Originally posted at http://www.gameswithtwo.com/2013/04/interviewing-designer-re...
There is a new game that is currently on Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2046785826/relic-expedit...), that looks really cool. From what I can tell the game appears to model itself off of the Adventures of Indian Jones. The game is called Relic Expedition and I recently had a chance to interview the designer and owner of Foxtrot Games, Randy Hoyt
Tell us a little about Relic Expedition?
Relic Expedition is a jungle exploration game. Players compete to find ancient relics from a lost civilization in a South American jungle. It's for 2–4 players, with 4-player games taking about an hour.
What mechanics are used?
The aspect of the game that people notice right away is the variable board. The jungle starts small, with only a small number of hexagon tiles in play. But the jungle grows to contain over 100 hexagon tiles as players explore.
The objective of the game revolves around a set collection mechanic: the first player to escape from the jungle with four matching relics, either all with the same insignia or all made of the same material, wins the game. There are six different insignia and six different materials, 36 relics in total.
Behind the variable board, the most popular aspect of the game is the backpack constraint. Players carry the relics they discover in their “backpack,” a wooden tray with eight slots. These eight slots can also hold various supplies, like machetes and climbing gear that help with travel through the jungle, or like traps and tranquilizers that combat wild animals. Because the space is limited, players have to make tough decisions about which sets of relics to keep and which supplies to leave behind.
What other games inspired the design of Relic Expedition? With the variable board in particular, did you garner inspiration from other games?
People often compare the variable board to Carcassonne. I suppose it’s similar in that the tiles get placed in a different shape each game, but in Carcassonne you play a feudal lord sitting off the board strategically placing tiles and stationary followers. It’s quite different in Relic Expedition to be playing an explorer moving around this variable board one space at a time, revealing random new tiles as you move.
I drew some inspiration for the variable board from the “Fog Island” scenario in The Seafarers of Catan; that’s my wife’s favorite scenario. New hexagons are revealed, one per move within a frame, as roads or shipping lanes connect to an empty intersection. I wanted something like that but on a much larger scale, with as many as three revealed per move and without any predefined shape.
As I kid, I played a lot of rummy-like card games and a lot of Yahtzee, and I think one moment in particular from those two games inspired the two attributes for each relic, an insignia and a material. There’s that moment when, while trying to roll another 5 on a die or draw another card with a Jack, you realize you need to switch to rolling for a large straight or to drawing for a run of clubs. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I think I was subconsciously trying to re-create that moment: explorers often have to decide between sticking to their original plan (going for silver relics, for example) or abandoning that for a new plan (dropping the silver relics and going for relics with moons instead).
How long have you been developing the game? Where did the idea originate?
My step-brother Tyler Segel and I live on opposite coasts of the United States, but we get together for family events a few times a year. We both love Euro-style board games. We bring our favorite games to these events, but it’s really difficult to find games that we can enjoy playing with our gamer friends and that our family members can also enjoy. About a year ago, at one of these family events, we decided we would try to make such a game.
We spent a couple of hours brainstorming ideas. We first came up with the variable board idea as a novel mechanic that would have a wide appeal. We decided that this mechanic would fit well with a jungle theme, which we also thought would be very accessible and engaging. We had a lot of other ideas during that session, many of which I had to abandon or put off for later, and I left the family event with plenty of material. The goal was to make a game that was easy to learn and fun to play, that lasted about an hour, and that had challenge and depth for experienced gamers.
From there, it was a lot of trial and error. How many tiles should there be? What different kinds of terrain? What kinds of treasure can be found, when does the game end, and how do players win? How much dense jungle do we need? How do we get the animals to move without artificial intelligence? How can we force the players to interact?
Once the game was fun, engaging, and challenging for us, we started blind-testing it with less serious gamers. It was still a bit more difficult to learn for many of them than we wanted it to be. We solved that issue by moving some of the more complex components (monkeys, bananas, and vines) to an Advanced version. Players can now start with the Standard version, without those components, and then add them in when they’re ready.
Can you tell us the process for developing the artwork?
It’s been a cool process. Tyler has done some amazing work. We had the jungle theme from the very beginning, and he started with one plain hexagon tile with a couple of sides of dense jungle. He produced a couple of different versions of this, each one getting better and better. He refined the texture multiple times to get that old adventure style and comic book feel.
We had a lot of discussion on that first tile: about colors and contrasts, about sections of jungle lining up, about interpreting different aspects of the jungle from across the table in bad lighting, and lots of things like that. Once we got the style and everything defined in that first tile, the rest of the tiles have gone pretty smoothly. I think it took more time on the calendar to do that first tile than to do all the rest.
My prototypes had a lot of icons that represented the different pieces, but he really wanted the tiles and the components to look like what explorers would really see. Let me give you two examples. First, my prototype tiles had a star icon indicating that a relic needed to be revealed. The final artwork instead has a gold table where the relic sit. Those tables are illustrated to look like part of the jungle landscape, not like an icon printed on a tile.
The relics themselves are another great example. My prototypes had treasure icons on the circle tokens, pictures of crowns, keys, necklaces, etc. In the final artwork, the tokens themselves are the relics – small, yes, but exactly what they would look like in real life.
Is the artwork on the Kickstarter page and on your website the final artwork?
I’d say the artwork is mostly final. We are play-testing copies of the game with the artwork now, checking that there’s no confusion about what to do with any of the tiles, that colors and contrasts all work from across the table, and things like that. I can think of one game in particular I’ve played where the final artwork introduced a major game play issue that the lower-fidelity prototypes didn’t have, and I’m very keen to avoid that.
Speaking of the Kickstarter page, what are some of the cool goodies that people can get with their Kickstarter version? What are some of the stretch goals if you exceed your funding level for the campaign?
We have a couple of promotional items available with many of the rewards. The supplies were designed to look like merit patches, and we thought it would be really cool to make real merit patches that look like a supply. You can also get a video call or an in-person game night with me to teach you how to play the game or a prototype copy of the game to start playing right after the campaign funds. We have a few different expansions in various stages of development that are included either at higher reward levels or as stretch goals, and we’ll be able to upgrade some of the components (the pawns and the custom dice) if we get to a higher level of funding.
Can you tell us more about the awesome "animeeples" that come with Relic Expedition?
We have received a lot of positive feedback about the animal pieces! As players explore the jungle, they will discover dangerous wild animals: four snakes, four monkeys, four boars, and four panthers. For our prototypes, we cannibalized pieces from Carcassonne and Catan to represent these animals (meeples for monkeys, pigs for boars, cities for panthers, and roads for snakes). We were tempted to include standard pieces with our base goal and then offer these animeeples as a stretch goal, but we wanted the animals to draw people into the theme. These custom pieces make such a difference.
Tyler created the two-dimensional shapes for the animals. These shapes also appear on the animal die and on the tiles that bring the animals into play. We sent the shapes off to Panda Game Manufacturing (they’ll be manufacturing the game for us if we hit our goal), and they did a stellar job producing these samples. We got them about a month ago, and I love how they turned out. Every copy of the game comes with sixteen animal meeples, four of each type.
What conventions do you plan to be at this year? Will you be demoing the game there?
I’m currently planning to be at Dice Tower Con in July in Orlando, which is where I live, as well as Board Game Geek Con in November in Dallas. If we reach our Kickstarter goal, we should have published copies of the game in time for Dallas. Our distributor will also be at Origins in June and and GenCon in August. There will at least be prototype copies of the game at all of these conventions, but hopefully we’ll be able to work out demo space for at a least a couple of them.
If someone wants to get a copy of Relic Expedition, what is the best way to do that?
Visiting www.RelicExpedition.com will always get people to the best way. Right now, that will redirect to the Kickstarter page where people can back the project and help us make this game a reality. After the campaign ends, that link will redirect to a page on our site where people can pre-order the game. If we hit our goal, we expect to have the games from our manufacturer to our distributor no later than October so that we can get the games into backers hands by November.
Is there anything else that you would like to say about Relic Expedition or Foxtrot Games?
I’m incredibly pleased with how the game has turned out. I’ve played it a ridiculous amount of times (I stopped keeping track of each play after 100), and I still enjoy it; I’m still finding techniques to improve my overall strategy in the jungle. And yet it’s still easy and fun to introduce the Standard version to new players in a casual setting like a public board game night, dinner party, or family gathering. Our goal with Foxtrot Games is to bring more beautiful, engaging, and accessible games like this one to tabletops everywhere.
A big thanks to Randy for taking the time to interview with us about his current Kickstarter project and upcoming game Relic Expedition. Be sure to head over to their Kickstarter Page (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2046785826/relic-expedit...) to check out his game in further detail.
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