Dwarves have been one of the most endearing fantasy races and a staple in fantasy fiction for years, and it’s not hard to see why. They are a respectable, hard working bunch, who can hold their own in drinking and fighting. It makes a lot of sense why the stereotypes surrounding dwarves are highly representative of a fantasy adventure and equally no surprise why there have been so many games themed solely on their personality. Despite the wealth of games made about them, it doesn’t stop more from being made because there’s still a lot of appeal available and ground to cover, which is why I’m writing today about Treasure Mountain now on Kickstarter. As described on it’s campaign page:
“A dwarf themed board game for 2-4 players, using a unique bumping worker placement mechanic based on the size of your dwarf’s beard. […] Your dwarf clan has been chosen by King Grimsteel to mine the vast riches buried within Treasure Mountain. You must dig deep, keep your axes close, and beware of the pillaging dragons that inhabit the mountain in search of treasure.”
Mechanically speaking, the game’s most interesting feature is worker bumping, or the ability to bump a worker out of a space in order to use it at the cost of giving the previous occupant a bonus. It’s not a new mechanic (it’s very prominent in games such as Asking for Trobils and The Gallerist), but it is an interesting one that plays in a very thematic way in Treasure Mountain as it allows players strategic freedom for a high cost. The rules are very solid and feature variants which reduce the luck of the game and can make for a richly tactical experience. If you’re interested in learning more about Treasure Mountain, be sure to check out it’s Kickstarter campaign page for the full rules and a few excellent and thorough preview videos.
One of the hottest new games recently has been one that’s flown a bit under the radar – Asking for Trobils, from Kraken Games and designed by Christian Strain and Erin McDonald. It’s a fun game that takes an interesting slight twist to the normal worker placement mechanic. Specifically, the idea that turns are spent either placing a worker (ship) or removing one. This might not sound like much, but it certainly increases the strategies one needs to consider while playing. Both Tom and Zee, from the Dice Tower, have reviewed the game and it’s been featured as a top 10 “Family Game” as well as a top 10 “Surprise” of 2015. It’s also been awarded the Dice Tower Seal of Excellence!
After obtaining a copy of the game myself, I reached out to Christian for an interview (Q&A below). Of note is a particular post on Boardgamegeek where it’s mentioned how low stock is presently and how to obtain a copy of the game. Christian also discussed, in the post, about a reprint as well as an upcoming expansion.
I had a chance to play a few games and wanted to mention a bit of a surprise. The game is known, quite well, as being a family game – and don’t get me wrong, it works well with some of my younger kids, but I was very surprised that it was quite a hit with my 17-year-old and, believe it or not, my wife. The simple rules made it a hit along with all the different choices that were available during game-play. From picking up ores, slugs, money, and traps to capturing Trobils and hiring pirates – Asking for Trobils was a game that seemed to be a bigger hit with the older crowd in my house.
Asking for Trobils will not let you down. It’s a fantastic game for both young and old alike. Christian was kind enough to answer some questions I had about him, Kraken Games, and the future of Trobils…
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I was born in a tower on a floating mountain made of orc skulls. The tower was made of orc skulls, not the mountain. The mountain was just a mountain. I think. I’m also a multimedia designer and have been for 14 years; which has been very helpful in boardgame design.
What was your gateway game?
Hmm, that’s tough. My brother is 7 years older than me and a gamer as well, so I was just born into it. The earliest games I can remember playing is RPG’s and Talisman. So I guess I come from american-style games, but I feel the gamer was awakened in me when I was introduced to euro-style games. Acquire was probably m first nudge into a much bigger gaming world. The benefit of that is, I love all kinds of games.
Can you tell me about your co-designer?
Erin McDonald, the other designer of Asking for Trobils and co-founder of Kraken Games has been my girlfriend for almost 8 years now. She and I design and play games together on a nearly daily basis. I’m incredibly lucky. Our living room has toys and boardgames along the walls. It’s like we live in a comic book store.
What inspired you to start designing?
I came upon a lake, and the lady of the lake rose from the water and handed me some index cards and a sharpie. Actually, I’ve always been that guy with too many projects. I get an idea at least once a day. One day, I got an idea for a boardgame where the players are villains trying to take over the world called Evil Intent. Finally I said, no more projects until I finish one. That was the one.
What’s behind the company name Kraken?
I turned down Erin’s more ridiculous ideas lol. We knew we wanted something powerful, something mythical. Then I thought it would be fun to say something like, “Kraken releases this and that game!”. It is. It is fun to say that.
Tell me about the history of Trobils.
One day I saw an ad on tv where they used orange text on white and I thought it looked really nice. So I shouted to Erin in the other room that I wanted to make a game that was nothing but orange. She shouted back that she wanted to make a worker placement game. Then she asked what theme. I said space. She was like, cool. Then she said we should make it like tribbles in Star Trek. Did I mention I was a lucky man?
It all came together pretty quickly after that. We kept talking and drew up the board, cards, etc. on index cards and sketch paper. We had a working prototype in about 3 hours of me seeing some nice orange text on white.
We played with the game for a couple of months after that, making changes and adjustments along the way. I argued for bumping, she argued for more than one type of resource. We’re both very happy with the result.
The unique mechanic in the game of being able to customize the space that you land on for yourself happened organically. With space you think about upgrading your spaceship. It just made sense.
As you might know, the first Kickstarter we ran had a game that was completely orange and white. That didn’t start out as well as we had hoped, so we canceled and went back to the drawing board. I added the blue and other bits of color and the entire game came to life. I was much happier with my artwork on the second run. Obviously, our second run on Kickstarter was great.
It was almost green and purple though. We had the first group of backers vote on which colors they preferred. I’m glad. I like the blue, but I think Erin secretly still wishes we did the purple and green.
A lot of it happens that way for us. We throw ideas and challenges at each other. She’s a heavier eruo gamer than I am, so while I’m trying to put blasters on everything, she’s taking dice out of the game box.
What surprised you the most about the KS campaign?
The way the customer mind works was actually the strangest part. We’d get messages like, “I’d back this, but I’m waiting to see if others back it”. It just didn’t make any sense to us.
I will say that the best part of the Kickstarter were those backers that became a part of the process. We had backers translating the rules to their native language, making their own versions of ships, and yelling from the rooftops about the campaign. It was a lot of fun.
I slept about 4 hours a day during the month-long campaign. I’d spend hours every day just talking to backers. It was great. I honestly miss it. I still see some of them on boardgamegeek.com though. I’ll be eternally grateful for their enthusiasm.
What does the future hold for Trobils?
Thanks to Tom Vasel for setting up a connection, we’re in talks with reprinting Trobils with another publisher. With the Kickstarter, we were only able to make 1000 copies. We are out of stock in the US (although can ship out of Canada, while supplies last, for $25) and less that 45 worldwide (as of Jan 1, 2016). With all of the great reviews and being named Tom’s #1 Family game of 2015 and earning the Dice Tower Seal of Excellence, we’re ready to make more.
We’ve also designed an expansion called TrobilMakers. It’ll have a curved board that fits on the outside of the current circle board. It introduces two new paths to take when starting the game. Right now, when you start, you can basically choose the “grab Trobils quickly” strategy, the “get all of my extra ships” strategy, or the “build many connections” strategy. We’re introducing 2 more strategies to start off.
You can read more about it on the boardgamegeek page here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgameexpansion/164914/asking-trobils-trobil-makers
What does the future hold for Kraken?
Kraken Games has announced just yesterday that we’re no longer going to be a publisher, but a design house. With publishing, we’d only be able to make just 1 or possibly 2 games a year. There’s just too much work. Plus, Kickstarter is changing. There’s just not enough room for the little guy as much as there was when we started.
Now, with design being you only focus, I feel we can really knock out some solid games. We already have two games that have been picked up by another publisher, AdMagic. One of those is Flippin Monsters. The other hasn’t been announced yet. Mostly because we can’t decide on a name lol.
We’re working on two designs right now with a journal-full waiting. We’re not going anywhere.
Theme should be more than just inserting zombies, Cthulhu or scenery from the southern pacific into your otherwise well-developed board game. Designer Christian Strain at the League of Gamemakers brings some thoughts to the subject in “Stepping Up Your Game’s Theme.”
We have the opportunity as designers to make whatever we want, but in the end, we have to make sure others want it too. We are world builders. Build a world that is unique and interesting enough to make others want to explore it.
Picture Found at League of Gamemaker’s Website
Christian started his quest after realizing his pirate game in development might have a theme too well-trod to make it stand out in the ever-expanding board game world. With plenty of other pirate games already on the market, he wondered what else was out there. A suprise early morning call to legendary designer Bruno Cathala provided plenty of insight into the development of Abyss.
Bruno: During one year, we discussed about a lot of potential times, but without finding something exciting enough…
Until we had THE idea… Instead of allowing players to develop their civilisation in a concrete world, based on Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, etc, what if we created a complete new world. A kind of forgotten world, based only on our imagination. Something like if Atlantis have survived in the deepness of Oceans, with a completely unknown civilisation… Yes, this was exciting, and not too much exploited in games.
Christian then goes on to analyse theme in his own efforts at game development.
We created a new world when we made Asking for Trobils. I have to say, that designing the world was the most fun part for me as a designer. I can’t wait to dive into the next world.
Christian’s conclusion…don’t get too invested in an intial cookie-cutter style theme and instead try to find something no one has ever tried before. For anyone hoping to add something new to their game to grab the eye of gaming consumers, the post is a must read.