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Behind The Kickstart: ARMELLO With Trent Kusters

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Matt Mueller: Hi Trent, thank you so much for taking some time to go over your Kickstarter project Armello with me. I know things are crazy hectic over there at the moment, so your time is greatly appreciated. How are you holding up?

Trent Kusters: PAX was wild, then with a Kickstarter running too, Wow. But yeah, I'm holding up. Back into the swing of things now. Working with some indies in Boston at the moment.

MM: First off, for those who aren't familiar, why did you and your team set out to create the game, and what exactly is Armello?

TK: Armello is a digital board game that mixes elements from a lot of tabletop games (card games, board games, pen and paper RPGs, etc) and then leverages the medium of video games to really make them as awesome as they can be. This crazy mission came about because when we formed LoG we were deciding upon the first game to make, all of us were playing board games on our iPad and they were just horrid. So incredibly bad. We knew we could do better and that the digital board game genre (so-to-speak) had so much potential. It was somewhere we knew we had a real shot at contributing to the medium.  

MM: How has the Kickstarter process been so far? With the amount of positive feedback you’ve received, would it be something you would do again down the road?

TK: Kickstarter is a harrowing process. A fellow developer and Kickstarter vet referred to it as the "30 Days of Despair." They're not wrong. It's an emotional rollercoaster. I worked for 42 hours straight when we launched. Saying all that, however, it's an incredible platform and we love how empowering it is. I don't know if we'd bet the studio on a Kickstarter again, but we have a couple of pretty incredible side projects that would perfectly suit a Kickstarter campaign, so you'll see us on KS again some day.

MM: I will offer a bit of kudos and a thank you for developing this for PC and Mac, as I have resolved myself to the fact that the only way I get cool Mac games that aren’t from Blizzard is through Kickstarter, so thank you for giving me something cool and worthwhile to play next year on my gaming deprived platform. Just thought I’d mention that.

TK: You're welcome. I play games on my Macbook Pro all the time, so I can relate. ;)

MM: Following up on how the process has been, Kickstarter funded projects have become more closely scrutinized over the last 2 years or so, as it’s great when it works out, but more and more projects fail to either manage budgets, expectations, or fail due to overpromising features that never make it to release. With that said, how are you attempting to mitigate those pitfalls from your project and keep consumer confidence high that Armello will deliver on everything it’s promising?

TK: You're completely right. The Kickstarter community has gone from a hyped bunch of rabid consumers to a collective of very sophisticated, discerning consumers. The best, most critical and most observant questions and feedback we've received yet on Armello and LoG has come from our backers. As for how we move forward with that in mind, it actually doesn't change anything. We need to deliver this game and run the studio to the best of our ability anyway. Now the stakes are just higher. Going into it we were very careful about the promises we made, and are still careful about that now, but yeah, we've still just got to do what we set out to do in the first place.     

MM: $200,000 is actually pretty reasonable when it comes to funding a game, as games are not cheap to make. Is the amount a bit lower just because you have already laid most of the foundation down prior to starting your fundraising campaign?

TK: Yes, exactly. We're at alpha. At risk of minimizing the notion of what's left to do, it's kind of paint by numbers from here on out - whilst changing a couple of the colors on the fly. We're at Alpha so the majority of mechanics are in the game already. Also, our production model where we have collaborators on from all over the globe working for profit share permits us more development muscle than most studios can buy at that price. Our future and things will be more comfortable if we hit stretch goals of course, but we were very sure to make sure we had enough money to see the game finished.  

MM: One of the features you mention is how there is never any downtime in Armello. Can you go into some detail on how you are minimizing wait time, say when someone else is taking their turn, and what options are out there for you after your turn ends?

TK: Yeah, sure. We call these phases your 'on-turn' and your 'off-turn'. When it's your turn, that's your on-turn. This is when all the action occurs basically. Moving, exploring, fighting, capturing settlements, questing, etc. When the other players are having their turn, that's what we refer to as your 'off-turn'. Your off-turn is really your time to strategize, upgrade and plan. You'll be equipping items, recruiting followers, purchasing talents, chatting with other players, playing Perils to the board and more.  You can play cards during both of these phases too. So yeah, there's always something to do in Armello. It's a fine balance of knowing what to be paying attention to at the right time.

MM: You mentioned recruiting allies or laying perils for other players or even forming alliances. Can you go into some detail on how those features work?

TK: I don't want to drill down too far into them as they may change still, but I'll give you a taste. Each hero can have up to three Followers in their party. Followers are powerful characters in the form of cards that players can uncover by encountering them on the board, meeting them on a quest or exploring dungeons. As for Perils; the majority of Spell and Trickery cards can be either played to the board or onto a hero. When played to a hero, the effect is instantaneous. When played to the board, the card is played as a 'Peril'. A Peril is a trap of sorts. When a player walks onto a tile with a Peril on it, they must roll the corresponding stat and match the designated symbols in order to escape the card's effect. Most importantly though, perils are great ways at affecting and shaping your opponent's stories by having mercenaries try and track them down, or having their name smeared in court, etc. Perils are great storytelling tools.    

MM: Those sound like a blast, and for those who will be playing this in the future with me, the answer is yes, your name will be constantly smeared in court.

Players might get distracted on off turns by the gorgeous artwork alone. What inspired the designs of the heroes and the world? Seeing it for the first time I couldn’t help but think of my constant viewings of Robin Hood (The Disney Version) when I was a kid. I have a very special love for that kind of animation and art style, and Armello definitely strikes that same chord for me. I half expected Sir Hiss to pop up on one of the cards.

TK: There are a few inspirations in there. Perhaps most notably is the work of Eyvind Earle and Mary Blair from Disney's golden age. Also a lot of Miyazaki/Ghibli influence, as well as some The Dark Crystal. We draw from a lot of things though and I know that Ty Carey our art director spent a lot of time ensuring we struck that unique place where we had something that was familiar, yet uniquely Armello.

MM: I love that you made a physical board game prototype before fully starting on the digital version. Its hard to know what is fun and what isn’t without first getting around the tabletop and throwing some dice with friends. Speaking of physical media, I know there aren’t any plans to make a physical version of the game for mass release, but were there ever any thoughts given to making physical add-ons? One of the reward tiers offers limited edition figurines of the featured heroes, and I wasn't sure if there were plans at some point to make them transferable into the game, ala Skylanders or Disney Infinity?

TK: For a while we looked at having dice that players could roll and the results would show up in game, but in the end the tech just wasn't there yet. It needs a few more years. However, the game is a video game. That's the experience we're going for so physical additions or interfacing methods aren't at the top of our priority list.

MM: I gotcha. I love how there are numerous ways to win a match. Of those mentioned the political option perked my ears up the most. How in depth is that system, and how exactly would someone’s playthrough work using that as their play-style?

TK: To be named successor to the throne of Armello, the player has to have the highest prestige at the time the King dies to the Rot. There are a few ways to achieve this, but a lot of this tactic relies upon the trickery deck, in which are cards and plays akin to political moves you'd see in an episode of Game of Thrones. You'll be forming allegiances, hiring assassins, slandering people in court, feigning support for the King and more. Most important to your strategy though is that the King must not die at the hands of another hero, so whilst playing the political angle you're also defending the King anyway you can. It's a super interesting path and I've seen people approach it successfully in a number of ways.    

MM: While we are talking about ways to win a match, one of the other features mentioned was following royal edicts, which get more and more preposterous as the king loses more and more of his gourd to the rot. I absolutely love that feature, and think it will lead to even more investment in the fiction and in the final goal of trying to take the crown for yourself. Are edicts available to all players, or just to people who choose to go along a certain path to taking the crown.

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TK: The King's Declarations as they are called affect every player on the board. They usually take the form of global rule shifts that remain active for two rounds (Day and Night). However, the most interesting factor is that the King will recruit the player with the highest prestige as counsel, permitting them to make a decision on what the King's Declaration for that day will be. There's a real sense of power that comes from being that close to the throne.

MM: How crazy do the declarations get? Is there one that ranks among your favorites?

TK: We actually haven't sat down and designed them all out just yet, however the one that is the most interesting currently is not permitting the heroes to fight each other for two rounds. It's incredible how fast such a simple rule shift can change up the dynamics of play.  

MM: The cards themselves are beautifully designed. How intensive was the process of refining those down to only 100 cards for the full retail product, and were there any that you wanted in the game that did not make the cut?

TK: We're still going through that process right now. It will be an ongoing process for the entirety of the game's life, even post launch. With so much going on in this game, I don't think we can ever hope to get 100 cards 'right'. Magic are still tweaking cards that were invented 20 years ago.  

MM: While the game will have in app purchases later on, its interesting that other decks of cards will not be a part of those downloadables offered. You’ve made it very clear that it will not happen, even further down the line. What was behind that decision?

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TK: We don't want Armello to become an exclusive environment only catering to those who have spent the most money or have the latest cards. From the start we wanted players to be able to have their first game of Armello and for the playing field to be level. Other players can only ever bring their mastery and knowledge of the game's systems to a match. There's no levelling or purchasable power ups, or anything like that. There is no pay-to-win in Armello. Repeat play in Armello is rewarded by increased understanding of the systems and their behaviours and permutations - this is where players gain their advantage! We strongly believe that will create a stronger community and longer lasting experience.

MM: While I love opening up packs of cards, for any reason really, it is nice that, whether a backer or someone who buys the game a year down the line, that person is equipped with the same resources to win, and isn't automatically at a disadvantage before they even boot up the game.

Before we let you go I’d like to thank you again for taking some time out to talk to us today. At this point you’re already over halfway funded, so congrats on getting there in just over a week. Is there one thing that you would like someone to take from this, and why should someone give Armello a chance?

TK: First and foremost, this is a passion project. This is something that 90% of the team has been working on for no upfront pay after getting home from a full day at work. We're on this project because we believe in it. The people we've shown it to believe in it and we know you will too. Not only is Armello going to be something truly special, but we've got plenty more ideas that we hope to be applying our talents to. The Armello Kickstarter is the best chance to get in on the ground floor.

MM: Well its been a blast, and I wish you and your team nothing but success!

TK: Thanks for reaching out! Glad to be able to chat.  

If you would like to back Armello, you can head over to their Kickstarter page right now. One of the reward tiers allows you access to four other heroes, which are featured below. Can't say enough about the character design on this game, so I wanted to give these guys a spotlight.

Dibbs on the squirrel!


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