Before we get to the interview I want to mention how excited I am to have our first indie boardgame featured at Behind the Indies. There’s many reasons for this excitement. One of the reasons is because I really feel like I found this gem floating around in twitter land which is not always an easy task. When I started following @Wordoboros they had 9 followers. As of this this interview they still only have 20. I expect that’s going to change very quickly!
Why you ask?
Well, for me, the artwork brings up memories of my parent reading “Through the Looking Glass” to me as a child and being so captivated by Ralph Steadman’s illustrations that I’ve read that same book to, pretty much, every child I’ve ever known including my own. I was captivated by Emily’s sense of color and composition while still achieving a level of whimsy and mysticism.
Board games and word games hold a special place in my heart as well. I grew up with weekend long Monopoly marathons with my cousins and late night family Boggle and Scrabble tournaments. Combine that with my all night D&D questing and I think you get close to what Wordoboros is.
Before I go too far into nostalgia land lets hear from Dan!
Wordoboros is described as a lateral-thinking Word & Sorcery game. What were the origins of its design?
Wordoboros began its life as a game called WordOrbit. I was trying to make a game for some friends at Lay Waste Games and I just fell deep into the rabbit hole of game design. At that point I wasn’t willing to part with it.
Wordoboros has always intended to feature the “throwback” mechanic of board traversal because the board is the titular Ouroboros. The scales are the spaces on which your avatars advance and its head is pretty analogous to the “GO” space in Monopoly in terms of resource accrual.
The comparisons really end there. Wordoboros’ gameplay is collecting letters – separated into Vowels and Consonants (and denoted by a V- and C-shaped teeth and claws) – and using them to form words that fulfill Quests. Quests may be as broad as “Conjure a noun” or they may be specific as “Conjure a bladed weapon.” Each has a point value – our points are called Karma – based on how narrow a letter set it may require.
Originally players couldn’t combo one word into multiple Quests, but after some festivals (Wordoboros was a Showcase Finalist at CTFIG and a featured game at RetroWorld Expo) it became clear that playing Quests in combination was a vital mechanic to the game.
Classes were added, themselves literary puns on established fantasy archetypes like Paladindrome and Lexiconjurer. “Chance”-like Fate Cards evolved into a personalized Spellbook and to give players even more options, personalized Hero Powers emerged for each class.
Good god that was a long answer. I should’ve just stuck with “it was bitten by a radioactive spider.”
Would you consider yourself an all around grammar fanatic?
Grammar? I mean, I know my way around an Oxford comma, but anagrams have always been more my jam(agrams). I’m obsessed with patterns and symmetry and structure. I’m really obnoxious to watch movies with.
The basis of Sorcery being spells, the combination with words seems natural. How have you brought that to life in the board game?
I haven’t! In earlier iterations of the game it definitely existed. Spell “Fireball” to strip an opponent of their letters. “Rend,” “Curse,” “Poison.” There was something visceral about literalizing these words into incantations. “Spelling spells,” if you will.
The mechanic was stripped because it ran completely counter to the theme of the game – building words in an open-ended manner to match as many Quests as you could. With the “spell-ing” spellbook mechanic, people were building to the same word repeatedly, and the game felt all the more stale for it.
The spells were consequently redesigned as a personalized book from which you’d draw when you landed on Spellstone scales. Also there’s an oft-used mechanic each character has in the form of their own Hero Power which you can use when you’re able to conjure a word but elect not to. That power feels pretty magical in its own right.
The artwork is mesmerizing. You describe one of the techniques used on your Twitter, “For some art, Emily soaked markers in alcohol, applied pigment with an eye dropper, then agitated the surface with a heat gun…” What inspired the inky drippy watercolor aesthetic of the game?
I’ve gone to cons for years and the art’s predominantly harsh, angular figures in bright reds. It’s mostly gorgeous, but it’s got a decidedly masculine allure that gets tiresome.
I wanted a game with a painterly aesthetic, but not orderly. Inkblots. Bleed. Geometric patterns. Explosions of color. Something like Ralph Steadman by way of whoever paints those airport romance covers.
Tell us about your team. Is Emily responsible for all of the amazing watercolors?
Emily Alexander! She paints all the character art and she’s responsible for the board. She’s immeasurably talented. I bought some prints of hers a while back on Redbubble and they proudly hang above all others in my collection. When I was feeling out talent for the project, she was the first painter who came to mind and she’s been perfect.
It basically takes a telepath to know what I mean when I say anything at all, let alone “Can you paint one of those, y’know, Chinese-looking wyrm dragons, like, uh, Falkor from Neverending Story or Haku from Spirited Away, and uh, it’s eating itself. Forever.” She’s got the patience of a saint.
Your first game piece the Lexiconjurer was recently produced. What is the process like from sketch to figurine production? How long did it take?
It took ten hours. I got lucky. Jon Ritter is handling the game’s pieces and he’s just a tremendously talented fella. Our conversations are basically “How few compromises can we make in terms of articulation?” and his reply is usually “Not many.” The biggest hurdle that arose was slightly altering a pose from the character portraiture so everything could be cast on a single plane.
The character avatars, the play tokens you move across the Ouroboros, they’re classical Greek busts on small pedestals. It allows for a greater detail since there’s only a small feature set actually being showcased – the upper torso, head, one arm, and a character’s weapon. And it gives the game a kind of antiquity and classicism that contrasts nicely with all the fist fights it’s sure to inspire.
What has been the most challenging part about transitioning the game from an idea to a tangible playable creation?
Time. I first envisioned the game four years ago, and that concept itself evolved from a game I wanted to make 10 years before that (a hybrid Poker / word creation game I was calling “Texas Word ‘Em”).
It’s so strange to tweak something for years and suddenly have 5 people on deadline for a month from now. Things ramping up into an actual product over which I have very little control is just a constant panic attack. It’s gratifying, sure, but it’s also surreal.
What, if any, compromises have you had to make along the way?
Initially the game featured glass mosaic tiles with which you’d conjure words. These were changed into a Tarot-style card setup because it turns out a print run of the game with glass mosaic tiles is roughly the same cost as a high-rise in mid-town Manhattan made entirely out of platinum, moon rocks, and thoroughbred racehorse semen.
What kind of feedback have you received from game testers? How are you addressing it?
I synopsized the game’s evolution in an earlier question so I’ll spare you the repetition, but feedback informs every change that’s been made. Typically people don’t suggest things to make a game less fun, and it’s a challenge to not be defensive about criticism, but I kind of harness playtesting like a focus group. I want to give people what they want to play.
Can you tell us about the different characters in the game?
Sure. The game’s lore is that these lost souls are stuck in purgatory, roaming the Ouroboros (a beast swallowing its own tail) for eternity. Only one can be reborn to escape and only by completing these sacred charges – in-game Quests – can that happen.
The characters are the Lexiconjurer, a channeler of dark spirits; the Paladindrome, a thaumaturge knight from a holy order; the Syllabull, essentially an unshackled and enraged Minotaur; and the Grammarai, a Japanese-influenced swordswoman.
I really hope the game is a hit because I have so many other obnoxious literary / fantasy portmanteaus that I’d love to unleash on the world.
So one of your characters is “heavily influenced by Falkor from The Neverending Story and Haku from Spirited Away.” Are there any other nods to beloved characters?
Yeah, so the Haku / Falkor homage is the Ouroboros and board – the most important character, really.
The other characters took their influence from class-based role playing games and literature. I’ve always loved Tolkien and all the high-fantasy he’s begotten. (Holy shit, saying “begotten” just gave me serious church flashbacks).
The Lexiconjurer has one spell in her arsenal that Game of Thrones viewers may enjoy. The spell’s something of a self-sacrifice. It’s called “Hold the Port.”
If you could command a magical power, what would it be?
I’d control birds. I don’t know what you’d call that. Aviamancy? Ornithomancy?
I’d have huge flocks of birds swarm down on my enemies and blot out the sun. They’d eat vast fields of crops. They’d peck really unpleasantly. They’d cover your patio in goose filth. I’d have cassowaries and ostriches kick you if you got in my way. I’d frighten my foes at night by having ravens and parrots utter creepy lines like Edgar Allen Poe but without the cousin marrying or having to live in Baltimore.
Basically I’d be the Pigeon Lady from Home Alone 2.
What game made you say, “Wow, that’s what I want to do!”?
Dragoon. Dear friends of mine made that game and it demonstrated that getting something published wasn’t an insurmountable task.
Also every member of Lay Waste Games influenced or advised the direction of Wordoboros, except Jake. Jake can just go ahead and die in a house fire.
(I’m kidding. I would never wish that a house would have to spend its final moments trapped with Jake)
Have you had any schooling that has prepared you for what you are doing now?
I don’t think that anything sculpted my imagination as much as an adolescence spent in Catholic school. Especially because I’d written off organized religion at a pretty young age, so I came into all these Old Testament stories without any real reverence for the material. I was fascinated by this pageantry and mythology and stories like Elisha and the children of Bethel, where God’s servant has two she-bears maul all the village’s children because they call him “Baldy.” And now I’m bald, so it’s probably punishment.
What advice do you have for other Indie Developers creating their own board games?
Nothing’s sacred. Be open to criticism. Try different builds. Alter fundamental mechanics. Surround yourself with positive people. Make what you love.
Your Kickstarter launches in April. What is your established goal?
We’re still trying to figure that out. It looks like it’s going to be under $10,000, but we’re talking with fulfillment companies and working out details with the manufacturer to make sure the game’s as great as it can be while still being affordable.
What is your distribution plan once that goal is reached?
Our plans once funded are to use a well-known fulfillment company to get the games into the hands of backers. From there, we’ll be talking with distributors to get the game into as many stores as possible. Until those deals are cemented, Kickstarter will be the only way to obtain a copy.
Will someone be able to purchase a copy of Wordoboros for me by my birthday in November? (Hint hint Brian Schneider)
Yes! Orders should be fulfilled by your birthday. We’re looking to get orders out by September / October.
You told us you have some awesome revelation to be made on March 9th. Can you tell us about that now?
Wordoboros has been selected by the Indie Megabooth for PAX East 2018, which is an enormous honor. It’ll be featured prominently on the show floor and in promotional materials.
Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything you would like to add that I may have missed?
I’ve been a lifelong tabletop gamer and language obsessive so it’s a dream to finally mash those two passions together, violently.
Our Kickstarter goes live April 2nd so check us out there, it’s appreciated.
Looking forward to seeing you all at PAX!