Saturday, December 5, 2009

Game Spotlight - Summoner Wars


Summoner Wars
Lead Game Design - Colby Dauch
Assistant Game Design - Jake Ollervides
Illustration - John Ariosa
Graphic Design - David Richards
Plaid Hat Games
2-4 Players

I am very excited to finally be able to play Summoner Wars with the finished, beautiful components. I had the pleasure of playing an early prototype with the designer a couple of years ago. Additionally, I helped out with copy editing the rules. Because of that involvement, Plaid Hat Games send me copies of both Summoner Wars Starter Packs.

The quality of the game components are top notch. Sturdy boxes, nice art, clean design, and good quality cards all support a great game. Colby Dauch designed Summoner Wars and created a company to publish it. Colby is well known to Heroscape players for running the most popular Heroscape fan site, Heroscapers. Colby also has a big part in the design of Heroscapes recent expansion sets. Colby Dauch is a huge advocate for Heroscape and a good family man as well.

Summoner Wars is a terrific card / board game hybrid for 2 - 4 players that plays in about 30-45 minutes. Each player's main card is their Summoner, a powerful mage that can bring armies to their aid or cast spells upon their army or their opponent. The object of the game is to kill your opponent's Summoner.

Guild Dwarves Summoner, Oldin

You play a single faction in Summoner Wars and there will also (in the future) be Mercenaries that can play with any army. In fact, if you buy from Plaid Hat now, there is a bonus mercenary card they are giving away.

Each side gets their Summoner, a bunch of units (these vary by faction), some spells, and some walls. The walls are important because you can only summon new forces adjacent to a wall. If you destroy an opponent's wall, they cannot summon new forces until they bring in a new wall.

One of the cards that comes with each faction is a player's aid that includes the Summoner's starting forces, the turn order, the spells available and such. This reference makes the set up fast and easy. Just set your cards and start.

The reference card shows the starting set-up as you can see above, and below the cards on the actual board.

The forces move and battle on the paper mat (serviceable, but not as amazing as this demo board.)

BGG.con photo courtesy of Colby Dauch

The wound markers.

Plaid Hat is hoping to publish a mounted, folding game board.

Combat is very simple, you roll a number of dice equal to the attacking unit's attack value. Each die that gets a 3 or better counts as a hit. Twenty double-sided thick cardboard damage counters are provided. You stack them on the unit cards to track the damage. Five dice are also included with the game.

Summoning your forces is accomplished by spending cards in your magic pile and putting them in your discard pile. However, you start the game with no cards in your magic pile. There are two ways to get cards into the magic pile. The first is simply discarding from your hand. The second way is one of the great bits of the game. If you defeat an opponent in combat, that card goes into your magic pile, for you to use to summon more forces.

Tundra Orc Champion Krung

While it may seem that the playing area is small, this limitation forces many difficult decisions, as does the limited amount of magic to be had. It can be a very tough decision wether you take those good cards you have in hand and burn them into the magic pile or keep them hoping that you will kill enough units to build your magic.

There are ranged and hand-to-hand units and each card has a special power. This keeps the game fresh as there are many possible combinations that arise in the course of a game.

The two Starter sets can be combined to allow games with up to four players. You can play two on two or play two on one, where the single player has 2 decks and takes 2 seperate turns. Even with just four factions available, there is a lot of play value.

Plaid Hat Games has already designed and play-tested the first wave of expansions and I really hope that the game will be supported enough to see some expansions get made. There is a lot of play even with just one Starter Pack. I can't recommend Summoner Wars more highly.

Summoner Wars is available now through Plaid Hat Games online or, starting in mid December, at game shops around the world.

I interviewed Colby Dauch via email and I think his answers are quite interesting. Stay tuned all the way to the end because he discusses the future of the game in detail as well.

Did you play board games as a child?
Just your standard Hasbro stuff. I don't have any particularly fond memories of it, but my mom claims that I really enjoyed them. In Junior High School I really enjoyed my first read through of the Lord of the Rings. Living in a small town, I didn't even know something like hobby gaming existed, and yet I spent a number of days sitting down with a friend at a study hall table and inventing fantasy-themed, complex (to us), board games.

Can you tell the readers a little bit about your background and how you got involved in Hobby Games? Was Heroscape the beginning or did you play other games?
Well, as I mentioned, I had a love affair with the Lord of the Rings when I was younger. When the movies came out my love was made new all over again. I would scour the shelves at the bookstore looking for new Tolkien to read.

One day when looking over the newly expanded Tolkien section, at the height of the movie popularity, I came across a book for Lord of the Rings roleplay. I didn't really know what roleplay was, but after thumbing through the book I decided it was awesome. So I banded my friends together and for the next couple of years we went on adventures throughout middle earth.

Roleplay, as most of you know, requires that all of the player characters show up to have a really good experience. Well, interest was slowly waning among some, and our roleplay group dissolved. I missed it. Months later I saw an ad for Heroscape on television. I was immediately convinced that I was looking at exactly the kind of game I wanted to be playing. The game consumed me. I wanted more. I went searching online for details about expansions that might be coming. I found an online community for Heroscape and I dove in. From there I was introduced to the wide world of hobby gaming and I've never looked back.

Many of us know you from the Heroscape community. When you decided to take over the Heroscape fansite were you ready for the amount of time that would take?
I didn’t even think about it. I already devoted a lot of time to the Heroscape community. I just shifted my focus from talking about the game to running a site about the game so that others could talk about it. I also knew that I would have a staff of people I could draw from. The leaders of the Heroscape community were already firmly established by then.

Does Scapers ever feel like a burden, or is there enough help there now that it kind of runs itself?
There is a network of help. I don’t feel burdened.

When did you get involved in the behind the scenes of Heroscape and are you still involved with that?
I became friends with Hero, the guy who ran the first Heroscape fansite, and he was friends with the designers. I ended up meeting Craig and Rob at a GenCon. I started play testing. Then I started writing bios. Then I started designing card powers.

Then Hasbro sent the game over to Wizards of the Coast, and I went along with it. That changed everything pretty dramatically. Now I am among just a few freelancers who work to keep the original spirit of the game alive. Of course we don’t have a whole lot of executive power, but we do have a voice, and we do get to do the design work for whatever they decide to do (thus far). I’m glad they kept us around.

Have you and Jerry Hawthorne designed any other new sets past D&D Scape Master Set?
Yes. Chris Dupuis is working with us, too.

After getting involved in Scape, what steps led you to designing games of your own?
After Scape went to Wizards, Craig found other work for me to do at Hasbro. So I was doing these different kinds of design work but, as with all freelance work, there were gaps in activity. In the down time I started playing around with some ideas of my own.

Did you always plan to publish Summoner Wars yourself, or did you try to find other publishers?
I talked to Hasbro. They said they weren’t interested in striking out with a new IP, but they sent the design idea over to licensed games, thinking that perhaps it could be made into a Star Wars or G.I. Joe or My Little Ponies game, I’m not sure. I guess that it is still a possibility that they could make me an offer to use the design on a licensed game, but I’m not holding my breath.

I also tried to get in touch with Fantasy Flight games. They never got back to me about even looking at the idea. And those are pretty much the only options I wanted to explore for getting it published by another company. I felt that the game was good enough to sell well, maybe even good enough to start building a company on, if I was going to give it away to another company, it had to be one of the big names.

If I was going to give the game to another company, that company had to have the marketing power and influence to make up for the fact that they would also be taking the lion’s share of the profit. In the end, I’m glad I did it on my own. I’ve enjoyed the management end of putting out a game almost as much as I enjoy designing games.

Summoner Wars. How did you come up with that idea and when did you know that one was going to be your debut product?
I had a couple of ideas brewing back when I first started working on game design ideas of my own. Summoner Wars was something that’s core concepts really just hit me kind of suddenly one night in bed. The ideas were so strong in me that I got out of bed in the middle of the night and started typing them up in a Word document.

Over the next couple of months I developed Summoner Wars to the point of a playable prototype along with another adventure/tile laying type game. You, Doc Savage, were in Ohio visiting your mom and you stopped in at my place for a visit. We played Heroscape and then we played through both of the game prototypes I had at the time. It was your insightful comments on those games that I chewed on for the next couple of weeks and decided that Summoner Wars was going to be my focus.

You financed or found financing to publish Summoner Wars yourself. Once you had the design, how long did it take to see it through the graphic design phase and production phase?
The production phases are all kind of tied up together. I designed the game on and off for a couple of years, and then over the past year or so I got really serious about getting the money and the art and the graphic design together, spending a lot of time fine-tuning and play testing the game to get it ready for release, bringing on outside play-testers, exploring printing options, and all of that good stuff.

Tell us about the hat. When did you get it and when did you realize that it had become part of your identity?
I found a stereotypical plaid golf hat at a Goodwill. I believe I was there picking up prop clothing for a play or something, and I saw that hat and thought it was silly and fun, so I bought it. I went through a phase where I wore it quite a bit. During that phase I had an illustration done of me in the hat for use on a blog-style website I was doing at the time. I ended up using the illustration as my avatar around the web as well. And so the hat became part of my identity, and when discussing starting a game company, John Clowdus of Small Box Games pitched the idea of calling my company Plaid Hat Games. My go-to online gamer buddies all liked the name, and so I ran with it.

When will we know if any expansion decks will be published?
I fully intend to release expansions. A time-frame for release is really dependant on how quickly sales provide the funding for printing expansions. I will tell you that I just commissioned my artist to start work on illustrations for the Fallen Kingdom, a faction of undead that will be among the first expansions released. So look for previews of that art soon.

What are the first expansion decks going to be?
The Fallen Kingdom - An undead Faction Deck. The Vanguards - A righteous, knightly, human order Faction Deck. A Reinforcement Pack with more Guild Dwarves, Cave Goblins and mercenaries. A Reinforcement Pack with more Phoenix Elves, Tundra Orcs and mercenaries.

What is the next game in the Plaid Hat line?
I’ve started playing around with some other ideas. I have a friend that I’d like to bring on staff, when/if the company grows to that point, who has some excellent game designs. I’m not really sure. Right now my focus is on Summoner Wars and its expansions.

Besides games, work, and family do you have any passions or interests that you'd like to share with us?
That’s pretty much it man. Family, work, and games. And sometimes games and work are the same thing… which is delicious.

Do you have any other game designs coming up that you can tell us about, perhaps for other companies?
Other companies like me to stay quiet about what may or may not be coming up. There are games that I have worked on that could/should come out. ‘When?’ is a question that not even I can really answer. Sometimes when working on something for a company as big as Hasbro, they’ll take a game as far as fully developed and then leave it in that stage, unprinted, for an indeterminate amount of time.

What game that you don't work on do you play the most?
The game I play the most is Summoner Wars. Lots and lots of Summoner Wars. Of course I play games that I’m not working on but those stay varied. Our recent ‘games I’m not working on’ play list looks something like: Betrayal at the House on the Hill Tomb Last Night on Earth Rush ‘n Crush

So we will be getting an Undead faction, a Human faction, Mercenaries, and more cards for the existing factions. Wow, that is cool news. I'd like to thank Colby Dauch for taking the time to share this info with us.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Very nice interview, Doc. Thanks for the insight into HS, Summoner Wars, and Plaid Hat Games.

It's nice to see Colby able to live the dream.

And I cannot wait for the SW expansions!!