The Space Princess and the Dark Zealot: An Interview with Michael AddisonMarch 14, 2019
Interview with Michael Addison about his two-player asymmetric sci-fi game, Space Princess.
Thank you for joining with us today, Michael, to talk about Space Princess. It’s a game already out, after a successful Indiegogo campaign, it can now be found on The Game Crafter. Could you tell us about the goal of the game?
Michael: Hi Ryan! Thank you for having me!
One player is the Space Princess, who is trying to escape from the star cruiser of the other player, the Dark Zealot. The Space Princess uses her hologram, trusty blaster, and a few tricky moves to maneuver through a maze of corridors and rotating doors. The Dark Zealot commands Troopers and his own dark powers to outflank the Princess and capture her. If the Princess reaches one of two escape pods, she escapes and wins. If she is captured, the Zealot wins. The abilities of both sides are represented by their own set of 7 unique cards, which are chosen and played simultaneously each turn. It’s a tight, breezy, cat-and-mouse game that either player can win right up to the end.
What is the story behind the creation of the game?
Michael: Back in December of 2016, we lost the dear actor, writer, and celebrity, Carrie Fisher. I think her death affected a lot of people, young and old, profoundly. She was a hero to many people, myself included. As a way of coping with my grief, I decided to design a game in her honor, to capture how I wanted to remember her best — as an underdog hero using her wits and determination to overcome symbols of tyranny and oppression. The first version was a few squares of cardstock and some wooden bits from around the house. When you start designing a game, you never know for sure if it will turn out to be an actual fun, functional game. But once the rules for Space Princess started to gel, I knew right away that it was something that I wanted to share with other people, and try to do some social good with it in the process. To me, the best way to honor the heroes we lose is to try to be a hero to someone else.
We should mention that some of the proceeds of this game go to a special charity. Could you tell us more about this and why it’s dear to your heart?
Michael: Yes, so the goal of the funding campaign for Space Princess was to raise money to donate to the International Bipolar Foundation. During her life, Carrie Fisher was an advocate for mental health, and IBF was one of the organizations that she publicly supported. The IBF was founded by parents whose children are affected by bipolar disorder, and they advocate for awareness of the disorder and provide assistance to other families affected by it. It’s a great cause. Members of my own family struggle with bipolar disorder, so the cause has personal meaning for me. Through the campaign, our backers raised over $1300 for the cause, which we donated at end of the campaign. Additional sales after the campaign also contribute to IBF, and we have pledged to continue the charitable component of the game in whatever future forms it may take.
Did you find it challenging trying to balance out the two characters?
Michael: Like most endeavors, game design follows the 80-20 rule: the last 20% is 80% of the work! Balancing the Space Princess and Dark Zealot took a lot of trial and error, which game designers like to call “playtesting” to make it sound more fun. Sometimes it is fun, but often it is very challenging work. The key to balancing the roles came down to two factors. First was how much a given action card should allow a player to accomplish in a turn — move once? Move twice? Move and then do something else? Second was card timing. Each card has an order value, which determines which card is resolved first once both players reveal their card for the turn. It was crucial for each side to have a few power moves — cards they could play where they feel powerful and gain a leg up on the other side. But just as valuable is having the ability to counter a strong move, which can be just as satisfying. The order that cards resolve when played against any other card required a lot of fine-tuning to guarantee that both sides could have those moments. I don’t know if it would be humanly possible to balance them perfectly, but by the end of the development process, I was getting a 50-50 win ratio. What I am learning as people play the game in the wild is that the balance depends greatly on the people playing. Each character has different strategies, and if a group grasps a few strong strategies for one character before they have figured out the other, either character can seem stronger than the other.
What was the best piece of feedback you received from a playtester about Space Princess?
Michael: Best feedback I got was from two brothers, Tim and Jason Bierema, who volunteered to do some playtesting for us before release. One of the Dark Zealot’s cards, Sense, allows the Zealot player to play a different card after the Princess has revealed her card. They found that, as written, the rules were unclear on what order value the new card is played on. This ended up being a common rules question, which wildly favors the Zealot player if it is interpreted incorrectly. The correct interpretation is, the second card plays on its own order value, preserving the power balance I talked about earlier. Thanks to Tim and Jason, I was able to update the rules and clarify this rule.
What makes Space Princess stand-out among other asymmetrical 2-player games?
Michael: I think what really stands out most is the economy of design. Each side has only 7 unique actions cards, but players have engaging choices each turn and a variety of strategic options. With just a few pieces, the story of a space hero ducking into air ducts, hacking doors, distracting guards with holograms, and blasting her way through corridors comes to life. Second most is the closeness of the two sides throughout the game. Every game has an arc, as the Princess moves closer to an escape pod or the Zealot positions troopers into a crossfire. But turn by turn, a strong position for one side can switch to an advantage for the other player by a clever or well-timed play. You are often tantalizingly close to victory, with the outcome depending on whether you can predict the other player’s next move. Rachel Kozy’s fantastic character art really makes the game stand out too. And of course, our charitable component.
What three adjectives describe Space Princess’s gameplay?
Michael: I would describe Space Princess as… Elegant. Intimate. Thinky.
As we wrap this up, could readers where they can find the game and is there anything else you like to add about Space Princess.
Michael: You can find out more about the game at spaceprincessgame.com, or look for us directly on The Game Crafter storefront at https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/space-princess.
We have a few things in the works for the future of Space Princess, so fans of the game, stay tuned!
Thanks again, Michael, for taking the time out to talk with us about Space Princess.