Monday, 23 September 2013

An interview with Emil Larsen, the man behind Burning Suns

This weekend I got the chance to do an email interview with +Emil Larsen of Sun Tzu Games about Burning Suns, a tactical sci-fi board game currently up on Kickstarter.

Burning Suns caught my eye for a few reasons. For one I really dig 4x Sci-Fi board games. Stuff like Twilight Imperium and Eclipse. I was addicted to Masters of Orion back in the day and it's great to see that board gaming has finally really started to capture that feel. Burning Suns looks to do some new things in the genre. There's currently over 700 possible factions in the game (possibly more to come with stretch goals), that totally blows away any other game I know. There's also some really cool looking miniatures that integrate dice into their design. Emil calls them Diceships. There's also a neat alignment system worked into the game.

Personally I found this rather long but detailed review by Undead Viking to really showcase what makes this game stand out:

Anyroad, enough of other people talking about Burning Suns, lets here it from the man himself:

Moe: First off, thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. I remember when Burning Suns was on Kickstarter the first time around and I fully remember being firmly on the fence about backing it. What I don't remember though is why exactly I decided against backing at that time. Obviously I wasn't the only one since you ended up doing a do over, which this time around has already hit your funding goal. Congratulation on that achievement.
Emil: "Thanks a lot Moe, and thanks for taking your time to interview me - I really appreciate that :)"
M: So my first question is: what's different this time around? What did you do wrong the first time, what wasn't right and what did you do to fix it this time around?
E: "It's an interesting point you raise, because I believe I did a lot of smaller errors that together made the campaign fall short of it's funding the first time around.  
To make it easy for your readers to go through, I'll just point out the things that might have kept you from pledging on my first campaign.

  • Include the rules of the game (in a nice layout).
  • Use pictures/illustrations of the available pledges.
  • Include shipping in the pledge and streamline the amount of available pledges.
  • Do an engaging trailer (that makes people want to read a bit more of your page).
  • Don't put all your cool USPs (unique selling points) like minis into stretch goals, you need some initial pull on the campaign.
  • Make sure to build a "substantial" fanbase before going live.
  • Use your Kickstarter preview option as a correction and optimization tool, not a cheap last minute marketing tool. 
Yea, it's been great and we hit the goal quite fast - Which is definitely a testimony to me learning from my mistakes ;) Plus people have been very supportive and helpful all the way!"
M: I personally thought your three tiered stretch goal system is brilliant. Rewards based not only on how much money the project has raised but also the amount of social media attention it has generated and the actual number of backers. I love the fact that even someone contributing $1 is helping to unlock new things for the game and make it better for everyone. This question was also asked by one of my google plus followers: so how well is this new style stretch goal system working for you?

E: "It's working VERY well, so well I'm positive a lot of new project creators will be using the same formula.  
Burning Suns is much more established on both Facebook and BoardGameGeek after this Kickstarter, mostly due to my very loyal and helpful backers who really wanted to help. And I gave them some tools to make that help visible.

I used the amount of backers as a promo goal, since the amount of backers would determine how important my "Print'n'play" options would become. These were combined with my stretch goals that made it financial possible to upgrade many of the components in the game.

One thing I made sure was that to calculate that these goal wouldn't overlap, but instead come up as a kind of stair, since that makes a world of difference always being able to spot the next goal ahead."
M: One of my Google Plus friends +Eric Franklin was a bit worried about this stretch goal system. He asked the following:

"My only concern is that all three categories of stretch increase the cost of production and two of them add minimal money to the project. The "Viral" goals, for example, add zero money to the project but have the potential to significantly increase its cost to produce (art isn't cheap)."

Would you care to address that Emil?

E: "[He's] right, at a glance it may look like that.  
But I'm making sure that my artwork isn't "just" used for a single purpose. It can both be used on components and as high resolution wallpapers etc. So when I'm structuring the different artwork, I'm always making sure we start out with something big and have the opportunity to use it several places.
Furthermore - I don't really believe in "free", people should get something for their effort, so giving them cool stuff like artwork for spreading the word, is a worthy expense on my project - and viral always add value :)"

M: 700 empires! Sorry over 700. That seems insane. I thought Cosmic Encounters was the Space game with the most factions but you have them beat by a mile. Obviously this number comes from the very unique three part player board. Where each player gets a race, an ideology and a structure, I've got two questions in regards to this: first off how the heck did you get up to over 700 and second, how is it that you can keep that many variables balanced?

E: "Haha, yea - in that regard I got most space games in existence heavily outnumbered ;) 
The concept of the 3 part empire building provides a strong multiplication factor, and since you can find a lot of factors on each component (ideology, race and structure) that can be tweaked, it means that I'll be able to keep designing new stuff for quite a while. 
It all started out with 6 x 6 x 6 different components in the first game, and for this campaign I added 1 extra of each, since then the backers have unlocked 2 more, getting us to 9 x 9 x 9 different empires (729).
There are several answers to [keeping things balanced]. You can find some of my pointers on this topic in one of my updates ( related to a talk Richard Garfield held in Copenhagen a few weeks ago.  
Another thing is how my campaign and final development phase have been structured. Together with my backers I'm going to arrange a lot of beta test activities on the game (hopefully with over 400-500 gamers), tournaments and more. Things to really polish the game before launch. I'm really using the "crowd" in crowdfunding, unlike make Kickstarter campaigns, which is more or less pre-order pages."
M: You seem to be very dedicated to making your fans and backers a part of the game. Having their impact help shape the game and it's world. You not only stress this in your video and backer levels but also in your updates. I've seen very few designers willing to let their backers vote on which artwork to use for example. Can you talk more about this, what your plans are and why you think it's so integral to the project that your fans are involved?
E: "I think it's pivotal to the concept of a crowdfunding project, that you're looking for more than just funding. Otherwise you could argue that a business angel is just as good. But with the backers of my Kickstarter project, it allows me to gain access to a lot of great minds and thoughts about the project, the stories, the mechanics - practically everything.

It's of course important that you state the general directions and that you remain true towards your concept and ideas. But tweaking it to the appeal of your backers, and polishing based on their feedback is immensely important if you want your product to be more than just a flash in a pan. And that is exactly my goal with Burning Suns, I want it to last."
M: I'm a big fan of organized play programs, especially ones that reward the organizers and participants. I'm often running release events and demos at the FLGS and it's always cool to have something to show for it. Things like laser cut tokens, special dice and oversized cards seem popular this year. I see you are really hoping to have public play support for Burning Suns. What type of program do you imagine there being for Burning Suns?
E: "That's a tough question. As of now the sky is the limit. 
I'm still just dipping my toes when it comes to organized play and programs. Hopefully a lot of backers will come up with good ideas. I've also had a lot of great suggestions from backers, and a handful have already announced that they would love to promote the game and do some presentations here and there. 
I think it's important that the community develop this part, and make demands based on those needs. I shouldn't go and dictate what people should do, just like I'm not going to dictate any tournaments. I want my game to be tournament friendly and balanced, but it's the community who will ultimately make the demand. 
Hopefully it'll be high in many regards :)"
M: You seem very interested in publishing not just a game, but a world, a fiction for Burning Suns. Between the newly launched burning-wiki and things like writing contests on Board Game Geek, almost every backer update gives us another peek into the Burning Suns world. A few questions on this. What came first, the world or the game? Just exactly how big are your plans for this world, do you expect it to spill out past the board game into other games or possibly novels? As most people know I'm not just a big boardgame fan but also a huge pen and paper RPG fan and when I see someone creating a world like this I can't help but ask: will there be an RPG in this setting sometime in the future?
E: "You're not the first to ask - so as I said, maybe the demand will rise to a level were it can/must be developed. 
The game came first, and slowly developed into something almost too big to comprehend in one game. In that regard I've also been contacted about plans to maybe share the IP with other designers/creators. 
I would love the universe to expand further - which is also why I did the writer's contest on BGG and why there's going to be a couple of short-stories taking place in the Burning Suns universe. 
The idea is that the Burning Suns game will create the pillars for other great articles to stand on, inspired and developed by backers around the world :)"
M: My last question: one of the things I saw on your project page that made me cringe was this: "Money Back Guarantee" You are willing to pay people back if they don't like it and will ship the game back. Isn't this highly risky?
E: "I've been inspired by Jamey Stegmaier who has been a great support during the project, and I thought that it was a good idea to put a Money Back Guarantee like he did, simply because it's an offer I believe they are entitled too. Furthermore, I believe very strongly in my game being of great value in game play AND in components. I would be surprised if people really would want to send the game back when you take into consideration of what they are getting for their money."
M: That's all I wanted to ask, do you have anything you want to add?
E: "We're entering the last phase of our Kickstarter campaign ( - and there's still some cool stretch goals that I know we would all love to reach, getting more minis to the table! So when you read this - be sure to go and help us out with a pledge, and become part of the final development of Burning Suns :)"
M: Well Emil, thank you very much for your time and the opportunity for my readers and I to learn more about Burning Suns. I'm really looking forward to seeing the game and bringing it out to a Windsor Gaming Resource event and giving it a shot.
E: "Thank you so much for having me in this interview Moe, I really appreciate that! And I'm looking forward to sharing Burning Suns with you and all our backers, it's going to be awesome! :)"

So there you have it. It sounds pretty sweet to me. Sound good to you? Well go back it right now! The kickstarter ends on October 5th!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Open gaming at Brimstone October 19th

The Windsor Gaming resource returns to Brimstone Games on Saturday October 19th from 6pm until Midnight. Brimstone has a huge gaming area with tons of tables, chairs and great lighting. I'm told by the owner Sean that we could fit 60 of us in there.

This is an open, all ages, themeless gaming event. Just a bunch of us getting together to play some games. Magic the Gathering and Warhammer are popular at Brimstone along with the usual mix of card and board games

You can find Brimstone at 3298 Walker Rd. Parking is available on the south side of the building and on the street around back. Note for those who haven't realized it yet, this is the new location in Windsor, not the old one in McGreggor.

Games and Grub at the Green Bean Windsor Star Cafe October 11th

The new Green Bean is located right Downtown Windsor, in the 300 block of Ouelette in the new Windsor Star Building, which used to be the Palace Theater. The actual address is 300 Ouellette Ave - 3rd floor. The actual name is The Windsor Star Cafe by The Green Bean and I know this has caused a bit of confusion in the past. You can either take the elevator to the 3rd floor or you can take the flight of stairs up from the old palace entrance. If you take the stares the actual cafe is around the corner.

There's no theme for this event, just bring whatever you feel like playing. If you don't have very many games don't worry the regulars always bring lots of great stuff and all of us are willing to teach the games we bring.

This all ages event runs from 6pm until 11pm on Friday October 11th

Cards & Coffee October 5th

October 5th we return to long time FLGS Hugin & Munin for a night of cards and caffeine. The event will run from 5pm until 11pm. Through the entirety of the event all Tassimo coffee will be half off.

This event has proved to be very popular so you may want to show up a bit early as the place gets packed and we run out of chairs quickly. To help alleviate this problem Ian will be putting up a table for us to store our games on so that there's more room to actually play.

Yeah it's called Cards & Coffee and yes some people dig playing Dominion or Magic but you don't need to stick to card games. It's just an excuse to spend a Saturday night playing some games. It also happens that Tassimo coffee is half off.

This is an all ages event that is open to anyone and everyone. Bring your favourite game or play one of ours. No XP needed, we'll teach you what we have.

Hugin & Munin is located at 1664 Tecumseh RD. E. in Windsor Ontario. Parking in back or on side roads and free out front after 6pm.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

An honest look at Gunship: First Strike

Gunship: First Strike was originally a suscessful Kickstarter that finished early in 2012, absolutely destroying it's goal. I remember at the time being tempted to back it as I really dig games where you customize your own ships. I didn't do it though. So how did I get a kickstarter copy of this? The BoardGameGeek marketplace. Someone had an auction and I got this for a very low price. When the game showed up it ended up it was never even opened. I have to assume the original backer read the rules and found it wasn't for them. I can see why this could be possible as this game isn't for everyone.

The core game is about two space fleets facing off against each other. Each fleet has a capital ship (the carrier), four squads of fighters and one gunship. The goal is to destroy the opponents capital ship. Now the kickstarter added to this, now the game has four different fleets, well four identical fleets in different colours and includes rules for playing 3 or 4 players. What's annoying though is that the game box and insert is still designed for two players. That doesn't really impact gameplay though. I personally have only played two player.

Everything that came with the kickstarter
You start Gunship: First Strike by customizing your gunship. There are four cannon spots on your ship board and for each you pick between ion or regular cannons. On the wings you can also mount a cannon of your choice or you can forgo the guns and put on bombs for hitting the enemies capital ship. You then decide on three areas to reinforce with armour. All of this is done using the flimsiest cards I've ever held. Seriously these cards are thin! Each player has a board for their ship (these are mounted due to a stretch goal hit during the kickstarter) and they place cards either on or next to the board. The art on the board is the same digital 3d art you see on the game box and for some reason the card art doesn't actually overlay the board art.

Each round you roll initiative (on a D8) and then the capital ships fire their turbolasers (they aren't called that but we are Star Wars fans so fell into that habit of calling them that). This causes 0-2 damage to the other ship (you flip a card from the damage deck and check for a symbol in the top corner, most cards do 1 hit, a few do 0 and even less do 2). Each capital ship has shields and hull, the shields are represented by squares on the carrier board and the hull is represented by a D12 that starts on the 12 spot. As you take hits you move the D12 down through the boxes and when they hit the last spot you start counting down on the die.

This carrier firing mechanic mechanic is neat in two ways. For one it gives a nice background feel of the cap ships firing big guns at each other while the smaller ships dart around and dogfight. Two: it puts a timer on the game, pretty much every round both ships are going to take a hit and eventually, even if you do nothing else with your other ships, one side will win.

Next the player who won initiative draws cards and activates their fighter squadron. If a fighter squad is alone with a gunship it can strafe it potentially doing significant damage. It can't do this if there are enemy fighters there, in that case a dogfight starts and fighters fight fighters. While enemy fighters are tied up with yours your gunship is free to move around unharnessed. There's some interesting strategies here with what exactly you use your fighters for. Fighters do damage by rolling dice based on how many ships are left in the squadron. These dire are the nicest component of Gunship. They are custom colour D6s that actually look great. In the case of fighter attacks you are trying to roll fighter symbols that are on 2 of 6 sides.

Fighters and gunships in the neutral zone between carriers
After the fighters go, the active player then gets a Gunship turn. They get three actions. These can be: move, fire guns at the enemy gunship, fire guns on enemy fighters, dock with your carrier ship or try for a bombing run on the enemy carrier.

For shooting at gunships or fighters you have to play a card that matches the weapon being used. A "hit" card when firing a cannon, an "ionization" card when firing an ion gun, a torpedo when doing a bombing run etc. The opponent then gets to play evade cards if they have them. The unique D6 are used when firing at fighters (you want a fighter symbol and roll one die per Hit card) or at long range (you want a target reticle and roll one die per hit card) otherwise the right card with the right gun means an auto hit. You can play one card per action per gun you have on a ship. So if you have three cannons and three hit cards in your hand you can play all of them with one action.

Damage is one of the cooler parts of Gunship. Each gunship has 3 shields, those go first. Then you start taking hits to specific parts of your ship. A D8 is rolled to determine where, and that's where you place the hit or ion card that was played by the attacking character. Get a second hit in a location and the location becomes heavily damaged and the hit card is flipped over (the back sides show two hits). Damaged locations can't be used and have a variety of effects (damaged shield generators = no repairing shields, damaged engines = less movement etc). Ion is a little more interesting as it just disables the spot temporarily and then at the end of your turn you roll a D8 and the ion moves to another area of your ship. If Ion ever gets to your power generator your gunship is crippled for one turn.

Bombing runs are the only way to damage your enemies carrier directly. The cap ship first it's defense turrets with the defending player rolling four of those unique D6. They are looking for orange hits, 2 sides of the dice have one hit and one has two, so it's possible for an incoming ship to take 8 hits before it drops it's bombs or torpedoes. If the attaching ship survives this the player can drop their bombs or play torpedo cards. Bombs may or may not hit depending on dice rolls, torps always hit. Get the enemy cap ship to 0 hull and you win.

Shot of a two player game, mid way through
At the end of your turn you can play repair cards to do in flight repairs to your gunship, get shields back or removing ionization. Heavily repaired areas require you to dock with your carrier to repair. Docking takes an action and then on the next turn, your three gunship actions a turn become repair actions. Most repairs take one action but heavily damaged areas take two. Slagged areas can never be repaired.

That ends one players turn and now the player who lost initiative draws cards, does the fighter, gunship and repair phases. Initiative is re-rolled and you rinse repeat until only one capital ship is standing.

Added to all this are a small amount of modifier cards. Ones that cause critical hits, let you choose the target location on the enemy gunship, slag a target area so it can't be repaired and more.

Along with the core game the kickstarter version of the game I received also has a bunch of expansion modules. I've got optional ship upgrades and crew. When using these you draw six cards of each type and pick three to use. The upgrades really help you to personalize your ship and even have some improvements for the carrier. The crew give you once a game abilities that let you break the rules in some way. I've also got asteroid decks and the Gunship Mark II. I've yet to try either of these to really comment on them.

Gunship: First Strike is a fun game. Every round I've played of it has been much closer than you would expect. The last one being a nail biter right until the final round. I dig the ability to customize the gunship and even cooler is having to dock with your carrier mid game for repair and re-equipping. This ads a neat push your luck aspect to the game. I reminds me of car racing, do you pit now or try to go one more lap? The problem with the core game though is that there just aren't enough customization options. You are only really picking between two weapons six times, and then getting the option of swapping two of those for bombs. Picking three spots for armour isn't really all that interesting either as almost everyone is going to put them in similar spots (the torpedo launcher is needed to damage the enemy carrier and who wouldn't protect their shield generator)? Now I will admit this is improved with the upgrade cards from the expansion, but it's still not as much customization as I would like.

Trying to show the thinness of the cards and
warping that has already occurred.
My biggest beef with this game though are the components. As noted above the cards in this game are thin. Really thin. These cards represent everything from the damage deck, your ship upgrades and the ships out in space. Your gunship and the fighter fleet are also represented by these thin cards. Now the kickstarter version came with some cardboard tokens made to replace these. They are cool but aren't that functional. I like the fact that the card gunship can be flipped to show that a ship is in the hanger on the carrier, the cardboard one doesn't have this (instead the other side is used if the ship ends up ionized). There are cardboard fighters too but they are grouped oddly and you have to move four of them all to the same spot each turn, it's just easier to move the card. These upgrades are nice looking but just not all that functional. 

Added to thin thin cards are the thin ship boards for the Gunship Mk II. You can tell this was the initial plan with all of the ship boards but there was a kickstarter stretch goal to make them mounted boards. Seems that didn't extend to the Mk II. The boards for the two Mk II ships aren't any thicker than the cards. I can't see them living up to play very well, especially at public play events that I like to bring my games to. Lastly, the box insert is the worst. There's no way of fitting everything in there, not even close. There don't even seem to be enough spots to fit everything from the core game.

To me Gunship: First Strike fells exactly like that, a first strike. A first attempt at a game. There's some really cool stuff here but then there's some really annoying stuff as well. It feels like a great first step to something better. It's fun enough but just not quite great. I have a feeling if there's ever a V2.0 it will be a much more impressive and better game. As it stands now this one could be worth picking up, if you dig the theme and if the game play above sounds cool to you, but I will admit I'm glad I got this off the bgg marketplace pretty cheap and didn't back the kickstarter.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Boardgames are Really Fun September 26th

Villians Beastro is one of the coolest bars to open here in Windsor. The theme is movie and TV Villains throughout the ages. The places is set up like a secret lair. What a perfect place for some gaming. 

B.A.R.F. events are themed events and we try to bring games that fit the theme. For September we have a Nautical Theme. We're looking for games about the High Seas, about naval routes, the carribian and maybe even Pirates. I'm expecting games like Shipyard, Merchants and Marauders, Batavia or Lifeboats. Thanks to regular event atendee  +John Salalila for the theme suggestion.

The event starts at 6 pm on September 26th and goes until close. Most gamers usually pack it in around midnight though as the place starts to fill with the downtown drinking crowd at about that time. Note also that since our event is on a Thursday that it's also SWAMP night and Steam Whistle beer and all Paninis are on sale.

Note this is not an all ages venue: Villains is a bar and serves alcohol so no kids for this one.