An Interview inside Baldrick's Tomb
Friend and publisher of my game Farmageddon, Phil Kilcrease, is publishing a new game. The game is called Baldrick's Tomb and it is currently seeking funding via Kickstarter.
The game has a very interesting premise as it's a competitive rogue-like. I asked Phil and the designer if they'd like to do an interview. Either due to my charm or threatening demeanor, they agreed. Read on to learn about this game and Phil and Ben Haskett's process.
Hyperbole Games: Ben -- tell me about yourself. Who are you?
Ben: I'm a judicial secretary for an Appellate Court. I live with my wife and dog in Elk Grove, California, and we've got our first little one due any day now. I love paintball, movies, and--of course--games. I've enjoyed video games for most of my life, but I've only been playing board games for a year or two. This newfound hobby started with The Settlers of Catan, but has quickly grown into a sizable library in my office. My most frequent gaming group buddies consist mostly of my family; my three brothers and I get together on a regular basis to play games.
Hyperbole Games: Give us a high level description of Baldrick's Tomb.
Phil: I'll give the basics, and Ben can add in, too. Baldrick's Tomb plays 1 - 4 players in 30 minutes for ages eight and up. The key mechanics are action management for how you move during your turn, hand management in how spells and (eventually) items are used, and die rolling for combat resolution.
I'd say the two key things that make BT stand out are its ease of play and the character of the game Erin Fusco is evoking with the artwork. We gave her rough guidelines and told her to cut loose; she hasn't disappointed. The characters all ooze charm and the monsters are fantastic: gentleman Scottish werewolves, boxing rats, sassy warthogs... it won't be your typical dank, dark dungeon crawl.
Ben: Baldrick's Tomb is a light-weight, dungeon-crawling board game for 1-4 players that should take somewhere around half an hour to play. It takes place over the course of seven short levels, where players travel down to the bottom of a large tomb to retrieve a cursed artifact, and then high-tail it back out with as much treasure as possible. The player with the most treasure points--or TP --at the end of the game wins. All the while, the tomb is being haunted by an evil spirit who is constantly changing the inside of the tomb.
Hyperbole Games: Did you have a primary inspiration to create the game? What were you hoping to accomplish?
Ben: Baldrick's Tomb draws a lot of its inspiration from a sub-genre of role playing video games called rogue-likes. Specifically, a few years ago I was introduced to and fell in love with a little game called Shiren the Wanderer. What drew me to this unassuming game -- a Nintendo DS port of the 1995 Super Famicom release -- was its charm; bright and colorful visuals, endearing characters, upbeat music, and a fun premise. But what kept me engaged in its small world was its game play, which was then an entirely new experience for me. Despite its short campaign (about 45 minutes long, if you manage to beat it), Shiren manages to elicit tension every time I boot it up and death looms around every corner in the form of well-hidden traps and increasingly powerful enemies. Beating the game requires knowing when/how to properly use what items, knowing when to run from monsters, and, well, a heaping spoonful of luck.
What's really impressive to me, though, is how Shiren manages to do so much with so little. Its levels are randomly generated with a small tile set, NPC characters have very little to say, and there is not a very wide range of enemies to encounter. Despite this, Shiren manages to create a new experience each time it's played, and that experience is built on your interactions with the items, NPCs, traps, and monsters. I think this is why even non-graphical rogue-likes like Nethack can prove to be so exhilarating.
What I set out to do with Baldrick's Tomb was to recreate the rogue-like experience in the form of a board game. Using an 8x8 grid and a handful of tokens, I was able to make a sort of randomly generated level complete with treasures, scrolls, traps, monsters, and a single exit that leads to the next floor. Similar to most rogue-likes, the goal was for the player's experience to be built largely upon the encounters within--not necessarily the lore or the visuals. At the same time, I really wanted Baldrick's Tomb to have an attractive and inviting visual design. I used vibrant colors and bold fonts to create sort of a goofy vibe in the graphic design. Then, I had a huge amount of help from an artist name Kevin Harris. Kevin provided dozens of colorful illustrations for BT, all in the interest of helping out a fellow game designer. Although the final version of Baldrick's Tomb will have all-new (and stunning) artwork from Erin Fusco, Kevin's original contributions helped create something that I was incredibly proud of, and I believe his handiwork was integral to BT's early successes and probably played a part in 5th Street taking a look at it.
Hyperbole Games: Your game was on The Game Crafter for some time, yes? How did it do?
Ben: At first, Baldrick's Tomb didn't really make a big splash. I had no idea how to market it, it was unproven, and it was one of the more expensive games in TGC's store ($40). However, BT picked up steam, little by little, with the help of a few key events:
The first was winning TGC's RPG design contest, which happened to coincide with BT's release. This being my first foray into the board game design, I really did not have any expectations of winning, so it was both incredibly surprising and flattering when the judge, Jason Tagmire (Pixel Lincoln), chose it as the winner out of about 30 entries. Many of those entries looked to be really great games, so it was an honor that BT received the top spot. This resulted in a fair amount of exposure and induction into TGC's hall of fame.
Next was a review on Father Geek, which resulted in another surge of page views and a few sales. More importantly, however, is that the review contained some very constructive criticism that I used to make BT a better game. More than anything else, Cyrus' gaming group did not care for the roll-and-move mechanic (a part of BT's original design), in which the number of moves a player was permitted on each turn was dictated by a die roll. It was Cyrus' feedback that eventually led to a fair amount of changes to BT's design.
Finally, and what gave me the confidence to reach out to 5th Street, was a video review from The Gamers' Table. They were sent the updated version of Baldrick's Tomb (which was put together thanks to Father Geek's feedback), and they rated it very favorably.
Hyperbole Games: What did you learn from your Game Crafter customers? How did you improve the game?
Ben: I learned a ton from TGC customers, who were all very forthcoming with feedback. The two biggest contributors were Cyrus from Father Geek, and fellow TGC user Jason Glover (Plague, Zogar's Gaze). Cyrus' review led to me dropping the roll-move-mechanic and replacing it with a set amount of moves for each character. Chain-reaction changes from this decision included the addition of healing fountains, extra tokens, and multiple difficulty modes. These changes were then fine-tuned with the help of Jason Glover. We spent a lot of time on TGC, chatting about how to improve BT and make it a tighter experience. Our conversations also led to a would-be expansion for BT in the form of additional cards. Many of these ideas will be making an appearance in the final version of Baldrick's Tomb. Additional feedback came from TGC staff JT Smith and Tavis Parker.
Hyperbole Games: What makes your game special and unique when compared to similar games?
Phil: Artwork and ease of play. Erin struck true in making the art sing '5th Street' in the style she used, and the rules are super easy to learn.
Players get four moves per turn to explore a dungeon and find the exit to the next level. Whenever an encounter token is landed on, a card matching the encounter type is drawn and resolved whether it be a sneaky trap or a big ole' pile of treasure. If players take too long, though, they'll fall through the unstable floor and lose half their treasure. After so many floors, whoever has the most treasure is the master treasure hunter!
Hyperbole Games: What attracted you and 5th Street to Baldrick's Tomb, Phil?
Phil: It looked really polished on Game Crafter with a novel take on a dungeon crawl. I actually passed on it initially as it was rated ages 12+. But, Ben reached out to me and after reading Father Geek's review, I was hooked.
Ben: To turn it around, what attracted me to 5th Street was their dedication to making great-looking & affordable games that focused on including everyone. I felt confident that, in Phil's hands, Baldrick's Tomb would not only look great, receive a professional production run, and be refined into a better-playing game, but also be made available to a wider audience.
Thus far, Phil has proven to be professional, approachable, and honest. It is nothing at all like I imagined a publishing deal would go; that we would have so much 1-on-1 conversation, or that he would take such a personal interest in the game.
Hyperbole Games: Who would you say is the target player for Baldrick's tomb? Who will love this game?
Phil: Kids and older players looking for a light dungeon crawl that plays in half an hour.
Hyperbole Games: What was the most difficult aspect of the game to nail down? How did you solve the problem?
Ben: The most difficult aspect was combat -- I had originally designed combat to be as close to a rogue-like experience as possible. This was done using two dice that were rolled simultaneously: one for the player and one for the monster. This spelled out the results of each bout. While this was a pretty accurate representation of the frantic and unpredictable combat in rogue-likes, with frequent misses and blows from both sides, is was also a very slavish depiction. 5th Street encouraged me to move away from this, towards simplified combat that would be easier for players to understand, faster, and, of course, more fun. With 5th Street's help, we eventually settled on combat that would use only a single die and simple iconography.
Hyperbole Games: Did you have any ideas you cut or threw away? If so, why?
Ben: Most of the ideas that were born out of the slavish dedication to re-creating the rogue-like experience were thrown out. In a board game, especially a competitive one for this many players, elements like permanent death, immobilizing traps, and complete unpredictability are not conducive to a positive experience. Some of these elements were thrown out before the game's first prototype existed. 5th Street helped take the game further, resulting in a board game that is easy to learn, fun to play, and fair, while still maintaining many of the elements that make rogue-likes unique.
Hyperbole Games: What are some of your favorite games to play?
Phil: Currently playing Netrunner, Flash Point, Plunder!, and TONS of prototypes.
Ben: For me, I'm mostly still catching up with the heavy hitters: Ticket to Ride, Bang!, and Dominion. I love Alien Frontiers, Lords of Waterdeep, and Incan Gold. Also a new fan of Castle Dash and The Resistance.
Hyperbole Games: Anything you’d like to add?
Phil: Sure do; three things. First, thanks for the interview, Grant! Second, give a read to Grant's design journal for Dawn Sector. It's a great look at the journey a game can take during development. Lastly, check out Baldrick's Tomb and join us on the adventure of delving for treasure!!!!