While at Gen Con this year I was lucky enough to corner Nicholas Yu for a brief interview. The transcription of the interview is below and you can always subscribe and listen to the podcast. We talk about the stand alone expansion for Hero Brigade, which is live on Kickstarter right now. We also talk about some of the gritty details about working with Game Salute.
Board Game Authority: This is Richard Miles, with Board Game Authority. I’m at Gen Con 2014 and today I am with…
Nicholas Yu: Nicholas Yu of Zucchini People Games.
Board Game Authority: Thank you, Nicholas, for taking time out of your busy Gen Con schedule to sit down and talk to me today. Zucchini People Games has two games out right now that are on store shelves?
Board Game Authority: So, I say two because I’m looking at two games right now on the table in front of me. Beautiful cards on the table for Eternal Dynasty. The artwork looks phenomenal. The cards, is this the final size of the cards?
Nicholas Yu: Yeah, the final size they’re going to be jumbo oversize cards, bigger than tarot cards so…
Board Game Authority: So these cards are almost the size of my hand. That artwork takes up a full three quarters of the card, beautiful, beautiful artwork. I really like the simplistic template of the cards so that the artwork is more paramount…
But you have a stand-alone expansion for Hero Brigade. Tell us about that. What’s the name of it, when will be seeing that, and like the good juicy bits of why we want to pick that up.
Nicholas Yu: Hero Brigade II, is a standalone expansion, currently going with Hero Brigade II: Hero Harder but I haven’t decided on that yet. Just going for a funny subtitle keeping with the lighthearted nature of the first game. There are some new elements that are going to be introduced, which I actually brought, called Plot Cards and these modify the combat. Some of them are like global enchantments in Magic. A lot of them are just special things that effect what happens during the game. Like, this is the Bounty Hunter. When your characters get defeated when she’s out, she actually collects your defeated characters instead of them going into your discard pile. So you kind of have to manipulate your fighting around that. And some of them are just other ones where the villains are trying to break in, the heroes are trying to stop them, and if the villains accomplish the plot then their science characters are rewarded and things like that. So just little extra things that change up the course of the combat so it’s not just fighting back and forth. People liked the fighting but they were like, ‘We want more.’
Board Game Authority: Right, understood. So now there’s not just some more “I hit you, you hit me”, there’s a little bit more going on. You have to be mindful of what are they going to pull out on me now, that kind of thing, right?
Nicholas Yu: Yeah and it’s something for both players to consider, you know. There’s one of the plots out at once and everyone can see it and you kind of have to work around that for the fighting.
Board Game Authority: Excellent, excellent. So what games are, or are there any games, that you drew inspiration from in the creation of Hero Brigade.
Nicholas Yu: Well, first of all, I mean, a lot of it was thematic like my love of comic books, and Final Fantasy. I love video games. I guess there was another game, Pixel Attack, that uses similar mechanics like the front row and support row and I think that we both drew from Final Fantasy, the role playing games, where you have that combat mechanic in there, but also I was influenced by my love of Magic the Gathering for, you know, a two-player fast paced dual game.
Board Game Authority: Sure, yeah. Magic the Gathering is a definite winner by all accounts of shear awesomeness in a two player card game. Do you want to go over Eternal Dynasty? It is still in production, right?
Nicholas Yu: Well, the Kickstarter delivery date is set for February but I’m actually hoping to beat that by a couple of months. Just prior to Gen Con I actually was working with Panda GM because they are printing the game and they’ve got all the files. Everything’s in there and they’re in what’s called the pre-production process so they’re going through all the files getting everything ready, and they should be ready in three to five months from now. So, I’m hoping by the end of the year; I’m hoping it’s shorter rather than later.
Board Game Authority: Okay, excellent. By the end of the year, so it may arrive in time for Christmas?
Nicholas Yu: Yeah, hopefully.
Board Game Authority: Excellent, excellent. Let’s talk a little about, if you don’t mind, your decision and experience with Game Salute. There are some gamers, some Kickstarter users, who see Game Salute in a negative light. Some have no quarrels with Game Salute whatsoever, it is just another company. What’s your experience been like? Would you suggest them to others? And just, ultimately, what made you decide Game Salute is who you should partner with versus anybody else?
Nicholas Yu: Yeah, I’ve been working with Game Salute for over a year now since starting with Hero Brigade and I’ve been to the Board Game Geek (BGG) threads where I’ve seen a lot of people voice, I think, some real honest concerns. Some of them ended up on the Kickstarter comments that I handle too, because there was a delay with Hero Brigade’s fulfillment. I had done my part. All the files were sent off, but they had bundled several printing projects together. And, I think, Game Salute… I’ve always really fought for transparency. Every time I had an update from them or from the printer I tried to update my backers on Kickstarter and I think that’s really important. You know, Game Salute, I’m going to be completely honest: the relationship struggled for the first few months, like, when those delays first started happening I didn’t feel that there was enough communication and transparency. But they assigned some new team members, they did some reorganization, and from that point on the information flowed freely back and forth between Game Salute and myself and I was able to update the backers in a more timely manner so then Hero Brigade was able to go out fulfilled. I think it was David MacKenzie, he actually admitted, ‘We took on too much as part of Game Salute’ and I think everyone kind of knew that. But they had like 50+, I don’t know what the exact number was, but they had a ton of projects on Kickstart and so many were falling behind on fulfillment but they’re starting to come out now.
Board Game Authority: Yeah, I saw the update from Game Salute saying, ‘We’re kind of sorry.’ And, as a company I understand. You’re growing, you don’t want to say ‘No’, and you don’t know what your ‘No point’ should be at the time. So I understand that and it’s just one of those instances where Kickstarter, the board game sector of Kickstarter, kind of blew up. Companies like Game Salute and even Panda had a backlog.
Nicholas Yu: Yep.
Board Game Authority: I think even now they have a backlog and so they’re starting to say, ‘Hey, if you want to use us you have to understand it’s gonna be X amount of months before we could even look at or touch your project.’ So, that is just a product of “whoopsy”, you know. It’s good to know that they, after the first few months, got on the ball, started communicating with you, and kind of picked up the slack so to speak and said, ‘You know, here’s a more accurate timeframe of things.’ And so that was with Hero Brigade, what about Eternal Dynasty? Was that a better, from the get-go, process?
Nicholas Yu: Absolutely, I think we’d kind of established a better relationship, better rapport, at that point. And I went in with Eternal Dynasty working with them from the beginning. Hero Brigade was pretty much already a done campaign and Game Salute like came in and said, ‘Okay, yeah, we’ll do fulfillment; we’ll co-publish’ and that was, you know, I signed an agreement with them basically just a couple of days before I launched the Kickstarter campaign. So that relationship started late in life of that campaign. But with Eternal Dynasty, after the game… I was done with designing the game and showed it to them and we kind of came together. I did the Kickstarter campaign, again, myself. But they were part of the feedback process. They had a lot of feedback and I’ve been working with them ever since that started.
Board Game Authority: Alright, cool. How much help? You said they gave approval and things like that or feedback, I guess. Was there video help or what fell on your shoulders and was it simple approval? Not approval, but feedback? Or what lifting, if any, did they kind of step up and do or did you want them to be more of just out there, kind of on the peripherals of it, where you could ask questions like ‘What do you guys think about this?’, ‘Am I doing it right?’, ‘How would you do it?’, that kind of thing?
Nicholas Yu: You know, I mean, I’m kind of a control freak. I like running it myself so I did write most of the Kickstarter campaign myself but I did use them for feedback. ‘What do you think about this?’ They were instrumental in helping me throughout all the shipping and getting the quotes with Panda. I initiated the process but they were really able to help expedite the printing process and getting quotes, talking to Panda, because they’ve had a long standing working relationship with them. I did most of it myself but they were kind of like a safety net where I’m like okay, ‘What do you think about this, what do you think about this?’ They were great with their feedback and I got a lot of great campaign feedback from them. I changed some sections of the campaign and they also helped me line up all the shipping numbers.
Board Game Authority: And would you, for anybody aspiring to be a new Kickstarter Project Creator out there, would you suggest Game Salute to them or would you be like, ‘Only in this scenario’?
Nicholas Yu: I think partnering with Game Salute is a good idea for a brand new creator. Someone’s who’s not sure about the industry yet. Especially if you’re big concerns are: warehousing, fulfillment, and shipping. That’s where Game Salute and Ship Naked can really make a huge difference. Because everyone, especially, international backers on Kickstarters, they’re very vocal with their complaints about international shipping but what they don’t realize is that international shipping is, very, very, very, expensive. Gamesalute has a warehouse in EU so that’s why they’re able to offer such competitive rates but if it’s just a lone person, they can’t compete.
Board Game Authority: Yeah, understood. There are very few people who go through the ropes to make free, or at least discounted, shipping to the EU or the rest of the world. Kudos to those people who take that extra initiative but for the rest of everybody, it’s an expensive chunk of change.
Nicholas Yu: Yeah, and even the original champion of free international shipping, Jamey Stegmaier, he’s actually had to backpedal on that a little bit because it just wasn’t cost effective. Even with Amazon Fulfillment and using Amazon CA, Amazon EU, even for a big company or even using Amazon Fulfillment even he wasn’t able to continue offering completely free international shipping.
Board Game Authority: Right, yeah, everybody feels that financial rub of shipping is expensive. There’s no getting around it.
Let’s talk about Here Brigade II again. It expands the two player aspect to three or four players. Tell me a little bit about that. Your decision to go with that and how difficult was it to balance a traditional two player battle card game to a three player versus a four player game. Is it teams? With three players I assume it is not teams, you can’t be one sided, so just tell me how that came to be?
Nicholas Yu: Actually, I took my inspiration again, a little bit, from Magic, based on Two Headed Giant, where you have two teams and a shared life of the deck. And, actually, three players actually still does a little bit of teams, two players versus one. The one player is kind of like a super player and they have some advantages, like they get more cards and they have a consolidated deck where the two players teaming up against them have their individual decks. There’s both advantages and disadvantages being the lone player. We try to balance it so that the two players is still really fun and you still have that team dynamic of two versus one.
Board Game Authority: Okay, interesting. There are not a lot of games that play well, in my humble personal experience, there are not a lot of games that play with just three players. Some games say they play well with three players but they don’t. Four or five players is where the sweet spot is. Three, not that great.
Nicholas Yu: Actually, that’s something that we really wanted to address with Eternal Dynasty also. We really balanced the three players. In a lot of territory control games it is direct combat, like in Small World and Risk you are taking somebody out. So most of the time you’re creating a kingmaker situation where whoever just kind of hangs back and doesn’t fight early on, because they’re going into a great position in the end game. The other two guys fought it out and they still have everything left. Eternal Dynasty isn’t direct conflict like that. It is still territory control but it’s more influencing and your pieces stay on from generation to generation, or round to round. Even in a three player game you don’t have that kind of kingmaker situation or where the turtle can just get away with with winning at the end.
Board Game Authority: Excellent, that sounds awesome. I love all of the forethought that you’re putting into your game. It seems like a lot of publishers just, it’s a patch, it’s an add on of ‘it supports three’ but it seems like you’re giving the actual forethought into ‘Does this legitimately work with three?’ and I applaude that because often times I’m a three player group, right? And we pass, we pass on some games. Cosmic Encounter has made our third person cry. Even though the cards say attack red, it’s driven by the cards, but they still feel ganged up on. And it’s not our fault, but they’re like, ‘Aww, you guys,’ so that you’ve got to address some of those issues where one player just can’t turtle up, like you said, that’s great. I applaud that.
Nicholas Yu: Well, thanks. Yeah, it’s something that is important to us as well. Because we’ve all played those games where it says three to five but then you try it with three, you know, this is really different than when we play with four, yeah.
Board Game Authority: Yeah, exactly, exactly. You wanted to hit on some other Hero Brigade mechanics, I believe. Let’s just jump into those.
Nicholas Yu: The Plot Deck: I uploaded that to Board Game Geek as a preview. It will be part of Hero Brigade II but I want everyone to be able to experience it now. It’s a free upload on BGG so just check out the Hero Brigade page and you can see it there but, yeah, there were changes to the plot deck and, also, both Tom Vasel of The Dice Tower and a game designer I really respect is Jason Glover. They gave me some feedback about the elimination in Hero Brigade because the game has an element of deck completion. It makes the game very fast, so you can play a game in 15, 20 minutes, no problem. But they wanted a more strategic variant where you don’t just burn the top card of the deck you have some choices. So instead of just burn, any time you burn two, you look at the top three and you select two instead of just burning the top two. So there is some more strategic elements that I’m going to be introducing for the deck completion part of Hero Brigade.
Board Game Authority: Excellent, that sounds awesome; I am even more intrigued. Alright, Nicholas, I appreciate the time you took with me today to go over your upcoming Hero Brigade II. Do have a date set for when the Kickstarter will launch?
Nicholas Yu: It’s going to be sometime in September. I haven’t finalized a date yet.
Board Game Authority: Okay, excellent, I will be looking forward that.
Nicholas Yu: Thanks Richard. I just want to do a quick shout out: Thanks to my wife, and my kids, and thanks to all the backers that supported me on Kickstarter.
Board Game Authority: Excellent, thank you Nick. I’ve been your host Richard Miles for Board Game Authority.com. My guest today was Nicholas Yu of Zucchini People Games. Until next time: Game on.