Interview with designer, Jason Glover, on his new Desolate expansion, Desolate Insurgence which turns the solo game, to a co-op multiplayer.
Jason, thanks for coming back to talk more Desolate with us. This time we are talking about the final expansion, Insurgence. What is added with this expansion?
Jason: There are a few things that Desolate Insurgence adds that folks have been asking for. The main addition is the ability to now play Desolate with multiple players. Insurgence allows up to four plays to enjoy the game in a coop mode. The second item is the inclusion of a new resource, scrap tokens, which players can collect and then use to build power cells. Lastly, everything comes in the new small stout box from The Game Crafter, which is twice as large as the box for the base game and is much sturdier. There is room for the base game and all three expansions and you can even sleeve everything.
Just how will the multiplayer work?
Jason: The key to the multiplayer experience is the all-new position tracker and the tactics deck. Each player has a glorious jumbo transparent meeple that they place on the position tracker. Your position on the tracker may give you a bonus during combat like the ability to re-roll results of one. Sometimes there is a negative effect. However, the more important aspect to your position comes into play when you draw from the tactics deck. When your group is forced to resolve a conflict, you draw conflict cards equal to the number of players (everyone will have to fight their own alien) and arrange them by strength. Next, you draw a single tactics card. The tactics card will indicate which player is attacked by which alien based on strength. Certain positions on the position tracker are safer than others, and you can move your position between turns, so you will have to work as a group to decide who should move or not move positions. Ultimately if any one player dies, you all will lose, so it is a good idea to work collaboratively.
Often you may hear about a finished or near finished multiplayer game, adding a solo variant. However, you took a solo game made it a multiplayer game. What challenges did you face and why make Desolate multiplayer?
Jason: This is true. But in many ways, a lot of the best multiplayer coops are really just blown up solo games. The biggest challenge for Desolate was finding a way to keep it balanced as the player count scaled up or down. The position tracker was the key factor as it both allowed for a way for each player to have to fight a battle during conflicts and at the same time introduced another layer of decisions that could be discussed as a group. Essentially each player is tracking their own stats and fighting their own aliens while sharing the same exploration deck. It actually works pretty smoothly. More players does add a bit more game length to the game as each player has to fight their own foes, but in the end, we are talking about maybe five minutes per extra player. Also, I want to add that the position tracker is two-sided. One side is standard difficulty mode and the other is nightmare mode! muhahahahaha!
In regards to going multiplayer, I actually heard from a few fans of the game that they were playing it with their son or daughter and just using one character and having a great time with it. I thought that was really cool, but I also felt this experience could be built upon greatly by giving each player the ability to be connected to their own character in the narrative. Desolate is a solo game at heart, but the idea of getting a few people around the table to share in the game pulled at me a bit. That is the magic of tabletop gaming to begin with. To bring folks together face to face and to enjoy some time together and away from screens and daily life. That was my true intent for expanding into multiplayer.
It sounds like the position tracker was inspired by worker placement games. Is this the case?
Jason: I needed a way for each player to have to deal with a separate alien or else the balance of the game would be off. I could have simply had conflict cards dealt out blindly to each player, but that would have been too random. As always I wanted to add another layer of choice. I went back to my roots and that brought me to the mid-eighties playing red box D&D with my friends listening to Iron Maiden cassettes. We always had rules about a character’s position when in a single file line. I thought about that for a moment and realized a small board could be used to illustrate this and that players could physically place a pawn or token in the position they all agreed was best for the group. This would both work in a mechanical sense, but it would also work on a visceral level. Players would now be placing themselves into the game both physically and mentally. I thought that was a nice touch. Fast-forward to the present day and you have so many games out there with rules in regards to positioning. I was actually drawn to the ideas of those used in the video game Darkest Dungeon where your position is critical. If a character is hurting you want to move them to a safer position where they are protected, and if a character has a powerful attack and is healthy, you move them to the front. So that pretty much covers the reasoning behind the position board
Players will, of course, need the base game to play this expansion, but will they need the two mini-expansions as well?
Jason: Yes, players will need both the base game and the two expansion packs. The base game will also be part of the crowd sale, so I am hoping to see the price of that drop to under $12, which would be the lowest price ever. The boosters will be dropped to $4.99 each for just the week of the crowd sale as well so the buy-in is relatively low. You might be able to play Insurgence without the boosters, but they both add a lot to the experience.
Let’s talk scrap. What does it do in the game, how do you get it, and what does it add to the gameplay?
Jason: Scrap token are shiny cubes that you find during play in either the warehouse via a random item card draw or in a crate if you draw the workshop for your crate loot. However, players may also take one instead of opening a large crate. UB47 Defender (a new robot character card in the game) may take a scrap token instead of either a small or large crate. What do these scrap tokens do? Well, if you collect 5 as a group and find the new workshop location, you may spend them to build your own power cell. This is a fun and unique way to gain a power cell. Scrap is also the only way UB47 can heal itself. Medpacs are useless to a robot. Each scrap token repairs two health for UB47.
Besides multiplayer and scrap, what other things that you added to the game?
Jason: Well as mentioned above there is a new character card UB47 Defender. He/she is a robot companion that plays quite differently than all the other characters in the game. Above we saw how UB47 must try to obtain scrap tokens in order to heal, but there are a couple of other unique things going on. UB47 can also not use any item cards. On the flip side, UB47 does not consume oxygen, is immune to affliction cards, and gets to subtract one from initial attack damage. It is a different experience to play as UB47 for sure. Insurgence also comes with some new items like the Rabbits Foot and a few more, the workshop exploration card, and four new jumbo stat trackers for each player to use.
You have decided to crowdfund this one on The Game Crafter. Why did you decide to crowdfund instead of just publishing it straight to TGC like you did the base game?
Jason: I would have used a crowd sale for the launch of the base game last year, but there were a couple of hurdles at that time. I have been a huge proponent of the crowd sale format and I worked with JT Smith to remove some of the restrictions that made using the format an issue for me. Moving forward, my hope is to use a crowd sale to launch all titles. Sure Kickstarter has a much larger reach, but I simply love the no stretch goal format of the crowd sale. I think customers would rather watch the price of the game drop as more units are sold, rather than see new, and often useless, stretch goals added. Desolate and the expansions are play-tested and complete. Adding meaningless stretch goals is a thorn in almost every publisher’s side. I learned a lot from my experiences running twelve Kickstarters, but I am pretty certain those days are behind me. I am sure I could sell many more units via a Kickstarter, but I am an indie designer/publisher at heart and I think crowd sales are much more in tune with my needs.
While, you certainly always have at least moderate success with your games, as you have built up your own fan base, Desolate seems to really be striking a chord with people and has been successful for you on a Four Tribes/Dig Down Dwarf level for you. Why you think this one has struck a chord with people is it solo, the theme, mechanics, all of the above?
Jason: I honestly think the draw starts with the black and white illustrations that I did for the game. When I first completed the cover design, I knew I had an image that would grab peoples attention. I have heard many people back up this theory by stating that they were first drawn in by the cover and the illustrations in the game itself. However, attractive art can only sustain a game for a spell. I think the gameplay of was solid enough to back up the art design and that got word-of-mouth sales started. People honestly liked the simple, quick, and compact nature of the game. The stark black and white art allows players to almost tell their own story while playing the game. It feels haunting and tense at the same time and that was exactly my intent at the beginning.
As we wrap this up, what other games should we be looking for in 2019 from you and Grey Gnome Games?
Jason: I have three projects in the works right now and all three will be released in the same Library Series box that Four Tribes and the Insurgence expansion are. I want to grow the Library Series for Grey Gnome and make it my format moving forward. Here is a brief description of each of these titles which should all be out this year.
Dig Down Dwarf will be coming out just as soon as I get the completed art files from the amazing Darrin Pepe. This new Library Series edition will be a big overhaul for the design. The basic gameplay will be there from the original, but more dice mitigation, decisions, and paths to victory will be presented.
Iron Helm will be a solo play dungeon crawler that uses the Desolate engine. The fun fact here is that Iron Helm actually predates Desolate by almost a year. Iron Helm will have players taking an aging hero into a nasty dungeon for one last romp in an attempt to gain enough treasure to finally retire. The art direction is rooted in early Dungeons and Dragons nostalgia and the gameplay is much more advanced and layered than that of Desolate and I think solo gamers will be satisfied.
Lastly, I am working on a collaborative design with Calvin Nelson on a re-design and re-theming of his card game Character Quest Heroes. Now players will be in control of a stone age clan that is trying to expand their land stakes while battling dinosaurs and even taming them. I love CQH and I am excited to do all the illustrations for this one.
Thank you again, Jason, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us about Desolate Insurgence.
If you like to talk to Jason, you can find him on Twitter @GreyGnomeGames. If you like to pick up a copy of Desolate Insurgence while it on Crowd Sale at The Game Crafter, you can be taken to its Crowd Sale page, by clicking here.