Meeting of Minds – Jonny and Rory Hodgson
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.
Jonny Hodgson is well known amongst the gaming community for his work as the former Art Director at Cubicle 7 and his artistic contributions to many role-playing games. Last year he launched The Forest Dragon game on KS, designed and illustrated not by Jonny but by his son Rory. Now the team are back with the next chapter in the Forest Dragon, Bang and Twang. Jonny and Rory, were good enough to take some time out mid-campaign to answer some questions about the game, KS and their plans for the future.
You are just launched on your new campaign for The Forest Dragon: Bang and Twang. What lessons have you taken from your first campaign and applied to this one?
We definitely learned a ton of stuff! That Add-ons can be fiddly, and sending out 400 parcels takes longer than you think.
Can you tell us a little about how the Forest Dragon and Bang and Twang work and what distinguishes them?
The Forest Dragon by Rory is beautifully simple. You layout a bunch of cards face down, and that forms “The Forest”. You then take turns to turn over cards, uncovering treasures, useful implements, and monsters. Anything useful you put in your backpack in front of you. Monsters will rob you of the cards you’ve found so far, and end your go. So it’s a lovely push your luck game.
There are several expansions that add new features like quests for certain cards, new “realms” that form “mini forests” away from the main one and so on.
In Bang & Twang you’re attempting to match sequences of “bangs” and “twangs” as shown by 3 double sided cards in the middle of the table.
You can change the sequence of those cards to help you match. And of course there’s a bunch of special cards that let you do things like pinch other people’s banked cards, switch up your hand, get free points and so on. A really cool feature is you can swap out the special cards for a new set. The game comes with 6 separate sets of special cards, each of which changes the feel of the game. It’s pretty groovy stuff!
Bang & Twang plays much faster than Forest Dragon, though they’re about the same complexity level. We like to think they’re easy for young players to pick up, but offer some strategy for older players. They’re not “just” games for kids.
Do you think that Kickstarter is becoming more unfriendly to the smaller companies like yourself? What do you think of larger companies, like Monolith, effectively using Kickstarter as a pre-order service?
It’s very hard to know anything for sure, but we’ve been surprised by a couple of things coming back to Kickstarter. Over on BoardGameGeek we’re featured on a list of 30 Kickstarters that launched this week. And I saw indie games with much higher profile than ours doing much worse in terms of backer numbers. That really surprised me and I think indicates something of a shift. The top end of that table, featuring the usual suspects was of course doing incredible numbers. I think the graph is getting more skewed to the top end. But that’s not really something to complain about I don’t think. I’ve shifted gears in response to that, and we’ll be doing a lot more local promotion, where we can cut through, and offer something unique and exciting.
So, I’d hesitate to make any weighty predictions or analysis. But I think that might be a trend. Kickstarter is so full now, it’s bound to be harder to reach people when you’re in the lower leagues. We certainly found it easier two years ago. But you also have to be careful of blaming wider trends for something perhaps you got wrong. I mean, maybe no one wants a card game with a card called “Hurdy Gurdy Solo”? But we do!
You’ve just added some expansions into the core pledge. Do you think this kind of dynamic reaction to the way a KS is trending is vital to success?
It was a really tough call, but I do think it’s an important one to make. A lot of people will cancel a campaign if it looks like it’s not on a winning flight path.
We’ve seen slow progress in the first few days, and we’ve been struggling to gain traction, so cancelling was certainly an option. But we’re so close to funding, we’ve taken the decision to press on regardless. We don’t want the kind people who are backing us to miss out on expansions for the game that are ready to go. So we’ve decided to include them all in the main box.
Essentially we’ve pivoted towards providing the best game we can for the small group of die-hards who are with us, rather than doing the (arguably) necessary Kickstarter theatrics of content stretch goals. And that feels like the right thing to do.
Certainly, I wish we’d seen bigger campaign progress faster, and we’re really reflecting on the differences between this and our first campaign. Which is a great learn for the boys. You don’t always get to win easily, you know? And do you quit and rethink, or double down? That’s a serious choice to have to make.
You’re coming away from Print and Demand to fulfil this KS in a more traditional print run. What challenges have there been in changing the way you operate?
Well that’s certainly the plan if we do well – The Forest Dragon has sold well into retail stores, so we’d like to try to continue that with Bang & Twang and to be a bit more prepared this time around. I had not anticipated the retail demand there is for the first game. And of course Print On Demand isn’t the most friendly method of production if you’re selling into retail.
But if we do just ok, we’ll stick with POD – I was very happy with it!
Some changes we’ve made are practical things, like making sure we have room to store stock in a sensible and ordered fashion. Layout is a bit different, but that’s not an issue given my former day job as creative director at Cubicle 7. I can imagine if you didn’t have copious prepress experience it’d be terrifying! There’s the print buying, where you need a lot more technical know how, and knowing the production terminology really helps. There are all things I was very lucky not to have to learn on the fly.
Happily we haven’t had to make too many huge changes to our workflow.
The Kickstarter says this is the latest instalment in the Forest Dragon story. What do you have planned next?
In the last couple of years we’ve been working on several Forest Dragon games. Rory has spent a lot of time on various incarnations of an Adventure Game, and Forest Dragon 2, which involves time travel, and the tides. Which sounds amazing. Most of it is still in his head though. We’ll let that percolate at it’s own pace!
Alongside Bang & Twang we also have completed a design for The Forest Dragon Farmer, which has a little more strategy than either the original game, or Bang & Twang. So that’s ready to go.
Ben (Rory’s younger brother) has been making games on his own too, and he’s come up with “The Pipe Game”, which involves building networks of sewer pipes. And it has some really cool mechanical stuff in it. Initially I thought the spread of points values on cards ranging from, and I kid you not, plus or minus 100 000 points to 2 was a bit… unwieldy. But actually it works, in a very unexpected fashion. You end up aiming for zero, and then trying to score just one or two points. It’s cool and bizarre.
But next will very likely be Forest Dragon Farmer.
With Jonny’s permission I also posed some questions to Rory, who is far and away the youngest person I have ever interviewed on the site. Take it away Rory!
What advice would you give to children your age that want to make games?
I think that they should practise drawing and think up some of their own creatures and draw them. When I do lots of drawing I find it fun and inspiring.
What games do you like playing that gave you ideas for your own one?
When I first started making the forest dragon I played lots of Minecraft. I also played lots of different board games like Catan Junior and Takenoko.
What was the most difficult thing to do?
In my opinion the most difficult thing we had to do was get all the drawings to be big. At this time I had a habit of drawing small so this was difficult.
A final question for you and your Dad. What game have you been most excited to play this year?
Rory: The game I’ve been most excited to play this year has been Risk. Although I have played this digitally, I really want to play it in real life because it is really fun on the mobile app but I think it would be much better playing it on an actual table instead of a screen.
Jon: I’ve been really enjoying Spice Road. But I think I’m getting a hint that we need to play Risk…
You can check out and back the Forest Dragon: Bang and Twang here. The game is funded with a little while to go get for stretch goals and similar to be revealed.