Thursday, October 3, 2013

NOVUS Feature Card Game




Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I have Damien Lavizzo from Zenion Games, Inc joining me here to talk about their first Kickstarter NOVUS Feature Card Game.  Thank you for joining us today Damien!
Of course, glad to be here. Thanks for having me on.


NOVUS is an interesting looking card game with gorgeous looking artwork, can you tell us about it?  


NOVUS is partially the product of a lifetime spent reading great science fiction. Growing up I loved authors like Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. I loved that science-fiction could have almost poetic qualities to it. NOVUS is also the result of spending so much time when I was young playing Cyberpunk 2020 and then Magic: the Gathering.


The brief overview of NOVUS is that the story is set 25,000 years in our future. Technology had made interstellar travel almost trivial, using massive subspace portals called Way Gates. Further, magic has become a daily reality and technology has advanced to match.


About ten years before the game takes place, an event known as the Collapse put an end to interstellar travel. Chaos ensued almost immediately, with most worlds going to war over land or resources that were now infinitely more precious. The core set of NOVUS, Awakening, takes place on one of these worlds known as Muruun, which happens to be the home world for some of the major factions in the story.


That's the nutshell version, anyway!


You describe your game as a “Feature Card Game.”  How is NOVUS different from other “all in the box” card games like Summoner Wars, BattleCon, or Core Worlds?  
So, the thing that sets NOVUS apart from other card-style games is that there's a very low barrier to entry. You can quite literally "open and play" each deck. Customization is an option, but each deck has been balanced to be competitive and playable out of the box. In terms of customization, the intention was always to take the onus of deck balancing off of the player and put it squarely on us. We think of it as the fusion of board game philosophy, where everything you need is in the box, and card game philosophy, where there is still some luck involved.
With only 4 50 card decks with 2 commanders each there doesn’t sound like a lot of variety in play available out of the box.  How much variety is built in without any stretch goals?  What expansions are already planned?  
I get exactly what you're saying. No one wants to play the same game out over and over. We approached this in two ways. First, each Commander lends his, her, or itself to vastly varied gameplay, due to their Command abilities being so fundamentally different. You wouldn't think that changing one card would have that much impact, but since Commanders basically function as a permanent Field Effect card, it can have a striking impact on gameplay.
The second way we've introduced variety is by limiting the stronger rare cards and making certain cards Unique, meaning you can only have one of that card in your deck, period. With every card in your hand being a potential resource, we think we've found the right balance of luck versus skill, and having a fixed deck means eliminating the so-called "meta game", where each player is basically reacting to whatever card is being played at the moment rather than having a sound strategy.
How much luck is involved in NOVUS? One of my biggest, most hair pulling, table flipping, annoying concerns with card games is the sheer randomness.   From Card Hunters chance of getting ZERO attack cards, to Magic the Gatherings zero mana pulls for turns on end, and everything in between that random “I only lost because I could do nothing” feeling angers me to no end.  Are there mechanics in NOVUS to reduce this anger?  
That's a great question and you mention a couple of things that frustrated me also about most card games. Land screw especially is a pet peeve of mine. To me, every card should do something. That's a concern we addressed thematically as well. Each unit in NOVUS is called a character - implying there's a story there, there's a reason this guy or gal has left their home and loved ones behind and has joined up with your Commander. Almost every character has an ability that thematically fits with who the character is, ditto each of the other card types. If we've done our job correctly, there should never be a "dead card" in a game of NOVUS, both functionally and thematically.
It is good to see you have the rules available for review, how important was it to you to have a playable rule set available before launching the Kickstarter?  How complete is the game at this point?  
Having the core gameplay and the cards themselves done before asking for people to back us was never optional for us. It's our responsibility to ensure that we've done everything we can to ensure the game is on track for a release before going to the public and asking for their investment.
We've been fine tuning and continuing to playtest the decks while the campaign has run, based on some of the reviews that have come in, but in terms of major changes NOVUS is as near-complete as it can be pre-Kickstarter. 

You mention a “deep, engaging storyline set in a fully realized universe” as a bullet point.  How does this storyline effect gameplay?  How can players in a card game relate to a story?  
Story, to me, is inherent to gameplay. For me, I want to know why these characters even exist in the first place. We want to directly answer "Why should I care about this character?"
To illustrate how important this is, we've already gotten some compelling questions about the characters just based on the art alone. I think as human beings we are hard-wired to care about the "why" of things. We look at an image and immediately start making inferences about what's going on and why.
A more direct answer would be that the backstory of each character influences their final cards, as well. We've tried to give each Commander an ability that not only makes sense for who that character is, but almost is a shorthand to the player that there's a deeper backstory to that character.
My biggest bugaboo with Kickstarter projects are budget breakdowns.  These simple business tools show the potential backers that there is a plan in place for when the funding is successful.  It shows how well a creator has planned and that they’re more prepared to deliver.  Why doesn’t your project have a budget breakdown?  Where is the $13,500 going?  
We discussed this at great length. Part of the reason we didn't do a full budget breakdown is out of consideration for our vendors and manufacturers. Something we would hate to have happen is...well, okay lets say we share a quote that we were given by, for example, Panda Games. Then, down the line if Panda gives a different quote to another card game for whatever reason - costs have increased, project specs are different - our public statement is used as leverage to get a lower price. Unless a manufacturer explicitly tells me that sharing their quote is OK, We treat all of that information as privileged and confidential.
To be fair we did indicate that every dollar of Kickstarter money will be used to complete and then enhance NOVUS. Making great games is what we want to do with our lives, and you don't get to keep doing that if you cheat your backers and run off with their investment.
How did you discover Kickstarter?

Discovering Kickstarter was kind of a nebulous process - I can't say when I first heard about it. I just remember seeing the site mentioned more and more in gaming circles. I think the "a-ha" moment for me was the successful campaign for Shadowrun Returns, though. Seeing that a great product with fan support could lead to a successful campaign was eye-opening, so we thought rather than try to find high-dollar investors to invest in a small game company, we'd go straight to the players and have them vote with their wallet.
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?
Well, in answer to that question I would point at our comments section on the NOVUS Kickstarter page. The fan engagement has been simply jaw dropping. With any creative project there's always a bit of nervousness about - "will anyone even care?" But in the days since launch the fans have been taking it upon themselves to engage with us, so that question is hard to answer looking forward. It feels  like it will be a more organic process than we can plan for right now.
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 are using Kicktraq and it's an amazing tool. In terms of marketing, basically just Facebook and word of mouth.
Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?
My only piece of advice would be to treat your Kickstarter as you would a startup business. You're asking people to invest their money into your project, which is no small thing. Every dollar you get is someone out in the world donating some of their time to make your project a reality. Never lose sight of that.
Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Thanks so much for having me, James. My final thought? I guess I would just urge everyone reading that if you have an idea, pursue it! Put your idea out there, present it the best way you possibly can, and you'll be surprised at the results.
Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!