A few weeks ago while wasting my time on Twitter, I was able to come across a very interesting game that is currently in development called Age of Primes. I reached out and connected with Chris Newton who is the Director and one of the designers of the game and he was enthusiastic about doing on interview on the game. So after a few weeks of sending information back and forth and doing some research into the game, the following interview was the result:
Grant: First off, what kind of a game is Age of Primes?
Chris: Age of Primes is what we call an Episodic Card Game (ECG). It is a Sci-Fi themed card game for 2-4 players who are doing their very best to gain power and influence over the colony of Macedon. The biggest difference between our game and most card games is that we are committed to telling a story with our game. Every single card tells a solo story, but also works together to further the story of the episode that it exists in. Simply put, Age of Primes is a story.
Grant: You’ve described the game as an “Episodic Card Game”. What exactly does this mean? How do you plan to carry out this “Episodic” approach?
Chris: To us, “Episodic” means to be delivered in a product that has a start and finish, but continues the narrative from a previous installment. Further, the episodes belong to a season, which also has a start and finish and continues the narrative from a previous installment.
Hopefully that does not come across as vague. If you want an example, take a look at your favorite TV show. That is the principle that we began with and have expanded from there.
We realized that it was critically important to us that we remain true to our core principle: nothing gets published unless it furthers our story. We decided that every last piece of every game, book, comic, etc. that we release must be completely supersaturated with our story canon and must drive forward the story. (Possible spoiler of our long-term plan??)
At some point, we decided to begin our saga in 17 AL (17 years after landing on Skellium). We planned out the sequence of events for the next three years and labeled that as our first Season. Then it was easy to work backward and determine which events would fall into what episode and why.
Our plan is to release “Episode 1 — Firstborn”, which contains three theme decks. Each theme deck focuses on a different House of Macedon and are designed to be completely playable out of the box. You can literally open the box, select which house theme deck you want to play, hand another to your friend, shuffle up and play!
Once the Episode 1 content is released, we will begin to release Episode 2 in the same manner. Episode 2 expands on the story that we began in Episode 1, focusing on the deeper aspects of the three houses that you will come to love and hate.
“If you want an example [of what we mean by Episodic Card Game], take a look at your favorite TV show. That is the principle that we began with and have expanded from there.”
Grant: What is the setting of the game? Where is Skellium and what type of planet is it? Is Skellium able to be developed or terra formed into something similar to earth?
Chris: Ah, sci-fi! I am personally a HUGE Star Trek fan, so as we developed our product, I really fell in love with the setting. I am actually going to apologize right away if I go long here. I absolutely LOVE our setting.
Skellium is a planet that the crew of the HSS Dorchester chanced upon after everything went wrong on their voyage to a planet similar to Earth. The ship was running on fumes and looking for any means of survival–when a bright green planet came into sensor range.
Skellium is somewhat similar to Earth in that is has an appropriate atmosphere condition for humans to live. But, what we discover upon landing is that the planet is dominated by its plant-life and it is not about to surrender control to us… I mean the humans.
Skellium is NOT a nice place to live. The plant-life is treacherous, aggressive and has an explosive growth potential. During the original colonization, the humans dug as deep as they could go in a day’s time, and when they woke up, the hole had filled itself with plant-life. Even the air itself is overpowered by plant-life. There is an ever present green mist during the day hours, limiting visibility to tunnel vision and only to about a mile. However, at night time, the mist falls to the ground, where the power of the two moons casts a silvery red light across the landscape. You can literally see better at night than during the day.
The biggest problem that has hindered man taking control of the planet is that the mists seem to be very corrosive to normal metals, causing most alloys to reduce to oxidized versions. The only metal that is at all reliable is the titanium taken from the ship’s hull; no other metal has been discovered to date on Skellium. If you look around at your world today and think about removing all instances of metal, you will be able to see why this has been a tremendous obstacle.
Grant: What does the name Age of Primes refer to? Who are the Primes?
Chris: Primes are the movers and shakers of our world. They are the primary points of view in our story. Primes possess that seed of greatness, your leaders, generals, great scientists, etc. In Earth history, think of people like Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein. John Rockefeller or Genghis Khan.
In our game, a Prime is a character of great influence. They are the heads of their Houses; most likely are not going to be getting into combat, but certainly will be involved in affecting its outcome. But really, the Primes are the most influential cards in our game. Every game starts off with players selecting a Prime from their deck to be their Person (who you play as). You and your opponent will always have a Prime in play as part of your party. Normally, you build your deck around the Prime and his or her abilities.
The really cool thing about our game is that if I select a House like Wren and pick out 39 Wren cards and ask you to select a Wren Prime for that deck. The deck will function differently based on the Prime you selected and its abilities. The Primes have distinct personalities and look at cards differently. Sylvester McCormick will certainly look at your gang of Followers much differently than both Taren Blaine and Roman Jackson and that makes deck design so much fun.
“Primes are the movers and shakers of our world. They are the primary points of view in our story. Primes possess that seed of greatness, your leaders, generals, great scientists, etc. In Earth history, think of people like Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein. John Rockefeller or Genghis Khan.”
Grant: You have shared the names of a few of the Primes. What are the other Primes in the game?
Chris: As I compose this interview, we have only revealed the House of Wren (or just “Wren” for short), and Macedon Central Council (Council). On August 15th we will reveal Clarity Inc. (Clarity). Each House comes with three distinct Primes, and the personalities of those Primes will help you understand the agendas and personalities of the Houses.
Revealed so far (in no particular order) are the Wren Primes: Roman Jackson, Taren Blaine and Sylvester McCormick. Roman is the feared leader of Wren. He is a mentally unstable man who was once a great general back on Earth who was betrayed and disgraced. His punishment was exile from his homeworld, leading him on a collision course with Skellium and the Earth colony of Macedon. Taren Blaine is the Firstborn. She was born during the landing of Dorchester and has grown up hating the unwanted celebrity status that comes with being the Firstborn. In many ways, the growth and development of the colony can be measured with her own growth. Sylvester McCormick is a former ganglord from Earth that found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was taken to Skellium. Now he must forge his own destiny in Claypigeon as the underdog.
From the Council we have: President Joseph Tromburg, the aging and frail leader of Macedon. Just like Taren, the Colony can measure its life in the decay of its President’s health. In his prime, President Tromburg was a caring and generous leader. Cpt. Shaun Mason was the final captain of the Dorchester. Conscripted into leadership by Mr. Tromburg, Mason has become the Keeper of Peace and captain of the guards. Consul Ben Gentry is the youngest member of the Council and has a different perspective on the state of the Colony. He has quietly watched Tromburg and Mason and has decided to take a different approach to government.
Soon to be revealed from Clarity are three members of the Clarity Board of Directors: CEO Lain Cochrane, Head Surgeon Selina Vargas and Business Mogul Alana Gold.
It is very difficult to sit on my hands and not talk about the final three Primes, but maybe I can be sneaky here and set this nameless picture on the table and not mention it to anyone on my team and walk away whistling…
Grant: We won’t share that with anyone…we promise (fingers crossed behind our back!). Tell us about the different houses and what makes each of them unique? Do they each have certain play styles? Strengths? Weaknesses?
Chris: Oh my, where do I begin on this question? To answer the question directly, YES. Each House is unique. Wren cares about might in numbers, glory in combat and honor in victory. They are a very aggressive group of people as dictated by their home in Claypigeon. Meanwhile Council believes in order and tradition. They want to ensure their power and flex their police state might through twisting the law and guard protection. Clarity is in the business of furthering the Colony through science and medical breakthroughs. Due to the aggressive nature of Claypigeon next door, Clarity was forced to invest into private security and has begun investigating how to…“enhance” their hired muscle.
Each House certainly has its own strength and weakness. You know, it’s funny. I am a father of two little boys, and if you asked me to tell you about their strengths and weaknesses, I would be very quick to brag about how smart and strong they are, but be hesitant to talk about their flaws. I find myself feeling the same way about the Houses.
Wren is really good at attacking and gaining a ton of Prestige while doing so. Wren is not very good at stopping their opponent from doing anything outside of combat. (That was painful, let’s see if I can get through this…)
Council is very good at stopping and preventing combat and putting a halt to any type of combo that an opponent is trying to hatch. They are not very good at gaining Prestige, which perfectly represents the flaw in the Council: they can’t get out of their own way.
Clarity is all about explosive scientific breakthroughs. This leads to big combinations and to powerfully enhanced Followers. The problem with Clarity is that they have a hard time dealing with an aggressive attacker as their Followers start off smaller prior to being enhanced.
“Each House certainly has its own strength and weakness. I am a father of two little boys, and if you asked me to tell you about their strengths and weaknesses, I would be very quick to brag about how smart and strong they are, but be hesitant to talk about their flaws. I find myself feeling the same way about the Houses.”
Grant: What is your personal favorite house to play as? Why?
Chris: I knew this question was coming! So I will answer it in two ways, first for the beginner looking to get involved, and then get a little technical for experienced gamers.
First, my favorite House to play with is definitely Council. I am a control freak at heart, so being in control of the gamestate and playing the permission type deck definitely appeals to me. I also really like the Councilors and the Guard theme…and dare I say that the Kickback mechanic is super fun to play.
Now for the more in-depth answer, while the question seems to be a very obvious one, after playing a game or two, you will realize that House selection is only the first of three decisions when you want to play a given deck. If I said that I like playing Wren the best, that doesn’t really tell you anything. If I told you I enjoy playing as Sylvester McCormick, suddenly you begin to see the vastness of the game — Sly belongs to Wren. But even then, Sly can be played as an aggressive, combo or even control type deck. So even with the current limited card pool, there are a ton of potential deck types possible for each House.
Without getting too technical here, my favorite plays are Sly McCormick (from Wren — control orient), Shaun Mason (Council — combat prevention) and Alana Gold (Clarity — a strange form of control).
Grant: I love the detail that has gone into the development of the game. You can feel the rich story elements coming through and I appreciate your passion for your creation. How does the theme affect the game play? Do you feel you have integrated the theme well?
Chris: Turns out… our entire team are big Sci-Fi fans. The opportunity to write stories and design games in that type of setting has been very exciting for us. I can’t tell you how many of our design meetings were side-tracked and turned into Star Wars or Star Trek discussions. Most of those ended up being very important for us to learn more about each other and figure out how far into this genre we wanted to go.
What you will learn as you dig into the story of Age of Primes is that while this is a sci-fi story, we have added an interesting theme twist in that upon landing on Skellium, technology has been failing the humans. Metal started decaying and the people were never able to figure out a solution for how to prevent that from happening. Fast forward to 17 AL and most forms of metal are long since decayed away. However, the ship’s hull was reinforced with a titanium alloy that has withstood the decaying process. Many major homes and some weaponry were created from the ship’s remains. Needless to say, titanium has become very scarce and valuable.
In its place, the House that came to be called Clarity Inc. has discovered that some forms of plant-life can be refashioned into usable objects. They developed a material called Eco-Steel, which is not really metal at all, but rather it is a sturdy wooden mixture that is a little bit brittle, but can be molded and sharpened like former steel weapons (minus the heat of course).
Additionally, the colony is at constant war with the jungle they find themselves in (again due to the regeneration of plant-life). While this doesn’t play an obvious role in the game, what needs to be understood is that going out into the jungle is as close to a death sentence as there is in Macedon. Therefore, everyone remains inside the walls. The close proximity to such diverse people has caused a lot of problems.
Imagine that you belong to a community that has broken away from the government and now you are independent from them. Then another community does the same thing. Now…there are three independent groups within a mile or so radius. None of the groups have any interest in cooperating or communicating. That is the situation at the beginning of our game.
“…our entire team are big Sci-Fi fans. The opportunity to write stories and design games in that type of setting has been very exciting for us. I can’t tell you how many of our design meetings were side-tracked and turned into Star Wars or Star Trek discussions.”
I think we did a pretty good job of representing that struggle for control and retaining self-independence. The three Houses absolutely feel different and there were a few goals in our design that I think we nailed. Obviously, the true judges will be our fans, but here is a list of our design goals:
First, we wanted to make the Houses diverse between each other, but also allow the Primes within the House to define it.
Second, we didn’t want to lose the idea that we were in a colony and that normal, everyday people exist who don’t belong to the Houses.
Finally, we wanted to embrace the fact that the Houses themselves are struggling to gain influence and power over the colony.
The first goal I’d say turned out very well. The second one took a bit of fine-tuning, but the neutral cards in our three decks do a good job defining some of the unaffiliated people of the colony and their actions. Lastly, we ended up changing away from the “defeat your enemy” model that is so common in other card games in favor of the “victory point” model that we see in board games. We didn’t want the game to turn into a warzone, as that is not the story we are telling–it is completely possible that you never attack during a given game. It made sense to have a different win condition, and that turned into GAINING points instead of LOSING points to win.
Grant: Who’s your artist? How do you feel his art has shaped your vision for the game/story?
Chris: Our artist is Joe Latham. I have really been looking forward to this question. I can’t begin to express how proud of Joe I am. Let me tell you, it was extremely difficult to find the right artist for our project. I searched everywhere I could possibly think to look. I finally stumbled upon Joe on his DeviantArt page and I really liked his landscape art–I thought that he could bring our vibrant world to life. At that time, I also found another person who I thought could do the portraits and away we went.
Well, the other artist decided to bow out and Joe stepped up to the plate and said, “You know Chris, I don’t have a lot of experience doing portraits or people in general, but I am willing to try and learn if you’d give me the time.” I didn’t know until a later conversation, but Joe is completely self-taught. He actually went to school for computer science and designs websites for people.
When we finalized the card designs, I got Joe in a Skype call and asked him how many more artists I need to find in order to help him paint the 105 cards plus website requirements. Joe lives in England, but I could feel him staring at me from across the ocean and he said, “Do you actually need more? I got this.” Alright Joe, let’s see what you’ve got!
Six months later, our game was fully illustrated. Joe has done a wonderful job. I am not totally sure how to describe this correctly, but seven years ago, this entire setting was just a twinkle in my mind. Joe was able to put it on a canvas so that you can see it. Totally an amazing feat.
“I am not totally sure how to describe this correctly, but seven years ago, this entire setting was just a twinkle in my mind. Joe was able to put it on a canvas so that you can see it. Totally an amazing feat.”
Grant: I like the art a lot and it definitely adds to the theme of the game. I believe that art can make or break a game and Joe has done a great job of capturing your vision. How has the playtest process gone?
Chris: Playtesting has been rewarding, yet a challenge. Our design team consists of two people; Jake and myself. Jake lives in Colorado and I live in Ohio, so as you can guess, it’s been tough to playtest. We literally play the game blind. We connect using Skype voice and have the card database open on our laptops with proxy cards on the table in front of us. Its funny, in hindsight, how we accomplished this. However, once we learned the cards and memorized the game rules, everything became second nature. Normally, there are not a lot of cards on the table (except when Taren is around…), so it wasn’t too hard to keep a mental image of Jake’s table.
Once we were comfortable with the game, we began sampling the game for others, starting with the writers on our team. We then expanded out to close friends and went from there. The response has been very good so far. The common response has been, “When can I get my copy?” and that is what we are looking for.
Grant: What is your goal to offer on Kickstarter?
Chris: Well, that is the question on our mind as well. We are still waiting for a bit of expenses to settle out, but we feel that our funding goal should be in the range of $10-15k. We are thinking about using stretch goals to increase our product, adding extra copies of rares and maybe offering foils…things like that. We are also excited about offering a couple of opportunities to allow fans to work with my designer on creating future cards. One of my favorite ideas is to include backers in future card arts. We are also open to suggestions as our campaign is not finalized yet.
Chris has given me permission to share the following piece of information about the future of the game:
In addition to Age of Primes as a card game, we are in the late stages of writing our first book that supplements the card game with additional stories, details, etc. about the first episode and its events. I am very excited about our books. We have adopted the short story as our main storytelling vehicle. Our stories are designed to be short and bite-sized. They are easy to pick up and be finished reading in 20 minutes. Our word length on the stories range from 500 to 5,000 words. We are also considering offering early access to the book as a Kickstarter reward.
There you have a great inside look at the upcoming Sci-Fi themed Age of Primes Episodic Card Game! Thanks to Chris for his time in answering my questions and giving us a look at the future of the game. I also appreciate Chris’s feedback to us regarding our blog and our communications plan. I truly appreciate the great professionals in the board gaming industry as I truly feel that there is a family feeling.
For future updates on Age of Primes check out their website at www.ageofprimes.com or follow them on Twitter at @ageofprimes