions for the governor, you can hunt monsters – and all of these strategies are equally viable. That’s really awesome, because some evenings, you don’t want to go full berserker mode on other players, and might just be happy to pick up and deliver goods, and if that’s what you want, you can do that all night.

Then, there is the combat. Many games use simple roll-to-resolve systems, and while that’s perfectly fine in short games, I think it’s not the best solution for epic and strategic games. Having two hours of thinking and planning come down to a dice-roll feels really silly sometimes. So, I wanted something different, and I think we came up with a really cool solution. The fencing is fun, tactical and interactive, and once you get it right and start reading your opponent, that adds another nice layer.

And finally, there are the miniatures. I know they look like the ultimate eye candy, but once you’ve played with them, you’ll find them really functional. You can always see what your opponents are up to by checking their upgrades. You can make out good targets for your attacks by checking which ship is carrying what. And tracking your upgrades is much easier than placing lots of wooden cubes on a player board and knocking them over when you reach for your beer. Well, and in addition to all that functionality, they look so cool that your inner child won’t be able to stop grinning when you add another cannon.

What drew you to create a game in the sandbox genre? 

We’ll have to travel far back in time to answer that one. As a teenager, and later as a student, I spent many hundreds of hours playing Sid Meier’s Pirates! on my PC. It still remains the game I played the most even today (followed by Red Dead Redemption 2 and Dark Souls), and I keep an old Xbox 360 around just to be able to return to the Caribbean ever once in a while. I think that the ultimate freedom we associate with the pirate life style lends itself perfectly to an open sandbox game, and Pirates managed to bring that to life beautifully.

Now, there are tons of great pirate board games around today, but I don’t think any of them really offers the openness and freedom Sid Meier’s Pirates! offered back then. So, I set out to try and design a game like that.

Michal Vitkovsky - Shiver Me Timbers Set-up
What makes Shiver Me Timbers stand out from other sandbox games? 

Let me start by saying that I really love the sandbox genre, and long, epic storytelling games like XIA and Merchants and Marauders are near and dear to me. But as much as I enjoy them, there are a few things I wanted to do differently.

A major point is that I wanted to make a true feel-good-game where you could write your own epic tale without the fear of being eliminated and without having your carefully laid out plans shattered by other players. So, while Shiver me Timbers does have a light take that component, most of the game will be smooth sailing (see what I did there?), with you continually advancing and becoming more and more powerful. Obviously, in the end the player who wrote the most epic tale will win. But everyone’s tale will be epic one way or another.

The second major difference is that luck plays a really small role in Shiver Me Timbers. You have to plan your steps carefully right from the start: Once you select your hidden life goals, you will set-up the game board together, and everyone will be trying to make sure the layout fits well with his secret goals. During the game itself, there is obviously some luck of the draw involved – but there are plenty of ways to mitigate that, so in the end, usually the better player will win.

And last but not least, there is once again the sheer scope of the game. With the many strategies and tools available to you, you’ll only discover a fraction of the game in your first play through. There will be plenty cards and missions and items and combos left to discover later on.

Shiver Me Timbers Coins
Do you have any plans or dreams to create further expansions to your game? 

Well, I already had to trim the game down considerably for the Kickstarter campaign, so we have some sweet additions waiting in the wings. For example, the base game has seven different life goals which is plenty to keep the game fresh and replayable for months. But we have three more big goals ready to go. They are fully play-tested, and add lots of new story paths to the game (Hey, who wouldn’t want to marry the governor’s daughter? 😉). We cut those due to budget concerns, but if the Kickstarter goes really well, we might be able to add them right back in.

Apart from that, there is one expansion I have been asked about by dozens of people already on numerous occasions, and that’s the fifth player expansion. Now, we played the game extensively at larger counts already, mostly because my core play-test group has five players, and we know that Shiver me Timbers works just as well as with four people. The only reason we cut the fifth player was that the additional hardware required was prohibitively expensive. But we will most likely include The fifth-player-expansion as an optional add-on in the campaign. We are just waiting for our manufacturer’s quote to put the right price tag on it.

And finally, if you were a pirate what would be your name and the name of your ship? 

Wow, what a hard question. Well, seeing that the original Pirates! game has such a soft spot near my heart, I will go with Captain Syd for my pirate nom-de-plume. As for the ship, let’s end this with a horrible pun: Did you know that the German word for "to board“ is "Entern"? And the word for "the loot" or “the plunder” is "Prise"? Shouldn’t "The Enterpryse" be a perfect nerdy fit then?

Thanks a lot, this has been wonderful. I’ll see myself out now.

Thanks so much Captain Syd. If you liked what you read here then make sure you check out Shiver Me Timbers on Kickstarter this week!