Happy Birthday to us 🙂 First of all we would like to thank all of our followers, readers and fans for their support over the last year. It has been truly wonderful and we owe you big time. So for that purpose, we have got in touch with some cool people we know…And today we bring you our own very interview with game developer Brandon Rollins!! In case you are not acquainted with the man, Brandon is the amazing game developer of the card game War Co. We met over Twitter, and we have built a relation with him over the last year. He is a super funny guy, and very committed to his project, always willing to chat with other people about games.
About War.Co what you need to know is that this is competitive card deck game, where you win by running your opponent out of cards. There are different decks you can get to build your game. You can find Brandon’s game here http://warcothegame.com/pre-order/ or through the KickStarter site: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1357102631/war-co-expandable-card-game-0
And now, what you actually want to read about: Brandon, himself and his project.
Tell us Brandon, why board games? What made you want to be a game developer and how did this all begin?
The earliest version of War Co. goes back to when I was 11 years old and watching Yu-Gi-Oh! on TV. I created my own game based on how I thought TCGs worked based on the TV show.
I’ve had a fascination with games since I was very young, but serious game development is something I only got into recently. I asked myself “why don’t I finish what I started a long time ago?” As heretical as it sounds, getting into modern board games was actually a result of being a designer first, not the other way around. Believe me, I was stunned at just how incredible the board game community has become in the last decade!
You seem a pretty devoted, committed to your project and company. We see your Twitter, blog, Facebook, you are on top of things, always. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind sharing with the rest of the world how hard this task is? What are the main issues you have faced in your project? And where does the game dev go for help? Do you have a team, or other people within the industry that support you as well as your fan base?
Managing social media is fairly straightforward. Every week, I look for art and come up with on-theme “War Machines Company tweets”. I schedule them to automatically post throughout the week with a free tool called Hootsuite. I actually spend far less time on social media than it looks like I do. This frees me up to do the trickier work of game development, fulfillment, and sales.
With the exception of James Masino creating the art as a freelancer, I work solo. The main issues I face come down to issues of time and understanding. There’s still so much I’m learning – not just about design, but manufacturing, fulfillment, sales, and marketing. Though I work alone, social media helps a lot because there’s tons of people I can talk to when I have questions. Not to mention, there’s a wealth of great blogs and books, too. I don’t have a team, but I’m never alone. There’s a lot of smart folks, mentors, fans, and cheerleaders out there.
Do you have any golden rules for success as a game dev to share with people who may want to follow your lead?
If I had to give you just one golden rule for game dev success, it would be “do blind play tests.” Blind play tests are when you give the game to other people with no instruction on how to play. That helps you know if the game is balanced, understandable, and fun. It takes a long time to get to the point where you’re ready to blind play test, but if most people can play it with no assistance, you’ve passed that gold standard.
Other than, though, just know that game development is iterative. It takes a long, long time to get a game balanced. Mechanics often interact in ways you could never predict and you can only discover them through play testing. Once you find issues, you have to keep tweaking and experimenting until they aren’t issues any more. It takes persistence and patience.
Now moving on to War Co specifically, how did you came up with the game concept, and dynamics. Because your game is not like any other card building deck, this is actually pretty niche! What were you trying to achieve? Did you have a target audience in mind?
I wanted to take the basic ideas in popular TCGs like Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Pokemon TCG, and simplify them so that more people could get into them. Just like superhero movies have become a huge success, I believe tons of people would love games like this if they were presented in the right way.
First, I stripped complexity out-of-the-way you buy decks. You don’t have to hunt for rare cards. In fact, no cards are better or worse. They just have weaknesses proportionate to their strengths. If you buy all six decks – Bruiser, Conspirator, Guerilla, Militant, Trickster, and Wildcard – you have every card in the game. You can mix and match cards or play right out of the box. Either way allows you to be competitive. You have to spend very little to be competitive in War Co.
After a lot of tweaking, I found the classic idea of “attack your opponent until they have zero life points” concept had more arithmetic than I liked. It was complicated. I stripped that entirely and I said “the last person with cards remaining wins. The objective is to run your opponent out of cards. Your cards are your health.” I let the complexity come not out of the rules, but in the various ways you can run your opponent out of cards.
The choice of a sci-fi corporate dystopia theme was a personal preference of mine. I think it resonates with a lot of people. If there’s two things in this world that can scare people, it’s warfare and economics.
And of course, we know that you are the brains behind all this operation, but when was the point when you decided you needed to bring colour to the game? When did you set out to find James Masino for the illustrations? Was it difficult to find someone of his calibre to work with you?
I knew War Co. was going to need some beautiful art. However, finding James Masino was a stroke of sheer luck. About five years ago, I got really into Minecraft and I became friends with Alex. As it turns out, Alex knew James from where they played Club Penguin together as kids. Alex introduced me to James.
TL;DR: I know a guy through Minecraft who knows a guy through Club Penguin.
Was there anything specific about James’ work that you thought you wanted in your game? How does the game interact with the art work? Is there a conversation, a compromise or a need to accommodate to?
The art doesn’t affect the gameplay at all, but it does have the important power of drawing people in. One of the important ways you can make complex games more approachable is by making them gorgeous. James’ art keeps people captivated for long enough to stick with the game for long enough to learn it.
Every single card in the game has its own lore on the website. James used that lore to draw the images. Not only does his art provide a gateway into the game itself, but it also encourages people to read about the universe behind the game.
What is your favourite thing about the game?
I’ve created the entirety of War Co., played several hundred test games, and written a strategy guide for every one of the 300 cards. Even with all that hands-on experience with War Co., I’m still surprised by some of the combos people play. I’m still surprised by some of the variations on strategy I see come up – ones I never anticipated.
Here’s an example. I was playing against my brother. I used a space machine to attack him. He had a shield that only blocked attacks OVER a certain amount, which my space machine was below. He used Space Race, a card that could double the strength of any space machine for one turn. When you’re playing the game, you think “oh, this is for use on my own card.” He used Space Race to double my space machine’s strength so it would be high enough to be blocked by his shield.
That’s just a small, easy-to-explain example. There’s many more complicated ones that unfold organically as you play. I feel like I’ve done a good job capturing the element of surprise.
Is there anything that with the insight you have gained through the process you would have perhaps done different if you were to start the game now?
I feel pretty good about the overall job I’ve done creating, Kickstarting, and fulfilling War Co., but there are two things I would definitely do differently.
One: I’d be a lot more organized in my play testing. I’d keep data in a spreadsheet so there’s less trial-and-error and more careful, deliberate game changes. I probably could have cut game development time by a third if I had done that.
Two: I’d change my marketing approach from “broadcast” to “conversation.” Most of the people who backed my campaign are people I’ve talked to directly. Random followers mean very little compared to people you talk to directly. Social media doesn’t sell things like I thought it did. It connects you to people who will help you sell things. The distinction is huge. I’d do more podcasts, blog posts, Twitch streams, and probably a few conventions.
We know that you can indeed try War Co without buying it as it is available via Tabletop Simulator, and it is possible to do like a print and play version of the game. Why did you decide to allow people to access the game in this way? Weren’t you concern this may affect the game sales, or piracy?
When people try something, they’re way more likely to buy it. I want people to try War Co. before they buy it, because I think they’ll like it. I’m new and it’s risky to buy something from someone who’s new, so this cuts down on the risk for potential players/buyers.
I’m not too concerned about sales because I’ve seen more sales come in from the free version than be taken away through the free version. As far as piracy goes, I’m not too concerned about that either. It’s actually a little more expensive to print a knock-off War Co. for personal use than it is to simply buy it. Card game printing is really expensive in small batches.
We would also like you to tell us about life after War Co: what is coming up next? Is it going to be more games within the same universe/premise? Do you have already other projects in mind?
I do have two more ideas in my head. I want to make a co-op game about road trips where college students try to get their beater car to go all around the country. The other idea is about rebuilding the world after the events of War Co., hundreds of years after that. I’m a lot more serious about the road trips game, though. I want to do that this year if at all possible.
Finally, as you may now, our reader are all super geeky. Therefore, would you be so kind of sharing with us all your uttermost geeky passion?
Honestly, you don’t get much geekier than spending years creating a card game that you were inspired to create from the Yu-Gi-Oh! cartoon, but I’ll give it a shot. I’ve read far more Wikipedia articles than any person should in a lifetime. In the past, I even had a job where I had so little to do that I read them for hours. I mean, really dry articles, like “road naming conventions in the United States” and stuff like that. I’m fascinated by them all the same.
We would liek to thank Brandon again for spending some time talking with us, and we seriously encourage you guys to buy his game because it rocks 🙂 And if you want to find out more about him you are always welcome to track him over social media:
And please do not miss Brandon’s blog post regarding game developing
Brandon the Game Dev blog: http://brandonthegamedev.com