Monday, September 9, 2013

Mazaki no Fantaji interview and a contest!

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  I am pleased to welcome Calvin Johns who is here to bring us an exciting new role playing game Kickstarter with Mazaki No Fantaji.  Thank you for joining us today Calvin.  

Thanks, James! Good to be chatting with you about Mazaki No Fantaji and filling in details about the project.

Let me start off by congratulating you on a successful trip to GenCon 2013, I hope it was a blast!  Long time readers know how much of a RPG fan I am and how I like finding new game systems yet never seem to get around to playing.  Would you care to tell us about the latest RPG I won’t get to play?  

Well, James, I think even you could find time for a Mazaki session. The system is light and fast to learn, and we’ve seen players and gamemasters figuring it out together in less than an hour.

At its core, Mazaki No Fantaji is a role-playing game designed to emulate--without challenging the copyrights of--the captivating, exotic, adult worlds of our favorite anime (Princess Mononoke, Escaflowne, Attack on Titan, Basilisk) and Japanese RPG video games (Final Fantasy, Monster Hunter, Chrono Trigger). These inspirations exist in both the setting and the mechanics of the game.

The Nopo Continent is a beautiful, ecologically rich setting that features recognizable but unique magics, technologies, and cultures. We want ferocious monsters feeding in their dens, otherworldly herbivores roaming populated fields, rolling hills and thick forests, ranges of floating mountains hovering above sunless wastelands, warring civlizations, and a haunting sense of unease. All of that. The concrete pivot of the setting is Flight Jade, a toxic substance caught somewhere among the realms of magic, technology, and nature. It affords the Andhurans both the capability for flight and a source of great contagion. The Guanxi use Jade for weapons and ornament, and now suffer the devastating cultural changes its pursuit entails. Emishi harness the power of the Jade to refine their magics and feel most personally of all the cultures how the Jade perverts and distorts the natural world around them.

We have a super light, super trim engine that sells itself. The mechanics of Mazaki No Fantaji satisfy two types of gamers generally taken as opposites. Mazaki invites creative and theatrical role-playing, good for anyone who celebrates the recent wave of qualitative tabletop games. On the other hand, Mazaki requires strategy and smarts of those who enjoy the tactical, team-based combat of popular video game titles. You can be anywhere on the spectrum, and the game will slide to match you.

Want something silly and over the top? Awesome. Create slapstick Traits (Color Me Bad, Massive Tool, Fat and Sassy) and rowdy Themes (Monster Mayhem, Balls to the Wall). Want a game moody and somber? Cool. Tailor the Traits (Shaves in the Dark, Never Leaves on the Light, Skeletons in her Closet, Lady in Black) and Themes (Weights of Loss, The Day the Music Died, Humans vs. Nature) of your campaign to match. Want something more about tactical gaming than frilly role-playing? The tile-based system welcomes you to create elaborate complex monsters and elaborate situations, veritable “mousetraps” for players to spring and then struggle to survive.

It’s a game you can play as a one-off with friends or as a sprawling year-long campaign. Make characters in five minutes and tackle one big encounter in one rowdy night, or make characters in five minutes and weave a deep, thematic narrative where characters grow and transform over the course of multiple adventures.  

Just like video games I love it when an RPG actually has rules I can see and try out before I get too invested into it.  How important was it for you to have the quick rules up and available for download before launching your Kickstarter?  

We wanted the Quickstart up for a number of reasons, and the Kickstarter was obviously the biggest. Getting Mazaki printed will take a solid sum of money, and we will need to generate an equally solid amount of excitement to reach our goal. By having the Quickstart up early, we created an opportunity to get people excited about the game, not just the project. The game sounds great on paper, but in action it is transformative. We wanted people playing Mazaki from day one, imagining all the directions it could take and all the potential to the system. While the game is 90% finished, we have tweaking and balancing spells and abilities left to do, which is a great time to open up the game to the public. Testing in house is one thing, but hearing from all sorts of gamers all over the world about how they would do something is a blessing to any designer.

Now for those who haven’t downloaded the rules yet, what makes Mazaki different?  

The unique strength of Mazaki is in a light engine that affords all sorts of tactical play, in combat or out, cooperatively and competitively. We’ve found that when people play Mazaki, they feel that strength pretty much from “Go”. Most groups spend a little time celebrating the slapstick potential in the game, playing around with the freedom and theatricality of it. It appears very rowdy and off-the-wall fun. And then the moment comes, usually just thirty minutes into the first session or so: You see the players begin to realize how tactical every single turn is. They start to correct each other, problem-solve aloud, organize their joint efforts, come up with combos, etc. The silly gives way to the strategic, which is exactly what we wanted!

If we’ve got time, I’d like to offer a little “for instance” of that moment as it happened during one of our testing sessions at GenCon.

By all means go ahead.

In our demo encounter (which is one of the free encounters we included with the Quickstart), the team of pregens is up against a Fire Wizard and some monsters on the rooftops of what looks like a medieval Chinese city. The Wizard has two Drama Tokens, which will offer him two extra dice in his pool on every upcoming roll. Player One, role-playing the heavy hitting Emishi prince, decides to attack the Wizard.

Player Two, the spy, interrupts: “Wait, I can use my whip to steal drama from the wizard and give it to you!” She offers her idea: “I can lash my whip out to hook onto the aqueduct and swing myself across the gap in the roof, kicking at the wizard and spinning him around so he won’t see you coming at him.” Player One would then have a two-die advantage against the wizard. Awesome!

Player Three jumps in next: “But, wait! If she uses the whip to trip the wizard and passes me the extra Token instead, I can cast ‘Force of Nature’ to stagger every enemy, stealing a Drama Token from each of them. Then the wizard will still be two dice below you, Hakunen, but that Fire Golem and those Ember Goblins will also be a Token down for the rest of the fight.”

Each turn affects and inspires the others. Just about every round functions this way. The mechanics are very simple: You come up with some theatrical, qualitative move to do on your turn, playing to traits instead of relying on stats. It can be silly, over-the-top, crazy, serious, whatever. But then, after you roll, what you do with the successes is a matter of serious tactical thought. Do you deal damage? Do you steal momentum from an enemy? If you want to steal, can you come up with something creative to do so? Do you help a teammate?

Every turn is grounded in qualitative, concrete role-playing. And what the characters do has mechanical effect that changes up how you’ll be role-playing later. Breeze through the Quickstart, and you’ll see some great examples of how that works in combat.

As someone who has lots of RPG PDFs floating around, a “tile-based” system sounds like it would require a lot of physical bits that I just won’t have with a digital version.  Will I have to do a lot of printing up of things?  

Ah, I get what you’re saying. Let me explain: The game doesn’t have pre-made Tiles you need to play. All of the Tiles are made by the players as they play. For example, if a player spends a success to create a “The wizard is surrounded” condition, you write that on an index card and place it on the table. That qualitative truth is now part of the mechanics of the game. If the wizard (or yourself!) describe an action that would be hindered or limited because of that truth, the character loses a Token of momentum. That Tile is something qualitative and concrete in the game--at the diegetic level, for you English majors--and you just write it up in the moment. Marking smart conditions becomes one of the most creative and fun parts of playing.

Obstacles such as locked doors, monsters, and crashing airships are similarly written on index cards (“Tiles”) as you play. So, whether digital or not, the Tiles aren’t necessarily printed out and kept floating around on your bookshelf. You can keep a deck of common obstacles that fits nicely in any index card holder, or you can just ditch them and make new Tiles each game.

If you want to play Mazaki No Fantaji, you’ll need a table or flat surface and dice and pencils and friends just as you would playing any other tabletop RPG. What Mazaki requires on top of those are some kind of tokens or counters and index cards. So, not really a tough investment. You could use a handful of nickels as counters and regular paper if you wanted.

To clarify: You won’t get Tiles that come with the printed book. The Tiles we’re offering Kickstarter Backers are fancy monsters or artifacts with gorgeous art that will save you the trouble of writing out an index card for that particular beast or weapon.

Speaking of playing with digital components, have you tried playing Mazaki via Roll20 or some other virtual tabletop system?  

Mazaki No Fantaji does and doesn’t work with virtual tabletops. I have not personally tried Roll20 to play the game, but we have used Skype and other simple streaming video programs when needed. Because of how the game is visual, reproducing the tabletop can prove difficult on a virtual program designed to emulate d20 games. Most virtual tabletops allow sharing an image or map (and I’m assuming Roll20 does as well), but these are often designed to represent the “battle map” of a d20 game, which leads to two main hiccups for playing Mazaki. (1) Images on these virtual tabletops are usually items, monsters, artifacts, and player-characters against a setting of some sort. While these iconic tokens can be moved around the play area to show how the bodies are moving in space, those icons themselves remain relatively static. Mazaki, however, requires that you write on the Tiles, which might not work so well on the virtual tabletops I’m familiar with. (2) In Mazaki, the Tiles are not placed on the table with a mind to where the bodies actually are in space. Tiles represent all the obstacles, monsters, objectives, and hurdles that the players are facing. Some of those are physical objects and some are not. For example, where would one place the “Translating the Stolen Tome” obstacle if the virtual tabletop showed us a picture of a tavern?

So, the user just has to be willing to repurpose some of the features of the virtual tabletop to play Mazaki. I think this can be done without too much confusion, but you would have to figure out your own knack to do it.

Worth noting, Mazaki was designed to be tactile. Mazaki is an RPG of the truest form, but it does seek to emulate the feel of a board game or even a CCG. While home games will use whatever tokens and tiles they want, we play with professionally printed tokens and sturdy, gorgeous obstacle Tiles. These Tiles don’t “come with” the game per se, because every group will come up with their own obstacles, themes, and conditions. You make your own as you play.

Mazaki could be played on a whiteboard couldn’t it?  Instead of using tiles?

Hmmm... Yeah. Prolly so. We have written on glass tables when playing so having a whiteboard would make things easier to read. Haha. Smart idea, man.

Then Roll20 would work fine as I can set things to "Free draw" or "Write" on the board. I only have an online playgroup so it’s good to hear your system could work with how I get to play.  

Oh, totally. I’m going to get on that. Thanks for the tip.

Where does the name Mazaki No Fantaji come from/mean?  

Well, not sure how much of this story can be told. Haha. All Anthropos Games titles become formal projects when they get promoted to an individual, brown Moleskine notebook. I move the game from a cluttered notebook/folder of several games and ideas into a clean, new space of its own. This notebook then never leaves my side. Mazaki began as an attempt to design an RPG that could tell a compelling story as well as Hayao Miyazaki (No one ever said we set small hurdles) during Christmas of 2011. When it finally earned it’s own notebook last year, that notebook said “Miyazaki Fall 2012” on the cover. After a while, we just decided to name the central city of the game after one of our initial inspirations. There you have it.

Regarding the “no fantaji,” we wanted to personify Mazaki City a bit and imagine that the entire game was some kind of extension or dream of the central city. We borrowed the simple, known-to-every-otaku construction “no,” which in Japanese marks possession. So, the game title kinda means “The fantasy/dream of Mazaki City.” Just sorta emerged that way, I guess.

We’ve heard that the name is a mouthful and might deter potential players. While that saddens me to hear, we really do like the name and hope that folks can feel it roll pleasantly off their tongues as we now do. Just imagine “Probably no malady” and say “Mazaki no Fantaji” with sorta the same vowels, and you’ll be set!

You state at the beginning of your campaign the following:
“The Mazaki engine easily fits a vast array of settings and genres, and we will even help you adapt the Powers/Abilities to your own world. “
Yet I didn’t see anything about that beyond that one mention.  Do you have rules for adapting to other settings?  Any thoughts of licensing out the system?   If I had a game setting that I’d like to use your rules with do I just contact you about it?  Forum?  

We will have a section in the final book, most likely around 10 pages or so, that will address porting the game around or expanding the world to include other genres. One of our diehard players is actually in the process of porting the engine to something like 20 different settings just to explore how the Tiles work and . I’m sure he’ll be posting those on the forums one day.

But we love helping people see how the system can work in any setting. Our Kiddie Campaign Setting is a stretch goal that will unlock at 411 backers. Seems a long-way off, but I’m super excited to develop a truly unique kid’s setting for family-minded gamers. So, yeah, ideas are welcome on the Kickstarter comment page, below in the comments here, on our forums, over at our Facebook page… Pretty much anywhere. There isn’t a big hierarchy here at the headquarters so everything will get to me within an hour or so. Haha.

Way back in 2010 you ran a Kickstarter for Early Dark.  What did you learn from that experience that you’ve brought to Mazaki?  

(Eyes go wide). Tons. First and foremost we learned that you can spend $5,800 on shipping and handling alone, especially when you offer free shipping to international countries. We took a very modest approach with Early Dark: If we put in EVERY DIME we have and max out every credit card we own, what else will we need to fund this game? We set the goal that way. Being that precise about expectations, however, means that EVERY surprise is a budget-breaking event. We had several. Haha.

Aside from the funding, Early Dark was the first title we published, and so we learned all the things a professional learns when entering a new industry. We learned how to communicate with artists. How to choose partners and collaborators. How to capture a mood in layout design. All sorts of things. We learned how to talk to strangers at a con! How to run a demo in a small store with no table space! How to arrange chapters in a book (apparently some people can get very upset if you put the World before the Mechanics… Who knew?).

All of that know-how is in this new Kickstarter. We’ve got smarter rewards, bigger content packages, better outreach.

One of my bugaboos are Budget Breakdowns.  These let the backers know a bit more about how you plan to spend the money and that you’ve given serious thought to planning out the post campaign period.  Why don’t you have one?  Where is the $16,000 going?  

Take away 10% from our Goal due to Kickstarter and Amazon taking their shares, and we are at $14,400 of actual funds. The quote from the printer says it’ll take $12,000 to print the book and $1000 to ship us all 1000 copies. If we have them do fulfillment for the Backers, that will not reduce the shipping costs as one might expect (Ha!), but it will add at least $1000 to that price to cover the printer’s labor. So, we’re looking at minimally $14,000. Those are estimates now, as that quote will need to get adjusted for various things that come up (e.g. I think we want printed end pages, which did up the cost of Early Dark considerably). The presumed extra $400? I’m imagining when all is said and done, the fulfillment will be more than $1000, so I guess that’s just buffer room. So, I guess the budget in my head is:

Printing the book……………………………………………………………………… $14,000
Kickstarter/Amazon/Logistics….……………………………………………………  $2,000
TOTAL…………………………………………………………………………………. $16,000


Our Kickstarter budget does not include any development costs. We have a realistic development budget for the next eight months (It’s replaces our personal drinks and flicks budgets, Haha). I personally would feel uneasy about going to Kickstarter with a “Pay for us to develop a game!” mentality. It is our responsibility to develop this game. To make it awesome. To make it beautiful. To design the book and layout. In my mind, we are coming to the backers with a gorgeous product that needs to be made manifest. We’re asking them to pre-order copies and come alongside us to support the printing process only.   

How did you discover Kickstarter?

I honestly can’t remember. The site was so different back in 2010, and I think it came up while talking to indie artists here in Austin. It had a much less “big business” feel those few years ago. Regardless of how our Mazaki campaign goes, we will have to have a long talk about whether or not we’ll use it in the future.

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?

We have two or eight Twitter contests running, depending on how you count. One is the basic “Retweet for a chance to win a T-shirt.” You can retweet any or all of our #MazakiRPG tweets and be entered in a weekly drawing to win one of our infamous black T-shirts. Also, we are posting weekly Monster Tiles to Facebook and Twitter that call for backers and others to create Traits that will define that monster and its abilities in the world of the game. You get your name on the printed Tile, and we’ll send them out as Add-Ons and use them at demos.

Would you want an exclusive contest here for Kickstarter-Conversations? That might be fun, James. Here, post up a monster and get your readers to comment with Trait suggestions that will make this Roijo Chimaera a deadly, deep, dirty-fightin’ foe. In Mazaki, “Traits” are the qualitative descriptors that players reference, allude to, play off of, pun around, etc. to gain extra dice in their pools. Any action that develops the character/monster in line with a Trait or demonstrates that particular aspect of the character/monster gets more dice. So, let’s have your readers take a stab at this Roijo Chimaera:

Contest Ends: 1 week from post day (Edit in date!)

Basically for traits you’re just looking for descriptors like “Spiky” or “Smells like rotten eggs?”  

We usually shoot for things a little more ambiguous or punny so you can play on literal and figurative levels.

Sounds good fun,  I’m sure my readers have plenty of ideas already.  

We’ve also got two modules being released one encounter at a time alongside the Kickstarter campaign. Jake Stolhandske is releasing his first (as I’m kinda swamped with campaign management at the moment… Oh, and teaching at the University of Texas. Haha).

We have videos posted of gameplay and have several video updates planned. We still need to burn the GenCon exclusive Monster Tiles: We promised that the “Legendary Vesbear” was a GenCon exclusive so only people who came by the Playtest Hall at GenCon or backed during GenCon received the tile. The rest? Well, Jake wants to burn them with some super sciencey wickedness. I guess I recently noticed that I’m put-off by “GenCon Exclusive” releases that aren’t actually exclusive… They usually mean something like “GenCon First, but then Everyone a Week Later.” We are committed to this exclusivity… with fire.

Hopefully more livestreaming of Q&As and things coming up as well.

Lastly, we are really inviting players to test out most of the game already and take part in conversations throughout our online outlets. The campaign really has several ways backers can get involved.

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?  

We’ve gotten some nice press from outlets on the web. Tabletop Gaming News comes to mind: A nice post just after GenCon about the project. The Gameological Society also wrote up Mazaki in their feature on the First Exposure Playtest Hall from GenCon. They focused more on the silly side of the game, however, so we’re hoping for a follow up that includes a broader picture of the system. Double Exposure, the group behind the Playtest Hall, has been good to feature our campaign and updates on their Facebook page. A great gamer/blogger in the Philippines wrote a “First Impressions” blog about Mazaki that provides a quick summary of what the game’s about.

I’ve been talking with dozens of other outlets for features such as those above, and it’ll just be a matter of what the bloggers and outlets want to cover. I’ve contacted Joe and Nicky from 2 GMs 1 Mic, for instance, sent a release to Eric Franklin of Gamethyme and Kicksnarker, still hoping to hear back from Dave Chalker of Critical Hits, etc.

Let those people know you want to hear about Mazaki No Fantaji! Call them! Stop by their houses! Okay, don’t do that. But an e-mail would be sweet.

We have interviews like this! And I have a scheduled chat on September 12th with the folks from RPGNet. Check us out at 7pm CDT. Talking with people about the game is always fun and hopefully generates some of that much needed excitement.

Our YouTube channel is new, but it’s where we are posting all the actual play videos and things. That’ll grow organically as things come up.

Google+ does not allow me to participate because my gmail address is the “Anthropos Games” account, and Google+ does not have a system for businesses yet. I need to dust off my personal account and start getting involved. Lots of great groups and communities out there to get involved with. We’re developing a Tumblr to stay in touch with people. So much of this is something the company needs anyway. But as a grad student writing a dissertation and teaching I haven’t really taken the company into all those places yet. So, we’re in effect branding and expanding the company as we undertake this Kickstarter.

The issue of paid advertising has been a hot topic with us this weekend. After checking out the Kicktraq page, we met with one of our friends to talk about marketing. Upfront, I’ve been really torn about advertising. I see Kickstarter ads everywhere, and some REALLY BIG campaigns have ads up on just about every gaming site on the web. I’ve always seen that as somehow… I don’t know… not in the spirit of Kickstarter? Like, how can I ask you to fund this artistic, bohemian, indie project if the money is going towards mass-market advertising? Yes, the ads will generate more gain for the overall project, with great ROIs expected for web ads and Facebook direct marketing, etc. And, yes, the backers benefit from ads because it builds a bigger community around the project and increases the chance that the game will become a reality. But… I don’t know. It just somehow felt weird to me. By the end of the meeting with Jake and our marketing friend I was convinced to run some advertising throughout the month of September, but it was a really tough struggle to get to that place.

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

Plan six months ahead at least. Find out what other KS campaigns might be running at the same time. Make the choice about how you’ll advertise formally. Plan each week well in advance. Expect to spend 5-12 hours a day just managing your campaign. Recognize that KS is now for big businesses too, and so check into other options like IndieGoGO and things that might better suit your project.  

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

You’re welcome. The questions have been great. Well, the final thoughts I have in interviews like this are always encouragements for people to check out Mazaki No Fantaji and give it a go. We’ve got so much available online that you can really get a feel for things. The campaign needs backers, but the game needs only players. As it goes, those the campaign and the game share a fate at the moment. So, yeah, pledge the hell outta our Kickstarter! Haha.

You will love what Mazaki does. The buzz at GenCon was developers already trying to cannibalize the game and learn from it. It really is unique. It really does blend the qualitative and mechanical in a seamless way. It’s smart. It’s tight. It’s even sexy.

We’re a small company. All backers get personal engagement, questions answered, a heard voice, etc. Can’t wait to hear from everyone reading this interview and grow this conversation in the comments below. Thanks so much, James.

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

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