Interview Sep 20, 2013

Steven Cole of Escape Velocity Games currently has his first release Conquest of Orion on Kickstarter – a beautiful sci-fi card game where you conquer the galaxy! I caught up with Steve and asked him a few questions.

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

Steve: Conquest of Orion is a conquer the galaxy card game for 2 teams of 2. Players use planet, colony, industry, and ship cards to build their empire and score victory points. The game uses a trick-taking mechanic to determine the winner of 10 conflicts and wars over 3 rounds of play. Additionally, players will select leaders that will guide their strategy for each round, granting them opportunities for bonus points or a special ability to help them lead their alliance to victory.

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

Steve: Most trick-taking games start with having one player lead with a chosen suit and then having the other players follow suit. In Conquest of Orion, that idea is inverted and players must play a different suit than what has been played so far. This makes the game play very differently than other games in the genre, but it also fits thematically since a given hand often ends up being a planet, colony, and industry – the 3 components needed to build and score a system.

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

Steve: The inspiration for the game came from my love of space games combined with a desire to make a simple card game that would be easy to manufacture and distribute as a first attempt. Put another way, I gave myself certain constraints (only cards, short rules, quick to learn, etc…) and kept working at it until I had a neat little conquer the galaxy card 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.

Steve: Conquest of Orion has been through many iterations along the way. Scoring, the number and makeup of the cards, the concept of a war versus a conflict, and the addition of leaders are all things that have changed radically throughout the game design process. After each refinement (or overhaul), I would put it in front of testers again and see what they did with it. That’s a bit of a game in and of itself.

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

Steve: My biggest challenge so far was getting the scoring system right. The original scoring system was very nuanced and made every single card play matter, but it resulted in half of the overall game length to be spent scoring, rather than making those interesting decisions. The scoring system as it is now is now simpler, but it still makes every card play matter and I’m quite happy with the way it turned out.

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

Steve: I’ve always enjoyed game design, but I probably got my first taste of it in 7th grade as I played BattleTech with friends and began designing custom equipment and weapons for my mechs to use in battle. Since then, I’ve always had a hand in game design projects (I carry my game design notebook everywhere with me) and I spent some time working for Breakaway Games, a PC game developer. Now, I’ve decided to bring Conquest of Orion to the market via Kickstarter.

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

Steve: Wow, that’s a tough choice… One of the most encouraging moments so far was the first time a playtester asked to take the prototype home with him to play with some friends, but my greatest moment so far was probably watching Conquest of Orion get to 100% funding on Kickstarter. This was surpassed shortly after when I hit 100 backers and realized that I didn’t even know the majority of them and that soon, my game would be in their hands.

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

Steve: Sure, I’ve been blessed with an awesome wife of 10 years, 3 boys (4, 5.5, 7) that are just starting to enjoy boardgames, and live near Baltimore, MD. I’ve spent the majority of my career working in the software industry, first as a developer, then managing developers, and recently I’ve moved to the product management side. I really enjoy building and creating things, so it fits me well. Outside of that, it will come as no surprise that I love to read sci-fi (Alastair Reynolds, Lois McMaster Bujold) and fantasy (Brandon Sanderson, Jim Butcher) whenever time allows.

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

Steve: I have a game design notebook full of ideas (who doesn’t?), with many games at different stages of development. At this time though, I’ve put them on hold to make sure Conquest of Orion is the best product it can be. This won’t be the last game you see from me though.

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

Steve: I am fortunate to have a regular game group and live in Maryland (lots of local conventions like WBC or Euroquest), so I get to play a variety of games without having to buy them all. I really enjoy games that allow you to plan complex strategies, but still have an element of luck. Favorites from the past few months include Sid Meier’s Civilization, Spartacus, Alien Frontiers, 1775, and, of course, Eclipse. A few that I have not enjoyed so much include Little Dead Riding Hood, Mongolian Goat Rodeo (yes, you read that correctly), and High Frontier (a surprise, I expected to really enjoy this one).

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

Steve: That’s a tough question! I’m going to chicken out and say that my favorite games are Axis & Allies (recent versions), Eclipse, Twilight Imperium, Princes of the Renaissance, and El Grande. If you ever ask to play one of those I will always say yes, and if you ask me to pick one, I will insist that we can just play several games at the same time. I find each of these games to be rewarding in their own way. I do tend to favor longer games that feature epic conquest, but I can enjoy shorter games as long as there is sufficient strategic depth to them.

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

Steve: My one word of advice would be ‘iterate.’ Don’t let your game be your baby. At the end of playtest session, ask what the testers like the most and the least. If everyone agrees on what they liked the least, remove it from the game completely and replace it with something else. So, iterate with large changes at first, then refine as you go.

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

Steve: Definitely! Thanks to everyone who playtested my game (too many to name here!), WBC and Euroquest open gaming people, Unpub, Kickstarter, and, of course, Spielnacht von Mittwoch (Wednesday night game group guys).

GDC: Tell us how (and where) we can find you (social networks, BGG username, website, cons you plan to attend).
* Conquest of Orion Kickstarter
* Board Game Geek – Steven Cole
* Facebook – Escape Velocity Games
* Twitter – @steveongames
And, you can almost always find me wandering around the open gaming at WBC, Euroquest, or Game Days.

Thanks again!

GDC: Thank you Steve! As of the time this is posted there are less than 3 days left on the Conquest of Orion Kickstarter so go back it now! A $19 pledge will get you a copy of the game with free US shipping.


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