A few weeks ago, while perusing Twitter, I came across a photo of a very interesting looking game shared by the designer. His name is Brian Kelley and he has been working on several prototype games over the past few years and I asked him if he wanted to talk about one of those games called The Scarlet Pimpernel. He graciously agreed and sent me some information, including great video, a PDF of the full rules as well as some other tidbits. This game looks very interesting and I wanted to share it with you as it will be coming out later this year on Kickstarter.
Grant: Brian, first off tell us a little about yourself? What games do you like to play? What got you into board game design? What is your favorite thing about the design process?
Brian: I am a professional graphic designer and work for an internet company in the Salt Lake City area. About 15 years ago I was introduced to Eurogames and have been hooked ever since. My favorite games are mid to heavy Eurogames. Some of my favorites are Power Grid, Railways of the World and Acquire, and most recently Terraforming Mars and Crisis. I have a gaming group that meets once a week to play those types of games.
After playing quite a few games I started to come up with some game design ideas of my own. For a while I fiddled around with simply re-theming other games, but later I started designing my own games from scratch. The first game I really developed is a cooperative card game called Super Hero. I discovered a local play testing group called the Board Game Designer’s Guild of Utah and started attending. The group helped me develop Super Hero along with the other games I have designed.
As a graphic designer my favorite thing about the design process is definitely the graphic design! I really enjoy putting a lot of complicated parts together to make one comprehensive game. When everything comes together it is very satisfying.
Grant: What inspired you to design a game based on a classic literary work such as The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy?
Brian: I have always liked historical fiction and The Scarlet Pimpernel book is one of my favorites. Baroness Orczy actually wrote several books based on the Scarlet Pimpernel character. It is said that The Scarlet Pimpernel, written in 1905, was the original alter-ego hero. And the 1982 movie with Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour, and Ian McKellen is a classic!
Grant: When you start designing a game, do you choose the theme first and then fill in mechanics?
Brian: Sometimes I start with theme and sometimes I start with mechanics. However, the theme always ends up driving the mechanics. I have found that when a mechanic can be logically described using the theme it is easier to remember, especially in a complicated game.
Grant: What is The Scarlet Pimpernel about? What mechanics did you focus on using in your design?
Brian: In The Scarlet Pimpernel board game players help the Scarlet Pimpernel accomplish various missions rescuing innocent people from the guillotine. Although players work together to accomplish missions, the player with the highest score at the end of the game wins. Players carry out missions by securing a route and a location, obtaining the required number of supporters and resources (horses, carts, papers and disguises), and filling the mission spaces. The mechanics in the game are worker placement, area control, and variable player powers.
Grant: How was the decision for mechanics driven by the theme? Do you feel that you sacrificed accuracy to the theme in order to make the game play work?
Brian: The main mechanic of accomplishing missions by securing the needed route, location, supporters and resources is a direct translation of the theme, those things actually happen in the books. So I wouldn’t say that I sacrificed accuracy to the theme in order to make the game play work, rather the theme drove the ideas for the mechanics that make the game play work.
Grant: You have talked the about the mission aspect of the game and I understand that the players have to work together to complete missions but then the final score is based on individual results. How does this work?
Brian: Each mission has four items that need to be secured, the route, location, supporters and resources. Each of these four items also has it’s own “mission space”. Players work together to complete the items or mission spaces in any order they wish and gain individual points for their contributions. However, when the mission spaces are filled the Scarlet Pimpernel goes on the mission. If a mission space is filled and the corresponding item has not been secured then the player who filled the mission space doesn’t receive any points for that space. So, players must choose wisely between securing items and ending the mission by filling mission spaces.
Grant: What are the 7 missions that must be accomplished by the players?
Brian: Each mission is to help the Scarlet Pimpernel move to a new location on the board. There is a card that corresponds with each location and a new card is drawn for each mission. This gives the game replayability since the missions are different each game.
Grant: Who designed the board itself? It is very colorful and appears to be very functional as well as easy to look at. What role does the board play in the game?
Brian: I designed the board itself and did all of the artwork. I know that the publisher will make some changes, but I’m not sure to what extent at this point.
The board itself is mostly a map and facilitates securing the necessary routes, locations, supporters, resources and mission spaces. It also has a spot to display the current and future missions.
Grant: What are the different regions that make up the map? How are they different, meaning do they offer different challenges?
Brian: The story of the Scarlet Pimpernel takes place between London and Paris, so the map is made up of four regions: southern England, northern France, an inset of Paris, and a region that represents the road to Austria. The final mission is always to rescue the young Dauphin, heir to the French throne, and deliver him to Austria. If you have seen the movie this last mission will be familiar.
Grant: How do the players accomplish the missions and what rewards do they gain?
Brian: Players accomplish missions by placing cubes on route spaces or location spaces, or as supporters or resources. If those placed cubes are used for the mission, then each cube scores a point. As I mentioned earlier, players may also place cubes on mission spaces, however these spaces are only scored if the corresponding item has been properly secured. Plus, the player who places a cube on the mission space may decide which cubes are used for the mission and earn points.
Grant: Is each accomplished mission scored differently? Based on how much each player assists or some other method?
Brian: Each mission is scored using the same method, so it depends on which players place cubes on which mission spaces.
Grant: What actions do players have during the game? What is the benefit of placing cubes in a region, on a route or on a building?
Brian: On a normal turn you may place a cube on a route space, location space, or building space in a region where your pawn is located OR move your pawn to an adjacent region. You may also earn “Special Favors” that allow additional or special actions. Some location spaces may also allow you to place supporters or give you additional benefits. Building spaces allow you to place cubes as the corresponding resources.
Grant: What buildings are available to be used?
Brian: Building spaces correspond to the four different resources: horses, carts, disguises and papers. There is also a special building called an Inn that gives you rest, essentially the ability to take your turn later in the game when it is more advantageous.
Grant: What is the planning area and how does it work? What benefit do the Special Favors tiles give the players?
Brian: The planning area is simply the area where cubes representing supporters and resources are kept. The “Special Favors” tiles are earned by players who have a majority of cubes in any one of the supporter or resource areas. Special Favors are drawn randomly for each game and give a variety of special benefits such as the ability to place a cube on a route space AND a location space on one turn, or to place a cube AND move your pawn on the same turn.
Grant: What benefit do you get from placing in the mission area?
Brian: Placing a cube on the mission spaces allow you to make decisions about the corresponding item for the mission. For example, if you place your cube on the route mission space then you would choose which completed route to take to the next location. Obviously you would select the route where you have the most cubes and would therefore gain the most points.
Grant: The game is designed for 2-6 players. At what point does it play best?
Brian: The only difference in setup for different player counts is the number of cubes each player receives at the beginning of the game. Each game has approximately the same total number of cubes placed, but in a two-player game each player has 25 cubes, whereas in a six-player game each player only has 10 cubes. The strategies are different for different player counts, but the play tests have shown that it scales quite well.
Grant: How has the game changed due to the play test process? Can you give some specific examples?
Brian: The first version of the game was hand drawn on a big piece of cardboard, so it has gone through a lot of iterations! The biggest changes that came from the playtest process is balance, such as the number of cubes, number of locations, number of route spaces, etc. Another big change from previous versions is the replayability. There are several components on the board (locations, buildings, special favors, etc.) that change from game to game to ensure that each game is different.
Grant: I understand your game won the Ion Award at SaltCon recently. What is the award for and how did that make you feel?
Brian: The Ion Award is given at the SaltCon game convention each year for the best unpublished board game. A few years ago I submitted my game Super Hero and it won third place. Last year I submitted The Scarlet Pimpernel and it won first place. The judges are from various game publishing companies and each one showed some interest in publishing The Scarlet Pimpernel. Obviously I was very excited to win the award, but I was most excited about the opportunity it presented to have the game published.
Grant: Who is the publisher and what is the schedule for the game? Are you planning to do a Kickstarter campaign?
Brian: After winning the Ion Award I received offers from two companies to publish The Scarlet Pimpernel. The publisher I decided on is Eagle-Gryphon Games. The reason I chose Eagle-Gryphon is because of their outstanding box and component quality as well as their treatment of some other historical games, such as Francis Drake, Empires: Age of Discovery, and Rococo.
Thanks for your time in answering our questions Brian and I can say that I am looking forward to The Scarlet Pimpernel. So, readers, stay on the lookout for a Kickstarter campaign later this year. Here is a video provided by Brian that explains game play and gives a bit better view of the board and some of the components as well.