Interview Oct 7, 2013

Today’s guest is Brian Powers. Brian’s game Cult Classic is currently on Kickstarter for just a short time longer. Let’s hear what he has to say:

GDC: Give us an overview of your game and how it’s played.

Brian: Cult Classic is a humorous card game in which each player takes on the role of an aspiring cult leader just getting started. Players compete to grow their cults from scratch and to lure followers. The game can be played by 2-6 players and can take between 30 and 60 minutes.

The game is designed around 6 cult-types, and there is a leader card for each of these types: Corporate, Psycho-Therapeutic, UFO, Eastern Mystical, Nature and Satirical. Each player is given a leader card at the beginning of the game and a hand of cards from the play deck which consists of Belief cards (which mix and match these 6 cult types), Asset cards (material possessions that either give points towards a win or help you in other ways) Action cards (which are played during the game for various effects such as stealing other players’ followers, or making your beliefs more powerful) and finally Cultivation cards, which are played to help attract followers. The game also has a deck of Follower cards which are set aside. The game play is split between player turns when players draw and play cards from their hands building their cults in the table area in front of them, and cultivation rounds where players engage in a bid/bluff competition to win followers, which are the main source of points towards a win.

GDC: What innovative mechanic or creative idea distinguishes your game from others?

Brian: During cultivation rounds, any card played is played face-down, either on their own cult to act as a boost to attract the follower, or on opponents’ cults as an attack. However, players are allowed to bluff by playing ineffective cards, so it isn’t until all players have played their cards and all cards are revealed that the players know what really happened during the round. You could call this an imperfect information bidding.

GDC: Tell us about the spark or inspiration for this game.

Brian: Originally the idea was a game each player is a new member of a cult. Players would level-up, gaining special abilities and superpowers at each level. After toying around with the idea somewhat I found that it worked better to have the players be cult leaders (and now there’s no supernatural stuff going on – just greedy, power-hungry and/or deluded individuals trying to take advantage of the innocent followers coming under their sway). The actual beliefs cards of the game, however, are all inspired by kooky and weird cults, groups and individuals from actual history (or present). Probably over 20 different weird ideologies, groups, and cults were inspiration for various parts of the game.

GDC: Let’s talk about the design process. Tell us a bit about the iterations the game has gone through and the refinements you’ve made along the way.

Brian: Early on in the game, each follower gave your cult various resources: Population, Wealth and Spirit. So when playing a new asset card, for example, you had to make sure you had enough spirit or wealth. And these resources led to bonus points. All in all, it was just too much information to keep track of so throwing that idea away helped speed up the game play.
Early versions of the game cards were monochromatic. A big change I made was to make color an informative aspect of the card design – both the card types and the cult-belief symbols have a color scheme to help players quickly get a sense of their hand and play area at a glance. Also the layout of the cards places important information on the left side, so cards can be stacked on the table, or fanned out in hand and still convey the important information you need.

GDC: What has been your biggest challenge in designing this game?

Brian: One of the big challenges is balancing the game, as this is a card game where each card is pretty much unique, so it’s difficult to know whether a “Comet” asset which gives +3 to attract UFO followers is comparable to an “Amazing Website” giving some other bonus. The balancing of the cards simply required a lot of trial and error. Beyond that, because I illustrated the game myself, striking the right level of levity and quality in the illustrations took some time.

GDC: Let’s shift gears and talk about you. How did you get into game design?

Brian: I was about 8 when in the late 80s my father brought home a computer. I learned to program simple computer games then, and programming computer games became a hobby and passion I would carry with me throughout high school and college. It was in college that my interests moved from computer games to tabletop, as I began to appreciate how tabletop games fostered social interaction in a way that computer games simply cannot. So after college while I was busy with a somewhat boring banking job I spent my free time on the Board Game Designers Forum trying my hand at their monthly challenges. And it was also at that time that I discovered that there were all sorts of new resources for self-publishers of games (thegamecrafter.com and superiorpod.com for example), which encouraged me further.

GDC: What is your greatest moment as a game designer?

Brian: The greatest moment is when you present a game you’ve spent a lot of time and energy on to a group of players and watch them having fun. Bringing joy to others is what makes game design so worthwhile.

GDC: Tell us a little bit about your life outside of game design and gaming: family? work? other interests?

Brian: I’m currently pursuing a PhD in Mathematics (Game Theory) in Chicago. I’ve been married for three years and just this month I’m proud to say I’m a daddy! My wife and I just had a baby girl. I love cooking, I’ve been vegan for 13 years. I do enjoy computer programming too, web design and graphic arts. Making stained glass windows and puppets are some crafty hobbies I’ve picked up, and I also enjoy performing with my puppets.

GDC: Do you have any works-in-progress or game ideas you would like to share?

Brian: Oh – so many works in progress. The games I have that are done or near complete: Pathways, an abstract tile-placing game of twisting knots and paths. Dilemma is an abstract strategy game for mid-sized groups which puts a twist on classic two-player mathematical games like the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Squirrels in the Attic – a card game where you try to withstand an onslaught of squirrels invading your attic while simultaneously trying to drive your opponents from their houses. Versus – a strategic battle card game of turf warfare with ridiculous and funny characters and artwork. Spazzyland – a board game version of a day at the amusement park; try to have as much fun as possible with $50 in your pocket, and try not to throw up too much!
Many more are drafts or in earlier stages.

GDC: What games have you been playing lately? What have you liked, what have you disliked, and why?

Brian: Recently I’ve actually been playing a lot of cards – Spades and Rummy. I recently tried Lost Cities which I enjoyed, as well as Jaipur. Lost Cities presents players with a great dilemma – clear cards from your hands at the risk of giving your opponent exactly what he wants. Rummy has a similar aspect to it. But with the baby, I haven’t been playing a lot of games recently!

GDC: Share your favorite game you haven’t designed and why?

Brian: Probably my favorite is Blue Moon City, because of the exquisite artwork and aesthetic of the game, the mixture of cooperation and competition, and the intricate strategy despite fairly simple rules.

GDC: A word of advice to your fellow game designers?

Brian: Be honest, helpful and encouraging to one another!

GDC: Anyone you’d like to give a shout out to? (playtesters, design mentors, your friendly local game store, etc.)

Brian: Sure – The Dice Dojo, and the Chicago Game Lovers Meetup group, Steve Jackson (for the encouragement to keep working on Cult Classic), and to all the backers of my Kickstarter project to get the first edition of Cult Classic printed.

GDC: Tell us how (and where) we can find you (social networks, BGG username, website, cons you plan to attend).

I’m mrchak on BGG, I’ve just started work on addlebraingames.com, and at the moment I don’t have plans to attend any cons.

GDC: Thanks Brian! Be sure to have a look at Cult Classic on Kickstarter!

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