Published on January 14th, 2015 | by Luke Turpeinen5
Siege of Verdan
Low Fantasy, Game of Thrones style, light war gaming
We are still really early in the post-Christmas buying season, that monster of American capitalism that drives our consumer economy ever forward, nipping at our heels to go ever faster. Now is the time many of us spend relaxing our wallets, relieving our spending and trying to find an equilibrium after the most recent Holiday spending spree.
This is understandably a slower time for businesses and Kickstarter projects, as most who would typically release at this time crunched to get their products out the door in time for the rush. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any good projects out in the new year though.
We still see a market, either from thrifty consumers that don’t spend as much in December or from those with enough to afford it anyway, of people looking for products in January. Siege of Verdan, from Jester’s Hand Publishing, is one such Kickstarter project- it launches on January 20th.
To me, Siege of Verdan is the kind of project that Kickstarter was made for. Verdan captures the essence of the crowd-funding method in a couple of different ways.
1) They’re indy. Now that it’s common to see larger game publishers use the Kickstarter platform, it’s nice to see that the really little guys can still be in the game. I have no issue with larger projects using crowd funding to make sure there is enough interest in a product before producing it, but in my eyes that wasn’t necessarily the intent of the platform. To see a group of dedicated gamers devote themselves to completing a project like this and putting it out there is encouraging.
2) They’re enthusiastic. I’ve rarely seen a creator be so eager to show us what they were working on, and that excitement really rubbed off on us! They are confident in their game and they have a solid product to back it up, so why wouldn’t they be ecstatic about showing the work in progress shots of the proof of concepts being made? By sending us WIP shots they made an effort to anticipate getting the game, so that by the time it got to us we had already talked it up to our game group.
3) They have a good design, but need the initial capital. Anymore I feel as if the community is really discerning about level of polish that a game needs to have before getting to Kickstarter. While I agree that “the most polished you can afford to make it before getting to Kickstarter” should be your goal, afford is a very subjective word. I’m not trying to conflate “discerning” and “snooty”, but sometimes people who post about being the the former can hyperbolize the situation into feeling like the latter. Something about serpents and doves?
I talked at length about this third point with my friend and fellow gamer, Scott, who also happens to be an industrial designer. Looking over what I assume is the prototype collector’s edition, Scott pointed out that the materials for the box were very inexpensive and low quality.
The box is stained plywood, and has not been sanded fine or sealed. The 3D game logo on the front of the box has a nice effect and stood out from the rest of the box. Scott was impressed with the simple latch, and I agree that it’s used for good effect as well as function. It’s like a hassle free treasure chest latch and it was fun to play with- for me tactile pieces and interactive art is a large part of my love of board games.
Inside the box, we were greeted with hand made polymer figures. Because they were hand made, I was worried about their stability on the board, but it ended up being no trouble at all. The figures are all rook-like in appearance and are numbered, this is because they represent secret cards moving around the game board. The figures are light weight and nicely made, though there are irregularities due to the nature of hand crafted items.
Our conclusion was that what we got was an extremely well done proof-of-concept. Obviously getting a bunch of nice wood and really crafting it was outside of their current budget right now, but that’s what the Kickstarter is for, right? If nothing else, Jester’s Hand convinced me that they’d be able to deliver an even higher quality product to their backers once that happened.
The game itself is an area control game that has its roots in war gaming. You can really see that legacy in the Risk style country control elements and the game’s embrace of obtuse abbreviations instead of something more clear, like other names or iconography. Your character’s stats are: MV, CV, IC and MC which is horribly confusing if you’re not used to a sub-culture that uses a ton of abbreviations for things (like the military or the LDS church, surprisingly).
Siege of Verdan is actually pretty simple, comparable in complexity and approach to a slightly more crunchy Smallworld. Instead of having huge stacks of units, you have from 1 – 6 at any given time. Some units leave flag markers behind them as they move, letting you claim territory in their wake without spending actions. Other units are fortifications that shore up your defenses.
The way that units are treated on the game board was my favorite part of the game. Instead of having your units visible for every opponent to see, you have card holders that are labelled 1 – 6 and correspond to the rook pieces mentioned earlier. Your units in play are secret until an opponent shares a space with them, giving the battlefield more of a Stratego feel than a Risk feel. Is that your opponent’s Scout rushing towards me into its death, or is it a charging Light Cavalry about to leave me high and dry?
There is a combat die, but it’s only a d4 so the variance is small and it doesn’t make battles feel “swingy” (as opposed to “hitty” I guess). Siege of Verdan felt very balanced playing with three players, though I was disappointed that the card draw mechanic was pretty bland. I would like to see Jester’s Hand come out with a set of deck lists or come up with a draft mechanic so that each player can start the game on more stable footing.
As always, I have to say that I’d love to see more thematic elements added to game. Even if the art is great, can we not get something more specific than Light Cavalry and Heavy Infantry for card names? Even something like “<city name> Night Watch” and “Red Riders of <country name>” doesn’t take too much time to come up with and really makes your game world stand out from the hundred other generic fantasy settings on the market.
I really like Siege of Verdan- it hits a sweet spot for me between Risk and Smallworld and it has a lot of new ideas that I find enjoyable. That said, there are several things I would like to see upon launch of their Kickstarter before backing it. I’m sure some of these things are being addressed right now, but I won’t know for sure until the 20th when their campaign launches.
1) Better card art/design. The current art is historical stock imagery, which needs to be upgraded to custom art for the game. I would also say that card values should not be shown with confusing abbreviations (most of which share letters with other abbreviations for added confusion), instead I would consider using icons in conjunction with placing different stats in different areas of the card. Look at how CCGs put stats in different corners of the card for ease of remembering which things are which. Graphic design in general, really, but the map specifically. Someone needs to pay a real pro to do a bit of cleanup.
2) Include pre-made deck lists. Siege of Verdan is based around building an army of cards with synergies and competing for territory on the map with them. But the rules just have you shuffle all of the cards together and draw randomly from the top, which can be especially frustrating when all of your warriors get bonuses for being on the other side of the continent from where you need them. There has to be more thought put into this element, either with lists of decks (and that you can construct 6 of at a time using the base cards) or with a workable drafting/deck-building mechanic.
3) Higher quality materials. I give Jester’s Hand the benefit of the doubt that if they reach funding, the collector’s edition will be of much higher component quality, specifically the wood used in the construction of the box and card holders. Almost everything else is exceptional, but that un-finished wood is a tough sell for “collector’s edition” and I hope their launch is taking that into account. Also, colored glass beads for flag markers please!
If they can do those three things with their project launch on the 20th, then Jester’s Hand is sure to make waves.