Meeting of Minds – Scott James (Minerva 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.
I’ve run into Scott James a couple of times at conventions, remember those, over the last two years as he developed his first game Swatch, now on Kickstarter, being published through his imprint Minerva Games. Although I didn’t have a chance to play the game at those conventions, I had my eye on it as something with a very different theme to the norm from a new publisher.
You’ll have our review of the game soon but in the meantime Scott was good enough to answer some questions on the inspiration behind the game, his path to publication, and themes in games.
I first noticed Swatch due to its theme. What was the inspiration behind making a game about colours?
I had designed a game that used cyan, magenta, yellow and black as the player colours, chosen due to my background in graphic design. The prototype itself didn’t have legs but the concept of trading colours as resources appealed to me, so I focused on that. As the colours we see are made up of hues of different values the gamer in me immediately saw resource costs in that and so the theme developed into creating colour schemes! It’s been a great combination of my passions.
Themes in tabletop games tend to tread over the same old ground; space, fantasy, trading in the mediterranean etc. With the popularity of games like Wingspan, do you think that publishers should be pursuing a wider variety of themes and what themes would you like to see in games?
This is an obvious answer given the nature of Swatch, but yes. There will always be space for the old favourites (and I’m designing some games in these themes, or at least satirising them), but games with unique themes are the ones that catch my eye. In fact the game I’m hoping to be Minerva’s next release following Swatch is about rescuing bats and running a bat sanctuary!
Sounds fascinating. My Dad has a sonar detector at home to listen to bats flying around and hunting. Can you tell us any more about that project?
Of course! It’s a card drafting/set collection game where players rescue different species of bats and build exhibits to settle them in, scoring points for different combinations. There’s also going to be an engine-building element with visitors and conservation. Lucy, one of the regulars at my Playtest UK group in Croydon, brought it along as a prototype last year and I fell in love with it. I’ve been developing it with her since.
You have used Tabletop Simulator (TTS) to show off your game to reviewers and the public. How do you think digital platforms like it are going to change the design, reviewing, and development space in the future?
TTS has been a valuable tool, not just during the current pandemic, but throughout Swatch’s development. My first prototype was created and playtested on TTS prior to me organising a regular Playtest UK meetup in South London. It also allowed me to develop and playtest Swatch’s solo mode with David Digby with ease when meeting physically wasn’t possible. Virtual playtest groups have grown and multiplied and I hope that this will make design more accessible to those who would normally struggle to attend physical meetups, for financial, regional or family reasons.
Do you have any tips for new designers setting out on the development path? Any resources you found helpful along the way you could share?
Board gamers are a community, designers even more so. Find an online community (Facebook groups), or a physical one if possible (Meetup), and get talking. Most designers are also doing it for the love of the hobby and will go out of their way to help you, but make sure that you give as much as you take. And you can never have enough blank playing cards, buy them in bulk!
How do you feel about more established companies continuing to use Kickstarter to fund projects?
My feelings on this are mixed. I think that it has become increasingly difficult for first-time designers and small, independent companies to break through the mass of larger, established companies that dominate Kickstarter with their vast marketing budgets, but this has also encouraged us to up our game (pun not intended) to compete.
You see a lot of projects that could easily have gone straight to retail but currently Kickstarter is more often than not the best platform to launch a game, regardless of size, and there’s nothing to say that they can’t. Leder Games is a good example to highlight as they have Kickstarted their larger games like Root, but their most recent game Fort went straight to preorder as they said they had the capital and the risk wasn’t as large.
What game from a UK publisher are you most excited about right now?
Magnate by Naylor Games, the economic city-builder. James designed an incredible game and product which blew away reviewers and backers alike. It’s inspiring both as a fellow first-time, and local, designer!