I was recently interviewed by the Polish gaming website boardtime.pl. Strife: Legacy of the Eternals is already on shelves over there due to our partnership with Cube Factory of Ideas for EU publishing. So far it is being well received and board time had a list of questions to ask me. As always, I gave them the most in-depth answers that I could, and here is the transcript of that interview.
Here are the questions for our interview for Board Times:
Hello Chris Hamm. I am absolutely delighted that you have agreed to answer a few of my questions!
Thank you for asking! It will be my pleasure.
You are the designer of Strife: Legacy of the Eternals.This your first game but you are not a gaming rookie. You played a lot of Magic: The Gathering and a lot of Poker too! Could you tell me what exactly attracted you to those two games?
Well, I have been playing games my entire life. I started with Checkers and Chess at a very young age, but it was not much longer (age 7) before I learned to play Poker. My father and his friends would have small stakes Poker nights and naturally I wanted to do what he was doing. When he and my mother taught me, I loved it immediately! The idea that I could play a game and get money for it seemed perfect to me. I was fascinated by the many different facets to the game: psychology, math, strategy, tactics, observation, and deception. It was never about the actual gambling for me, but only the competition and playing to win the money. I like a nice boring and profitable session of Poker!
I discovered Magic during Alpha as a teenager while I was mostly playing Role Playing Games, Battletech, and Poker on the school bus to make some extra money. It absolutely blew my mind! Deck building was my favorite part because I wanted to take my idea into the arena and see how it stacked up against the creations of others. For the first seven years of Magic it was an all-consuming passion. I met amazing people, traveled the country playing tournaments, learned a ton about iterative design, and how to control myself in highly competitive environment for hours at a time. That last one made me a much better poker player! The best way to sum up my feelings about Magic is that I once conservatively estimated that I have played around 70 thousand games! This is not a joke. I have done the math!
Which of those two do you find more challenging and why?
Both are incredibly challenging games, but I would say that Poker is the more challenging of the two. While I have played Magic for money, generally all you have at stake is an entry fee to a tournament. In Poker, and particularly no-limit, you must learn to make emotionless decisions while facing the fear of losing large sums of money for being wrong. I believe that many people can make rational decisions in the relatively safe environment of a Magic game, but having to master your fear and make the right play in Poker is what sets it apart.
M:TG was first published back in 1993. This is 21 years ago and the game is still alive. How is that possible?
I am of the opinion that Magic is one of the greatest works of art in the 20th Century! Many people try to figure out where the huge resurgence in tabletop gaming has come from, but I think far too few people consider the role Magic has played in it. People my age and older that played Magic in the early years settled down and had families. We do not have the time to stay active in the Magic community, but still have love to play games, many of whom discovered this love by playing Magic. Now they play board games with family and friends and for some of us, all of those years spent deckbuilding has translated into becoming game designers.
So for me, it was the creative aspect of the game that drew me in, and I am sure that plays a major role in Magic’s longevity. That and the massive corporate as well as grassroots game store support it receives!
Your favorite M:TG card would be?
Zur’s Weirding. While I played all types of decks over the years, my preference was for control. I would slowly take control over the game and then drop Zur’s Weirding to completely lock it down. I absolutely loved that card!
What were you your greatest experiences as a M:TG player?
It was oddly not a win, but a defeat that I would consider my best moment. During Tempest block tournaments I built a deck using a card that was universally thought of as garbage, called Amok. After endless testing I took this completely original deck to one game away from winning the qualifier as the only person playing it in the tournament. In the end I lost 2 out of 3 games to Ped Bun who had also brought and original deck (The first infinite living death) to the tourney. While I was disappointed to lose, it was a great match and there were some humorous tournament reports written on-line. I remember one that listed the decks in the Top 8 and for mine it said, “Amok…Yes I said Amok!” I smile about it to this day!
What were you your greatest experiences as a poker player?
Besides paying my rent? Just kidding! Like the Magic story, it involves a hand that I did not win.
I was playing in a $10-$20 game of Texas Holdem. I had been playing for hours and finally received a great starting had, a pair of Kings. I was in late position and prepared myself to raise when the action got to me. When all of a sudden the tightest rock of an old man I had ever seen raised in first position. I was dumbfounded as I had witnessed this same man not raise with Kings twice, Queens, and Ace King four other times. I came to conclusion that he must have Aces and folded my Kings without putting a single bet into the pot. As it turned out the hand was played to the end with the flop coming: Ace, King, 7. I would have flopped three Kings and would lost a huge pot to the three Aces he showed at the end! While I did not rake the pot, my read saved me a ton of money and sometimes in Poker that can be the best win of all!
Do you still play both games or did you “quit”?
I very rarely play Magic anymore. I still love the game and have the highest respect for it, but I do not have the time to keep my skills at the level I want. That, and I eventually got fed up with the randomness of the draw, particularly related to mana.
I will never truly quit Poker, but I have not played regularly in recent years. With a family to take care of, I do not like to gamble with money that has many other places it could go. As it is not about the thrill for me, I just focus my competitive urges into board games with family and friends for now!
When was the moment when you had the idea to create your own game?
I made my first game back when I was in grade school. We played an early computer game called Oregon Trail, and I made a very bad board game version. When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an inventor, but I do not have sufficient engineering, computer, or science training to build too many fantastic devices. However, I have spent my entire life fascinated by and studying games and felt qualified to “invent” them. You might say I have honorary degree in game science!
Strife: Legacy of the Eternals was successfully funded thanks to Kickstarter. Did you try to publish the game with a company at first or was crowdfunding your answer from the very beginning?
I had a somewhat hybrid experience from the beginning of the process. After a couple of months working on Strife: Legacy of the Eternals, I took a prototype to the local game design and playtest group. At just the second meeting I met Jake Leeman. When he played Strife: LotE, he was immediately intrigued by it and said that very day that if his company had any money he would publish it! I did not know Jake was the manager at V3G and a designer of a game of his own, Incredibrawl! After a couple of weeks communicating via social media we had a meeting and he expressed his interest in V3G publishing Strife: LotE through a Kickstarter campaign. As I had neither the time nor experience to run such an elaborate project myself I agreed to the deal. So as you can see, from the very early stages I was both working with a company and planning on a Kickstarter.
While we were demoing at Gen Con, we were approached by Tomek Galkowski from Cube Factory of Ideas, a Polish game company. He was immediately interested in the E.U. publishing rights even though we had not even run a Kickstarter yet. As you never know if a Kickstarter project will succeed, we agreed so that no matter what, Strife: LotE would be published in some capacity. So technically, I worked with two companies and had a Kickstarter!
Could you tell me a little more about your Kickstarter campaign? What were your main concerns during this period?
V3G handled the actual running of the campaign, so my primary concerns were hoping it would be funded and social media outreach. Once we hit the goal I was excited, but when we cleared all of the stretch goals and I knew Strife: LotE would be published in the complete version I had envisioned, I was truly elated!
What were the milestones in the process of designing Strife: Legacy of the Eternals?
The first was having the initial idea for two identical sets of cards played with simultaneous reveal and no drawing.
The second was actually creating a prototype. Often ideas stay ideas and never reach this step. So, simply getting to this phase and testing with some of my gamer friends was a big deal.
Third was showing it strangers and dealing with their feedback. For an introvert like me, this was a very difficult thing to do, but one of the most important as it is how I met Jake!
Lastly, was refining it over and over until it was as tight as I could make it. This step took months and was on going even as V3G prepared for the Kickstarter campaign.
This is a minimalistic type of design. Not too many cards but huge re-playability. This is what you wanted to achieve?
Thank you for the kind words! It is exactly what I was hoping to achieve. As I initially assumed that I would be pitching Strife: LotE in a more traditional manner to a publisher at a convention or through the mail, I thought such a game would give me the best chance at getting published as an unknown designer. I believed that if I were able to make a good game of that type, it would be cheap to produce and less risky for a publisher to take a chance on me. Plus, I really like games like that, and I think it is easier to design what you are already inclined to enjoy!
How did you come up with the game setting?
Initially it was going to be a battle between parallel universes as an explanation for the identical sets of champions. It was through collaboration with Jake that we developed the whole Eternals warring through proxies theme. As for the name of the world, Aerim, it is a jumble of my wife’s middle name, Marie.
Was the game tested by M:TG or Poker players? If so how did they like it?
All of my closest friends are or were both Magic and Poker players. They all enjoyed it and offered great feedback. My friend Nick Garwood, who is credited as the lead playtester in the Kickstarter version and for whom the Remnant Garwood’s Peak is named, was invaluable in the creation of Strife: LotE. He and I have played it nearly 100 times in one form or other and still have fun!
Were there any balance issues? Deadly combos which you removed during tests?
The Wizard originally had a base power of four. When he was combined with an early version of the Warrior it was nearly unstoppable. This resulted in the Wizard’s power being lowered to a three and the Warrior’s legacy ability being changed.
There was also a point when the Knight’s battle ability read as it does now, but he also gained plus one power for every location he moved the battle if he chose to do so. It was way overpowered! I was sad to change it because it worked thematically as representing a Knight charging, but it had to be done.
Do you plan any expansions for Strife: Legacy of the Eternals?
I am actually meeting with Jake this week to show him the cards for the second set entitled, Strife: Shadows and Steam. We are very excited about how this will expand the world of Aerim and add even more value and replayability for players, while keeping the core rules of the Strife system the same.
Do you have any other projects? What would they be?
I have many ideas that I am currently fleshing out. Aside from the new set for Strife, four others are currently in the prototype phase. Two of those are in the hot phase right now
Zark: An abstract strategy game that combines elements of Chess, Go, and Checkers. It can be taught in five minutes and played in about 20. I have thoroughly tested it for two players and I am experimenting with upping it to four players.
Killing Jenkins: A card game where the players are employees at a company and everyone hates the mean manager, Jenkins. One day, someone killed him and the players are all trying to frame each other to keep from being arrested for the murder as everyone is a suspect.
I blog about my upcoming projects, review other games, and write about life in general as experienced by a gamer at my site, www.lifeingames.com.
Chris, designing games, as far as I know, is not your main occupation. What is it?
I work in a medical compressed gas factory. We fill the tanks that are used in hospitals and laboratories. It is not glamorous, but it pays the bills until I become a ridiculously wealthy game designer!
You live in Indiana. Could you tell me something about your home state?
While the coastal states like New York and California would naturally be expected to be gaming hotbeds, Indiana and Indianapolis in particular has a massive gaming community. Indianapolis hosts Gen Con, has around 10 game stores, and a significant number of published designers for a comparatively small city. It is a gamer’s paradise!
What do you like to do in your free time?
Aside from playing games, which is my favorite thing to do. I enjoy playing video games, going to the gym, reading, camping, fishing, and spending time with my wife. We love going to movies and big surprise, playing games together!
Have you ever been to Poland? Do you know any Polish games or game designers? What do you know about our country?
I have not been to Poland, although I would love to visit! Sadly, I do not know any Polish game designers.
As far as what I know of Poland I admit that most of my knowledge is limited to the 20th century. As an avid history enthusiast, I know that Poland regained its independence after World War One only to enter another dark time when invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 to trigger the start of World War Two. I am also aware that 1989 was when the current government of Poland was created along with the many other revolutions that took place in that year
What is your preferred color in games?
Red. I played as red when I was a small child and now I struggle playing as anything else because I try to make plans for the red pieces!
Chris. Thank you a lot for answering all of my questions. I wish you all the best and I am eagerly awaiting your new project!
Thank you so much! It has been my great pleasure to talk to you, and I hope to do so again in the future!