Games vs Play: I’m very happy to be talking with Alex Wynnter tonight (pictured right), who is not only the President of Tabletop Game Designers Australia but is also the designer of a new game that’s soon to come out on Kickstarter, The Brigade. Welcome Alex, and congratulations on getting the game to the Kickstarter phase.
Alex Wynnter: Hello! It’s been a struggle to get it to Kickstarter, but you know, you’ve got to do these things at some point!
GvP: So, I was lucky enough to do a playtest of The Brigade a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it [the prototype we played is pictured below]. I think it’s a great game – it’s got a nice mix of light strategy with a lot of tactical manoeuvring, plus some randomising mechanics that ramp up the urgency of the game for all the players. Could you tell us a bit more about The Brigade and what players might expect from it?
Alex: Yeah, sure. The short story I usually tell playtesters is that there’s a town called Tinderbox, and the people living there wanted to increase their revenue through tourism. So they thought it was a great idea to build a pyromancy university in the middle of the town. It worked well for a few years, they earned a bit of money from tourism – this information is coming directly from the tourism office, which is one of the buildings in The Brigade – but at one point something’s gone terribly wrong. The uni has “mysteriously” caught fire. There were always fires in the town of Tinderbox, but this one is “mysterious”, and the Fire Chief has also “mysteriously” disappeared. Now the four Fire Wardens that control one quarter of the town each, they’re all vying to become the new Fire Chief. So, during the game, everything you can do is something that a Fire Warden would do. You can move over there, you can put out a fire, you might need to get some more water, you can move your water wagon or equivalent of a fire engine, you can hire a crew, and you can get better at stuff, by training yourself or upgrading your instruments. During the game you have to make choices of what you’re doing with your actions, then follow through with them and hope that you become the Fire Chief at the end of the game.
GvP: Yeah, it’s very good if you like lateral thinking. There are also lots of degrees of freedom, which I think is great. You can choose to do a lot of different actions in each round. I enjoyed that part of the design too.
Alex: Definitely. Freedom is one of the things I like within a game. I think choice is one of the most valuable things we do as humans, and I think it’s also one of the most valuable things you can do during a game. We’ve nutted it down to about 8 actions that you can choose to do, but we started with about 16, so we thought, “Nah, scrap that one, that [action’s] too powerful or this one’s not good enough, or not getting used.” So we just narrowed it down to the best possible actions, and within those 8 different actions you have a lot of freedom of what you can do in the game.
GvP: So where did the idea for The Brigade come from? Because you’ve got quite a good backstory.
Alex: It is a good backstory, and I can’t take any credit for it! The magnificent theme and the basic concept we started working on was actually made up by Ben Hoban, who is my associate at Red Genie Games. He came up with all that stuff, and then we both developed it together. I’ve always liked Terry Pratchett. He was a fantastic writer, and he sort of inspired a lot of the things that are going on in the game. We also hired a copywriter, and he also loves Terry Pratchett. After seeing the art and the gameplay he could see it’s a bit comedic, so he drew some inspiration from that and has created more of the backstory. We only had a basic, generic-amusing backstory at the start, but he’s just taken that and brought it up another 5 levels. One of the things we’re doing at the moment is releasing The Tinderbox Times, a newspaper in The Brigade. We’ve released two editions so far of The Tinderbox Times, and it’s telling the backstory in the form of a newspaper. It’s got all these other little things in there too, like ads for some of the property in town. Part of the game is that it’s a random set-up. You take all the town tiles and you place them in a random arrangement. So one of my favourite things recently in the newspaper was this story, “Royal Cartographer Quits!” The story basically says the Royal Cartographer came to Tinderbox to map the town, but was growing increasingly frustrated because the building that was there one week is now on the other side of town! [both laugh]
GvP: That’s great. Where can we read that?
Alex: They’ve been posted on the Red Genie Facebook page, but it’s also part of the mailing list, so if you join up to the mailing list you’ll get sent The Tinderbox Times episodes.
GvP: I love the idea of there being a universe outside the game that supports it.
Alex: Yeah, well one of the stretch goals I would like to achieve is to grab all the additional storyline stuff and either put them in a digital e-book first of all, and then a printed book that we can just add into the game.
GvP: You mentioned that Terry Pratchett is a big influence on the style and look of the game, and the art too has that comedic-fantasy look to it. At the prototype, the art looks fantastic.
Alex: The artist we have is phenomenal. I just commissioned the three remaining Fire Wardens. We’ve got one Fire Warden already done, and we needed the other three to set up the Kickstarter page. I gave our artist a basic set of information, a little bit of backstory for each Warden, and I set the colour palettes for each one, because they adhere to the different building types in the game. I sent him these ideas and he’s given me back these three sketches, and they’re just fantastic. He’s just got such an imagination. The dwarf Fire Warden, for instance, has got a big hammer, which you know fits into your big thematic, fantasy-type game. He’s a dwarf, he’s rich because he’s a merchant, he’s got this shiny belt and he’s got this hammer. But the hammer has a bell on it, like big alarm bells, so if there was a fire emergency he’d smash his hammer on the ground and the bells would ring out and everyone would hear. Our artist came up with this idea and it was just brilliant. I can’t wait to see the final art on these Fire Wardens.
GvP: Who’s the artist again?
GvP: So, if you were to talk with an aspiring games designer, what’s the best advice you would give them having gotten to this point with The Brigade?
Alex: The best advice you can give to any games designer is just get it out on pen and paper. And play it with someone, play it with anyone. You can play it with your family first, that’s fine, they’ll give you some positive feedback. But then play it with games designers, because they’re the ones who are going to find problems with it. I think another top tip would be, don’t waste time making it look pretty for your first prototypes. First of all, you’ll waste a ton of time designing it – and this is coming from a graphic designer who has to have everything pretty – but it can also take away the focus from the gameplay. People will look at the art and, if something deserves bad feedback, they won’t give you bad feedback because they’re distracted by the quality of the art or how pretty it looks. They’ll be like, “Look, ah, you could change this thing, but you’ve already designed it, so I’m just creating extra work for you.” Don’t make it pretty, make it rough, make it black and white with just squares and circles. You don’t need placeholder artwork, just make something up. As long as it’s understandable and playable, just play it. You’ll get the best feedback, you’ll get quick feedback, and you’ll be able to adjust things easily when you come to modifying how your game plays. And I’ve got one more top tip – if you need things in different colours, you can still print in black and white but just change the colour of the paper.
GvP: That’s an awesome tip!
Alex: It’s saved me a ton of money.
GvP: I think we’re just about wrapped up, but what’s the next stage now? How soon will the Kickstarter be happening?
Alex: I’m hoping in June, but if it comes to it we might push it back another month. It’s better getting a killer Kickstarter than a mediocre one. We’re still just trying to build our following. We’ve got a ton of events coming up, there’s about 3 or 4 different gaming events in June that I’m going to, including ShepparCon. Just get people playing it, enjoying it, and then hopefully liking the Facebook page, for the art, the game, for us. Then hopefully pledging on the Kickstarter.
GvP: Can I ask if there are any other games on the horizon?
Alex: Personally, I’ve got a game that I’m working on with a publisher that will hopefully be released halfway through next year . This is a really nice drafting game about scenery. I’m working on an Aztec temple game with another friend, Dale Maccanti. It’s sort of like a race to get your treasure and get out of the temple and not fall into the many traps that it has. It’s got a moveable board, which is really cool, that’s probably our hook. That’s pretty much what I’m working on. With Red Genie there is another game in the works, but that’s top secret at the moment.
GvP: That’s cool, we won’t go there yet! Alright, I’ve got one last question: do we ever find out where the Fire Chief actually disappeared to?
Games vs Play would like to thank Red Genie Games and Alex Wynnter for permission to use images from The Brigade appearing in this post. Stay tuned for news of the Kickstarter, coming soon!
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