A Conversation with…Fred and David MacKenzie of Clever Mojo Games About Princes of The Dragon Throne – Part 1

The Land of Lo’en is vast. Its Kingdoms and Guilds are populated by Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Goblins, Kobolds, Trolls, and of course, the Dragons. The Dragon King is dead now and you, as one of his many overlooked offspring, have decided that it’s time for a change.

Can you raise the funds to bribe the dragon clans to join your coup and the food to keep them? Can your strength convince the citizens of Lo’en to support your claim to the throne? Can your followers influence the diverse Kingdoms’ many Guilds and Clan Houses, and use their powerful resources to aid your cause?

Your siblings have dynastic plans of their own and the dead King’s influence, though weakening, must still be reckoned with. There will be many obstacles to surmount in your quest to claim the Dragon Throne.

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That’s your charge when you play The Princes of The Dragon Throne. Princes of the Drgaon Throne is the newest game from designers Fred and David MacKenzie and Clever Mojo Games. Princes is currently nearing the end of its Kickstarter. Fred and David joined me to talk about Princes and the other things going on at Clever Mojo.

Tom: Alright, let’s get this out of the way. You kickstarted PDT and then halted it. And you relaunched a modified version soon after. Tell us about what happened.

David: You know how peanut butter and chocolate taste better together? Well, it turns out that Euro-game mechanics and Ameri-trash minis didn’t mix well for us.  The Ameri-trashers got confused because there was a REAL game mixed in with their minis and the Euro-gamers thought the high price was due to minis instead of typical wooden bits. In the end, we owed more respect to the game than the minis. But damn, those were great minis!

Tom: It’s sad that you have settle for, as one person said  ‘a watered down version’.

Fred: It’s not as sad as it seems. From the beginning the plan was to start the project offering a basic version, and then use stretch goals to work our way up to custom meeples and then on to the minis. We didn’t get the final quote from the manufacturer until just a few days before launch, and it was much higher than we were expecting. At that point, the high cost of the game suggested simply starting the project at the best possible option.

David: There’s nothing watered down about PDT. Minis reinforced the theme, but the game is where the fun and challenge are…and that has not been changed AT ALL.

Tom: So it’s really kind of back to what you originally envisioned.

Those are good points and I have to say you have a fantastic attitude about this. Having played Princes I wouldn’t call it watered down at all.  Kudos to you both on that. And on the upside the game is available to more people I think.

Fred: That is the hope.

David: With the reduced price and the reduced primary funding goal, we are more confident than ever that PDT will get published and once people play and it finds a loyal following, I’m hoping there will be demand for an “upgrade pack” and we can bring back the minis.  We’ll see.

Tom: So, the game really hasn’t changed with regards to game play, just the bits. Is that correct?

Fred: Absolutely correct. And really, we’re only talking about the player tokens and King’s Guard tokens. All of the art work is still right there. To me, that is what immerses me into the theme more than the tokens do.

David: The minis were the most recent addition to PDT and they only replaced other bits to strengthen the theme. PDT is still PDT.

Tom: Now that that’s out of the way let’s talk about how awesome PDT actually is. I’ve played it once and was very impressed.

Fred: At the start of the game players’ options are limited as they have few resources and their starting cards can only gather more resources. As players recruit more cards, using those resources, their options expand to being able to place supporters on the board. Gaining the support of the guild locals allows a player to control the guilds and receive unique bonuses, which increases their options as well. Also, when a player takes control of a guild one of the dragon lords in the dragon parliament will choose to join their cause in one of the clan houses. The dragon parliament is the game clock and when it is full the game is over.

David: Princes of the Dragon Throne uses deck building to drive the other elements of the game. As players add more cards to their deck they are also able to remove cards from it. The new cards they add allow the players to place their player tokens on the board, and the race for controlling the guilds is on. Each of the six citizen kingdoms includes one of each of the guilds. Players are trying to control the most guilds in each kingdom, as well as the most of each particular guild type throughout all the kingdoms. Effective placement of player pieces will decide who will be crowned the next king.

PDT_board_final

Tom: There is some really good push and pull between picking up cards and placing your pieces.

Now PDT has been in development for several years. Let’s start at the beginning. How did the game come about? Where did the idea come from?

Fred: The game has always been about dragons. Firstly, because I love dragons, but also because I was inspired by a poem David wrote showing the life of a dragon from birth to death. That was my first concept, to create a game about the life and death of dragons.

Tom: Ok, I’ve seen this poem mentioned twice now. You’re going to have to fork it over. Give me a Go Forth exclusive.

Fred: Well it’s not an exclusive, but here it is.

MYTH

Time stands

Still for the egg

As it bakes in the sun.

Alone in the cove, it rests in

The sand.

Shaking

Then quivering,

Cracks form in the tough shell.

Rocking back and forth. Breaking. It

Opens.

The head

Emerges first.

A gaping mouth with sharp

Teeth. Its eyes blaze with wonder and

Hunger.

–==<<>>==–

Seconds

Pass. Wings unfurl.

Thin and wrinkled and wet,

But spread in the warmth of the sun

They dry.

Four feet

Crawl out pulling

The large red body forth

From the shell, unsteady at first.

Unsure.

As the

Tail, long and thin,

Clears the egg the head swings

Around and seeing the shell finds

A meal.

–==<<>>==–

Minutes

Pass. The egg

Which was his home

Is gone. The hatchling must

Find another, quickly before

Night falls.

A cave,

Deep, dark, and damp

Will suit his purpose well.

Inborn memories tell him this

Is home.

Hunger

Gnaws at him stillpic975664_md

And small animals in

The cave satisfy him for now.

He sleeps.

–==<<>>==–

Hours

Pass. The squeal of

A wild pig brings hunger.

He wakes and instinct takes over.

He hunts.

Stalking

Moving slowly,

Breathing softly, waiting

For the moment. Waiting. Waiting.

He leaps

He feeds

On blood oozing

Between his teeth. On meat

Sliding down into his belly.

He grows.

–==<<>>==–

Days pass.

When he is not

Eating he is sleeping.

The cycle seems empty, senseless,

Until…

Stepping

On a bramble

The young beast screams and wails.

Mixed with his pitiful cry is

Red flame.

Patience

And practice give

Him control of the fire

Burning within him and no prey

Is safe.

–==<<>>==–

Weeks pass

Brave and strong he

Exercises his wings.

Up and down, flex and reach. He feels

Ready.

On the

Bluff he stands poised

Muscles coiled and taught he

Waits for a warm updraft to fill

His wings.

Airborne!

He pumps his wings.

His muscles burn and scream.

He reaches altitude then he

Just soars.

–==<<>>==–

Months pass.

Fire and wing havepic975663_md

Brought him food, growth, and strength.

His cave is now too small to hold

His bulk.

From the

Clouds he spies a

Lonely castle on a

Windswept plain and decides to make

It his.

Flaming

Breath and ripping

Claws leave bodies scattered.

Triumphant, he settles into.

His lair.

–==<<>>==–

Seasons

Pass as he raids

Farms and cottages on

Wings of flame. Setting light to fields

And homes.

Feasting

On fat cattle.

Terrorizing town folk

Too scared to fight back, too full of

Despair.

Virgins

Are sacrificed

To appease him. Gold is

Brought to calm him. He is worshiped

And feared.

–==<<>>==–

Years pass

And his greed grows.

He hordes silver coins while

Gems and jewels catch his eye. Gold lines

His bed.

A brave

Knight rises up,

Determined to vanquish

Him. On a valiant charger

He comes.

Armor

And sword and horsepic975662_md

Are no match for flame and

Fangs. A skull is added to his

Treasure.

–==<<>>==–

Decades

Pass. One after

Another knights are slain

And his reputation becomes

Too great.

Feared by

All, none seek him.

Unchallenged, he grows old.

Forgotten by men, he becomes

A myth.

Until

A scent stirs him.

Instinct awakens him.

A new danger quickens his blood.

Trespass!

–==<<>>==–

Lifetimes

Pass in the blink

Of an eye as he takes

Wing. He has been earthbound for far

Too long.

The sky

Is his again.

Soaring among the clouds

He searches for the other one.

His foe.

There! There!

Ahead, above!

Diving out of the sun.317379_281424151992927_148335033_n

No time to counter this surprise

Attack.

–==<<>>==–

Time stands

Still at impact.

Scaled bodies grapple and

Writhe. Wings tangle and tear. Teeth bite.

Claws rend.

Wounded.

Bleeding. Fading.

He watches as the youth

Climbs skyward on shredded wings while

He falls

Falling,

He breathes his last.

Dying, his soul flies free

And he soars among the clouds once

Again


Tom: Wow! That’s a pretty cool poem. The visual imagery it evokes is fantastic. I can see how it was an inspiration.

Back to Princes. As we talked about its long incubation. How many iterations did the game go through?

Fred: Well, the original concept, in 2009, required 125 dice! Since this idea was before Quarriors I assumed there was no way a game could be made with so many dice. The next iteration, sticking with dragons (always!) but moving the theme in a different direction, was a type of set collection game where dragons were perched in the mountains surrounding a valley and picking off the unwary travelers. There was another set collection version that used a rock/paper/scissors (or in this case a fist/fangs/fury) mechanic with dragons battling each other for those travelers. Next there was a role selection game where each turn you chose what your dragon’s personality was going to be that round. Finally near the end of 2010 I played my first games of Dominion and Ascension and I was smitten with the deck building mechanic. The first attempt at designing a deck building

pdt3

game was closer to Ascension, with cards that could be purchased, and when they were purchased they were replaced by another card. But our cards, characters traveling through the kingdom, were on a type of conveyor belt and if they weren’t purchased they would eventually leave the game. These cards were typical of the deck building genre in that they had a lot of text on them that allowed for manipulating the standard system. However, we finally settled on a design that would add worker placement and area control to our current ideas for deck building and resource management. Even that game went through several iterations, but we remained true to making a game with all of those mechanics.

David: Every single one of those other versions of the game had fatal flaws at some point, necessitating the advancement to the next idea. But once we hit on the game play of the current game we knew we had something unique that really had a chance to become special.

Tom: Well, it really works well. I found the game had some real strategy and planning. That’s one of my hallmarks of a great game. Now to the art. It’s awesome. It’s really going to sell the game. Who is/are the artist(s)?

David: Our artist is Don Aguillo and he has done an amazing job for us. In January of 2011, when we thought our deckbuilding-only game was the one we were going with, I put ads on Craigslist and Deviant Art looking for artists. Several applied, in spite of our small budget.

Fred: Don contacted us pretty late in the process but as soon as I saw his portfolio I knew he was the guy I wanted. We’ve got over a hundred unique pieces of art in the game so it took a couple of years to complete. That turned out to be alright though since we took the game in a new direction and spent the next two years play testing the new design.

newdragons

Tom: Well it is fantastic. You really were fortunate to retain him.

I’ve played Princes once and I really liked it a lot. My oldest daughter dropped in on the game and did very well. And she’s not a gamer. So that says that the game is easy to pick up. Have you had similar experiences?

Fred: I was playing a four player game and the twelve-year-old son of one of the players was watching. When his dad had to leave to go to work his son took his place. He didn’t win, but he did quite well, and certainly knew what he was doing.

Tom: That’s a really good sign in my opinion.

pdt3

This thing is massive. How many actual components are in the game?

David: There are 560 total pieces. 216 player tokens, 72 king’s guard tokens, 4 score markers, 80 guild markers, 95 resource tokens, 157 cards (with the possibility for 8 more cards if we get enough funding), 4 player aids, 2 sorcery dice, a game board and a rule book.

Tom: My word! It may be the biggest game I’ve ever played. I really like how you’ve titled each section of the KS page. Who’s idea was that?

David: KS page-building is my job.  I try to get into the feel of a game and come up with headers and page graphics that flow from that. If you look over the catalog of Game Salute projects on KS, you’ll see that we have the same general format for all of them, so the headers are the place I can make each campaign it’s own unique creation.

Tom: This game has been extensively playtested. Can you name one significant thing that changed because of the playtesting?

Fred: Well, once we settled on the current system, play testing tended to change a lot of small ideas, not usually any significant ones.

Tom: You are offering up yourselves to supporters. By that I mean that you guys are available for interviews, conventions, etc.. Why? Anybody other than me and the Theology guys take you up on that?

David: We’ve had several email interview requests, including yours. We’re happy to be able to spark enough interest that bloggers like yourself, and gamers in general, want to know more about Princes of the Dragon Throne.

That’s the end of part one. Please a comment for me, David, or Fred.

Come on back for part two as Fred, David, and I talk about all the other cool things going on at Clever Mojo Games. Part two is posted below.

clever mojo logo

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