Thematic Solitaires for the Spare Time Challenged

A blog about solitaire games and how to design them. I'm your host, Morten, co-designer of solo modes for games such as Scythe, Gaia Project and Viticulture.
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Interview: Todd Michael Rogers on combining narrative, theme and lots of cards in Spell Saga - part II

Morten Monrad Pedersen
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A week ago we talked about narratives, themes and game mechanics in the game Spell Saga that’s currently on Kickstarter. We covered a lot of (IMHO) interesting ground and I even managed to sneak in a question about one of my favorite book series .

Today’s post contains the second part of the interview where we’ll talk about the rather distinct art style, a couple of my worries about the game and what the plans are for the future.

But before we get to that I’d like to highlight a fact about the Kickstarter that lies close to my heart: The handling of international backers. Readers of this blog will know that shipping costs, customs fees and VAT has kept me from backing a lot of games on Kickstarter. Todd and French Toast Gaming Co are aware of the issue, but instead of trying to tackle it by setting up an international distribution network and have chosen to give international backers all the contents of the highest reward tier if they pledge at the lowest level.

With that out of the way let’s jump right back into the interview.

Morten: The art style is very distinct and I imagine that it’ll divide players into those who love it and those who hate it. Personally I started in the “hate it” camp, and it actually dampened my interest in the game. Over time however it has grown on me, and I’ve moved to the “love it” camp. Why was this particular art style chosen?

Todd: A few years ago when I got serious about designing Spell Saga I contacted every. mother. fucker. I knew. The one person told me she would try was my then 18 year old cousin Lauren. And the art style was different, originally then what you’ve seen. And one night. really late, so late it was nearly morning I got an email from lauren saying “I have a vision”. And then she flooded my inbox with the art style you see today.

When Sakroka finally talked me into doing Kickstarter I begged Lauren. Begged her to be a part of it. I’m glad you love the art now. It just feels right. Ultra cute but also reallllly cool. And violent. It’s a wonderful combination.

Morten: Apart from the art style there are two things that have made me worry that the game might not be for me:
1) The game’s description here on The Geek includes “a dungeon crawl so overwhelmingly large it might take two kitchen tables to get through”, which makes me worry that the game is physically impossible for me to play due to lack of table space and being too old and creaky to play on the floor.
2) The rulebook is very long (last I checked there were two documents with a total of 74 pages), which can be quite a mouthful when you’re spare time challenged.
Could you comment on these two issues?

Todd: Yea, it’s the first one I thought might turn some people off...but I am here to tell you the dungeon crawl does not have to take up two kitchen tables. It’s actually up to you how big it gets. You can delve down deep and spread those cards across the house, or just keep it simple and only visit the parts of the dungeon you feel like.

I for one am also too old and creaky to get down on the floor, ...but when this dungeon gets shoved all over the table it is really, really exciting to play. Sakroka and I covered his mother’s entire pool table. And although Sakroka also mentioned worries about space being an issue, he was the one that kept growing the dungeon. He even opted to follow the green monk’s advice and search for the underground forest. It’s addictive.

As for the rulebook, your initial concerns about length were exactly why we made (2) books. You really don’t need to read the entirety of the gold rulebook. It’s there as a tome of knowledge, for if you ever get stuck while playing. As long as you read the first 15 pages or so and then spend 10 minutes with the Silver rulebook (which is a walkthrough) you should be able to get the hang of it. Of course that’s different for everyone. I do much better with video instructions, which is why Josh and I are spending so much time filming video tutorials right now.

Morten: You’ve written that the story in Spell Saga is a part of a larger story arc. As mentioned I really like games with narratives, so could you tell me more about that and the future of Spell Saga?

Todd: The future of Spell Saga is Kickstarter.

“Spell Saga : Tabletop Novel” is a complete story from beginning to end. But you’re right, it is the middle of a much larger story. We are also going to do tabletop novellas called “Realmwalkers” that help tell the full story of the world, how it ended, and what happened next. The first Realmwalker is called Prelude: Science // Armor // Romance, and players can try it for free if they back our Kickstarter (for even just a dollar!) Of course it will be a few months away before the PnP files for that one are up. But it’s really neat! And it’s super important in the overall story of the game.

Morten: What is your favorite thematic solitaire game and why? And no, you're not allowed to answer Spell Saga :-) Any thoughts on other games with strong narratives would also be appreciated.

Todd: Here's something I struggle with answering truthfully, because I’m not sure how I feel about it.

I don’t often find the games, or books, comics, or movies that I really want. Especially games. SO I make them. I sit down. And I make them, and my friends and I play them for years until we decided to Kickstarter them so other people can enjoy them too. One game I’ve been working on for 17 years.

I think I like anything that feels nostalgic the first time I see it. And I’m always looking. Every so often I’ll come across something, but I’ve yet to find any Solitaire style games that made me want to stop playing Spell Saga.

I hope that doesn’t sound awful.
But it is true! I wouldn’t make things if I had found what I was looking for already.

Morten: So basically you did, what I said you couldn’t do and chose Spell Saga . I think it’s quite normal, however, to be in love with your own design – the important thing in such a situation is to have someone to do your reality checks for you.

I know you’re very busy with the Kickstarter, so thank you once more for taking the time to do this interview, it’s been interesting.

Good luck with your campaign, I’ve really been looking forward to seeing it start.
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