Monday, February 20, 2012

The Farmer At the End of the World

An interview with Grant Rodiek, designer of the upcoming aggressive farming card game, Farmageddon.

We recently had a chance to sit down with Grant to talk a little bit about Farmageddon, Kickstarter, and board games in general. Enjoy his responses below, edited for length, and look for our preview of Farmageddon coming on Wednesday!

@Futurewolfie: So, Grant, give us a little background on yourself and Farmageddon.

Grant: Sure. I've been working in digital game development for over six years now. The majority of my experience is in PC games, though the last year or so I've shifted my focus to mobile games. About 2 years ago I started designing board games as a hobby and it's become the primary thing I do in my spare time.

After a particularly bad first effort, I decided to streamline and start smaller. I looked at Farmville, a hugely successful game on Facebook, and used that as a starting point and decided to make a better game.
That was the initial inspiration for Farmageddon. I wanted to use farming as a theme, make it silly, add competition, and make it easy enough for my casual friends to play and have fun. I worked on it for about 14 months, pitched it to publishers, and it was recently picked up by Phil Kilcrease with 5th Street Games.

@Futurewolfie: Can you tell us a little bit more about the process of pitching your game to publishers? What kinds of things did you do to try to catch their attention, and do you have any suggestions of what to do or not do for others trying to get a game published?

Grant: My first suggestion is to not pitch something rough. Publishers get so many submissions and they don't have time or interest to sort through junk to see potential. Show them something great. doesn't need to be final, but it needs to be proven and good.  Be ready to identify the 2 or 3 unique features or what sets it apart. A lot of publishers immediately declined Farmageddon because they saw farming, silly, and thought "Bohnanza clone."

Be confident in your game. It's like interviewing. You don't need to be arrogant, but be 100% behind your game and be ready to discuss it at length. If you get blindsided by a basic testing question they'll move on.

Basically, you are competing with Knizia, Leacock, Donald X, Feld, Uwe Rosenberg -- bring your best stuff and don't expect them to give you credit because you're new or amateur.

@Futurewolfie: How did you feel when you finally got picked up by a publisher?

Grant: I was really really excited and relieved. I had gone through many publishers and honestly many of them just aren't interested in light, more casual focused games (which is totally fine). I was trying to decide what to do with Farmageddon. I could either put it back on The Game Crafter and just let it be that, or I could try to self-Kickstart it. My worry with the latter was that I am not a publisher. I don't have distribution. I haven't done this before. And I didn't want to sell 200 copies on Kickstarter then have 1000 sitting in my garage for 3 years while I slowly sold 2 a month.

So, having 5th Street come along with an offer and excitement was a huge relief. It meant I had support from somebody else and that my game would see the light of day.

note: Card art/layout is from the Game Crafter version of Farmageddon

@Futurewolfie: Let's talk about the Kickstarter experience. You're pretty far into your campaign. Has it gone like you expected? Any surprises? Has it been challenging coming up with rewards?

Grant: I had a good feeling the game would do well. It's well tested and it has a decent reputation on the 'net with folks who know me and have tested it. I've sent out a LOT of .pdf and prototype copies and the game's been around a long time. It also has a great price point ($12!) and great art.

I'm surprised at our momentum. Everyone talks about how you have an initial rush and then it flatlines, but we've never had that flatline. We've been consistently going for the entire campaign. With 14 days left we've had 640 backers and sold 786 copies of the game! That's a huge surprise to me and as a result 5th Street is greatly expanding the initial print run.

Coming up with rewards has been very difficult and we knew this going into it. Farmageddon is a card game with no dice to upgrade and no meeples to modify. One backer suggested we have a "Cadillac Version," but the game has always going to have great linen cards, fantastic art, a great, thick box, so every version is the Cadillac version.

The "FrankenCrops" is a great reward I'm proud of. Phil and I came up with 10 crops, each with new gameplay and new art, as a mini-expansion. It'll be a great addition to the game once people have played the base version a bit.

The big expansion will also be really cool, but it's definitely expensive for us to create it and a lot of our backers want an intermediate reward, which we're trying to resolve now.

We've had a lot of weird ideas, even including giving away meeple markers (not useful at all), custom dice with graphics so you can tell Farmer Stories (much like Rory's Story Cubes), but really we don't want to release junk for the sake of it.

We want to keep everything really high quality and make sure it's a great value. It's definitely been a challenge.

@Futurewolfie: Can you talk a little bit more about the big expansion? What does it bring to the table?

Grant: Sure! We're calling it (tentatively) Livestocked and Loaded. Thematically, the natural place to go was livestock and animals. Mechanically, we wanted to add more breadth to the core loop as well as some persistent elements.

Crops are really soft and are easily taken care of. Animals will be permanent -- you will get one at the beginning of the game, it cannot be destroyed, it cannot be stolen. However, animals will move throughout the game and you can only manipulate the animal in front of you.

You can feed an animal crops for points and this lets you activate an ability (one per animal). But, if you trade in the points, you can activate a mega ability that will be bonkers. But, properly taking advantage of that Mega Ability will be difficult. You'll need to time it correctly and have the right cards.

There will be new Action cards specifically to deal with animals, abilities to help you move through the Action deck more quickly (and with more choice), and Weather Event cards sprinkled throughout the Crop deck to add variety to each game.

I've done a few passes on the rules now, I have the first pass Action cards designed, I have the 4 abilities designed, 1 Mega Ability, and half the weather events. It's progressing and I hope to being testing shortly.

@Futurewolfie: Sounds pretty great.  Do you have any design philosophies that you always try to adhere to when creating a game?

Grant: Yes. Accessibility and clarity is really important to me. I really try to distill and boil down rules and content until they are really easy to use and play with. I want players spending their time and energy on creating strategies, laughing, and having fun, not learning to use the game. I'm willing to reduce depth to do this.

I'm also really keen on making games that can be played in under an hour. As a player I rarely get to play games that take longer than an hour, so I try to make sure I can play my own games.

In general I really try to listen to my players and test. Farmageddon became a good game after months of testing with a lot of different people. If I just assumed I was right, the game would be "meh" at best.

@Futurewolfie: Let's talk a little more about you.  What are your favorite games?

Grant: I have a few that I have really grown attached to.

I love Dixit. I have never found a group that doesn't love playing it. We always laugh and it's so easy and inventive.  I really like Discword: Ankh-Morpork. I've only played it three times, but it's such a great combination of clean mechanics, great theme and art, a little randomness, light strategy.

Alien Frontiers is a lot of fun to play. Rolling dice, fun decisions, building a little engine. I'm really excited about the expansion. And lately I've been playing Memoir '44 and 1812: The Invasion of Canada. Both fantastic examples of great depth and beautiful accessibility and polish.

Oh, and Ticket to Ride: Europe. Brilliant.

@Futurewolfie: If you could be one well-known designer, who would it be?

Grant: I'm really impressed by Donald X. He created deckbuilding, which is a million dollar idea and mechanic. He followed with Kingdom Builder, which I personally think is a very elegant, fun game.  Infiltration looks excellent.

I would love to come up with a new mechanic. I would kill for another designer to say "I wish I thought of that."  So, I'll go with Donald X.

@Futurewolfie: Do you have any other projects you're working on right now?

Grant: I'm pretty busy right now with several projects in the works. I'm working with my publisher for the Farmageddon Kickstarter campaign. I'm designing and testing the Farmageddon Expansion, Livestocked and Loaded. I've spent many months on a 2 player deckbuilding game called Poor Abby Farnsworth. That one's been tested a few times and is coming very strong. I have a war game I'm calling General Staff in the brainstorm phases. and I had a really neat idea I'm trying to turn into something that isn't heinous this weekend. If I can get it out of the basic brainstorm phase I think it could be a really killer idea.  But, all of us think that idiots.

I have one other collaboration I'm working on, but I'm not sure my partner is ready to discuss it yet.

@Futurewolfie: All right, one last question.  Are you team @Futurewolfie or team @Farmerlenny?

Grant: This one's really difficult.

Without a Futurewolfie we'd never have the explosives to open the vault. But without FarmerLenny, we'd never have the patient one to get the code from the guard to just open it. Really, both are finely tuned instruments that obtain similar results with different means.

I think we can all agree to not be Team Dragon.

@Futurewolfie: Ha ha.  So true. Okay, before I finish, you have one last chance to pitch Farmageddon and convince our readers to go back it on Kickstarter...

Grant: Here goes! Farmageddon is a great game for lunch time gamers and casual folks. It plays well with all ages, has outstanding art and design, and will make you laugh. It's been in development a long time and is very refined. It's only $12 on Kickstarter which I think is an outstanding value.

@Futurewolfie: Great.  Thanks for your time, Grant!

Grant: Thank you!

With 13 days to go in its' campaign, you still have a chance to put in some of your game cash towards Farmageddon and help it reach then next rewards level to unlock the big expansion.  Here's a quick link:

Come back Wednesday for an official preview of the game!

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