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Nigel Pyne’s oddball Memoirs
The steampunk anthropomorphised animal, no-surface-needed card game is back, in the form of oddball Aeronauts 2: Double the Trouble. In this in-depth interview with oddball designer, Nigel Pyne, we discuss both oddball Äeronauts and oddball Aeronauts 2: Double the Trouble. It should be noted that some of these questions come from other curious geeks via threads, PMs, emails, chat room discussions and twitter posts. Hopefully, oddball fan will through enjoy this interview.
Nigel, could you share a little with us about yourself and what got you into hobby of tabletop gaming?
Nigel: I’ve actually been a gamer since I was knee-high to a raccoon animan. I made up games for my brothers and friends to play and sought out new games. I remember getting a copy of Scotland Yard when I was maybe knee-high to a bear animan in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until a few years later that a teacher at school began to run a D&D club and . . . well . . . imagination bomb! That led to buying minis in a small FLGS that also stocked Games Workshop games and I’ve never looked back.
What are some of your favorite games to play currently?
Nigel: I’ve actually been digging into some really old games recently. Going back in time with the original Fury of Dracula, Judge Dredd, Chaos Marauders and the like. They’re all Brit-Thrill (you saw it here first) games where I don’t have to think too much and are plain fun. A counter-point to the maths of balancing factions!
What do you look for in a game when you are going to purchase something for your game collection?
Nigel: I look for a game that has narrative and an action, come adventure, theme. I really got into RPGs when I was younger and so love games that at least approximate that experience.
What gamer designer do you feel has had the most influence on you as a designer?
Nigel: This may sound odd and you certainly can’t see it in oddball Aeronauts, but, the designer who’s influenced my thinking the most is actually Rick Priestley. Why? Well, back in the day - again - I got heavily into Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader. The 1987 version designed by Rick Priestley. And it’s not actually the design that’s influenced me the most rather than the concept. Rogue Trader wasn’t just a miniatures game. It had elements of role-playing, a campaign - I believe the 'with it' kids these days call it ‘Legacy’ - and character advancement where your main character was in charge of a squad. That concept has stuck with me and you’ll hopefully see the result of that next year. As far as game design influence for oddball Aeronauts goes, well that would be whoever designed Fan Tan.
We are here today to talk not only about your newest game in the line of oddball Aeronauts, but also, the oddball games in general. What type of game is oddball Aeronauts and could you give us an overview on how it is played?
Nigel: Sure. oddball Aeronauts is a light strategy - and by that I really mean tactical in so far that you do have tactical decisions to make each round, but planning ahead too many turns isn’t where the game is at - so a light strategy, play out of the hand card game. It’s a casual game that you can literally play anywhere as you don’t need a surface to play it. Each players’ cards represent the officers, crew, bots and…oddball things of a dirigible and each round the players choose 1 of 3 skills - Sailing, Guns or Boarding - and can play up to 3 cards. The number of cards each plays is revealed simultaneously and then each player totals up the value of their chosen skill shown on each of their played cards. Highest value wins the round, but each card has a Trick that can affect the outcome or the next round - rule breakers basically. Then all played cards are discarded and either the loser has to discard extra cards or the winner gets some back. First player to run out of cards loses.
How did the theme for oddball Aeronauts come about?
Nigel: Because the oddball Realms already existed (in our minds) with a steampunk-esque feel to it, the theme of duelling dirigibles easily sprang to mind when the mechanics were in place. In all honesty, it was as simple as that.
If you had to completely re-theme oddball Aeronauts – what would you re-theme it as?
Nigel: Well, if I absolutely had to move away from duelling dirigibles then I think the game would work well as duelling airships. Not good enough? Okay, well I’m actually working on a couple of variants of the mechanics - one with the backdrop of rival spy teams. That's working pretty well.
Perhaps, the things that stands out the most out about the game (besides the art) is that it uses no tablespace – how did that come about? Also, what is the general story behind the creation of the game?
Nigel: The no surface thing was deliberate - it was actually my personal design brief. Here in the UK there’s a game - if you can call it a game - called Top Trumps. It’s great when you’re a young kid, but, gameplay wise, you grow out of it quickly. Top Trumps is played out of the hand with no surface and I thought it would be great if there was a game with more to it that kids could get into once they’d moved on from Top Trumps. It took me a year or so to figure out how to make the no surface thing work.
What was your favorite version of Top Trumps growing up?
Nigel: The only one I remember was cars. This was the mid 70s we’re talking about. So I guess that was my favourite?
Have you ever had an issue when someone playing the game tried to a slight of hand trick?
Nigel: All the time. It seems that everyone that beats me is either a magician using sleight of hand or a professional cheat. No. Really. It’s the only possible explanation.
Was oddball Aeronauts always going to be the name of the game, or where there others that you seriously considered?
Nigel: My recollection isn’t so great on this. All I recall is once the game design fell into place we’d already developed the oddball Realms a bit and the theme of duelling dirigibles came very quickly. As to the name itself, I’m pretty certain we had a brain-storming session that culminated in oddball Aeronauts. But that’s all I remember really.
You are really trying to give this little card game a rich backstory – you not only have short stories on the website, but also have put work into a field guide for the oddball universe. Why have you decided to go this extra mile for the game?
Nigel: That extra mile, as you put it, is just what we do. Lloyd and I were heavily into RPGs and love rich settings and narrative for games. So we don’t just design a game, but build a world around it at the same time. The oddball Realms weren’t created for oddball Aeronauts. We actually created an adventure-style game based in the oddball Realms prior to oddball Aeronauts. That we’re planning to release next year. But when the mechanics for oddball Aeronauts came together, we concluded that this would be a better game to bring to market first - a lot simpler to produce.
With the oddball universe you have involved (and continue to do so) – fans/gamers in voting or even naming characters. Why is this important to you and what do you think it brings to the game that perhaps it wouldn’t if you hadn’t involve gamers?
Nigel: We’re in an age of social interaction as never before seen . . . on this planet You can jump onto the internet and correspond with complete strangers anywhere in the world. Previously, there was never an easy way to involve gamers in such a way as we’re doing and so most publishers still don’t bother. But why not? We absolutely love the interaction and the contributions we receive are quite often above and beyond what we ourselves could come up with. So by that very fact, the final game is an improved product. When you create your own IP - as we have with the oddball Realms - you’re free to create and evolve it as you see fit and that means others can easily contribute to it as well. If you’re relying on someone else’s IP then you’re constrained in what you can do.
How would you say community involvement played a part in the making of this game and would you, as a designer, recommend it to other game designers?
Nigel: If you think about it, play testing is community involvement and has a massive part to play in bringing a game to fruition. And using Kickstarter is involvement with the community in a big way. We thought that if we were going to involve the community to fund production of the game, why not involve them in elements of the game itself? So overall, community involvement played a huge part.
Speaking of involving gamers. Did you always plan on using Google Hangouts in your design of oddball Aeronauts for online play or did it happen naturally?
Nigel: Yeah, we planned that from the very start . . . okay, no we didn’t. This came around during the Kickstarter for oddball Aeronauts. Those imaginative girls from Spooning Meeples had been streaming online games via google hangouts which gave me the idea to play oddball Aeronauts via a hangout. So I reached out to Spooning Meeples and they were foolishly up for doing this and it went from there.
Where there any games that influenced you in the design of oddball?
Nigel: The real influences were Top Trumps and Fan Tan. Top Trumps I’ve spoken about earlier. In Fan Tan you start with a large number of coins (or the such like) and these are reduced down and down until 1 - 4 coins are left at the end. At the beginning you bet on whether 1, 2, 3 or 4 coins will be left. That’s it. Again, not really much of a game, but it sparked off the concept of using your resources to win, but sacrificing those resources in the process and once you’re out of resources, you lose.
I know in other interviews you have been asked about the spelling of the game. Instead of asking why you didn’t capitalized oddball – let me instead ask what is name of the capital of oddball?
Nigel: The capital of the oddball Realms is Hodge Podge.
oddball Aeronauts really seems to be a hit of a game – did you ever expect it to be as popular as it is?
Nigel: I wouldn’t classify oddball Aeronauts as a hit just yet! It had a good Kickstarter and has sold better than ‘average’ through distribution here in the UK. We’re still talking with US distributors and that’s looking encouraging, but it’s still early days. As for whether we expected it to be popular? Well, we did a lot of research prior to its release both on the gaming market and the kind of games that do well in it. We know oddball Aeronauts ticks many boxes, but you never know, so we’re prepared for it to be a flop as well as having the knowledge that it has the potential to be popular.
It’s such a hit, that now there is even an ooddball Aeronauts comic strip (by Giles Pound). Could you tell us how that came about and did you ever imagine that there would be a comic strip based off a game that you designed?
Nigel: Yeah, we imagined an oddball Aeronauts comic, but in our minds it was something for the future - a few years away. But during the Kickstarter, Giles was a backer and active in the comments section. He really got into the theme of the game and his comments were full of steampunk-esque, oddball Realms references. It was great fun interacting with him and through this he let slip that a decade or so ago he’d written and drawn cartoons. We asked if he fancied unleashing this talent on the oddball Realms and were thrilled when he agreed.
At one point you announced that an oddball novel was being written, is that still a go and could you share a little of the plot if so?
Nigel: Yep it’s still being worked on. Another backer from the original Kickstarter is working with my wife on this. A long way to go with it. What I can tell you is that it involves aeronauts and oddballs.
Speaking of your wife, Deb Pyne, what is her role in the making of oddball Aeronauts?
Nigel: Deb has had a big influence in the look and feel of oddball Aeronauts. She’s contributed to the creation of the oddball Realms and is our design and brand guru. A lot of what she does isn’t so noticeable as the art or the gameplay but it’s no less important and her touch is actually on all aspects. She’s the ‘silent partner’ if you will.
Do you feel that working with your wife on a game (or in this case a whole 'world' of games) - has brought you closer as a couple in any way?
Nigel: Definitely. Having a shared project like maverick muse is great. We’re very organised and structured with who does what, when we do something and so on which means projects run pretty smoothly and we have a lot of fun along the way. That’s really important to us - having fun with what we do and so the time we spend “working” together is great.
If one of the oddball characters were to be made into an action figure, which one would it be?
Nigel: I guess it could be either Jinx as he’s the “poster bot” for the game, or maybe the Pirate Melee Chief Roxette Fawpaw. But then again the Pendragon Squad Marshall Eloise Lashtongue is pretty cool and you’ve still to see the Mechinauts’ Guns Master or the Free Kingdoms’ Forest Lord. Hmm, I’ve decided I’m not going to answer this question as there’s too many that should become action figures . . . or plushes.
Let’s talk the Theseus's paradox for a second. If you had a ship, and replaced the sails, then a year later replaced the wheel, and a year later replaced the mast, and continued replacing things piece by piece until none of the original parts where still there... Is it still the same ship?
Nigel: Must we? Okay, well as soon as you replace the sails it’s not the same ship. It still looks like the same ship, but it’s not.
Currently on Kickstarter, you have oddball Aeronauts 2: Double the Trouble. So we have the base game with pirates and pendragons and now you have this new oddball game that introduces the mechinauts and the free kingdoms factions. What are the differences between the four factions?
Nigel: The difference? Well one’s the Pirates. One’s the Pendragon. One’s the Mechinauts. One’s the Free Kingdoms. Thought it’d be obvious Okay, gameplay wise they all have different skills that are their top skill, secondary skill and worst skill - for example Pirates are best at Sailing, then Boarding and finally Guns where as Free Kingdoms are best at Guns, then Sailing, then Boarding. There are also 3 main types of cards - Officers, Crew and Support. Pendragon have more Officers in their deck whereas Mechinauts have more Support. Finally, each faction has some common Tricks, but some that are unique to them.
Will the new factions be featuring the same class types? For example Dragoneers and Shadow Casters?
Nigel: We’re having the same fundamental card types -
But there will be different numbers of Crew, Officers & Support and different types - i.e. Puppet Master instead of Shadow Caster, etc.
Do you have a favorite faction to play?
Nigel: Actually, believe it or not, I don’t. It would come down to the art though. But I love the look of all four factions so really need a custom deck made up of all the art I really like - like the Deck Marshall from the Pendragon with the Master Chief and Riggers from the Pirates and the Puppet Master from the Mechinauts alongside the Forest Lord from the Free Kingdoms. That would be cool.
For oddball Aeronauts 2: Double the Trouble, do you have to have the base game or can it be a standalone as well and what does this new expansion bring to the table?
Nigel: You don’t need the base game, but we’re not including the full rules to the game in the Mechinauts Free Kingdoms box. In the rulebook in this box, we are pointing to where you can find the full rules online though. So it’s possible to pick up the new faction box and play the game without picking up the original. What does it bring to the table? Nothing, as you don’t need a table - I thought you’d worked that out by now But, we have included rules for multi-player duels - both everyone against everyone which is pretty chaotic and a game where 2 teams of 2 go head to head which is a more tactical experience.
With oddball Aeronauts 2: Double the Trouble, there will be the ability to play 3 or 4-player. How does the 3 (and 4) player game differ in rules or overall feel compared to normal 2-player game?
Nigel: We’ve actually got 2 different ways to play with 3 or more players. The first is an all against all and it’s pretty tough to keep track of how many cards everyone’s got left, who’s played what big cards, and so the tactics you can employ are reduced. Consequently, it’s slightly more random than just playing with 2-players, but great fun. The second way is 2 teams of 2-players each go up against each other. The way that plays is actually more tactical than any other and creates some interesting choices - 1 player in each team commits 1 to 3 cards and total up their Skill Totals plus bonuses then the second player on each team, knowing this result from both sides, can throw in 0 to 3 extra cards and add their total to the existing one.
Will you ever offer a box that can hold all of the cards that oddball has to offer?
Nigel: Ever? I honestly don’t know. Right now it’s not on the horizon. The whole idea of the game is to be uba portable and when you have a great big box with loads of cards in it you’ve kind of defeated that purpose. Our idea is that you make your decks up before you go places and then carry them in a small box with you.
If you were a member of one of the 4 factions – which faction would you belong to and why?
Nigel: I think it’d have to be the Pirates, because they’re free to go where the want and aren’t beholden to anyone. I’m a bit of a rebel at heart.
What kind of new events can we expect to see and do you have a favorite event?
Nigel: The events we’ve got are along the lines of - highest boarding gets +2 to sailing. They provide a player with more options in the round that they come into effect and you certainly want to play to get them. The real challenge is coming up with something in the oddball Realms that could potentially create that effect during a dirigible duel. My favourite from this new set is a figurehead trap - it lures figureheads to it and you have to use boarding to escape. It took Lloyd and me a bit of brainstorming to come up with that, but I really like the concept.
Lloyd Ash Pyne, your brother did the art of oddball Aeronauts. What was your favorite part of working on the game with him?
Nigel: Yep, Lloyd’s my brother and as well as the art he has the bigger hand in the creation of the world itself and definitely in its look and feel. He also has input into the game mechanics, but as a game’s editor. Well that’s the term we’ve come up with for his role as it’s pretty similar to the role a book editor takes on - a big part of which is that he weeds out the chaff and ensures I don’t add in too much complexity! Did you know he also built our website? Yep, he’s got a few roles to fulfill, but I guess my favourite part is working on the world itself with him - inventing weird events or gadgets or the like.
Do you have a favorite piece of art (in the overall series) and what makes it your favorite?
Nigel: Actually, yes, I do. And not because I think it’s better art than any other piece Lloyd has done. We recently lost our dog - Mr. Jones - who in a round about way inspired the oddball Realms. Lloyd worked his magic and immortalised Mr. Jones for us. You can check out Mr. Jones’ story and some of the early line art Lloyd did here - http://themaverickmuse.com/inspiring-oddball-realms/ - and can expect Mr. Jones to make an appearance in an oddball Aeronauts deck in the future.
What was the best piece of feedback you received from a play tester when you were still prototyping the oddball Aeronauts?
Nigel: The best piece of feedback was around some of the design elements on the cards. We nearly kept icons on the reverse of the cards that would’ve given too much away to opponents!
What was the biggest gameplay change made from the early prototypes to what has become the finished product of oddball Aeronauts?
Nigel: You know there’s actually been very little gameplay change from the early prototypes to the final product. I’m aware that this is pretty unusual in game design, but in all honesty, the core mechanics all came together at once for me. The real work was in creating tricks and balancing the decks. Yeah, balancing the decks . . . lots of late nights there.
What was your favorite part of designing the game?
Nigel: My favourite part is always when the core element clicks and proves to be fun in its own right. So for oddball Aeronauts, it’s the concept of having to spend your resources to win, but in so doing you’re also depleting your resources. So you’ve got to balance how much you’re committing every round - you can come out worse off if you play big and your opponent plays small. So nailing that and knowing that this could be built upon with different card types, such as Officers, Crews and Bots, as well as having Tricks was my favourite part.
Did you find it a challenge to come up with imaginative event cards that not only fit into the oddball themed world you are creating, but into the gameplay as well, or did it come naturally?
Nigel: The Events do offer the biggest challenge for marrying something in the oddball Realms with the gameplay effect. With the latest set we struggled with coming up with something for ‘Highest Boarding gets +2 Sailing this round.’ It took a bit of brainstorming - what world event would need both ships’ compliments to use their Boarding skill that would then result in a boost to their Sailing? See if you can come up with something!
Do have a favorite event card (be it from either of the two oddballs)?
Nigel: I find it really tough to come up with a favourite Event. In fact, beyond films where my absolute favourite is Blade Runner, I find it really tough to come up with a favourite anything! I can come up with a top 5 or 10 but not an absolute fav. I mean how can you pick between Deck Munchers, Treacle Cloud, Tumblethorn, Spook Attack, Ley Genie, Figurehead Lure or Skywayman? If you can, let me know!
What was the most challenging part of oddball Äeronauts?
Nigel: The most challenging part was ensuring that the factions were different, but balanced. So giving the Pendragon three more Officers than the Pirates may sound like a minor change, but it had big effects on balance. It’s tough to achieve and involves a lot of repetition and discipline.
When you step back and look at the finished product, what makes you the most proud that you designed this game?
Nigel: I think it’s the fact that we’ve genuinely created something that stands out. The fact that the oddball Realms and the art is so liked and grabs attention as well as the gameplay itself piques gamers’ interest means the overall product offers something different. And that’s what we’re really trying to do - offer something that’s different and stands out.A couple of Support cards found in oddball Aeronauts 2: Double the Trouble.
What was the biggest lesson you learned with the first oddball Aeronauts Kickstarter?
Nigel: That’s a tough question as we did a lot of thorough research before our Kickstarter - read a lot of blogs by some great folks such as Jamey Stegmaier and James Mathe as well as listening to all the Funding the Dream episodes and a whole lot more besides. So we avoided a lot of the pitfalls. I guess, actually, our biggest lesson learned is that it’s tougher to do a UK based Kickstarter. The US market is at least 10 times that of the UK and as Kickstarter haven’t linked UK based projects to Amazon payments this does put off a lot of US backers. So you’ve got an extra hurdle right there. Also, the current exchange rate is heavily against us Brits. For example, here in the UK I can buy for £15 what you can buy for $15 in the US. So in real terms for what you can buy $1 = £1. But that’s not the way of it. Right now $1 = £0.62. So if we set the price at $15 that’s only £9.32 here. Which is the same as setting the price at $9.32 if we were based in the US. That’s a completely unviable price point. How do you cope with that? Move to the US I guess.
Where is the oddest place you have played this game?
Nigel: Up a tree! We did it to prove a point, but it’s still the oddest place.
Where do you want to try to play oddball Aeronauts that you haven’t yet?
Nigel: That’d have to be on the space station, but I can’t see ever getting the opportunity to do that.
Is there a place that you wouldn’t play oddball Aeronauts with someone (outside of say a bathroom)?
Nigel: I can’t see playing it in a meeting at work.
Do you have any distribution plans for oddball Aeronauts in the US to make it more widely available any time in the future?
Nigel: Absolutely we do. We’re actually talking with 4 of the major US distributors right now. It’s not a short process. They’re obviously incredibly busy and with a new game and publisher they want to assess the marketability of the game. So you send them a copy and then they need to fit playing and assessing it into their schedule. Once that’s done you’ll get a yes or no. We’ve got a yes from 2 distributors and are still waiting on the other 2. But then the marketing needs to be worked out and the distributor offers the game to their customers - the stores - for a period for pre-orders and only then will an order be placed. It’s incredibly slow and we’re currently at the ‘working out the marketing’ phase with 2 distributors. In the meantime, oddball Aeronauts is available via Amazon US.
Could you share with us one thing we haven’t covered that you think oddball Aeronauts fans would find interesting?
Nigel: The creation of the oddball Realms and the games set in it are pretty symbiotic. For example, I put stats on a card and Lloyd comes up with something in the oddball Realms that fits. Conversely, we can come up with a contraption or oddball . . . thing and work out how to fit it into the game mechanically. Creating in this manner really helps for both things - the games and the setting.
Finish this sentence in 12 words or less. oddball Aeronauts is ________.
Nigel: …the offbeat imaginings of three quirky minds.
What is on the horizon for oddball Aeronauts after oddball Aeronauts 2: Double the Trouble? Is there more that oddball fans should look forward to in 2015?
Nigel: We have plans to provide more cards for the existing factions. Our current think is that we will release a whole new ship’s company - i.e. 26 new Pirate Faction cards that you can play straight away out of the box as your faction deck or you can then use all of the Pirate cards you’ll have from the base game and new set to customise your deck. We’ve got some completely new cards to add to these packs - cards you’ll use if you’re playing several games against the same opponent in a single sitting. Upgrades and Damage cards. After each game you choose your Upgrade, but have a random Damage assigned. And then we’ve got a few cards representing Specialists that have new Win Effects - i.e. something different to Discard 2 cards or Recover 2 cards or Discard 1 and Recover 1. And then . . . well, there’re plans!
As we wrap this up, is there anything else you like to add?
Nigel: Yeah, you can expect more different games set in the oddball Realms. We’ve got a list. We just need more time! And I’d just like to thank you for this opportunity. It’s been fun! See you in a hangout sometime?
Thanks Nigel for allowing me to be a part of writing your oddball memoirs, er I mean for doing this interview!
** Pics of Pendragon and Pirate cards laid out on table and Golem/Troll taken by Andrew Brooks.For those interested in checking out more about oddball Aeronauts 2, you can find the Kickstarter by clicking here.
What's that you say? Inquiring meeples want to know more?You may want to check out these links:
• oddball Aeronauts official webpage
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Welcome to The Inquisitive Meeple - A blog that is dedicated to interviewing board game designers. Est. 2014
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