I have Chris Kreuter and Chris Gosselin of Masquerade Games with me this time. The Chrises talk about how Masquerade came about, their games, and where they are going. Let’s get started.
Tom: Ok, first tell us your gamer cred.
Chris K: We’re a two person game company. Both myself (Chris Kreuter) and Chris Gosselin are friends from our days at the University of Rhode Island. A bunch of our friends bonded over Magic:the Gathering during college. We played the game for many years, and forged some amazing friendships over road trips to PTQ’s and Grand Prix’s. Chris G. has a Grand Prix top 8 and a visit to the Pro Tour on his gamer resume. He’s also a long time miniatures wargamer and plays League of Legends.
Chris G’s top 5 board games (that aren’t our own) are: Magic, Warmachine, Dominion, Tash-Kalar & X-Wing
Chris G: When Chris K asked me this question, he left out the board game part. To get to 5 board games I would add Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. But honestly, the 5 board games I most want to play rotate monthly.
Chris K: To my own credit, I participate nearly every year at the World Boardgaming Championships. I have a few laurels to my credit, including Carcassone (2nd – 2013) and Race for the Galaxy (5th – 2012). I typically log between 450-600 board game plays per year, with a standing goal of learning 50+ new-to-me games each year. When I’m not boardgaming, I write science fiction books and enjoy the occasional game of the Civilization V or XCOM.
Chris K’s top 5 board games are: Through The Ages, Race for the Galaxy, Ascension, Carcassone & Blokus
Tom: What’s Masquerade Games all about?
Chris K: Shortly after college, Chris and I started kicking around some ideas for board games. Over the next few years I drifted away from Magic and into the hobby board game scene. Chris joined too, but keeps one foot in the Magic scene.
Chris G: More like two feet in one scene – curses to Magic Online!
Chris K: We started the company with the sole intention of publishing our own games. The company was founded in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2011 when we self-published our first two titles: Epigo and Simpletons. Both debuted at GenCon that year. It should be noted that we launched both titles on our own, before Kickstarter turned our hobby on its ear.
We play many genres of games, and it shows in the variety of games we discuss/design. Our philosophy has always been to help everyone in any way we can. As a member of the incredible NYC-Playtest (nycplaytest.com) group, we’ve networked and become friends with many fantastic designers, including: Gil Hova, Tim Rodriguez, Carlos Hernandez, Josh Raab, Josh DeBonis, Eric Zimmerman, Travis Chance, and many more fantastic people. Through my playtesting I’ve had the honor of being heavily involved in other designer’s games (Battle Merchants, Infamy, Nika, and a few other titles that haven’t been released yet)
Tom: You have a couple of games – Epigo and Simpletons. Let’s talk about Simpletons first.
Chris K: Total disclosure here: this game was a total rush job. We were one month out from the debut of Epigo at GenCon and us, playing the role of amateur game publishers, thought that “we don’t want to be one of those single game game companies!” And so we kicked around some ideas one afternoon for a simple card game. Our design goals were simple: small number of components, easy to assemble, and quick to demo.
Chris G: We also wanted to target a different audience, and Simpletons ultimately appealed to a younger audience than Epigo.
Chris K: Simpletons is a 3-8 player card game that plays in less than 15 minutes. Each player is the leader of a tribe of cave-people trying to collect the most rocks possible to be the Big Boss. Each turn players secretly select one role from their hand of cards. Once all players have selected, they are revealed and resolved. Players can gather,
Chris G: a safe play to get a couple of rocks
Chris K: hunt
Chris G: a gamble to get lots of rocks if you are the only hunter
Chris K: raid a specific player (take half their rocks), or defend against potential Raids.
Chris G: The game ends when there no rocks left, and the winner has the most rocks. We break ties based on who has the biggest rocks.
Chris K: It’s fair to call it a multi-player rock-paper-scissors game,
Chris G: but with loads more character.
Chris K: The design of Simpletons came together over one week, and we were able to find a fantastic printer (AdMagic.com) to do a rush job for 100 decks. Then we bought an absurd number of fish tank rocks at a local craft store, and some burlap bags in bulk online. The night before we drove out to Indianapolis, we assembled the games in a manic rush. But here’s the thing, it demoed so well at GenCon! In fact,
Chris G: we demoed more games, and sold more copies of Simpletons than we did Epigo during the convention.
Chris K: Our demo table featured stone-age decorations that drew people to the booth. Families really enjoyed the accessible fun and dug the theme.
Tom: Of course there was. That makes it fun.
Chris K: Simpletons never got a wide release,
Chris G: as we never printed additional copies.
Chris K: For many months after the con, we’d get regular requests for the game via e-mail. We’re happy to say that we’ve since sold out of that original print run. The fun little side project more than paid for itself.
And I’m happy to announce here that Masquerade Games will be reissuing a new & improved version of Simpletons via print-on-demand later in 2015. The game will feature two games modes: Basic – same as the original game with a few minor improvements, and Advanced – which will feature far more strategy, interaction, and a deeper experience. We also plan on utilizing the artistic talents of Anton Brand again (http://www.antonbrand.co.uk/).
The new version of Simpletons just had fantastic demos at UnPub 5 in Baltimore – so we’re well on track!
Tom: Now let’s talk about Epigo.
Chris K: The original seed for Epigo came to Chris K in a dream. (Yes, seriously). Upon waking up, Chris scrambled for a pad and sketched out the game in the dream. Much of the final product is exactly the same as those first sketches, although a ton of development joined that idea in the final box.
Epigo is primarily a two player abstract, with pieces provided for up to 4 players using advanced variants. Players select multiple moves each round. The game required focus on figuring out your opponent rather than the optimal move on the board. Every turn required thinking like: “I know that you know that I know you really want to push that 5 off the board, so I’m going to cancel it?”
Chris G was the genius who turned Epigo into a game system. Introducing variants allowed us so many amazing ways to expand the thought patterns and replayability of the game. While only 21 made it through the gamut of testing and into the box, we’ve placed many more on our website for free over the years.
The game was well received in reviews, and we had a good debut at GenCon.
Chris G: In fact, it’s still on Tom Vassal’s top 10 abstract games of all time list!
Chris K: We also had 16 people sign up for our first ever World Championship on a Saturday night at GenCon – that was a great honor and a ton of fun.
Epigo was our first big release for a reason: it was a learning exercise for us. And for as awesome as that game is, we made mistakes. Our final art decision was a safe one. In fact, we skinned Epigo twenty different ways during development. While a fun exercise in graphic design, the final product was very conservative. I still love the decision that we made, even if it hurt Epigo’s shelf appeal. The game just doesn’t stick out on a shelf, especially when shelved end-on as most games are.
Chris G: We did apply to the Mensa Mind Games, which was an unmitigated disaster. They put the game out and listed it as a 4 player game. Since we only recommend the 4 player game for experienced players, things fell apart. Some of the feedback was hilarious, we’ll have to tweet a few of them soon. We had high hopes that the game would appeal to their audience and their approval would have boosted sales in a major way. So beware potential applicants, be VERY specific with your applications on how your game should be presented. (another hard lesson learned)
Chris K: Another lesson: box size. We were passionate about not having any folds in our game board. We felt that an uneven edge would be annoying when sliding and pushing the Epigons around. This meant a 12.5”x12.5”x1” box. That doesn’t travel well. It also takes up a lot of room on a pallet. Multiply that by our 2,500 copy print run and you have 11 pallets of fun! Shipping and distribution were pretty expensive. In hindsight, a quad fold board would have brought down our costs considerably and made the game far more portable.
Epigo was helped significantly by the release of the iOS app in 2013. The app was developed in conjunction with Red Finch Studios, and went on to win a BoardGameGeek iOS Gold Award in the abstract category. We were incredibly honored to win out over the amazing Pathogen. iOS gaming blossomed after the initial design for Epigo, but boy was it the perfect platform for our game. Async multiplayer works perfectly for our simultaneous action selection format. Players effectively take 2 turns every time they open up the app. The app recently went free (with variants as IAP), so there’s no excuse not to try it.
Tom: Now what’s the news on Fire At Will?
Chris K: Fire At Will! was our first foray into publishing a game from an outside designer. Mac McAnally is a friend from the NYC-Playtest group, and both Chris’ loved playing his civil-war themed card game. Mac was having a hard time finding a publisher, so we decided to take a shot at it. We both felt that as a small card game, it would be a good first experiment for Kickstarter.
We felt that the original Civil War theme was a tough sell, so we worked extensively on a steampunk re-theme. It was a lot of work preparing for the campaign, and we got off to a great start. However, the goal was simply too far away to be a success. We stopped the campaign about half way through in order to re-evaluate the project. We’re still in this process, and hope to have an announcement this spring.
Tom: What is one bit of advice you would give aspiring game designers?
Chris K: Play other people’s games, and lots of them. Play things outside of your comfort zone. What makes them tick? So many games have a DNA that can be traced back to what’s come before your game. Many of these influences aren’t even intentional. Whether it’s theme, mechanics, layout, there’s so much room to grow in seeing what does (and doesn’t) work in board games.
Chris G: Don’t let people tell you that an early version of a game is great. It isn’t. Most finished games aren’t great. Positive feedback might you feel good, but it’s either a lie or a polite substitute for “your game was so confusing, I don’t know what to say.” Most play testers will have constructive feedback, but unfortunately, most would also rather keep their opinions to themselves to avoid insulting the designer. So if someone plays your game, and says it’s great, insist that they give you one piece of criticism, no matter how small. After disclosing one complaint, many more might follow.
Chris K: Bonus advice: If possible, have another human teach you how to play. Reading a rulebook is not the same as having to grok how the game fits together while learning in person. This is critical to your ability to transfer rules knowledge (and layout a rulebook) effectively.
Tom: What else is in the game design queue?
Chris K: Our initial Kickstarter experience didn’t work out very well. We feel that the market has so much potential and is growing fast. However, the volume of games being released is increasing far faster than the size of our industry. This is a real problem that comes from reducing the traditional publisher role of acting as gatekeepers. It’s a double-edged sword that quite frankly, hurts the small game companies like Masquerade Games.
There are quite a few games we designed over the years with lots of potential. However, we did not complete their development for lack of funds since we were marketing Epigo. Right now we’re trying to turn our focus back on these old project, as well as making awesome new games.
We don’t need Masquerade to make a living, so we are exploring alternative methods for sharing our games. For example, print-on-demand is growing both in popularity and quality. We’re intrigued by developments from these suppliers, and are exploring it heavily. Look for a re-release of Simpletons in 2015, with a few other titles (hopefully) not far behind!
Tom: Awesome! POD is really becoming a solid business model. (Note to self: I should try to get Sean Patrick Fannon of One Bookshelf/ all the DriveThru… stuff for an interview). I look forward to seeing the re-implementation of Simpletons and your other games in the wild soon.
Any final words?
Chris K: Find a local group of game designers and join it. Even if you don’t design games, it can broaden your appreciation of the hobby, and you can help make future games better! If no group exists, start one. Feel free to contact nyc-playtest.com to get some inspiration & advice!
Thanks Chris and Chris for being my guests this time. It was a pleasure talking to you. Both Epigo and Simpletons look like a lot of fun. I wish you a lot of good things with the relaunches.