Meeting of Minds – Justin Morgan-Davies (BadCat Games)

One of my core aims with The Giant Brain is to promote designers, creators and publishers in the UK gaming scene. To this end I’m establishing a new series of articles where I interview various folks from across the UK tabletop gaming scene to get an insight into their games, their thoughts on current events in the industry and anything else that pops into my head. I hope you enjoy it.


Justin Morgan-Davies is the head honcho of BadCat Games, a Scottish outfit that is just about to launch its second game Gladiatores : Blood for Roses on Kickstarter. I’ll be reviewing it later this week.

In the meantime, Justin was good enough to sit down and answer some questions about their first Kickstarter, Elemenz, and the drive behind bringing Gladiatores to the public.


Elemenz funded successfully on the second time round and I believe that you are pretty close to delivering. Was it hard to give up on the first Kickstarter and what do you think made the difference for the relaunch?

Yes we have just started shipping out the game to backers. We were very pleased with how the re-run of Elemenz did on kickstarter. We ran a better campaign and the extra marketing that rolled over from the first time really helped also. So no in fact, it wasn’t hard to cancel. By doing so and getting the message across that we would be back I think encouraged many backers to stay in touch, wait and be there for the launch. Now more than ever, that initial 24hr push can almost make or break a final kickstarter campaign result.


What would be you top piece of advice for a company looking to use Kickstarter to launch their first game?

Do your numbers very, very carefully. A lower initial goal greatly helps to get you that initial push towards getting funded but it still has to be financially viable or you are setting yourself up for a fall (we didn’t do this but have seen others do so). Also make sure you have stretch goal teasers on show to encourage continued support and more reviews and media channels talking about the game to keep interest through the middle-section lull. I guess also from the question above – don’t be afraid to cancel before the end date if it looks iffy and you think there is more you could do to help the campaign work second time around.

Will Elemenz be getting a retail release?

It is a gateway game, pure and simple so yes there will be a retail version but it won’t be like the kickstarter edition. We are speaking with international partners to bring other multi-language versions out and this will likely be the main retail release. We’ve seen excellent take-up of the game so far in French speaking european countries so this is something we want to expand on for other european languages. It is also a flashy looking game that works well as an opener in gaming cafes so this is an area we are actively pursuing now, offering demo copies for people to try.

We also have more planned for the Elemenz universe (in a much larger contextual game) that involves exploration and the interface between humans and the unknown (in this case the 4 Elemenz races) – but this is super secret for now!


Were there any particular challenges in designing a Gateway game over something more ‘gamer’ focused like Gladiatores?

Not with Elemenz. I personally love games that allow for ‘expert’ play. By that I mean games that have extra rules/ components/ methods of play that make them harder, more tactical or for more experienced gamers. In Elemenz it was always a dice challenge battle game, but to keep it child/ family/ gateway level friendly we clearly indicated the Totem boards with their energy Pulse tokens were a ‘bolt on’ addition that made the game more tactical and gamer-centric. The Kickstarter promo Avatar tiles included with the KS edition were a mini expansion that again added a further level of complexity that could be included or ignored if necessary depending on choice – and would not affect the core gameplay.

To us, gateway games – while being primarily fun – should also teach some new mechanics and more complex ideas to encourage the new gamer to explore more complex games. It’s probably how most of us progressed after all.

I had a chance to play Gladiatores at Dragonmeet, and I really liked the mix of push your luck and betting mechanics. What was the inspiration behind the game both thematically and mechanically? When will it be coming to Kickstarter?

Gladiator combat is such a strong theme (just look at the gladiator games that came out around the time the Spartacus TV series was out) and one of our faves. I’ve been cooking up this game since the early 90’s after playing Lunch Money by Atlas Games. The idea of condensing an actual sword fight; all the cuts, thrusts, blocks, dodges etc into thematic card form that firmly puts the player into the thick of the action is something I wanted from the start and gladiator combat was an ideal match.

Gladiatores diverges strongly from the source though as the combat move cards played often trigger chains of ‘take that’ and ‘counter take that’ moments that feel much more visceral than miniatures based games. The tactical choices and bluffing aspects give a very strong risk taking, push your luck feel since energy, the cards in your hand, and life points are very limited.

As you point out, there is strong betting element in the game too as each player is actually playing a school of five gladiators and it is all about reaping the glory in any and all ways possible rather than only about the poor gladiators themselves. Gladiators taking a fall for their boss is just part of the deal. The trick is to read the other players; their choices, their risks and make your bets accordingly – to play your skill in the arena off against the potential rewards.

Gladiatores: Blood for Roses will be launching on kickstarter on Sept 27th.

How have you found the reception to your games at conventions and which con have you found the most useful in terms of playtesting and feedback?

UK Games Expo of course is the big one and our stand was twice the size of last year so I guess that shows how the games have been received by the gaming public. We actually had folk last year who had tried Gladiatores, wanting to hold the table, call their mates in from across the hall to have another game. It was great! They taught the new guys the game without needing us!

For playtesting though you need a smaller con and we’ve found Glasgow Games Festival is lovely for that. Time to sit and chat with folk and find out what they are looking for in a game. Also we are excited for the new Tabletop Scotland con coming this September in Perth as it is our home turf and again will be able to chill out with fans of both games.

What games by UK designers are you most excited for in 2018?

Top of my personal list is Everdark by Edventure Games. I’ve been speaking on and off with Ed for maybe two years and everything he shows about the game gets me more excited. We recently got Barbarians: The Invasion with its rotating action space volcano. Everdark has a rotating city on the board and a five tiered temple miniature! What’s not awesome about that? Second would be some great indie stuff going on in the UK like Summoners Isle by Robbie Munn and Microbrew by One Free Elephant – which I haven’t played yet even though they are just away up the road from us!

Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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