Continuing their success with Hoyuk, Mage Company are bringing another print and play game into full production via Kickstarter. This time the game is Aether Captains, a steam punk adventure game of flying air ships and an interesting use of dice.
I spoke to Todd Sanders about the development of the game and its influences.
Before we talk about Aether Captains, tell us a little about yourself and your history in gaming?
I began seriously playing board games about 12 years ago. RPGs never held much fascination for me nor wargames or older Monopoly/Risk style games I played as a child. These were all I thought were out there for the most part. My FLGS, then my favourite comic book store, began to stock eurogames and my eyes were opened to new possibilities.
BGG came along and I signed up because wanted some way to review games before I bought them and to find those that appealed to me. BGG led me to the Print and Play community and about 6 years ago I began to actually design games myself. I’ve had very rewarding 6 years learning how to design board games and improve my skills.
I have a degree in architecture and am a practicing graphic designer and this knowledge went hand in hand with PnP style games. There are not that many designers out there who can do the artwork and visual layouts for their games. It has been a long road to get to where I am today and finally seeing my games beginning to be published so I am quite eager to see what the future will bring.
Your boardgamegeek profile contains the label "Re Designer", what is this in reference to?
I take older games from the early 80s, which are mechanically interesting but can suffer from artwork not worthy of the designer’s intent, and redesign all the graphic components. There are a few of us who do this on BGG.
I am best known for my redesign of Barbarian Prince and The Hammer of Thor, for which I created a new map, over 700 cards and more than 1000 tokens.
Aether Captains, the PnP version from 2010 was one of the first games I designed. That original game used dice to form sections of steampunk zeppelin ships (rather than using miniatures). Other dice became attacking pirate ships and the solo player would fight battle scenarios against them. This first game led to a number of other in the Aether Captains world and I created a story tying the games together and, in fact, an entire world - Arkady - where the steampunk style Grand Compact battled the dread Domain of the Air Pirates for supremacy in the skies.
There are a few different sources I drew from while I was working on the game. Primarily a story by Benjamin Rosenbaum called ""Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes', by Benjamin Rosenbaum”. I would recommend this story anyone who is interested in steampunk fantasy. You can read it for free in fact at http://benjaminrosenbaum.com/stories/rosenbaum-notes.pdf
And the other primary visual source is the excellent anime series Last Exile which captures extremely well the kind of aerial battles I envisioned in the game.
When I say dice though, do not think this is a dice game as defined by such games as Yahtzee. The dice used in the game act as miniature ships for the players. As a ship takes on damage, the dice are rotated to show different faces and the players can see the damage to their ships mounting. So you get a nice real-time visual effect of the ship in trouble.
So that is the 2010 version in a nutshell.
A few years ago Alex from MAGE Company contacted me about publishing the game and over time we have built out the core mechanic - combat driven dice ships - into a multi-player game.
We created a ‘macro’ level to AC - the exploration of the world of Arkady. This allowed us to create new choices for the players in how the map of the world is set up when the game begins, and how the players work with their objectives during the game. The core of the game - the combat - is the heart of the print and play version and operates on the ‘micro’ scale of player vs. player battles.
Beyond this the changes mostly involved the Air Pirate players. The Aether Navy player has a very direct goal, that of wiping the scourge of the Domain of the Air Pirates from the skies over Arkady. The pirates though have a different play dynamic in that they are forced to be cooperative but they each have a hidden objective in the game which means they must be competitive as well. This game will not be a ‘take that’ backstabbing experience by any means. I don’t like or design those sorts of games but there are opportunities that will arise for a player to exploit for their own agenda.
Current players will recognize all the ships and original crew members from the original print and play version. With the addition of the macro level of the Arkady tiles, players will also find themselves in very familiar territory with the cities of the Grand Compact and the narrative I have created across all the Aether Captains series of games.
How did you come up with the dice mechanic?
Nick Hayes created a game called Chunky Fighters that stacks dice to form characters. The faces of the dice rotate to change the attack/defence characteristics.
I liked this idea but thought it might work better with the dice in a row to show the sections of a ship (originally designed as battleships). At the time there were a number of game design contests on BGG using dice and I had crafted a number of these games and had a pile of leftover 1” wooden cubes. I added a cross section through the ships as an extra detail element on those faces which sit adjacent to each other. For the pirate ships them, since they use a single die each I was able to out 6 different ships on one die and players would roll these during setup. This let me give the player a different experience each game since the ships act in different ways.
For the PnP community having fewer pages to print often means your game is more likely to be crafted and the artwork for the dice was minimal enough that I could fit a single Navy ship or up to 6 Pirate ships on one page. This allowed me to create new expansions to the game quickly and get them out to the fans of the game.
Apart from the artwork and the components, is there anything you're changing about the new version of Aether Captains?
Besides the game now being multi-player, there will be a series of new ships, both for the Aethernavy and for the Pirates that I have designed. I’ve also created some battle scenarios we hope to release to mix up the combat mechanic and give players some different thing to react to in the game.
I must compliment the art team Alex found for the game. They have done an excellent job to visualize Arkady and its citizens and create a new level of detail for the game.
Having made the original artwork for Aether Captains, how does it feel to hand over the artwork to your game to someone else?
It has been very interesting. The art team has done a great job and has added new details to Arkday and its citizens. I am quite happy to turn over the artwork on this game because I am not an illustrator myself so there are certain images I see in my head but it is harder for me to create them. There are a lot of small details they have added, especially to the tiles showing the cities of the Grand Compact which as a game player and visual designer I appreciate.
Many thanks to Todd for taking the time to answer my questions.
If a dice based steampunk, airship filled adventure sounds like you kind of game, go check out the kickstarter now.