Gather Loot and Escape the Sleeping Dragon in Hoard
For game designer and publisher Julia Schiller, success with her newest Kickstarter venture Hoard would mean more than just simply acquiring the funds to produce thousands of copies. Originally born in America, Schiller moved to New Zealand back in 2000 and has been there ever since. For the last 5 years or so she has been developing games for the Kiwi market (Native New Zealanders), but if her campaign is successfully funded, she’ll finally be able to bring a game to the North American industry. Thankfully the playful art style and simple mechanics of Hoard give it a fair chance to meet her modest funding goal.
In Hoard players take turns trying to pilfer as much treasure as possible before the game ends. Did we mention this treasure belongs to a sleeping dragon? The game supports 2-4 players and averages about a 10 minute play session. Utilizing dice rolls for movement players must attempt to assemble more sets of matching treasure cards than their opponents, by peeking at the cards they ultimately land on. Participants must also watch out for other characters as swords and shields can be picked up which can have an impact on the cards in hand.
Schiller offered to sit down with us and chat a little bit about how she got started in the game development industry, and what working in New Zealand has been like for her.
Jesse Tannous: Tell me a little bit about your company Cheeky Parrot Games, and describe the game development climate where you are headquartered.
Julia Schiller: I first got involved in the board gaming industry in 2011, when Amanda Milne and I invented and published two games under a new label, SchilMil Games. Together we created three additional titles, but two years ago I broke away to form Cheeky Parrot Games, because Amanda and I wanted to develop different sorts of games. Cheeky's games are targeted at the casual, family, and gift market. We aim for them to be aesthetically pleasing, easy to learn and teach, relatively quick to play, and affordably priced for the Kiwi marketplace.
New Zealand is home to a friendly community of at least a thousand regular board gamers, people who actually belong to regular gaming groups, and there are a few notable board gaming events each year as well. WellyCon, now in its ninth year, is held over Queen's Birthday holiday weekend in Wellington and Board Games by the Bay events have been running in other cities, including my city, Auckland, for the past few years. Much of the general public still hasn't really discovered Euro games, but all three of Cheeky's titles are consistent sellers since they do have broad appeal. Hoard will actually be our first fantasy-themed game.
I've noticed that many gamers are in the IT industry and I think they relish getting away from screens and interacting in person with others when they have leisure time.
Cheeky is a one-woman company and I am required to be a jack-of-all-trades, which suits me, so I do everything from helping to develop new titles, to arranging for their manufacture, to servicing our Kiwi retailer chain, social media and other marketing. Development-wise, my special skill seems to be in tweaking card games.
JT: The story behind the creation of Hoard seems pretty interesting, originally being printed by Tim Kings-Lynne and his partner, Beck Veitch. The game was then tweaked and is now scheduled to be reprinted pending the successful Kickstarter. Do you think this sort of collaboration is a common occurrence in the games industry?
JS: Perhaps not. Martin Wallace, the British game designer, moved to New Zealand a few years ago and says he's been struck by how many hobby gamers are also working on a game of their own. New Zealanders do pride themselves on being innovative. But not everyone has the resources and wherewithal to take their creation all the way to manufacture and beyond.
I have found that I especially enjoy helping other designers realize the dream of seeing their name on a finished commercial product. I worked with outside developers on three of the last four games I've published, and creators often seek me out for advice and mentoring, which I'm happy to provide. I never know where my next project might come from.
JT: What sorts of elements were updated from the original version of Hoard to make it a better fit under the Cheeky Parrot label?
JS: I got lucky, I was visiting one of my Wellington retailers and spotted the last copy from their small print run on the shelf. Obviously the artwork had been a selling point and I was excited to learn the designers worked for the venerated Weta Digital visual effects studio. When I saw what was inside the box, component-wise, I knew I could do much better than their asking price and that it would then fit in with my existing range.
As for gameplay, I began tweaking virtually from the very first time I played. I was actually quite excited about the roll-and-move mechanic. It's still very popular even though the hardcore geeks, who aren't my target market, may turn their nose up at it. I knew it could be a winner in combination with the flexible board made of facedown cards, which was already a key characteristic of the game, plus the ability to make more choices (moving in either direction, whether to reject a particular card, how to replenish the card). I wanted to preserve the press-your-luck aspect, which I believe I managed to do, even though I gave players the power to wake the dragon.
I have written a designer diary with more details, which I'll be releasing soon to help stimulate interest in the Kickstarter.
JT: What will happen to Hoard if the Kickstarter fails to meet the funding goals?
JS: At this point, a little over a week in, we are cautiously optimistic that we will meet our target. If we don't quite make it, it might make sense to relaunch again promptly. Otherwise, I know Hoard can be as successful as our other titles here in New Zealand, and Cheeky does have the resources to print a 1000 copy print run for this market. That is what we've done with our other titles to date, so I would probably do that, and hope its success might attract overseas distributors.
(End of interview.)