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Subject: Esoteric Forces: In conversation with Bad Cat Games’ Jason Maclean Jones rss

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Meeples Anonymous
United Kingdom
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Coming to a Kickstarter near you soon, Elemenz, a dice game for two to four players marks the first release from Scotland’s own Bad Cat Games. Meeples Anonymous speaks with designer, Jason Maclean Jones about the upcoming release of his brand new company’s first game, the influences behind it and what the future holds for Bad Cat Games.

“I've always been a fan of the somewhat esoteric pre-scientific concepts of fundamental forces of Nature. Most human cultures e.g. ancient Japan, Greece, India, even Babylonia apparently have adhered to them at some point,” says Jones, “It's not just the usual Air, Earth, Fire and Water though - there is often [a] fifth element (yes, I love the Luc Besson film also!). Greece called it Aether and others simply as Void; the Chinese Wu Xing concept had Metal. You have to wonder since all these cultures came up with these concepts probably separately, why wouldn't alien cultures do so also?” It’s a fascinating concept and one that Jones is certainly taken by himself. This is the core concept behind Elemenz, a dice game wherein players attempt to lead one of four alien races to superiority and themselves to the coveted position of “The Master Z”. The players are shaman, each of a distinct and clearly identifiable alien race. From the spindly, razor-legged insectoid representatives of the element of Earth to the sharp and angular demon dogs of fire. “Having an alien sci-fi focused game where these principles were central to their cultures just seemed a fun concept -but it had to be five elements.”

Often we see such lore concepts applied with very little care, but that cannot be said for Elemenz, the concept of the five elements being applied not just to the lore of the game but also the mechanics as well. “It had to use D6s… because we were playing other awesome or classic games like King of Tokyo, Poker Dice and Age of War by Reiner Knizia, that the two concepts of similar symbol matching to make variable effect combos fell in together with the five elements idea. Having the ‘Z’ or wild dice symbol as the fifth element and acting like a variable effect 'Joker' meant players could still have the push-your-luck style while having more control of the outcome and reducing the randomness.”

Jones is also very clear as to what he desired from the game and what expectations he hoped would guide him throughout the design process. “A risk versus reward thing. The game had to be quick - something that could be pulled out and played in 10-20 minutes while waiting for the fish-n-chips! Also, the play boards had to be as rules explanatory as possible, a dice game shouldn't require players to keep looking up rules in a booklet!” It’s very hard to disagree with the statement that all these guiding principles are present in the game. Yet, for all the thought, care, love and attention that has gone into this project, the game itself has taken a relatively short time to develop, something made all the more remarkable for the brief time the game has taken to create. “I actually put it all together while on holiday in France last year. Sticking coloured dots on dice from other games and scribbling combo results on bits of paper. It's handy to have a captive family on holiday to try out such prototypes as they can't escape…”

Despite the relative speed with which Jones has designed the game in, it has still been subject to the same rigorous testing expected of any designer game. Speaking with regard to the playtesting process and the difficulties therein, Jones had this to say, “Tweaking, tweaking and more... well you get the idea. Ideas spawn more ideas and I want to start adding in this and that to the game while everyone else is telling me to keep it simple. And this is before the playtesting and balancing starts….” The process has also been iterative, with the designer taking various and wildly different takes on the game’s layout and graphic design. “We did try using icons to explain the combos to make the game language independent but that made the play boards totally confusing (and you'd still need to look up the rules for what the symbols meant anyway). I'm still learning as I go but other game designer’s comments and blogs are invaluable as guides.”
It is refreshing and exciting to see so many new designers in Scotland exercising the diligence required to bring a game to release and have it be of the standard now expected within the market. Meeples Anonymous has been fortunate enough to have been in contact with several such Scottish developers who are also as forward-thinking in their approach to releasing their games as they are in developing them. “The kickstarter version will be a limited and exclusive print run. Depending on uptake and interest from the community we hope to get a much larger print run organised for distribution to FLGSs [Friendly Local Game Shops] within the UK, EU and hopefully the US but this may well have more standard components. We will also sell direct through our website where we will have the last post-kickstarter copies. [This] version will offer a sizeable discount off the final price anyway - with the upgraded components!”

For The Meeples Anonymous video review of Elemenz, please visit:

Or alternatively.

Happy gaming!

Interview by Ross, copy by Sko
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