I recently sat down with local game publisher Patrick Leder, who’s currently working on a new asymmetric dungeon crawler entitled Trove: The Crystal Caverns, to find out what it takes to come up with a new and unique board game. I asked him a lot of questions and took a lot of notes, and our conversation flowed back and forth with a lot of fun. I could tell right away that he is a passionate gamer.
For those of you who know what you like but aren’t as familiar with terminology, an asymmetric game is on in which each player has different strategies and goals for winning. If you put this into a dungeon crawler like Trove, it means that each player takes on a different characters: one person gets to take on the brave knight, while the other characters are filled in with a goblin horde, a dragon, and even the cave itself. D&D, for example, generally has all player characters working towards a specific goal while the dungeon master controls the action and sets the story. Co-op games, such as Castle Panic, have all of the players working to defeat the game itself.
I asked Patrick what the appeal of an asymmetric game to the general gamer is. “Each role, from a literary standpoint, has a purpose,” he said. “The knight represents bravery, the dragon chaos, et cetera.” Trove is almost like four mini games in one, “but the asymmetry forced us to tone things down a bit. If you have everyone playing their own game, it can get convoluted.” Don’t worry, though—in the hours of playtesting, the team kept refining character goals and focusing the game. In some of the earlier versions, Patrick said, “We were having Knight turns that were taking a few seconds, while we were occasionally getting Goblin and Dragon turns that would go over a minute. I had to reduce the number of exceptions and make everyone’s turn flow more or less at the same pace.”
With four players, each having their own goals, I asked him whether you needed to be a gaming genius to play. Luckily, according to him, “It’s actually a very simple yet elegant game. A player of various degrees of skill can add to it. It can be consistently challenging and fresh and new. You can draw from your experience previously playing the game, but playing different characters adds to the freshness.” So it sounds like regardless of skill level, you’ll be able to pick it up and have fun. The longer you play a certain character, the more strategy you’ll be able to employ, but it will also be determined by what the other players are doing and what strategies they are using. According to Patrick, “Balance is important, but we wanted to focus on making it fast, playable, and accessible first, and then balanced.” Most importantly, in all the testing, each role has about a 25 percent chance to win.
The original concept for the game came from the mind of Washington, D.C., creator David Somerville. He found Leder Games via that wonderful gaming website BoardGameGeek. In the forum threads, David had been playtesting a number of pen-and-paper versions of the game for which users could download and print the various pieces and rules and provide feedback. After a year of doing this, David was looking for a publisher to take the game to the next level and get physical copies into gamer hands. However, he found that all the major publishers only wanted games that were ready to go and didn’t want to playtest and refine things.
Enter Patrick, who happened upon Trove and felt it had to be published. He was willing to put in the extra work and to get it ready for the masses. However, when you’re a small publisher, cash can be pretty tight. He’s planning to launch a Kickstarter campaign, which Twin Cities Geek will be following—we will update this column with that link when it happens. (Update 8/24/2015: Click here to visit the campaign!)
For those of you who are going to be at CONergence, I convinced Patrick to let me and some friends playtest Trove: The Crystal Caverns ourselves, and you’re more than welcome to join us! We are meeting at 6:00 p.m. Friday, July 3, on the gaming floor of the DoubleTree, and from what I understand, game time is about 90 minutes. Patrick will also be demoing the game at Gen Con in Indiana starting on July 30. He really wants to get the game into folks’ hands so that they can see how fun it is and drum up grassroots word-of-mouth interest for the Kickstarter.
If you want to read through the history of the initial playtesting, you can find the original thread on here on BoardGameGeek. It’s really interesting to see how it started and where it is now.
If you’re interested and want to try the game and/or talk to Patrick, feel free to swing by!