Designer Diary – Part Four: The Auckland Connection

I started to make contact with gamers in Auckland, which is how I met up with Amanda Milne and Julia Schiller, who had a company called SchilMil. During the summer months I could get on a ferry from Coromandel to Auckland, which was just the most amazing way to get to the city. I remember one ferry slowing down so that the local pod of Orcas could say hello. I also ran a game design weekend in Coromandel, ‘Coracon’ which led to me meeting a lot of fellow gamers and aspiring designers. With more testing the game was taking shape.

I started with four factions, the Dragon Riders, Horse Lords, Hill Folk and Mages. The Dragon Riders have dragons, which are essentially your one-use nuclear weapon. The Horse Lords are your “boring” human-types, who have a larger hand size and an extra leader. The Hill Folk have giants, who are both good in battle and can build castles. The Mages were meant to be the magic-users, but they became the most problematic of the factions. They started with a range of spells that they could use but eventually I converted them to the Necromancers, who can raise an army of zombies by killing enemy units. The first map was based on Europe, but that then got binned as there was too much of a disconnect between playing with fantasy units on a familiar real-world map.

Each faction had its own set of pieces. A lot of the unit types were common across all four factions, but the numbers of each would vary. Thus the Horse Lords have more cavalry than other factions, while the Hill Folk have more castles.

Then we moved, again. We were renting a house in Coromandel and the owners decided they wanted to sell the property. I forgot to mention that we took five cats with us when we moved from the UK to NZ. It’s not easy finding a rental with that number of pets. We ended up moving to a house in the Bay of Plenty, near Waihi. The closest city was Tauranga, where I already knew a number of gamers. Before I had moved to NZ I had made the acquaintance of David Taylor, who interviewed me for a podcast. He lived in Tauranga and organised gaming weekends at the local bridge club, ‘Boardgames by the Bay’.

I should mention that at this time ‘Bloodstones’ was known as ‘Runestones’, which seemed a suitable name given the nature of the components. By 2015 I had a good working prototype of the game. The only problem was working out how to publish the game. Treefrog had been doing well when we were based in the UK, but running it at a distance from NZ was proving harder than we had thought. Also, the market was changing. Kickstarter had been around for a few years by then, I had already dipped my toes twice into crowdfunding with ‘Moongha Invaders’ and ‘A Study in Emerald’. Now KS was really taking off and a Tsunami of games was washing over the hobby. It became a lot harder to make yourself stand out among all of this competition. Suddenly working the media became more important than the process of design. I’m not a natural online person, I hardly look at Facebook, and I don’t do Twitter or Instagram. To succeed in this new world you had to be a communicator, and I did not have the talent or band-width to take this on. We also lost the rights to our best-selling game, Discworld Ankh-Morpork, when Sir Terry Pratchett passed away. Treefrog was in trouble and I was having to make some difficult decisions on how best to stay afloat.

Necromancer Tiles from first version
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