Designer Diary 7: Q&A with Evil Hat’s Fred Hicks (Part II)

This is Part II of the Q&A with Evil Hat co-president Fred Hicks. If you missed Part I, start here

Q: How does the playtesting process differ from RPGs to board/card games? What has the RtA playtesting process been like for Evil Hat?

Fred: Card games have a much more strict range of possible outcomes because there’s usually not a lot of game time that lives outside of the rules, and the rules are focused on a particular set of activities rather than the wide open field of actions that characters in an RPG can take. RPG playtesting can be pretty grueling at times because there are so many variables in play and so much flexibility. So coming from that to the RtA experience has been a bit of a culture shock. Prototyping is fast, and playtesting is breezy. That’s not to say it hasn’t been extensive, but the timeline just runs a lot faster because the gameplay experience is so much more tightly focused.

Evil Hat co-president Fred Hicks

Q: What stands out in terms of the challenges (or advantages) of publishing a card game in comparison to publishing role-playing games?

Fred: From a development and publication perspective, RPGs are more expensive on the time investment side than card games, but they’re also much cheaper when it comes to production. Ultimately you’re putting out a book, and books have gotten pretty cheap to manufacture these days. Card games flip that around. They haven’t quite seen the extensiveness of print-on-demand solutions that books have had over the last decade, for example. Solutions do exist out there, but they’re still very dawn-of-the-industry by comparison, so the quality and price aren’t *quite* there yet to where they can compete with the larger-scale printing operations. But when you’re locked into those larger scales, your costs go up due to volume. So we want to start modestly with our first few games outside of the RPG sphere, but modestly still means between 3,000 and 5,000 copies as your minimum print run. If we can sell that kind of volume, we’ll be doing great, but those are pretty heady numbers in RPGlandia. Spirit of the Century has sold more than 6,000 copies of the RPG, and it is looked at as a pretty solid success. But that looks like an entry-level number for a card game. So we’ll have to see if we can reach not only the card-game-friendly SotC player, but also folks who’ve never heard of SotC and aren’t necessarily RPGers themselves, if we want to sell that first printing.

Q: There’s a combat card game in the Spirit of the Century universe called Zeppelin Armada that will be coming out as well. How do you view the relationship between RtA and ZA (if any) from a publishing perspective?

Fred: They’re sister games. Race to Adventure! lives in the heroic space. It’s not cooperative, per se—it’s a competitive scavenger hunt—but it’s good-natured and occasionally you get to zap the bad guys with your lightning gun. InZeppelin Armada, you ARE the bad guys, duking it out in a winner-takes-all battle in the sky. ZA is just a little more complicated than RtA, too, but that’s a good thing; as a “fightin’ game” pitched at a slightly older audience, we won’t be totally overlapping RtA’s fan base, which should mean we’ll reach more people in total.

“Evil Hat believes that passion makes the best games.” -Fred Hicks

Q: You’ve commented previously that there are some expansions planned for RtA. Is there anything more you can add? From a philosophical standpoint, how aggressive do you believe a publisher should be in producing board and card game expansions?

Fred: That’s all still in “internal discussion” right now. We see some directions the game can go, but it’ll need to see a very successful launch to justify the expansions. The fans have gotta want those things, they’ve gotta be asking for ’em, for them to make sense. Otherwise I think you’re serving them better by producing something self-contained, standalone, so folks don’t show up and immediately feel like they’re having to make a deep, long term financial commitment just to “keep up” with the full game experience.

Q: And what’s this I hear about Spirit of the Century novel? Any plans to play off the novel in SotC game expansions?

Fred: We’ve got to get the thing written first! But yeah, the novel will be titled Dinocalypse Now, written by Chuck Wendig, and featuring characters from Spirit of the Century, Race to Adventure!, and Zeppelin Armada all in the mix. Psychic dinosaurs invade the 1930s and the Century Club fights back! And if that novel does well, we’re looking to push it into a trilogy format. A successful novel could also spawn expansions not just for SotC, but also for RtA and ZA.

Q: You’ve had a lot of positive things to say on Twitter about the Ascension iPad app. Is Evil Hat planning to releaseRace to Adventure! and Zeppelin Armada as digital apps? If so, what will you be looking for? What makes a good game app to you, and what would an RtA digital app have to do well for you to be satisfied?

Fred: RtA absolutely *could* be, but we’d need to find a good app-making partner with a proven track record to make that work. I think it’s exactly the sort of thing that could work well as an iPad app. ZA on the other hand can get really interrupt-driven, which is tricky for online play unless everyone is on and active at the same time, so I don’t know how strong of a candidate that makes for app-ifying. It’d probably work just great in a you-vs-the-computer sort of way.

Aside from Ascension, I’m also a fan of the Carcassonne app. Both are strong translations of the board game to online play, and they’re gorgeous to boot. But I haven’t tried quantifying what makes them tick yet, since that line of thinking is still very pie-in-the-sky.

Q: What’s next after Race to Adventure! and Zeppelin Armada on the board/card game front?

Fred: That would be telling.

Fred Hicks is a dad, a gamer, and a game publisher. He runs Evil Hat Productions, and does freelance art direction and layout work for the occasional other game publisher. The rest of the time, though, he’s looking after his kids, and spending time with his wife. Life is good.