Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dawn: Rise of the Occulites


Update: Kickstarter NOW LIVE! 

Greetings!  Today I am joined from down under by Darwin Games owner and creator Ben Boersma.  He’s here to talk to us about his soon to be Kickstarted in America game “Dawn: Rise of the Occulites.”  Thank you for joining us today Ben!  

G’day James! No problems mate, thanks for the opportunity to do the interview. Much appreciated.


Prototype sample, NOT final production

The game you plan to bring to Kickstarter is called Dawn: Rise of the Occulites.  Can you tell us a bit about it?  

Well, Dawn: Rise of the Occulites is the first game in the Rise of the Occulites Saga which follows the evolution of creatures called Occulites (funnily enough). Being the first game in the Saga, it starts very early in their development. So Dawn is a small skirmish miniature boardgame. There is a pretty detailed backstory to the game on my blog which tells of a boy named Darwin who goes to live with his Pa on his property in the Australian Bush. Darwin finds a ‘window’ in a fallen branch that has blown down in a storm that he sees a strange creature through. Over time he begins to observe and study the creatures in secret.

In the actual game you control a Tribe of five Occulites throughout a variety of different scenarios. In the base game there are 10 different scenarios (with many more being available for download and in expansions later on) that have different objectives and goals. Most involve combat, but it is not the defining factor of many of the scenarios. Some involve collecting Sungems (gems that trap Sunlight and warmth for the Long Dark), others are Home Cave raids, in some you must catch Nymphlets for food and another you may temporarily ally yourself with your opponent to fend off an attack from predators. The scenarios are vastly different and can be played individually or as a full blown campaign where your Tribe evolves depending on the actions you take during games.

The game is designed in layers, so there are a basic set of rules that provides an excellent launching point for most players. You don’t ever have to advance from these Core rules if you don’t want to, however for those that wish to explore further, there are Advanced rules which introduce special terrains, more in depth decision making and actions to take during matches.





At its Core, many of the in game’s actions are instigated or resolved with something called the ‘Natural Selection Deck’. This is a deck of cards which all have multiple uses. There is an Activation number, a Combat number and a card effect on every card (except for special cards such as Sungem or Event cards). This card system as well as the use of Tribal Tokens introduces many important decisions that actually matter greatly to the success of your games. Its a system that we think works really well and is something we are very proud of.

You can discard a card at the start of your turn to use its Activate number. This designates how many figures you can activate on your turn.
You can discard a card to use its Combat number (which is not always used for Combat) to roll a number of dice. If you are attacking, you want to use a card with a Spearhead (aggressive) and if you are defending, you want a Shield (defensive). You can use them for the opposite purpose, but they only grant you half the dice.
You can also discard a card for its card effect (down the bottom). The timing of this is specific to each card effect, but these modify the game in tactical ways to give you the edge. Not all of these are combat oriented either.


Prototype sample, NOT final production

The game is already readily available in Australia, what made you team up with Eagle Games and start this Kickstarter?  

Actually, there may be a little bit of a misunderstanding here James. The figures themselves have been available for purchase for almost a year now, but the game itself has not been released. The original plan was to release the game as a miniatures game, but I always wanted to produce something special and more accessible and go the board game route. On my own this would be impossible. I am confident with the quality of the setting, figures (which are sculpted by industry veteran Bob Olley) and games. I have some prior experience designing miniature games; Nuthin’ But Net through Two Hour Wargames and now Impact Miniatures and Song of Fur and Buttons through Ganesha Games; but I don’t have any experience with speaking to factories, marketing or physically producing a boardgame.

So taking a chance, I contacted Eagle Games as I have seen, through the games they have produced previously, that they don’t skimp on quality components. I knew that if I was able to team up with Eagle Games that Dawn: Rise of the Occulites would not only be an excellent game in its own right, but that it would have awesome figures sculpted by Bob Olley and that the component quality would be top notch. I had admired what they had done with Defenders of the Realm and it just so happened that they were interested in my quirky little game and the stars aligned. It was an awesome feeling and I’ve been very grateful for their help and expertise.

Kickstarter requires creators to be from the US or the UK, is that why you teamed up with Eagle Games; or do they provide more than just a US presence to start a Kickstarter project?  

The decision was to go with Eagle Games first and foremost. Kickstarter was not a factor until we discussed what the best way to publish was going to be. Considering at this moment in time, there are 30 unique sculpts in the Rise of the Occulites line all sculpted by Bob Olley and all the other components the game and its expansions has we felt that Kickstarter was the best way forward as it also allows us to gauge interest for a setting which is both quirky and unique.

Eagle Games also has a lot of experience in both producing and distributing games and brings a lot to the table.

Prototype sample, NOT final production

Based off of the discussions at Boardgamegeek it has been quite the saga getting this game to the US.  What have you gone through already just to get to this point?  Why bother?  
Interesting question James. In regards to the why bother... because I enjoy it, because I’m passionate about the story and the games set in it. It is certainly not for the money. I heard that if you want to make a million dollars designing boardgames, you need to start with two million and work your way down. I bother purely because I love it and want to share my creations with those who will enjoy them.

As far as what I have been through. An exciting, fun journey of discovery and imagination. I started with the characters, which evolved over a couple of years and then I moved into the backstory, which still continues to be written. The game was then designed around the setting and because it was done this way, I feel the theme of the game fits the feel of the setting very well, right down to how the campaign system works.
Once the game was designed and had already gone through some pretty intense playtesting and the ensuing changes, I contacted Bob Olley to see if he would be interested in sculpting me the figures for the Tribes. I was ecstatic when he said yes. Bob was awesome to work with and he did a marvellous job of bringing my characters to life in 3D sculpture. I started Darwin Games and have not looked back.
The card design and game has changed dramatically over the years (for the better) and it continues to be expanded through new scenarios today.


What’s the board game market like down in Oz?  My wife wasn’t a gamer back when she was down there so I have no clue how vibrant or dormant the scene is like down under.  
Board games in Australia aren’t as big as they are in Europe or the US, but there has certainly been a resurgence over the past few years. There are some great things happening down here though, with podcasts like ‘Games in Schools and Libraries’ with Giles Pritchard helping to get board games into classrooms for a variety of learning. Basically there are pockets of activity throughout Australia and I hope that the idea of playing board games continues to catch on here as its a much more social ‘face to face’ way of catching up with mates.

What do folks get “out of the box” with a copy of the game?  Do you have any Kickstarter only miniatures or expansions?  Have you already started planning out and pricing out stretch goals?
I can say that there is a huge amount of gameplay out of the box. With the main game, people will receive, a large box that will fit not only all the main game components, but the Tribe expansions they may end up acquiring as well. It also comes with a large board (3' by 2' 6"), a bunch of plastic figures, 10 D10 dice, lot's of unique terrain boards to create custom maps, 100+ cards, 100+ wooden bits/cardboard tokens/ and glass gems, Tribal reference boards, Individual Occulite boards for keeping track of character stats throughout campaigns and advanced games, and a few other odds and ends.
We are planning to have some Kickstarter exclusives, but at this point in time, have not determined what exactly they will be. The pricing and stretch goals are also still in the works. But we can say that the stretch goals to a large extent will determine how many unique sculpts for the plastic figures, the game will come with. If only the initial goal is met we will only have raised enough to give each tribe a unique look, but not every single member of each tribe. If we achieve a few of our stretch goals. There's the potential to produce the game with over 30 uniquely sculpted units. The problem is the tooling for these molds is very expensive. Which is why we rely on Kickstarter to help us gauge what quality we can afford to produce this game in.

I was turned on to this upcoming Kickstarter by a friend of the blog, Starla.  She has some good questions I wanted to share, Starla?

I guess I want to know more about the objectives/win conditions of the game, and especially more about the gameplay itself. What DO the Occulties have to do to survive and flourish (and win)?  What type of things might a player need to do in a typical round?
 
Thanks for sharing news of the game Starla!

I plan to put up lots of gameplay example videos to help ensure that the gameplay for Dawn: Rise of the Occulites is NOT a mystery. So if there’s anything in particular you’d like to know about gameplay, drop me a line and I’ll put it into a video.
In terms of objective/win conditions of the game, it depends on whether you are playing a one off game or a full campaign.

If you are playing a one off game, each scenario has different victory conditions and goals. Some scenarios are to collect Sungems, some are to band together with an enemy to fend off Predators, another one you need to hunt and capture Wild Luftles to add to your Tribe, steal Sungems from an opponent’s Home Cave, take and hold a Ridge, eliminate an enemy Chief. There are lots of goals and most scenarios actually contain different ways of obtaining Victory Points.

In a campaign, to help win the campaign, you need to evolve your Tribe so that it continues to improve its performance in different scenarios. The scenarios you play are decided by the time of the season and yours and your opponent’s choice. Victory Points add up over the entire campaign, as does the Sungems you collect. The idea is that a campaign takes place during a day on Crepusculum (the Occulite’s planet). Their planet rotates much more slowly and as such, their days and nights last around 100 earth days. Because of this their nights are long, cold and dark. The ‘Long Dark’ needs Sungems to survive. So to win a campaign, you need to have enough Sungems for your Tribe to survive the 100 days and then the most Victory Points out of those survivors wins.

During a game turn for a one off game or a campaign game, a player’s turn will start with a Natural Selection Card being played for its ‘Activate’ effect. This determines how many figures can activate that turn. This is usually between 1 and 3, but can be 4 in rare cases.
Each time an Occulite activates it can do a number of actions equal to its Awareness. These actions include moving, hiding, picking up Sungems, searching, moving through or interacting with terrain, fighting, capturing wildlife, hunting predators, healing, using the Chief’s special actions by spending Tribal Tokens, utilising card effects, completing objectives. There are lots of options you are presented with and in campaign games, by making certain decisions or getting your Occulites into certain situations, they will gain abilities for good and for bad. For example if you kill another Occulite during a cooperative or less aggressive scenario such as Nymphlet Season, you might be penalised by losing Victory Points and with your tribe gaining an ability like ‘Treacherous’ which makes other Tribes you play against more wary of you.

Its a great question Starla, but also very open ended, so I might leave it at that for the moment otherwise I’ll waffle on forever! lol

What sets this game apart from all the other "faction" oriented games on the market?  What do you feel is the most fun about his game?  

I think for one, the setting makes this game unique, but also the way the ‘Natural Selection Deck’ works. I think it is not only an interesting way to control what you do in the game, but that it is also extremely thematic. I also like the way in which your actions within certain scenarios can have an effect on how your Tribe behaves, is treated or advances in future scenarios. To buy Learned Abilities, you don’t only need the right amount of Victory Points, but you need to have met a condition during the previous game that represents a situation in which they would have learned it.

To me, the setting and what sets it apart from other games is what makes this game fun. I also worked very hard to ensure that the game was much more than just combat and that your decisions matter. Yes you roll dice to resolve combat, but the process and options that you have around those dice being rolled gives you much more control and many more decisions as to what to do and when.

Prototype sample, NOT final production

Most of the Kickstarter projects don't go into the game play in a way that shows in depth why gamers would want to pull it off the shelf and play it time and time again. (A game can be gorgeous, and it can have fabulous minis, but if the game underneath the art is dry, bland, or tedious, then it just isn't going to get played!)  How are you planning to make your Kickstarter different in this respect?  

Great question! First of all, as mentioned before, the game is designed in layers so you could play with just the basic ruleset and you will still have lots of important decisions to make. If you are after something more in depth, layer in the advanced rules such as Tribe Creation, Advanced Terrain or the campaign rules. There is a huge amount of replay ability in just the base game, let alone with the Tribe expansions and regularly released scenarios which can be plugged into any campaign with ease or played as one offs.

I plan to release lots of gameplay videos which will help to demonstrate some of the potential the game has to players. But also to welcome questions about gameplay and not be shy about demonstrating these things. I’m proud of Dawn: Rise of the Occulites and will not be afraid to show off its gameplay. I have already released a few videos demonstrating some of the concepts and will be continuing to do this in the lead up and throughout the Kickstarter campaign.

Thank you for the wonderful questions Starla!  Another key issue when it comes to Kickstarters is converting the “remind me” on the fence backers into full fledged backers.  Have you thought of how you will engage the potential backers along with your regular backers?  How will you engage the community to get yourself over the finish line?

We have thought about how to engage both potential and regular backers. I think one of the most important things that I see engages the public is communication and interacting with both regular and potential backers. Keeping them up to date on progress, answering their questions and releasing videos, art etc...

We will be looking at offering Kickstarter exclusive or Limited Edition content as well as well thought out Stretch goals. But we are still working on the finer details of these.

Prototype sample, NOT final production

What have you done to prepare for this Kickstarter?  How much help has Eagle Games been in preparing for your campaign?  

A lot of work has gone into finalising the graphics and art for the project as well as lots of extra playtesting, proofreading and editing from people around the world. The help I have received from my playtest groups has been invaluable and has strengthened the quality of Dawn: Rise of the Occulites immeasurably.

Eagle Games has been a massive help and to be honest, actually producing Dawn as a boardgame would not have been possible without their support. Eagle Games know the industry, they produce quality games with quality components. Not just mainstream ones, but ones that are a bit different and a bit quirky. I am grateful that they work with independent designers such as myself and that has given my game a chance to be produced in a way that it would not have been otherwise. Also being veterans of over 15 Kickstarter projects and the experience that this brings to the table will be invaluable going forward.

What are your long term goals for Darwin Games?  Do you have more games in development?  Expansions?  

The long term goals for Darwin Games are to continue having fun doing what I love and hopefully sharing the results with the board game community.

The Rise of the Occulite games has a whole new and evolving world waiting to be discovered by players and if everything goes well, then yes there is lots, lots more on the way.

Do you have any tips/suggestions/words of advice for those thinking of starting a Kickstarter?  

Not having run one myself yet, I would be getting ahead of myself to start handing out advice! (laughs)

But my gut says that if you are thinking of running a Kickstarter, to do your research, explore what has worked and what hasn’t worked for others and think about what you would look for to make you back someone elses project. For me, the projects that I’ve backed have been ones that have an awesome idea and where the communication with the community has been excellent.

Thank you again for your time Ben any last words for our readers?

Tree. Ball. Water... oh, you mean anything else I’d like to say? :)

I’d just like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported the Rise of the Occulites games and myself over the last few years and thank you in advance to all of the future fans of the setting and the game. I look forward to being able to share the evolution of these strange creatures with you all.

Cheers again for the opportunity James. All the best mate.

(Laughs) You're quite welcome Ben, we look forward to hearing great things from your upcoming Kickstarter!

Thanks mate. I look forward to that too! :)