Games vs Play: Thanks very much Barantas Ericks for appearing on Games vs Play. Barantas (pictured right) is the lead designer behind the development of the Hand of Fate boardgame, which is being adapted from the original computer game by Rule & Make. Could you tell us a little bit about how this project came about?
Barantas Ericks: Yeah, thanks! Well, Hand of Fate the computer game is a rogue-like, dungeon crawler game. A large component of the game is made up of cards. A lot of it’s themed around Tarot cards, to some degree. When the game’s played there’s card laid out on a table in front of you, and you earn cards to build a deck out of them. A lot of playing the game comes from crafting this deck to be in your favour. And then you’re up against the Dealer, who basically puts things in the deck which are not in your favour.
GvP: And the Dealer’s the computer, I guess, so it mimics a boardgame in some ways with an AI as your opponent.
Barantas: Yeah, pretty much. The players are up against the game itself more than anything. The Dealer is there to be a “person” to interact with, but really you’re up against the game itself. It’s really cool, and if you do like boardgames I’d definitely suggest giving it a try.
So, with the Hand of Fate boardgame version, Morgan Jaffit – who’s one of the main creators of Hand of Fate – he’d been looking for a way to make a boardgame version for some time. There were always rumours and hearsay that he’d been working on one and it had been sitting there while he tried to get something going, Eventually he got into contact with Rule & Make (or maybe Rule & Make got into contact with him) about putting something together. Both are Brisbane-based companies, both are pretty much indie groups. It seemed a fairly good fit to get those two working together. Defiant Development makes some really good stuff, Rule & Make some really good stuff, so it was a nice match for them to work on it together.
GvP: So, how do you go about adapting a computer game into a boardgame? How do you change something that’s in digital format into something that’s sitting on the table?
Barantas: I’d say with a lot of effort, that’s the main thing. But there’s a lot of Hand of Fate that translates across really nicely to a boardgame, because it does have that board and card game feel to it. The mini games and some of the combat and other things don’t translate across quite so well, so it’s about coming up with new mechanics systems that work in that same sort of world. A lot of Hand of Fate is about pushing your luck to defeat the game when the odds are against you, so we’ve tried to carry that across into the boardgame. In the video game, all the combat is an action-based game. When you’re actually in a fight the map zooms in, you’re actually controlling your guy, weapon in one hand, shield in the other. It’s sort of like Assassins’ Creed or Batman: Arkham style of combat – you’ve got your attacks, and your blocks and you reactionary dodging. And unfortunately we can’t fit that into a boardgame!
So we’ve done a few things which I hope are pretty cool to sort of move away from exactly the same as what Hand of Fate is digitally and bring it across to a boardgame. Part of what we’ve done with that is translate the setting a little bit. In Hand of Fate 1 – and I don’t want to give any spoilers for anyone, because the end of that game is particularly great – two upturns happen towards the end of it. We’ve actually set the boardgame just after the end of Hand of Fate 1 but before the start of Hand of Fate 2. So the boardgame actually lives in between them.
GvP: That sounds cool, kind of like a bridging scenario.
Barantas: That’s what we’re hoping for. The story’s still being worked on, but that’s where it looks like it’s gonna end up being set. With the digital game, you know how I was saying you play against the game itself? In the boardgame we’ve made it so that you’re actually competing with other players. We’re doing a 2-4 player game. So it allows more people to play in a competitive dungeon crawl, but with some major deck-building aspects to it as well. It still keeps the core feeling of Hand of Fate, but it’s something new for people to have a look at as well. We don’t want to just carbon copy things across, we want something that’s new and fun for everyone.
GvP: That takes a lot of creative work in itself to give it it’s own space.
Barantas: Yeah, it’s a bit intimidating as well when you’re showing your version of something to someone who’s lovingly crafted, back to them. It’s like, “What do you think of what’s basically my fan fiction of your game?” [both laugh].
GvP: So what’s been the hardest thing to translate into a tabletop setting?
Barantas: I think the hardest thing to translate across is the thing that’s actually missing. In the boardgame the Dealer is mysteriously absent. Some people will know why he’s absent, some people won’t. He would’ve been the hardest thing to translate across, but he didn’t turn up! The Dealer’s off doing something else at the moment. But aside from that the hardest thing would’ve been the combat side of things. We’ve got character building, we’ve got deck building, and so you improve your character as you play. But you can’t have the same 1:1 action combat. So we built in a completely different system for that which flows pretty smoothly and doesn’t actually involve any dice. Combat without dice is a hard thing!
GvP: It’s also harder with boardgames to shift their mode of gameplay during the game, which I think computer games can do more easily. I’m interested to hear how you got into boardgames yourself, and particularly how your career started as a games designer?
Barantas: Well, I actually went to university to study game design. So I have a Bachelor in Games and Interactive Entertainment from QUT here in Brisbane. From a very young age I was very enamoured with games. You know, they gave that escape into fantasy and all the fun you could ever want as a kid. And for me that never went away. I originally learnt how to make digital games, but moving forward from there I found myself trying out different things and then found myself making boardgames instead.
GvP: How did that happen, that you moved from digital to boardgames?
Barantas: I think it was fairly organic. I would say the first time I actually came across to thinking, “Alright, I could actually make a boardgame,” was when I was sitting around a D&D table with some friends. We were talking about how in D&D if you ever backstab anyone there’s all these repercussions, and I started thinking, “What if you had a game where the purpose was to backstab as many friends as possible but without them knowing that you’d done it?” And I was like, “I could just make that.” And that was my first foray moving from digital to physical games. I found I really loved doing it, getting my chops on some graphic design, actually trying to do illustrations, which didn’t end very well [laughs]. But it’s really good to try to work yourself into all the different fields, because it’s a lot easier to try to build a boardgame as a single person. You can get it to a point where you can explain how to play it without having to make sure it doesn’t have any digital bugs! [laughs].
GvP: That’s very true! Now, I understand your name “Barantas Ericks” is a bit a of a pen name or a pseudonym of sorts. What’s the story behind choosing your name?
Barantas: Oh, the “Barantas” thing? This goes back to my really early teenage years, you know you have that rebellious period when you want to be someone else and be different and everything. More than anything though, I had a screen name at the time, because no one was using their real name on the Internet. It was funny. I was trying to look for something that would stand out and was original. I wanted to make sure that if you had a screen name you’d be the only one with it. I didn’t want to be just, you know, “DragonRaider475”. So I put together something that I thought wasn’t actually a word [laughs]. How geeky that was, trying to invent your own word! And eventually it turns out it’s an old Celtic word. You can never invent anything new. [laughs]
GvP: What does it mean in the original Celtic language?
Barantas: Well, I’m pretty sure I botched the pronunciation of it as well! Ah, let me just see, I’m pulling it up on the computer. [keys tapping]
GvP: I hope it means something like “games designer” or “singer of games.” That would be cool.
Barantas: Um, let’s see. I’ve got it here. So in the old Celtic language barantas means “security” or a “guarantee.” I think it also comes from some degree from the word baran, which means “judge” as I understand it. I can’t really see how much it really applies to games, but at least you get the “Barantas guarantee”, which means the “guarantee’s guarantee”. [both laugh]
GvP: That’s double the guarantee! You don’t get that very often these days. We’ll go with that. [both laugh] So, when it comes to ideas for your games, what have been some of your influences?
Barantas: Where do the ideas come from? Well, with Hand of Fate I was brought onboard to work on this because previously I’d been working on a few deck builders. I really like the concept and the way they feel. But I have some games that are thematic first and mechanical second, and vice versa. At the moment I’ve got Sugoi Bento with Table Tyrant, which is a game about building food boxes. It’s a fairly fun, casual game. The original idea for that game from when you were back in school and you had that one favourite food for lunch, and you wanted to trade to get that food from your friends. So it was about having a lunch box and trying to swap food with other people. From the lunch idea I jumped across to making food boxes, basically because my wife dropped in the idea, “What if you put it in a box?” And I was like, “What if you put it in a box?? That makes so much sense!” So you can either get a mechanical idea first and work that out to a concept or work out what sort of theme sits on top of it. It’s basically whatever catches my fancy, funnily enough! As far as the games that I’m inspired by at the moment, there’s Patchwork – have you ever played it?
GvP: No, what’s it about?
Barantas: Patchwork is a game about building a quilt of all things. It doesn’t sound super exciting, but you have a board and you’re trying to pick up quilt pieces, which are these geometric-shaped pieces that you load into your board. Basically you want to build a larger quilt than your opponent. But it has the brilliant system in which each action you take will influence what your opponent can do next round. So, depending on which piece you take will change which piece your opponent can take. If you choose to take no pieces it reduces the amount of time left in the game, so you’re going to have to work faster. There’s a lot of very clever, intricate things going on with every twist that you make. On your turn you only have two different choices, but it feels like there’s a lot more going on. I’m annoyed at how well it’s built! [laughs]
GvP: Professional jealousy!
Barantas: Yeah, professional jealousy on that one, definitely. It’s only two players as well, which is interesting. It makes for a really great couples’ game or dating game. If you’re ever going out to a boardgame café Patchwork is really good, because it’s not intense, even though you can definitely be competitive.
Barantas: Yeah, Betrayal as a first date game: “One of us will definitely backstab the other tonight.” Not a good start!
GvP: So what other games are you working on at the moment? I guess you’ve got other projects too.
Barantas: So there’s three main ones at the moment. There’s Hand of Fate, there’s Sugoi Bento, and then there’s a third one I’m working on for Rule & Make. Hopefully this one is going to be a much shorter game, so a small-box, 10-15 minutes game. That way I can have something out there that’s big-box, couple of hours; medium-box, 30-40 minutes; and then small box. You know, get every tendril out there that I can!
GvP: Yeah, great! Well, we’re nearly at the end of the questions. The last thing I wanted to ask you about was what sort of tips would you give to other games designers who are just starting out?
Barantas: Just try doing it, more than anything. The way I’ve gotten to what I’m doing now is by just trying to make things and have things to show to people. Work hard at it, then actually go out and meet people at boardgame events, things like PAX or other conventions. Just get out there and meet people, because you’ll find there are people working on similar kind of stuff. For instance, for Sugoi Bento the time that Table Tyrant saw that I was at one of their boardgames and burgers nights. I’d brought my own game along and I was like, “Hey, I need to test this out.” And one of the guys sitting on the table behind me, every now and then he’s turning around, looking like “Ah!” So yeah, go out and do more than anything. Do your work and love your work, but you need to make sure you’re out there knowing people. And also get on Kickstarter. For boardgames, there’s almost nothing better than Kickstarter right now.
GvP: Yeah, it’s awesome. Alright, thanks very much for that Barantas, that was great. Before we finish up was there anything else you wanted to talk about?
Barantas: Well, there’s a little sidestory to how I got the Hand of Fate deal. This is about a year ago now, before I was talking with Rule & Make about Hand of Fate. I was working in a computer shop here in Brisbane doing retail, and a couple of guys come in to pick up their order. And I’m like, “Oh, you guys are from Defiant Development?” And they were, “Yeah, yeah, we are.” “Oh – I heard you guys were looking for a boardgame version of Hand of Fate, because I’m sort of working on something for that.” A friend and I were trying to put something together, just for fun or maybe we thought we could talk with Defiant about it. And then these guys walk into the middle of my store. I know I’m working, but I have to take this opportunity! So I scribbled down my email address and details on the back of a card, handed it over to them. They were like, “Yeah, we’re based in Brisbane too, we’ll send you an email, we’re really interested in talking about it.” And you know I never heard back! Until a couple of weeks ago, when one of the guys from Defiant heard this story, and he was like, “Hang on, was that you?” It was just this weird coincidence, that eventually I got to work with Rule & Make, who got this opportunity [to make Hand of Fate] and then came back to me to do it. Funny thing.
GvP: It was the hand of fate moving in your favour.
Barantas: Yeah! Basically one of the Tarot cards slipped up in the right way.
GvP: There you go. It was meant to be.
Barantas: It seems that way, which is very lucky because I’m loving working on it. I like making games that people like to play, and I like making games that I like to play. And I really like playing this [laughs].
Games vs Play would like to thank Rule & Make and Barantas Ericks for permission to use images of the Hand of Fate boardgame prototype appearing in this post. All images from the computer game of Hand of Fate owned by Defiant Development. To find out more about the latest reviews, stories and other cool things in the world of games, like us on Facebook. And remember – if you’re game, we’ll play!