Sultan's Library Interview

Sultan's Library Interview
Sultan’s Library is a card game about the golden age of knowledge in the Middle East, when rich Sultans where thirsty for information and would send their emissaries far and wide to accumulate learning and create the greatest libraries in the world. Sultan’s Library is published by Photon Games a Canadian based company working with South African game designers and artists, and I had the opportunity to speak with Ryno Lourens, the driving force behind Photon Games and designer of Sultan’s Library.

Ryno has been playing games for many years, quoting Twilight Imperium as being his absolute favourite, and considers himself lucky to have been surrounded by gaming friends throughout his life.

“I have lived in many places around the world and I have always been making games and playing them with my friends. In 2014, I decided to take the plunge and start publishing my own games. I moved back to South Africa, contacted some old acquaintances and got to work on making Sultan's Library a reality.”

Inspiration for games comes from many places. Some people try and emulate older board games, video games or their favourite TV show or book. In the case of Sultan’s Library the real world and its rich history was the primary inspiration.

“As I was busy unwinding one night, trying to think of new ideas for the Dark Heresy campaign I was running at the time, I stumbled onto an episode of Cosmos. In it, Neil deGrasse Tyson was discussing how, during the Middle Ages, the Middle East was a shining beacon of scientific progress. While the Inquisition in Europe was burning books, various sultans and rulers were sending out envoys far across the globe to gather and bring back knowledge.”

This idea was a spark of inspiration for Ryno and imagining the adventures these gathers of knowledge experience engrossed him. “I soon realized that this would not make for a top notch 40k adventure, now there is an Inquisition that would love to burn some knowledge, but the idea remained. And as usual with ideas like these, it would not leave my head until I had done something with it.”

With a theme that would not leave Ryno’s head, he now had the seed of a game, but the main influence for the game mechanics came from another gatherer of treasures.

“Sultan's Library was heavily influenced by a game called Dragon's Hoard. You played as a dragon, collecting sheep and building up your hoard of treasures. It also featured an Action Point Allocation system, however it took a little too long to finish. I worked off of that general idea, but made sure the mechanics on Sultan's Library were tight enough so that the game could finish in half that time.”

“Sultan's Library plays has its own unique play-style that really makes you feel like you are wandering around an ancient desert. Since the Locations, Events and Book cards are all in the same deck, you never know what you are going to find when you go exploring."

"Each time you play you feel as if this time you have the winning strategy figured out, then you get stuck in a jungle or someone burns your book, but surely in the next game, you will do better! It also plays fairly quickly and has a lot of player interaction, which can lead to some friendly games turning ugly real quick.”

I am quite surprised by this last comment, Sultan’s Library gives the appearance of the knowledge and gentility of the learned scholar, so how exactly does this game get ugly?

“The game tends to become very heated, since there is an awful lot of give and take. Many of the Action cards are there to hinder other players and the Locations can be quite brutal as well. However, this is all balanced out by the fact that it is fairly easy to catch up to someone in the lead, so you never feel discouraged or like you can't win.”

One of the first things that grabs your attention with Sultan’s Library is the art. They say you should never judge a game by its box art but we are all guilty of being drawn into a game by the beauty and theme of its illustrations. Some game designers spend years trying to find the artist that creates the correct mood for the game, but in Ryno’s case finding his visual style for the game was easy.

“The artist for this project, Zane Atkinson, has been a good friend of mine for many years. The work that this guy does is fairly amazing, as you can see from this project, so when I moved back to South Africa I got in contact with him as soon as possible.”

Ryno wasn’t just lucky in already knowing that he had the artist he wanted; with the artist being an old friend he was able to trust him with the work.

“I felt totally comfortable leaving the entire design and art concept with him, since I can barely draw a stick figure. I knew he would be the guy that will bring Sultan's Library to life.”

In March of this year (2015) Ryno and Photon Games embarked on a Kickstarter to help launch the company, and of all the games in their repertoire Sultan’s Library seemed the obvious choice to start with.

“For my first foray into the Kickstarter jungle, I decided to go with Sultan's Library since it was a fairly low on components and I felt that it had a nice, wide appeal.”

Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan, as Sultan’s Library failed to reach its funding goal. Ryno let the project run its course and is now ready to run the project again, but what has he learnt from the previous project and what went wrong?

“I learned so much during the first month after the Kickstarter went live. The main thing we did wrong was lack of promotion. I did not realize how important it was to not only have a solid product and Kickstarter page, but to have a following for your product in place before you launched. I was relying on Kickstarter itself to generate the hype for the game, which simply does not work.”

So what are Photon Games doing differently on Sultan’s Library’s second outing?

 “This time around I am reaching out to reviewers about looking at the game, Daniel Zayas at the Meeple Mechanic has been especially great, as well as launching a Prefundia page for our game. Finally, we managed to lower the cost of the game significantly, by cutting out some needless components, that really should have been stretch goals to begin with, as well as doing a ton of research on various shipping methods.”

A big thank you to Ryno for taking the time to answer my questions. Sultan's Library will be launching on Kickstarter soon, keep an eye on the Polyhedron Collider Facebook page and Twitter for news.

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