Welcome to my first “Beyond the Box” post. In this series, I hope to interview people who are involved in the UK board game industry in one way or another. This could be anyone, whether they are illustrators, designers, board game shop/cafe owners, or are just involved in the UK board game scene in some way.
This week I talk to Jamie Noble Frier, aka The Noble Artist, about his upcoming game Hero Master: an Epic Game of Epic Fails, which hits Kickstarter next week. We also touch on his career as a freelance digital artist in the board game industry.
Hi Jamie, thanks for talking to me today – it looks like you’ve managed to bungle your way to being the first ever interview here on the Mattimus Primed Blog!
We met at the UK Games Expo (UKGE) this year, at your stand for ‘Hero Master: An Epic Game of Epic Fails’. How was your first year at the UKGE?
I was so glad to see you there man! I’d arranged a bunch of interviews with folks to come and see the game and talk to me about it and you brought your whole group! It was great as it meant you could set up and have a full four-player game.
The whole con was great, I was lucky enough to fly over my chief play-tester from Belgium (Stijn) who is also a gaming fanatic, so the buzz was great. I was really impressed by the whole venue and organisation, but the thing that blew me away most was the atmosphere and vibe I got from everyone. I had such a positive experience. Not just from the smiling faces from people when they left the Hero Master demo table, but just in general. Even the security tough guys were the kindest people ever!
The only thing I wish I’d done is managed to get more game time in the evenings after hours. Stijn and I worked late, so we only managed a cheeky game of Roll Player and half a game of Tiny Epic Quest for the entire weekend before we were falling asleep on our meeples.
At the UKGE you were showcasing Hero Master: An Epic Game of Epic Fails. What’s the game about?
Hero Master: An Epic Game of Epic Fails is about adventure! About treasure! About gold! About being the most incompetent heroes ever to band together…
You don’t play as the usual bold, brave heroes… You play as the heroes who are last to be picked by every party and as everyone else bands up and leaves in search of a rumoured dragon’s hoard, you end up seeing the same sorry faces staring back at you: the lazy, the useless and the accident prone. Reluctantly you team up again (feeling like you’re above all this) and try to prove yourself by getting your hands on the hoard of treasure in the Dragon’s den.
It’s not a co-operative game. You’ll attempt to be the head of this dysfunctional dungeoneering dictatorship, by squabbling for party leader and doing your best to land the winning blow on monsters to gain gold and treasure that will add to your deck and player board. As insubordinate as they are stupid, your party will be trying to do the same, playing their bungle cards to scupper your attacks, while laying their attacks in an order that will give them the best shot at defeating the monster themselves and usurping you as leader. With hand management being key, expect a little deck building, take-that mechanics and a layer of deeper strategy than expected.
It was your illustrations that first caught my attention at the UKGE, but I really fell in love with narrative and setting of the game – especially the witty captions on the cards. What was your inspiration for Snoozehaven and its dysfunctional inhabitants?
Thanks Matt! The inspiration came from a mixture of things: I love the idea of the kind of loveable useless underdog character that I think is particularly prevalent in British popular culture (David Brent, Basil Fawlty, Terry Pratchet and Robert Rankin novels, Monty Python and the Holy Grail). More obvious though, it comes from being in those dysfunctional parties in DnD that ended up in hilarious scrapes but always seemed to bungle through to the other side. I think it’s become so popular because it’s familiar with gamers. You wouldn’t believe how many people I demoed to heard me explain the theme and said “Haha! Sounds like our Thursday night group!”
Hero Master is the first game that you’ve designed. How have you found the design process?
I would say it’s been an incredible learning experience. The design of the game began with a lot of trial and error, and over time I began to work out systems and methods of testing which were much more streamlined. If I did it again, I’d be able to cut out a lot of wasted time. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! Overall it’s been a long journey, and I still have all my original files from each iteration of the play tests which makes me realise how far it’s come. I’ve enjoyed it a lot. Coupled with learning about how to run the business end, I feel like it’s almost like I’ve been doing a degree alongside work. Now I’m an adult, I love learning new stuff (tell that to a sixteen year old me), so it’s been really eye opening.
Hero Master’s theme is relatively light-hearted, but I noticed that the gameplay experience is more challenging than expected and gives plenty of scope for strategy. What’s your favourite aspect of the gameplay?
The game has changed so much since I first attempted a test. There are real stand out moments when things clicked, and that is incredibly satisfying. The Party Leader mechanic, the strategy layer and the critical fail threshold are all stand out moments I really feel proud of. They really work well. I particularly like watching someone’s face when the strategy bit dawns on them, and it’s like an “oh….OH!” There’s a real depth to laying your cards in the right order and anticipating your opponents or even bluffing them.
You only have a limited number of cards per location to fight an array of monsters, so it’s all about using the right card at the right time. Attacks are resolved in the order you played them, so you might try to steal the Party Leader token (first player) only to have it swiped by someone else, or try to play your best attack first, which inevitably gets bungled. I love that it gets people thinking and talking.
Another aspect I liked about the game was the way your hero is created. Players are dealt a random ‘race’ and ‘class’ card, which define your hero and give them a unique combination of variable player powers. What’s your favourite combo?
I think I answer this differently every time I’m asked! Today, I’m going to say it’s the Rogue and… Dwarf? So a Dwarven Rogue… I love that the Rogue is so untrustworthy, and will dip in and out of combat escaping bungles and avoiding damage when things go south. With such sneaky behaviour and the dwarf’s focus on treasure you can save your best attacks, and build up your character with fancy new items looted from monsters!
Your Kickstarter campaign starts on the 18th of September, which is just a week away. What can we expect from the Kickstarter campaign?
You can sign up for notifications (including when we go live) on the website email list, you also get a bonus card for signing up early if you back! I’ve tried to make the Kickstarter page look stunning. As an artist primarily it’s really important to me to get the wow factor, so I’ve been editing and doodling and laying awake thinking of things I could do to make it better. Most importantly though, I’ve spent a long time poring over quotes to offer the most competitive price I can. As my first game (although fourth run Kickstarter), I want everyone to get behind me and see what I can do without breaking the bank. I’ve also planned a lot of really juicy stretch goals for when the campaign gets going, both in content and components. I really hope we get to reveal them, as I think backers will be really excited about them.
For a bit of fun too, there’s a character generator on the website, which allows people to create their own hapless hero with backstory, name, class, race, last known location and treasure they were searching for. I’m really lucky to have had a very skilled friend (Tim Simms) help me put it together. I think folks will get a kick out of the flavour text in the generator, which is in a similar vein to that which is in the game.
As an artist you’ve been involved with a number of other games in the past (Solarius, Perdition’s Mouth and Smiths of WinterForge). How did you get into the industry?
It’s been great to learn the ropes of crowdfunding through being involved in other publishers’ games. I have really built a great community of peers around me who have taught me a lot in both game design and on the business side. It’s been a long time watching from the side lines though, and I feel totally excited to get my own project out there!
I started off as an artist for a video game company, where we were all pretty into board games. I didn’t really have access to the tabletop industry at that point, and continued to pay my dues working for small indies doing a very mixed bag of artwork. After a number of years I began to take on freelance work and that grew, mainly in book covers for fantasy novels, until I got my first big commission on Periditon’s Mouth. I’ve since been working with Dragon Dawn Productions on their expansions and it’s been great, and led me to seek out more industry opportunities. It’s funny, as I began to scope out all the design forums to find work, but half the time ended up reading all the blogs from designers and advice posts. It became a really good avenue of getting into game design myself.
Working closely with game designers at my different video game jobs also gave me a real appreciation for design process, and we always had new board games to show each other. It really broadened my horizons. I think the most memorable moment was buying Mage Knight and realising how deep board games could get. I love it still and it’s probably the game that has most consistently got to the table for me. I really love a combination of Euros and Ameritrash games and although I’m a self-confessed fantasy geek, I play games with really varied themes from building my gang in City of Remnants to building my fuel empire in Powergrid!
I know your main focus right now is Hero Master: An Epic Game of Epic Fails, but what’s on the horizon for the Noble Artist?
I’m already excited about the prospect of more expansions for Hero Master. It’s really modular. Right now there’s a dragon afoot, but I love the idea of different themes like the undead for example. (Matt: As a bit of a zombie geek I love the sound of this!) There’s also a few other games that I have begun play testing, but have kept on the back burner. There’s just so much I want to glean from this first campaign before I commit to a whole new theme. Alongside my own projects, I will also be continuing work with my growing client base on their board games, commissions and book covers. Shout me if you need anything!
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me and best of luck with the Kickstarter campaign. I really hope Hero Master: An Epic Game of Epic Fails funds, and I can’t wait to play it again. Rest-assured I will be backing!
More details about Jamie Noble Frier and Hero Master – An Epic Game of Epic Fails can be found on his website. Don’t forget to check it out!
I hope you enjoyed my first “Beyond the Box” post. If you’re interested in being featured, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* All images of Hero Master: An Epic Game of Epic Fails and Perditions Mouth were provide by Jamie Noble Frier.