A 10 or Less Interview with Derik Duley about his game, Anicent Artifacts. A roll and write that is currently shipping to Kickstarter backers.
Thanks, Derik for joining us today for this interview. We are here talking about Ancient Artifacts, which is currently shipping to backers. For those that don’t know, what is Ancient Artifacts?
Derik: Thanks for having me, Mr. Sanders! Ancient Artifacts is a roll and write game (ROLL dice and then WRITE on a pad of paper) for 1-4 players and takes 20-40 minutes. Players take on the roles of archaeologists working and researching at 3 different sites, managing limited budgets, and trying to avoid nefarious tomb raiders. Finish the game with the most renown and money to win.
In this roll and write, there is more than just dice and a pad you write on, you also have an Atlas board where the action takes place. Could you tell us more about the Atlas board and tell us how it came about?
Derik: That’s right – most roll and writes before me were all about the rolling. In Ancient Artifacts, players have to negotiate the Atlas board which partially determines WHERE they can work on their sheet. For those unfamiliar: the Atlas board features 3 locations (desert, jungle, and ocean) each with a limited number of spaces which require either a specific die number or die color. The catch is that the dice from previous turns stay on the board, blocking spaces until there are dice at all 3 locations. So, if you aren’t paying attention to what your opponents are doing, you could become completely blocked.
Funny enough, the board actually came from a private forum post nearly two-and-a-half years ago. My friend Ryan Sanders had spent a long time trying to talk me into making a roll and write game (which I *still* did not understand at the time) and eventually suggested making a dice game which used a rondel somehow. I responded with how I thought that might be able to work and then neither of us mentioned it again for a whole year. The next January rolls around and I’m jonesing for a Mad Max themed dice game where players would go to different places and do different actions, but I couldn’t figure out to work the doing and going. So, I started skimming my forum for design ideas and came across that old post from Mr. Sanders and viola! After some help from Twitter for a new theme (Indiana Jones), everything just fell into place after that.
Well A-hem, that Ryan guy sounds like a smart guy! Ancient Artifacts plays 1-4 players. Was solo something that just ended up working or was it important that solo worked with your game?
Derik: Great question! Solitaire is very important to me but, in this instance, it just happened to work out. I always start designs by “pushing the pieces” around by myself. In most designs, I reach a point where I require other players so I can test interaction and branching decision paths. Fortunately, the way the mechanisms came together this time, I was able to continue playing, testing, and developing the solo mode without any special changes. In fact, the solo mode was so smooth and satisfying that I went into my first public playtest expecting the same time-frame — 20 minutes. Wrong! That game took an hour-and-a-half.
What was the toughest hurdle in the design of Ancient Artifacts gameplay and how did you end up getting past it?
Derik: This game came together so anomalously, buttery-smooth and easy that there were only 3 hurdles: the rondel and theme (which I talked about earlier) and the end game. For most of its life as a prototype, in multiplayer games, Ancient Artifacts either ended VERY abruptly or drug out for well over an hour (especially in 3 or 4 player games). You see, at that time, players used the entire sheet — no matter the player count — and the game would end the turn after a player was unable to place dice on the Atlas board. Oftentimes, a new player would cruise along rolling dice and not really paying attention to the board state and suddenly find themselves blocked and eliminated from the game.
For a while, I was able to dismiss this as a casual gamer problem and not really give it the attention it deserved. However, when I flew across the country to show off and test my new game at Unpub Prime, it became apparent this was a game-breaking problem because it robbed new players of the fun of chucking dice and completing goals. Even worse, savvy players could game the system and use that end game trigger to end the game and win in the 2nd round. Once I could finally acknowledge that there was a problem, fixing was as fast as a short Messenger conversation with a friend. I explained what the problem was and how heartbroken I felt about it. In the process of explaining the problem, the simple solution came to me: shorten the sheet for “big” games and allow players to take a penalty instead of ending the game.
So, I guess the REAL hurdle was acknowledging the fact that there was a problem.
So after the Kickstarter, what has been the biggest lesson you have learned from this whole production process that you will take with you for any future Kickstarters?
Derik: Oh my goodness, shipping stinks! Designing the game, testing it, working with the Chinese printer, and even running the Kickstarter campaign were all a cake walk compared to dealing with getting this thing shipped.
When I received estimates for the shipping costs, I used those estimates in my calculations for what the entire game and Kickstarter campaign would cost. Unfortunately, I failed to get a contract. Therefore, 5 months later when the campaign is done and we’re far enough through manufacturing that I need to worry about shipping, I’m told that I will get to pay the new, much higher 2018 rates, instead! Hooray! I also had to wait while those new shipping rates were calculated. If I had pushed for a contract up front, I would have saved a lot of money, time, and heartache.
Part 2a: freight shipping (getting the games from your manufacturer to whatever distribution node you want to use) is expensive. When I asked for an early estimate, I was told that number was difficult to estimate because of volatile shipping costs, pallet sizes, etc., and I said okay. I SHOULD have asked any of the publishers I know (like the guy doing my amazing art) what freight cost them. I was under a lot of stress at the time and, when I am very stressed, I become fairly introverted. So, instead of sticking my neck out and asking people potentially uncomfortable money questions, I sat in my hole and cost myself a lot of money by underestimating the actual cost.
Wow! An important lesson there to learn, hopefully, those reading this will learn from your mistake, instead of making it themselves. If someone is reading this right now and looking at the game pictures, and are thinking, “I want this game,” – how can they go about getting a copy?
Derik: Thanks for asking! Those excited people can follow this link to buy one! https://us.tabletop.direct/collections/lagniappe-games
As we come to a close, could you share with us what is next for you both as a publisher and as a designer?
Derik: Thanks for asking! As a publisher, I’m planning for my next project to be a great, chunky, western themed roll and write from my friend Benny Sperling. It’s in the same vein of a rondel styled map which doesn’t actually function as a rondel. What I love love love about this one is that the decisions are hard. Every turn you are rolling dice and choosing an action you want to take (working toward that area’s scoring condition) AND what area you are allowing to fail. Like Buzz Lightyear’s “flying”, this game is all about falling (and failing) with style. It is also an interesting look at real life since, in both environments, you cannot be great at everything. In order to succeed, you have to decide what you are willing to fail at.
As for designs, I have a crazy Galaxy Trucker game and a meaty, euro-y little Manhattan Project game (both roll and writes) sitting around waiting for me to either pitch or publish. I have also recently started working in a co-op style partnership with Mr. Sperling and Mark Rivera and already have 2 new roll and write games ready for testing: Whiskey Radio Foxtrot (WRF) and Medic!. Sperling’s WRF is set during the 1930s War of the Worlds attack on New Jersey and sees the player taking the role of a radio star “doctor” who is recognized and coerced into helping the injured — sometimes you help and sometimes you make it worse. Quick, fun, and a little tongue-in-cheek. Medic!, on the other hand, is a darker, chunkier project that puts players in the role of a World War II allied-forces battlefield medic. The game features random distribution of wounded soldiers and slight randomizing of your resources for the turn, but you will always be able to clearly see your options and plan accordingly. Which means, when you leave Martinez out on the front line to succumb to his injuries so that you can carry Adams back to camp, it was YOUR choice. I honestly get a little emotional playing this one because you just can’t save everyone. It’s tough.
Thanks for letting me stop by and talk your ear off, Mr. Sanders! It’s been fun catching up with you.
Thank you for agreeing to do this interview!