Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Burning Suns

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am happy to be bringing Emil Larsen from Sun Tzu Games to talk about their sci-fi 4x Kickstarter:  Burning Suns - The Conquest of a Galaxy.  Thank you for joining us Emil!

Thank you for inviting me James, I’m thrilled to be able to share my experiences with you and your audience.

I understand you’ve brought us a 4x sci-fi board game but could you give us an overview of it all?  

Sure... Burning Suns is a strategy space game, that gives the player the opportunity of playing a wide variety of empires. The player has 4 main paths to victory (therefore the four x’es), but they are all part of a bigger tactical tree of options.
You need to understand your empires strengths and weaknesses in order to be victorious in this hostile environment.
Some of the key points are, You never have to play the same game ever. Initially you have 216 different empires to choose from, and with that come a variety of cards too. Furthermore the simple rules of how to set up a galaxy to play in - makes it possible to change map from game to game.
Another thing, is the cool “Dieships”, yea - one of my backers came up with that name :D Admitted, these minis are not part of the initial goal on Kickstarter but a stretch goal. But when you see them, I’m sure you’ll also fall in love with those minis carrying dice.
Furthermore, we have the tactical worker placement mechanic in the game, where the leaders are placed in order to take the actions - this is where the strategy is implemented by proactive or reactive tactics. 

I currently have Twilight Imperium, which I love, but it is a bit dense for non-fans of the genre.  What does your game bring to the table that I don’t get with TI?  

Burning Suns is an easier game to pick up, it’s by no means a “family game”, but it’s a medium strategy game - with a very easy-to-learn flow. This means when you’ve played a few turns, things start to move more quickly because it all makes sense and is fairly easy to remember.

The games are shorter - and according to how you create the galaxy you can be in each others faces pretty much right from the start, making it more back and forth with a lot of action to follow.

Burning Suns brings a lot of variety to the table, without jamming the flow with rules in parentheses, if you get my drift.

I want people to have a great strategic experience, where you feel like Admiral Thrawn when making the brilliant moves, combined with the atmosphere of heroic battles with Luke and Wedge when outnumbered against another empire.

I notice that the races are broken up into three traits that the players can choose from. It sounds a bit like Small World, but is it random or do the players get to choose freely?  Can only one person be any of the options at one time. I.e. Can there be two players “of the Rim?”

Yea, it’s taking the same kind of concept and pushing it a bit further. The important thing here is that each part of the empire (Ideology, Race and Structure) relates to a different aspect of the game, meaning that things doesn’t overlap is implemented smoothly into the game play.
You can either choose freely, trying to make the power empire (if something like that exist), or hand them out randomly, which I would recommend in the beginning. There is only 1 of each empire part. Giving you 216 different options in the current layout.

Could you describe a typical player’s turn?  Are they sequential turns or simultaneous turns like in Twilight Imperium?  

  • First you start out by collecting income (pretty standard).
  • You refill the Galactic Communication Interface (it’s a bit like a marketplace).
  • Then you reshuffle the action sheets (one for each X, with 3 actions on each sheet).
  • Players then take turns placing their leaders (start with the one who went last, the previous turn).
  • - You then place the starter token at the player with the leader on the last action that will be executed during this round.
  • The actions are then executed one by one, but with instant effect, there is no such thing as “next turn” etc. again, to keep the flow simple and without a lot of speed bumps that you might forget during play.

Then you start over again - fairly simple :)

Players can choose between placing their leaders as the first or last leaders to take a specific action, meaning that you can play proactive or reactive... there’s of course pros and cons in both choices :)

How extensive is the tech tree?

There’s an ability tree, that will grow in power - as you gain Antimatter (the victory point of the game).
Each race as a series of upgrade slots that will be open for purchased upgrades from the Galactic Communication Interface (GCI). Furthermore there will be different agents, explorations and so on adding to the possibilities. But a real tech tree there isn’t. I’m still playing around with a few options of some upgrades here and there, but I won’t be implementing a real tech tree, since it would take up too much space in the game.

While I enjoyed the Twilight Imperium political system it wasn’t everything I wanted.  What’s Burning Sun’s political options like?  Any other “Non-combat” ways of accomplishing goals?  

Well, basicly warfare only takes up 1X of the game, that’s the whole idea. Conflict lies beneath the surface of missions, but you have many other things you can do in order to gain Victory points. But getting through an entire game without unleashing some warships will of course be difficult.

You show both cardboard standees as well as plastic miniatures  in some of your pictures.  Which one is final or will the Kickstarter determine which we get?  

Ooh yes - I wish I could just fill the game with minis from the beginning. Unfortunately there isn’t money for that, so I’ll have to hit beyond my Kickstarter goal (stretch goal) in order to be able to
produce the plastic minis.

Most players have told me that the cardboard standees are great too (and of course with the great artwork on), but who wouldn’t like to get a little more plastic in their game ;)

With such random race selections do you have any story or fluff written?  Or is all of it just setting and tech descriptions?  

I’m mostly doing the concepts and ideas, and I’ll let other people of bringing it to life through stories. I’m not good at storytelling, or at least I don’t think so. Hopefully Burning Suns will get a life next to the gaming with some cool stories, that I’ll then be able to draw upon - creating scenarios for game setup and so on.

I’m still in the early stages of solitaire and cooperative game play, and here you really should have the background story for the setup and so on :)

Who does the art?  It has a wonderful theme and coherency to it.  

Thanks - I’m happy you feel that way too.. Most people are a bit stunned when I tell them I have 4 artists on the project. But it all makes sense, because I’ve spend a lot of time on analyzing my artist’s work, in order to figure out what they should be focused on doing on the game.
I have one for sceneries and ships, one for races and leaders, one for agents and one for systems and tech stuff. Because I haven’t mixed things together, it keep a great coherency throughout the visual presentation.

Well you’re doing a great job! How long has this game been in development?  What experience do you folks have in game design/production?  

The concept started out about 3 years ago, as a board game interpretation of “Sins of a Solar Empire”. But I couldn’t really make any headway with the concept and it was jammed in many ways.

About 1½ year ago or so a new game kind of sprung out of this concept, and the whole “Burning Suns universe” was born. I quickly developed the tactical worker placement part of a 4X concept, and together with that I wanted a universe that couldn’t be emptied of opportunities nor aliens.

I have been working a lot on board game and computer game prototypes during that last 5 years, but my real strength lies in my passion for strategy, game play mechanics and my project manager background (at the moment I’m a Lieutenant and entrepreneur, a neat but time consuming combination).

My artist are just awesome, I don’t think they need to be of any specific industry ;)

You are asking for £20,000, where will all the money go?  Will it fund just what is sold through the Kickstarter or a full run for those of us who don’t back the project now but would like to buy it later?  

£20.000 will take us through a print run of approx. 1500 games, so there should be some for people after the Kickstarter is done. But I hope it won’t be that many :D

Do you think being UK based and having to use a separate payment system than US Kickstarters is a hinderance?  

Hhhmm.. I haven’t really found it a big deal among my backers, but of course - I have no idea how many cancel out before pledge, because they can’t. So that’s some of the statistics I would like to know of course.

Who is producing the games for you?  Is it a UK manufacturer?  

I’m having a very constructive and productive dialog with Panda Game Manufactor.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

*phew* that’s a long time ago. But I think it first really caught my attention with Double Fine and Tim Schafer.

Kickstarter has been seeing many major game releases in recent months funded through Kickstarter.  Do you think it is becoming the “go to” source of funding in the tabletop gaming arena?  

Well it is... at least it seems that way. But this is not without it’s problems.
The market is getting fed up a bit, and there are still increasing demands on the Kickstarter campaign and the product you produce. This is of course fine, but it is developing towards becoming more of a store where people expect a fully done and completed product, where you push the “order”-button.

But Kickstarter is also about a story and believing in making a cool product together with your backers... and that charm seems to be wearing off. I really hope people will find this spirit again, it’s what makes Kickstarter special.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

Uh, it’s a lot of work James! :D
I hope my backers would say I’m engaging them in almost every possible way. I’m writing on forums every day (
BGG of course), posting updates fairly often and of course answering every mail and message by myself.

I want to launch some initiative through the backers, and not keep everything on my hands, since I only have 24 hours in a day - like most of you out there ;)
Maybe a fanbased Facebook site, a novel written by backers - and so on.
I also tried with vote based stretch goals, but since it was pretty clear after 10 days what people wanted (those minis), I changed it to give them that. Listening to your backers is the most important thing you can do.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

I’m using Kicktraq indeed, it’s a nice tool. It’s a shame Kickstarter doesn’t give you any stronger tool to evaluated on your effect among backers / potential backers.

Twitter I use a lot, and some Advertising on Facebook and BGG. It’s hard to be everywhere but I try to also announce a few things on Google+ and so on.

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?
There are many advices to give, and I’m not even done yet :D here’s a few pointers
  • Get your campaign tested by different people.
  • Be positive and helpful throughout your campaign. Answer every mail!
  • Make sure to gather enough interested people before you launch.
  • Make sure you have enough time in your calendar for such a campaign.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
I think we have turned most stones for now James - but of course, I’m hoping for every reader to visit my Kickstarter, back and/or share it with their friends - the backers have the power, and they will decide whether or not Burning Suns should hit the market :)

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!
Thanks a lot - and thank you for interviewing me.

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