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TGN Interview – 5 Questions with Bryan Pope (Creator of Mage Wars)

TGN Interview – 5 Questions with Bryan Pope (Creator of Mage Wars)

TGN’s Enrico Nardini directs his palantir towards Bryan Pope, resident conjurer at Arcane Wonders and the creator of Mage Wars.

Enrico Nardini (EN) – Are you concerned that you will reach a “critical mass” of mage types and spell cards? What steps are in place to keep Mage Wars balanced?

Bryan Pope (BP) – No. We are pacing ourselves very carefully, and each new Mage and spell is being released to help expand the experience and improve the game environment, keeping everything compatible without letting anything get out of balance. We playtested Mage Wars for many years before it was released.  I can speak from real experience when I say we have plenty more to offer and it all works quite well together.

Some things that help us balance the game are:

  • We have a good history of playtesting to draw from, and we know what mechanics and spells work together well.
  • We also have a great current playtest group, and everything goes through exhaustive playtesting. We’re running a little late on some of our products right now, partly because of extensive playtesting.
  • The game has a good math model behind it and we carefully check costs and compatibility mathematically first. Then, we calibrate those numbers with playtester approval, which sometimes results in us tweaking the math model.  This circular system has helped both our math model and playtesters to continuously improve with each development cycle.

EN – Is there anyone on the Mage Wars team that can beat you consistently at your own game? Who and why?

BP – There are 3 that come to mind:

  • Alexander Mont – My toughest competitor,  he serves as a rules, math, and mechanics developer and consultant for the team. He helped develop many of our rules and mechanics. We first met when he swept the very first tournament we had at Origins, beating every player rather quickly. Alex is a genius, and sees game mechanics and plays on a different level than the rest of us mortals.
  • Benjamin Pope – My son (who co-designed the game with me) is really smart and is an expert at combining and exploiting mechanics for maximum effect.  He comes up with some ingenious combos!
  • Aaron Brosman –  Aaron is a designer on the Arcane Wonders team. He and I are a little more evenly matched, but it is always a great challenge to play him. He has fantastic recall of cards and mechanics and comes up with some very original spellbooks.

EN – What is the most duplicitous play you have experienced in Sheriff of Nottingham?

BP – It was a game I was watching, but I have to share this because it was hilarious!  Player A was not paying close attention to the game. Player B took advantage of that and offered to pay the Sheriff to let him (player B) pass inspection and to also check Player A’s bag. The Sheriff accepted the bribe. Then, player B paid the Sheriff using Player A’s money!  SO, poor player A got inspected, and had paid the Sheriff to do so!

Player A, of course, called foul play. They decided to let the Sheriff decide the matter, and he said it was fair and kept the bribe!!! While that probably should not have been legal, it was certainly a blast to watch!

EN – What’s your favorite game from a company other than Arcane Wonders?

BP – I don’t have a single favorite, but I just LOVE all of these:  Axis and Allies, Cargo Noir, Ra, Airlines Europe, Stone Age, Tikal, St. Petersburg, Empire Builder, and Werewolf.

Bryan Pope and Enrico Nardini at the Origins 2011 debut of Mage Wars

EN – What advice do you have for aspiring game designers looking to break into the industry with a new game idea?

BP – Well, it is certainly easier now more than ever before. Gamecrafter and Kickstarter make independent publication possible and practical. Kickstarter is much better received and tolerated by the retailer community than it was a few years ago. Frankly, I think this is a golden age for game designers everywhere! I think self-publishing via Kickstarter is the best way to go. It’s much easier to do, has a better chance of success, and requires less investment up front.

That being said, here are my cautions to offer:

Unfortunately, the market is quickly becoming flooded with lots of new games from independent designers, many of which could use a little more playtesting, development, and polish. This may end up hurting the market some, as some consumers grow disgruntled with released games that “need more work”.

Commercial publishers are very choosy about what they want to publish. They get hundreds of submissions, and only a small percentage end up being published. It’s their money at risk and they have to be choosy and cautious. If they accept a design, they playtest and develop it further to be sure it is finished, polished, and plays smooth, with everything balanced. The publisher is leading the game development, as opposed to the designer, so the game sometimes receive a more objective view during its final development.

So my caution is for designers to take the time to really finish and polish their game. They need to realize that they are very close to their project and may not be fully objective in their viewpoint. They should get blind playtesting results and feedback from outside their close development group. They should be open to this outside criticism and advice.

And one other thought: Ask yourself, “Should this game be published in the first place?” There are thousands of games out there. Most of those are interesting and make fun games to play in your local group, but they don’t necessarily need to be published. I’ve got over 50 game designs in my drawer, and I readily admit most of those just don’t need to be published!

Instead, I’d recommend holding off on a Kickstarter campaign until you have something really great, a novel, original idea that everyone loves! In this manner you maximize your chance of success, and you can build a reputation. If your first Kickstarter fails or does poorly, it will make your next one even tougher. If you wait to publish something great, you can build a reputation allowing you several additional successes later. Look at the long term careerpossibility, as opposed to the one-time game opportunity.

I went to a Dallas Games Marathon “To Be Designed” convention earlier this week and saw a ton of game designers there. I asked one of their group leaders if they intended to show their games off to publishers at BGG Con this week. (BGG con has a fantastic “Publisher Speed Dating” event, run by James Mathe.) The reply was “No.” ALL of them are planning to self-publish!  If this is representative of the community out there, I think most designers see the opportunity and are self-publishing!

You can check out Bryan Pope’s games at the Arcane Wonders website.