Wizard’s Academy is 3DTotal’s first miniature heavy fantasy board game about magical apprentices trying to avert a pending disaster. It’s co-operative game with very pretty models. The game looks quite exciting, although is still in development. We caught up with up and coming games designer Greg Carslaw to find out more…
STARBURST: Why did you select a Wizard School for the basis of your game?
Greg Carslaw: I didn't, it picked me! There were two driving forces in creating the game: One was that I was excited by the idea of a mechanic that significantly changed the players’ capabilities each game, very often I find the first play of a game the most exciting play and as I get to know a game well I discover less new things about it each play through - so I wanted to extend that feeling beyond the first game.
The other was that I wanted to do something with barely contained magic. In a lot of games spells just work or have some simplistic "Roll 5+ to succeed" system. I wanted the sort of magic that lets you accidentally set fire to yourself and then later have learned from that mistake in order to creatively solve a problem with self-immolation.
From that start-point, it didn't take long to wind up at a Wizard's Academy with apprentices abusing magic that by rights they should leave well alone.
Is the public still in love with Fantasy?
In terms of board games a lot of people say that they're sick of fantasy themes and certainly I've encountered some resistance to using it - but I think what people are really sick of is a kind of bland fantasy (which linguistically is almost a contradiction in terms) that people use as a "default" setting without really thinking about it.
Using characters beyond ‘Generic wizard with beard and pointy hat #13’ has helped a lot with making the setting compelling. Instead we've got a fairy who wants to deal in black magical arms, someone who's turned themselves into a bear and enjoys menacing people enough not to want to turn back and a traveller from another dimension whose culture considers setting fire to something the appropriate way to say "Hi".
If I think about the fantasy that I've enjoyed the most recently, I find that it's stuff that's stayed away from the default fantasy setting and in some way done its own thing. Bill Willingham can't write Fables quickly enough for me!
Will we see more adventures in this world?
It's possible, there are interesting questions to ask here: What sort of warfare do you get in a world where a single individual can summon a demon that's beyond an army’s capacity to defeat? How do rulers stay in power if a single rebel with the right skills could tear a rift to the fire dimension and destroy their village? What cultures are the different characters of the academy from (only one is human) and how have they shaped the world?
However setting something in the same world is restrictive too - any lore or ideas you've established for one game have to be consistent with the next. With the first game, any time you find a fun gameplay improvement you can modify the setting to accommodate it, once you can't do that there's a danger of not making the best possible game and while a setting is nice - gameplay must always come first.
Ultimately, I'm probably more inclined to set other games in other worlds, unless I get a truly great idea for revisiting this one.
What are the challenges in designing a game like this?
That's tough to give a short answer to, my game design blog is just shy of a quarter of a million words on challenges in game design. I'd say the most interesting set of challenges has come from this being the first cooperative game I've worked on. In some ways it's harder, there's a need to worry about how to make the game play ‘fair’ so players win or lose based on their own mistakes rather than getting a bad card draw at the wrong moment. Also to consider issues like how to organise the game to defeat a strategy of having one player make all of the decisions which isn't fun for anyone else.
What is the most novel feature of the game?
The spell casting system. Pretty much everything you want to do is done through casting spells, you can kill enemies, create items, move rooms, duplicate glyphs, fix decks and a bunch of other things. However, at the start of each game you deal a set of spells at random onto the spell grid, so you've only got access to a subset of your powers and you don't know which ones at the start of the game.
Whenever you cast a spell you can flip it face up and it'll have an effect, which can vary depending on which character you are, where you're standing and what's in the room with you. As the game goes on you learn what more and more of your capabilities are and start becoming very powerful in terms of what you can deal with - but the act of experimentation will have resulted in a larger quantity of threats to face once you reach that point.
How have those who have played the demo responded so far?
Really well! These days I'm disappointed when I introduce the game to a new playtester and they decide that it's only ‘okay’ - the vast majority of times I get really good reactions. I'm also getting really good feedback from people who find the print and play on my website and go to the trouble of manufacturing their own copy so that they can try it out.
I'm seeing two things that I consider really good signs: (1) When a game ends, the players start trying to arrange a time to come and play again (2) The people who've playtested the game are looking forward to the Kickstarter launch so that they can back the game.
Will this appeal to non-gamers?
I wouldn't call this a ‘gateway game’, if I was introducing a non-gamer to the hobby for the first time I probably wouldn't use Wizard's Academy to do it. During its design this game was targeted at board gamers and the playtest groups that I used to refine the game generally consisted of people who'd played their fair share of board games - so it's reasonably to believe the game is optimised for that audience.
That being said, I know that one reviewer played it with his nine-year-old and apparently they had a good time. I also got stellar feedback from a playtester who'd listed their previous game experience as ‘Monopoly, Ticket to Ride and not much else’ so I wouldn't say that it can't be enjoyed by non-gamers - I just don't think that's its core appeal.
You can sign up for more information on the game here.