Interview Dec 7, 2013

I caught up with Chris Dixon and Jascha Frei of Gigaloth on my way to BGG.Con a few weeks ago to try out their game Tug O’ Lords, which is currently on Kickstarter. You can find my mini-review on the TiBG blog. Chris answered a few questions for me, enjoy!

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

Chris: Tug O’ Lords is actually remarkably simple. It’s a card game where the basic premise is to conquer your opponent’s castle. You do this by deploying creature cards at your castle, which then march blindly across the battlefield towards your opponent. Each creature has varying statistics and abilities that affect how they fight each other and move around. Since both teams are constantly playing creatures, there is a continuous war to control the middle of the battlefield.
Your job as the player is to cast spells and strategically employ creature abilities to try and gain momentum in the war. As the player, you can choose from a number of different Kingdoms and Magic decks to play which each have their own strategies, strengths, and weaknesses.

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

Chris: You shuffle a Kingdom deck and a Magic deck together to create your deck before the game. There are tons of different deck combinations, making the game unique every time you play.
This idea was sort of an evolution of the “shuffle-building” mechanic introduced in Smash Up!, and provides for tons of replayability of the game.

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

Chris: As funny as it sounds, the inspiration came from The King’s Armory, which is currently funding through Kickstarter. Jascha and I were scouting Kickstarter projects earlier this summer, and found The King’s Armory which is a tower defense board game. It led to us sitting at a dining room table for hours one night discussing genres of video games that could possibly cross over into the tabletop realm.
The MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre was one that we keyed in on, since League of Legends is basically one of the most popular games in the world. Within 24 hours of that discussion, we had prototyped and playtested the first version of the game on paper squares.

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.

Chris: Originally, the game only had two Kingdoms: Knights and Demons. The first version of the game defined the basics of moving across terrain cards towards the enemy castle, and creatures using attack, hit points, and movement.
Honestly, it was bland. We knew it needed something more, so we added a community spell deck where players could cast spells using their mana. Some of the spells in the game currently were part of this deck. However, the community spells were really, really unfair since the more powerful spells were pretty much luck of the draw on which player got to use them.
The next iteration was probably the biggest breakthrough, when we decided to make the spells appear in separate decks which shuffled into a Kingdom deck. This instantly struck a nerve with our playtesters, as they began to discuss strategies of certain decks after the games, and immediately wanted to play again trying, for example, Fire Knights instead of Ice Knights.
It made the game come alive.
From there, we developed more Kingdoms and spells, and worked on the balancing of mechanics such as the number of terrain spaces between castles, hand limit, deploy limit, and deck composition to ensure the game played smooth, fast, and strategic.
All in all, currently the game is in something like iteration 7.18.

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

Chris: Hands down, the biggest challenge has been balancing the abilities in each deck. Jascha and I actually gridded out a win-loss chart with every Kingdom and Magic deck combination. We would then play a few dozen games to get a good sample size, and see which decks were losing too often, winning too often, or didn’t match up directly very well.
We’d then make a few changes to some cards, and start the process over again, gridding out wins and losses with updated cards. We didn’t want to end up with situations where certain decks would always lose to others, or certain decks were simply more powerful by default, and that took many, many, many, many, many long nights of playtesting.
We are, in fact, still doing this.

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

Chris: I grew up with three older brothers, that’s pretty much how. Growing up, we always had to improvise our surroundings and come up with competitive games in everything we did. And house rules. Always house rules. Standard games were never good enough for us, so we always created our own rules to make them more interesting.
This eventually got more refined, as we drew up our own Monopoly boards, and created our own card and board games. I dabbled a bit in video game creation as well using the RPG Maker programs back in the day.
About two years ago, my brothers, some friends and I decided to give a serious go at publishing games so we could share some of our ideas with the world. We went through about four ideas before we arrived at our XBOX game Produce Wars, and then just went with it. Tug O’ Lords soon followed as our first published tabletop game.

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

Chris: Winning Microsoft’s Imagine Cup for Produce Wars last summer was pretty special. I was on the phone with my brother Mark every night during the event. What made it more special is that we found out about the competition literally days before registration closed, and ended up winning the whole thing.
It was the first validation from the outside world about our games. Damn, we can do this.
When I’m able to send people the first copies of Tug O’Lords, that will come pretty close to the same excitement. Notice I said “when”, not “if”.

GDC: Tell us a little about your life outside of game design and gaming: family? Work? Other interests?

Chris: I already mentioned my three older brothers. They all live pretty close still, so I get to see them fairly often. I don’t have a family of my own yet, which is likely why I’m able to spend so much on game design right now!
I work as a baseball instructor and coach for high school and younger kids. Baseball has always been my passion, and I absolutely love giving back and seeing kids succeed. I also graduated with a Master’s in Sports Journalism, so if I wasn’t investing so much time into making games right now, I’d probably be doing more of that.
Sports and games…that’s pretty much my life. I love eating cereal too.

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

Chris: We’re already prototyping a red versus blue political game, and a “family” game that is a spoof of a popular board game. Neither will be even remotely similar to Tug O’ Lords.
I do plan to continue to support and expand upon Tug O’ Lords as well.

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

Chris: Since Tug O’ Lords started, I haven’t had much extra time to play games. If I’m playing anything tabletop, it’s been Tug O’ Lords. Honest to God.
I did pick up Battlefield 4, which has been interesting because I have never played any of the previous games in the series. It’s a game that I would call “dangerously fun”, since I want to play it all the time. I tend to download and play a ton of indie video games as well, since I try to absorb and learn as much as I can from a variety of creative game designs.
I’m actually very excited to be getting my first wave of tabletop games from Kickstarter soon, including Ninja Dice and RARR!!

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

Chris: Battlestar Galactica. I watched the series, though I’m not really fanatic about it. That aside, I love that the game is more about the people playing than it is about what’s happening on the board. You spend most of your time trying to figure out who’s playing against you. I don’t care if the theme was unicorns and Candy Mountain, the game mechanic is awesome.
Also, Agricola. I’ve never lost at that game. Makes it easy to like.

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

Chris: Be sociable. Be honest. Be humble. Be inquisitive. Playing games is all about interaction between people. Designing is no different. There are a lot of great people in game design that are willing to help you.
Seek out help. Accept help. Ask a lot of questions. Keep learning. Your game, your project, and your company can always get better if you remain curious.

GDC: Anyone you’d like to give a shout out to?

Chris: I want to thank the ever-popular Jamey Stegmaier, Sean Brown of Mr B Games, and Michael Iabini of Clay Crucible Games for answering the flurry of questions I’ve thrown at them about the Tug O’ Lords Kickstarter project.
I also want to give a shout out to Gary at The Haunted Games Café in Fort Collins, Colorado for allowing us to demo Tug O’ Lords while enjoying ridiculously good hot chai.

GDC: How to find you?

Chris: If anyone would like to get a hold of me, just send a tweet to Gigaloth or post something on our Facebook or webpage. That will probably get the quickest response:
Gigaloth Website: www.gigaloth.com
Gigaloth Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Gigaloth
Gigaloth Twitter: https://twitter.com/gigaloth
My BGG username is “gigachris”, so you can look for me there too. Though admittedly I don’t fully know my way around the website yet.

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