“Dad!” I yelled as I ran to the kitchen, “I got an email from White Wizard Games! They want me to interview Robert Dougherty!”
“That’s awesome! I’m so proud, mate! What an opportunity!” We high-fived in what to my memory was a slow motion panning shot. Then he ruined it. “Who’s he?”
After fangirling for a few more minutes, I settled down enough to explain about his Magic: The Gathering hall of fame status. Followed immediately by an explanation of what a Magic: The Gathering actually is. Which is: one of the reasons I’m glad I have a game review website so I have a reason (read as excuse) to play it a lot. And I mean a lot. As in, “you have work tomorrow – shouldn’t you be in bed?”
Only trouble was I live ten hours ahead of where Rob lives, way over there in the land of grand canyons, rapids, and theft autos. And while you’d think that setting a time for the interview would be a simple case of typing into Google the respective time zones…math has never been my strong suit.
My first attempt at this interview was full of excitement. I was nervous. So I’d made sure to prepare: I’d watched clips of Rob playing in MTG ProTours, I’d listened to ‘Star Realms’ podcasts such as Megahaulin’ which also had an episode on ‘Hero Realms’, and I played more ‘Star Realms’ which…you know…I was going to do anyway but at least now I had a reason (read as excuse).
Problem is, when I called I noticed that Rob wasn’t online. I thought that was strange. White Wizard Games have always come across as incredibly professional and polite. I tried calling a few more times, eventually figuring something must gone wrong. It had. My end – as I discovered when I thought to double check the time in their area. I was twelve hours late.
My heart sank. I must have appeared incredibly rude. But an emailed apology and the forgiveness of the council of White Wizards and we rescheduled. Luckily I had a public holiday coming up at the end of the week. Perfect time for an interview. As it turns out, also the perfect time for a sleep in.
Allow me to take but a moment of your time to impart some wisdom, dear readers. If you’re going to set up an important meeting, and you think as far as to put it in your iPhone calendar, remember to set an alert. Waking up at 6.30am, half hour before the scheduled interview, and feeling like there’s something important you’ve forgotten, is not the most relaxing start to a long weekend.
Thanking the lord that my intention was to have the interview via audio, I raced out in my boxers pleading for my girlfriend to make me a coffee while I tried to get the audio recording system working (it never did). Giving myself a final pep-talk, I checked my emails and found a message from the lovely Debbie. The meeting was off.
“Totally my fault,” it read. “I did not put this on Rob’s calendar.”
Breathing a great sigh of relief, I replied with, “We’ll call it a draw,” before returning gratefully to bed…
…only to have my girlfriend wake me up two minutes later with a confused look and a coffee.
Third time usually being the charm, and figuring I could use as much charm as I could muster, I woke up an hour before the interview and made myself a coffee before giving my notes a once over. By this point I was just looking forward to having a conversation about a game I loved, let alone doing an interview. Sure, I was still nervous. But I’d had ample opportunity to practice my hilarious opening line – “Hello from the future.” – figuring a bit of a lighthearted poke at the 10 hour time difference which had been causing us so much trouble might be a night icebreaker.
I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with confidence, practised the line a few more times in my head and connected the call.
What’s it like being a game designer?
“Super fun. It’s on my short list of dream jobs. I’m actually a self-publishing game designer which is both way cooler and way worse. It’s cooler because I get to decide what I’m working on. It’s worse because I also have to do the business side of things. Art acquisition, production, distribution; there’s a good amount of the less fun stuff as well.”
Have you got any advice for people who may want to follow a similar path?
“Design what you love. Play it with your friends and if they beg to play it or say “hey, can I bring this home” or “can I have my own copy” then you know you might have something that you can self-publish or sell to other publishers.
In the beginning you’ll likely have to beg people to test it and you probably haven’t worked out all the bugs so it’ll be drawn out. But if they really enjoy it then you can start wondering if it’s worth considering other steps.
The thing about hobby games is that it has a lot more people looking for work than it has people working jobs. But the good thing is there are thousands of games being released every year which each need designers, artwork and things for them. And then it’s about how do you make a product that stands out amongst them.”
Did you have a similar experience with Star Realms?
“In a strange way. Darwin Kastle, who I was on a Magic: The Gathering team with and who managed some of my hobby stores and worked in many game companies with me; he was looking for work and I recommended that he design a game and shop it around to get his name out there and help build his resume. He designed the initial Star Realms, but didn’t have any success in anyone picking it up. So we worked on it, and we do fast and good work together because we’ve developed a shorthand from when we played in MTG ProTours. We’ve worked on multiple game designs in one form or another for the past twenty years. When we made Star Realms we felt that it was fun and we could just make this ourselves. So we created a new company for the purpose. So for us it was a little different from the friends’ experience, we personally recognised how good it was and then we showed it to others. And we had the shortcut.
We showed the game to press at Origin, GenCon and PAX Prime and the response, especially at Origins, was fantastic. I was doing interviews where the first couple minutes people were raving about how good it was and what they enjoyed. So at GenCon I had an epiphany and I asked people if I could interview them for a few minutes before they interviewed me. People thought this was a bit weird but it was great. I was able to both do interviews and generate a bit of buzz and also do testimonials for our Kickstarter video.
This led to me having to increase the size of the first print run as it was in pretty high demand. And when the Kickstarter went well I increased the amount again.”
You’ve got Hero Realms coming soon to Kickstarter, I was wondering if you could tell us more about the game?
“Hero Realms is an interesting product. It grew in scope from what we originally intended. Fans wanted a fantasy themed realms game. The two big genres in hobby gaming is really fantasy and science-fiction.
We licenced the Realms engine to Tasty Minstrel Games which produced ‘Cthulhu Realms’ and while the game has new cards and a different feel to ‘Star Realms’, it’s very heavily in the Realms engine. Originally, we had a similar scope to ‘Cthulhu Realms’ for ‘Hero Realms’ to have the core engine the same. But we started to expand to other things you could do in a deck building game and the application of the engine is very new.
For example, if you wanted the base set it’s a heads up style of game for up to four players. It’s a PVP (player versus player) deck builder similar to ‘Star Realms’. But there is so much more to ‘Hero Realms’ and players can have a much wider experience through expansions. You can customise your experience though character packs, boss decks and campaign decks.
In the base game you’ll play as an “Adventurer” but in the character packs you can play as core fantasy roles such as Fighter, Wizard, Thief, Ranger or Cleric. Each have their own starting health value, minor and major abilities, and even starting decks. They’re balanced to be of a similar strength but it’s asymmetrical gameplay. And although the character packs are designed to play against one another, we will include rules to bring the Adventurer up to the same calibre as the other roles. Each character is designed to come at the game differently.
With the Boss Decks you get to play as big powerful monsters. So you could play as a Dragon and verse a Fighter, Wizard and Cleric; so the game is one verse three or four. You could also play boss deck verse boss deck and have a clash of the Titans thing going on.
With the campaign decks, you can play cooperatively. So everyone chooses a character and you complete missions. If the players are successful then you get experience. With experience you can get gear, improve your special abilities and even improve your starting deck. So as you go on you get stronger but the missions also get harder and harder. It’s like mashing a deck builder and an RPG (roleplaying game) into one.
Players will get to choose what experience they want. One of the great things about ‘Hero Realms’ is that it has something for everyone no matter what school you’re in. If you like cooperative games but hate competitive games, then that’s fine. If you’re only interested in competing against people and don’t like to cooperate then that’s fine too. If you like both then there’s plenty to enjoy.
The artwork is awesome. We really try to have the highest level of artwork while keeping the price reasonable. Something I’ve noticed is that inexpensive games tend to have no so great art. We really wanted to have TCG (trading card game) level artwork in a $15 (USD) package. Which is really crazy when you think about it.”
I know that in the podcast ‘Megahaulin’ you were talking about health cards being different than they were in Star Realms. Can you expand on that a little? Tell us how that works?
“Well the starting health in ‘Hero Realms’ for an Adventurer is fifty, similar to ‘Star Realms’. But one of the complaints we got about the game was that the Authority cards are hard to use (shit…I said that) and the original intention was to be like other games and just have people grab a pen and paper. Magic: The Gathering for example just gets players to figure it out. But I wanted the game to be fully playable right out of the box. I wanted people to be able to take it camping or just throw it in their backpack on their way to a friend’s place and still be able to play.
In Magic: The Gathering, there’s a method that some players use to track health where you have certain cards turned upside down to represent fives and others turned to the side to represent ones. It’s a fairly easy idea to use. And with the authority cards you start with nine cards each side, which is a fairly significant number of cards. Eighteen cards in total.
So we decided to move to two cards. One card will have zero to nine on it, and the other card will have zero, ten, twenty and thirty on one side and forty, fifty, sixty and seventy on the other side. So when an Adventurer starts they have the fifty side line up with the zero side of the singles card. If a player takes four damage, they’d move it so that the forty side of the tens card is adjacent to the six on the ones card. It works pretty well, it’s about equivalent to the authority cards but it frees up a lot more room.
The core set is going to come with enough cards for four people to play, and then you’ve got the “always purchase” cards which are like the Explorers in ‘Star Realms’. So in total there are 148 cards, which is an additional twenty cards.
One of the other things people complained about and we fixed was the box,”
(yep…I complained about that too).
I was going to ask about that.
“We knew the quality of the box was low. But we wanted to make the cost (of the game) low. From my experience from TCGs I was used to the game coming in a dodgy box and if I liked the game enough I would purchase a $2 Ultra PRO box. But from a board game perspective, I understand why people where like, “Hey, why is the box breaking?”
So we’re charging a little bit more, $20 (USD). But for that you get two extra players and the box will be a nice high quality with a base and lid. If you have two Star Realms decks and set them next to each other, that’s how big the box will be. Still small enough to fit in your jacket pocket.”
I did actually make both those points in my review. Something I admitted to though was that it probably wasn’t expected that you’d play a hundred or so games in your first week.
“Absolutely. I’ve bought a lot of games that I’ve played about ten times. You give it a try, get the idea, play it a couple more times that week, maybe again in a month or so then further down the track until you never really play it again. And I’m totally fine with that. I haven’t felt bad about it. I’ve had a good experience with it. But Star Realms hit that chord harder than any other games I’ve played, both in physical and in the app.”
In ‘Star Realms’ I know that there are a couple cards that have some level of cross faction interaction. Are we likely to see something similar in Hero Realms?
“Some of the card interactions and synergies that you see in Star Realms are in there. For example, with the starting decks such as the Wizard, you’ll see that the synergies will be built in with their specialties.”
If you had one thing you think people should be excited about for Hero Realms, what would it be?
“That’s hard. Really it’s hard to bring it down to one because there are two things that I think are exciting. The first is that it’s ‘Star Realms’’ style of play in a fresh new package. It feels like a fantasy game. We didn’t change any core rules so players will be able to pick it up super quick. It’s Realms play for the first time again.
The second thing is it’s a new way to play a deckbuilder, such as co-op. There’s so much to play and love in Hero Realms, and you can be in either of these schools or both. If you love co-operative play, competitive play or both, you’ll have a great play experience.”
Have you given any thought to what bonuses will be available to those who back ‘Hero Realms’ on Kickstarter?
“We have. Much like the ‘Star Realms’ and ‘Epic’ Kickstarters, we’re going to have a “Gamer” tier that will have the base game and year one promo card. We give two cards away at special events, one that’s common and one that’s rare for each season. As a backer, you’ll get the first four seasons all at once. With Star Realms it was cards such as the ‘Ark’, ‘Megahauler’, ‘Starbase Omega’ and ‘Battle Screecher’. That and the stretch goals, many of which are going to be Kickstarter exclusives. These cards will not be retailed, at least not for a year or two. And when we do they will be reskinned so that you’ll have different artwork.
So you’ll get these cards free, well in advance and with alternative artwork.”
Well you’ve got my money. When does ‘Hero Realms’ go to Kickstarter?
“(Laughs) Thanks. We’re targeting June to be live on Kickstarter.”
The Kickstarter for Hero Realms is live now! Find it here
Don’t forget to answer the question What is your favourite Starship, and why? in the comments below for your chance to win a copy of Star Realms. Entries will be judged on creativity.