Meeting of Minds – Glenn Ford, Man O’Kent Games

One of my core aims with The Giant Brain is to promote designers, creators and publishers in the UK gaming scene. This series of articles interviews 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.

Glenn Ford is the lead designer of Man O’Kent Games, an outfit that caught my eye recently with their Moonflight Kickstarter. Before setting up his own company, Glenn got his start in game design helping out with the playtesting of Gaslands, the post-apocalyptic, vehicle combat game from Osprey Games and designed by Mike Hutchison. Eventually ending up with a lead developer credit, Glenn found himself attending lots of conventions, making contacts and finally making the leap to designing his own games. He runs Man O’Kent games with his wife Jennifer.

Can you tell us a little about Man O’Kent Games and your current product lines?

Product lines feels a little grand for our operation, as we’re still trying to build to a point where we deserve that description, but I’ll do my best. First and foremost is Space Ship Omega (SSO), our 1-6 player game of sci-fi survival horror. SSO was designed to be easy to Kickstart and fulfill, but also to expand. Because the story of the game is told by a 24 card challenge deck, we’ve been able to use it as the base for a line of additional decks telling additional stories.

We’ve already got SSO: First Captain where the original, insane, captain of the SSO stalks you through the ship. We’ll be launching SSO: Parasites alongside Moonflight where the crew will be infected by a deadly alien parasite. Early next year we intend to launch a deluxe expansion for SSO including more crew, more locations and two further challenge decks.

Other than that I’m always fascinated by the freedom that tabletop skirmish game design gives, not just in design but because as pure rulesets I can publish them for little or no outlay for the business or our fans. As such we’ve got a growing series of miniatures games for the table-top, some with free versions but none of them costing more than £1.

These include:

“What Ho!”, the game of (mostly) non-violent conflict, a skirmish game set in the country houses of P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie;

“Pitch and Yaw”, a game of pirate boarding actions on the high seas with a dynamic and active battle field

“Legends”, which allows players to take the part of superheroes capable of throwing each other through a building, or throwing a building through each other.

You successfully delivered SSO towards the end of last year. What lessons have you taken from that first Kickstarter into the campaign for Moonflight?

The first and biggest lesson is to give ourselves a few months extra on fulfillment. We went about a month over on SSO, mainly because I hadn’t factored in delays with customs. I was being constantly told that a month over barely counts on Kickstarter, but it still hurts when it’s your project and your promise to backers. So we’ve given ourselves a little more of a window this time, hopefully we’ll under promise and over deliver but I’m well aware how delays can come from left field, so I’ll settle for on time this time.

Other than that, with SSO there wasn’t a lot of character art, which was a choice to allow us to tell multiple different stories with the various challenge deck expansions without going against existing art. People on Kickstarter react strongly to art, and particularly to character art, or the lack of it. I always had a strong idea for the characters in Moonflight, but knowing how much people react to character art on Kickstarter upped that a level for me, so Moonflight now has a stronger more unique and defined aesthetic than SSO did, in my opinion.

The unbuilder mechanic I found quite unusual and interesting. Where there any designers or games in particular that influence this part of the game?

Weirdly, I only really came across the few deconstruction games there are quite late in the process. The inspiration for the whole project was ultimately traditional deck-builders and in that respect I obviously have to give credit for influence to Dominion and Donald X. Vaccarino. Dominion is so elegant a game and concept and Moonflight is hopefully a tribute to that elegance.

The one thing that always seemed inelegant for me in Dominion was the end game scoring, counting through an entire deck to check your score, sometimes having to re-check and re-count in close games. I wanted something where the ending was as smooth and smart as the rest of the game, and I kept thinking that players end games with a set of cards in their hand, a snap-shot of their overall deck. The unbuilding was a way of making that snap-shot into an end-game mechanic, a fair way of finishing that scoring out in an elegant way. Finding a way of connecting the building to the un-building was the core of the mechanical difficulty for designing Moonflight.

Kickstarter has warped over time into being something of a pre-order platform for larger more well established companies. What do you think should be done to help highlight the smaller companies like yourself that the platform was originally intended to help?

I think that’s a tricky issue. In the end, big companies do bring an audience with them that, once they’re aware of the Kickstarter marketplace, can continue to return. So while those big companies sometimes hoover off money from smaller campaigns I’m aware that at least some of the people who end up backing my projects might never have heard of Kickstarter if not for those big companies.

Personally I think that the guidelines brought in earlier this year were excellent. They included Kickstarter being against advertising MSRP, which is something small independents find either difficult or impossible to do honestly and putting up “backed in x hrs/minutes” banners, which again is something that an independent with an honest and necessary goal finds hard to achieve. They felt like a good and intelligent attempt at the time to level the playing field. The problem is that I’ve seen every one of those guidelines breached since they were put in place without any noticeable reaction from Kickstarter. Whatever guidelines or ideas are put out there to help the smaller independent companies on Kickstarter, they will never have much meaning unless Kickstarter themselves are willing to seriously enforce them.

If there is one thing I’d really like to see it would be altering the search options on Kickstarter. The ‘most backed’ and ‘most funded’ tabs are of little or no use for anything other than historical interest, and could easily be moved to some sort of ‘hall of fame’ or ‘record breakers’ section of the page. Rather, letting people search for projects within a certain percentage of funding or a certain range from the end of their project I think would be a simple change that would make a real difference.

Small independent projects often fail by small margins on Kickstarter and allowing people to specifically hunt for projects that have almost funded should be a lot easier than those that have hugely over-funded. If backers could search for projects within one day of funding (based on their average funding) for example, rather than newly bred, nearly dead and most popular I think people would react to being able to be in on completing good but struggling projects.

What one piece of advice would you give to new companies setting out on the same journey you have?

There are so many little things I could say but if its one piece of advice, get an accountant first. It’s great to do this as a hobby, and even if you’re doing it as a business you need to be doing it for the love of it, but if you try to do it at any sort of scale without being at least business-like you risk losing serious money and getting in trouble. So the first piece of advice I think you should get is from an accountant, check you’re doing the business bits right, the rest you can get wrong or right on your own time.

What game are you most looking forward to this year?

I can get the advice down to one piece, but there’s no way I can answer which game I’m most looking forward to in the singular. First off, I’m a sucker for a Legacy game and I love the lightweight machine building of Machi Koro, so I’m super curious how the two come together mechanically in Machi Koro: Legacy, I know even if I don’t like the game I’ll be fascinated by how it works.

The family love Mysterium so clearly Obscurio is one that I’ll at least be getting a lot of play out of, but I’m also looking to pick up Greenville 1989 in the same vein. From Kickstarter I’ve got Dungeon Drop that I’m curious to see working coming and also Tussie Mussie because I love to see a stripped down and elegant card game.

Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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