Tuesday, December 19, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 100: Elgar Storm

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples. Support me on Patreon!

Name:Elgar Storm
Location:New Zealand
Day Job:Software Engineer for a local company
Designing:Two to five years.
Facebook:Crazy Hawk Games
Today's Interview is with:

Elgar Storm
Interviewed on: 8/8/2017

Elgar Storm is a designer from New Zealand that's working on a pretty neat looking area control combat game called Tribal Conflict. Expect to see a Kickstarter for Tribal Conflict sometime next year. In the meantime, check out Crazy Hawk Games and follow along with Elgar's development of Tribal Conflict. Read on to learn more about Elgar and the other projects he's working on.

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
Having played more "modern" games over the last few years I was at the point of not wanting to play Risk anymore. This sparked the thought "What could I do from a game design perspective to make the game more playable?". Up until this point I had been dabbling in some digital game design, but nothing in the tabletop space. I spent an afternoon messing with some ideas, but nothing really clicked. If anything it revealed that, as much as I might dislike it, the various underlying game systems in Risk have actually been designed well to work together. Since nothing easy was working I shelved the idea and carried on with life.

Fast forward a few months to early 2016 and, seemingly out of the blue, the core idea for Tribal Conflict came to me. It turns out that some background part of my brain had been processing that idea of making Risk playable and had come up with a solution. It was a completely new game that started out by using the units from Risk but nothing else. New combat, new reinforcement ideas, victory point based, and a lot more tactical. The rest, as they say, is history.

What game or games are you currently working on?
Tribal Conflict is the main one. I'm in the middle of planning a Kickstarter to go live mid 2018. I have 3-4 other games in early stages of development, but none that are far enough along yet to talk about.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Not yet

What is your day job?
Software Engineer for a local company

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
Somewhere warm and dry. Beyond that, I'm not too bothered. Location can change, but the games don't.

Who do you normally game with?
There is a local board game group that I try to get to every other week. Every now and then my wife and I will crank out a game with just the two of us. Beyond that, most of the gaming I do at the moment is playtesting for Tribal Conflict. There is a core group of players I call on for this, but we do add new players from time to time.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
It would depend on the group. Terraforming Mars, Raiders of the North Sea, and Vast: The Crystal Cavern would be options for longer games at the moment.

And what snacks would you eat?
I tend not to snack that much. Generally it depends on what others bring.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Not really, we tend to just play games

What’s your favorite FLGS?
I tend not to hang out at a FLGS. Not helped, I guess, by the limited amount in the area. The local board game group I mentioned earlier meets out the back of the main FLGS in town, so I guess that would be my favourite?

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
For a current favourite it depends on my mood. I have enjoyed playing Manhattan Project, Terraforming Mars, and Raiders of the North Sea lately.

Least favourite I still enjoy would probably be Settlers of Catan. It is a little light / random for my personal tastes, but still a good one to play with my wife who is not really into heavier games.

I'm not sure of the worst game ever played. Certainly nothing sticks in my mind as being genuinely terrible to the point where I immediately never wanted to play again, though I really don't like playing Monopoly.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Again, I'm not sure I have a favourite. A lot of how a mechanic feels is dependent on the implementation within a game. I'm enjoying a number of worker placement games at the moment (Raiders of the North Sea, Manhattan Project), so maybe that?

I am not a fan of heavily luck driven mechanics. Roll and move, the combat mechanic in Risk, that sort of thing. I like to feel like I have some control over what happens. That is not to say that randomness is bad, but it should not be the only determining factor.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
I don't know that there is a game I can never get to table. Often I find the limiting factor to be more having time to play. I haven't played the Game of Thrones board game in years now, despite enjoying it - but that is because of my priority (not having the time, being the main issue) more than not being able to find people to play with.

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, Video Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
On occasion, with the right group

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
In general I come up with mechanics first. Certainly that was the case for Tribal Conflict, which did not have a name/theme for some 6 months or so. Having said that, this is not always true. There are a couple of games on the backburner which were the other way - one started with a name, the other started with a theme. I guess it depends on how inspiration strikes for any given project.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I entered one on The Game Crafter. There have been a couple of others where I started to mess with an idea but never got it far enough to be ready to enter in time. Most of those ideas are on the backburner to be looked at further at some point. The problem is time, and since this is still in the hobby phase I don't have a lot available - and most of the time that is free is being put into Tribal Conflict. I think the idea of these competitions is great though, and I would love to be able to give one the time it deserves at some point.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
I respect what Shem Phillips, the designer behind Raiders of the North Sea, has managed to achieve - even getting nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahre in 2017 for that game. He is also from New Zealand, and so has faced the same limitations I do in terms of the relative isolation we have from the rest of the world. I guess the inspiration for me is that it is possible to make great games and see them do well, despite where in the world you may be located.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Most of my best ideas seem to come while I am drifting off to sleep (or trying to, at least). I usually take at least half an hour to drift off anyway, so I guess it is downtime for my mind. This can get annoying, as sometimes my mind gets too carried away and I hit that overtired "I just want to sleep" stage. Thankfully, I can normally recall any good ideas I had the next morning. The key then is to write them down and evaluate them. Not all ideas are worth pursuing, but some of the best ones have definitely come this way.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
Organise a group of players then sit down and play. While playing I keep an eye on how the players are interacting with the game, particularly the things being changed. I guess a lot of the time I'm looking for "Does this feel better than last time". Afterwards we sit around and chat about how the session went, what worked and what didn't.

For Tribal Conflict I have a core of players now who 1) know the game reasonably well and 2) are happy to tear the game session apart and analyse it. Having the ability to sit and talk seriously about the game is critical. I want to hear their thoughts, particularly around the things they did not like as much.

From time to time I also try to bring in new players. As much as a core group is good for digging deeper into the game, it is also critical that we do not get caught up in our little bubble. New players help to break that, challenging any preconceptions we may have about the game because they don't know any better. It also helps to broaden awareness of the game, which is not a bad thing either.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
So far I have worked alone on my games. From a design perspective I am not averse to the idea of working with someone else, it just hasn't happened yet.

For broader elements of the production of the game, I do need help around artwork, since I am definitely not an artist. With limited budget at the moment I have got good at locating reasonable artwork available under Creative Commons. My graphic design skills have definitely been improving, but I still can't create art to save myself.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
The big challenge with making a final product, particularly when it comes to Kickstarter, is getting a pretty looking game. I am happy working on design and mechanics and balancing. But at some point you need to skin the game with nice visuals if you wish to be able to sell it. Not being an artist makes this a lot more difficult, especially for a hobby where I don't have lots of money available.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones would be pretty cool to design a game for.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
Nothing immediately comes to mind. I know that sounds kind of arrogant, so I guess some context could help there.

I am still a new designer, I don't have lots of games under my belt. As such, there is so much I am still learning. The whole process of designing a game, developing it, taking it to Kickstarter, etc is all new to me. I know that there is lots that I don't know, and so I have been reading up on as much as I can. There is a wealth of information out there if you are willing to go out and find it. I would not be where I am today if it was not for the willingness of others to share their experience.

Maybe it is just that I am still new enough not to have made any big mistakes that could have been avoided. I am hopeful that all of the research I have been doing (and continue to do) in an effort to learn and prepare myself pays off. We will see where the next few years take me and if anything changes on that front.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Continue challenging your ideas around how your game plays, even when it gets further along in the design phase. Don't be so attached to a mechanic or concept that you are unwilling to tweak it or remove it if necessary. Sometimes parts of the game work early on but then break once the game matures. I have been facing this challenge with Tribal Conflict recently, and it is an important thing to remember if you want to make your game great.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
I'm planning to crowdfund: Tribal Conflict
Games I feel are in the final development and tweaking stage are: Tribal Conflict
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: A couple of ideas that may go somewhere, we will see
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: A couple of ideas that are still too raw to share

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Game Artisans of New Zealand
Card and Board Game Designers Guild
Tabletop Game Publishers Guild
Tabletop Game Kickstarter Advice

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Based on what I have read / watched you would have to say Star Wars, but I enjoy Star Trek as well.
Coke, and the real stuff not any of those sugar free varieties that are out there.
Betamax predates me so I guess VHS. I much prefer digital though.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Reading, Live Sound Engineer

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Generally more complex stuff. Epic fantasy. Progressive Rock / Metal.

What was the last book you read?
People of the Wolf by Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

Do you play any musical instruments?
I learnt a little bit of piano when younger. My musical expression now comes through use of the sound desk.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?

Have any pets?
1 cat

Thanks for answering all my crazy questions!

Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html

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