Untamed - Feral Factions: The Art in Kickstarter #7

Untamed - Feral Factions: The Art in Kickstarter #7

Editors Note: I’ll admit, I’m a big fan of board games with anthropomorphic art, but not all of it is done well. When I saw the art for Untamed: Feral Factions on social media, I was reminded of my favorite cartoons growing up, in my eyes a pretty big compliment. This game is currently doing good work on Kickstarter (live until July 3rd), so if you like what you see, go take a look afterwards.

Hello there Jeremy Falger, thanks for joining me! For our readers who aren't aware of your work could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

Hi Ross, thanks for having me! I'm a game designer living Utrecht, one of the bigger cities in the Netherlands. If you ever have to chance to visit, Utrecht is great place for board game lovers, as we have 4 board game shops within 50m of each other! I also work in one of the aforementioned shops part time. After my bachelor degree in History I realised that what I really wanted to do was make games. I had been designing games since I was about 14 years old, and though I had put it on the backburner during my studies it came back in full force a few years ago. That led me to pursue a master's degree in Game Design at the University of Amsterdam and this is also where I met some of the guys with whom I eventually started our company: Grumpy Owl Games. Within Grumpy Owl Games I'm (obviously) involved with the game design side of things, alongside our other designer: Milan Lefferts. Additionally I'm responsible for the art direction and visual design side of things.

As my master degree also focused on applied (or 'serious') game design, before I became a Grumpy Owl, I worked on games focused on children's healthcare and wellbeing, at the University of Turku, in Finland. And while we've always been working on our title, Untamed: Feral Factions, for the general, tabletop entertainment market, Grumpy Owl Games also continues to develop games as training tools for the healthcare and educational market. Aside and not ever sleeping because I'm always thinking about games, I enjoy riding my road bike (sorta) fast, spinning obscure funky house tracks as a DJ and checking out traditional tattoo flash.

Can you describe your Kickstarter game to us and what makes it interesting?

So Untamed: Feral Factions is a card battle game, think Magic: The Gathering or Hearthstone. There's lots of games out there in that genre and I love the genre. However a lot of them require a significant buy-in, in the shape of time, or money, or both. I just wanted a game that's quick to setup and dive into, but still offers a level of agency as you choose your deck and your play style. Additionally I wanted a fairly balanced experience. In my opinion the shuffle-building mechanic is a perfect fit to accomplish this.

I don't claim to have reinvented to wheel together with my co-designer Milan Lefferts, but I think we took familiar elements and combined them in a package just feels really nice to play. There's a bunch of small mechanics that improve quality of life (or play?) I think. In addition to these smaller elements I also feel the 'bigger' Support mechanic adds a nice new twist to the genre by introducing a second, finite resource. It adds depth to the design without adding a bunch of extra 'stuff'. You're essentially using components you already have anyway and turn that into a second resource which you'll have to manage to get the most out of your cards and abilities. Furthermore I think the theme, artwork and graphic design is different from a lot of other games in the genre.

How long have you been working on this game? What made you launch the campaign now?

Work on the game started in early 2017. We hadn't set many limitations on ourselves except that we wanted to make a card battle game that was quick to set up and didn't have the traditional style of (fun yet time-consuming) deckbuilding. Still, this left us with a wide range of options.Thus we started experimenting with a wide range of mechanics and frameworks, most of which didn't work out in the end.

After realising we needed to set clear limitations and design goals, the design process actually progressed fairly quickly. We received loads of great feedback at Spiel 2018 and other playtest events and we kept tweaking and streamlining the design until we felt we couldn't streamline it any further. That's was when we felt confident enough to start prepping the Kickstarter.

What were some of the main design changes that took place?

We had a totally different resource system for the longest time which the whole turn structure and deck construction was built around. It was pretty novel with two sided resource cards but in the end it proved to be too limiting so we scrapped it and opted for a different combat system. I think we were actually pretty good in killing our darlings. I wrote down all mechanics we ever came up with, for future reference, but I was never really married to one particular idea, though I do love multi-use cards, so I tried to put that in anywhere possible. That's also what I enjoyed in designing together with Milan, I have a tendency to make big sweeping changes and Milan is way more conservative, so that balanced each other out nicely.

The art in Untamed: Feral Factions is anthropomorphic in style, why this theme and at what point in the process did this develop?

While we didn't really have any limits to the mechanics, we did commit to the art style and the theme early on. We felt that for a game in this genre, but without traditional deckbuilding, a different look would help distinguish itself and help communicate that this was intended to be a bit more of a casual affair yet still pique the interest of veterans of the genre. A fair amount of thought went into the theming as we wanted it to be recognisable and something that people could identify with.

I think that the downfall of a lot of high fantasy themed media is that you either love it or you're indifferent to it at best. However, everybody knows what a Tiger, a Panda or Rabbit is and a lot of people have some sort of connection with animals. I think this automatically lowers the barrier of entry and allows people to actually look further than the theme. Additionally I'm just naturally drawn to bright and vibrant artwork, so it was a natural choice to pursue this for the art style for the game.

You worked with a variety of artists on this game so how challenging was it to keep the style consistent throughout?

It was a challenge at some points, but I do think that careful selection before hand helped a lot. I spent a lot of time looking at portfolio's  as well as creating a mood board up front. This made it easier to refer to what I had in mind. Also a lot of artists I worked with had the same 'artist idols' (e.g. Jesper Ejsing, Paul Mafayon) as I had, so that made everything a lot easier as well. And as soon as you have an established body of work for the game, it's easy to just refer to that for new artists coming aboard with regards to color palette and styling etc. Though I also think that it helped that we had different factions in the game, so it's okay if there's a little difference between the factions themselves, it just helps set each faction apart.

Where did the concepts for the card art come from and how much of that came from you and Milan, and how much came from collaboration?

All in all, it was a pretty organic process. Practically speaking I probably wrote the majority of the briefs but Milan and myself bounced ideas off each other, sometimes based on the name of the card or the mechanics we were doing for that faction. Other times we'd try to figure out what aesthetic would logically fit with this particular animal by looking at how a certain animal is perceived in popular culture.

Foxes for example are often seen as sneaky and sly in many (western) children's tales, therefore it just made a lot of sense to portray them as thieves and spies in Untamed, as that naturally connects with many people's expectations. After the concept for the card, the first piece I'd commission to an artist usually had a pretty detailed brief. However if we'd already done some pieces then sometimes we'd also have a bit more of a back and forth which was really fun as well.

It's safe to say clear graphic design is a must to keep any card battle game flowing. Were there any games you took inspiration from and how did the graphic design evolve during your playtesting?

For sure, during testing at Essen for example we saw people putting their Power and Support cards in all sorts of different places. We wanted to streamline that and facilitate an easy to read play area, so we added 2 little icons within an arrow shape on the Stronghold cards to help organise the player's playing area by having the Power cards always on the left, and the Support always on the right. These icons double as reminders to help players understand the iconography in the text box (mainly the paw symbol we chose to symbolise support). We also added the hexagonal icon to the back of each card to help players realise that each card can be played face down as a Power resource.

For the card frame we took a look at all the other card battle games out there. We saw a small trend towards the card frames and graphic design becoming cleaner and more simple (a trend found in every other industry as well). While the first drafts of the card frame for example had a very '3D stone skeuomorphism' vibe to them, in the end we settled for the much cleaner, more modern look we have now. It's not only easier to read, it gave us more space for text as well as providing the art with as much real estate as possible.

What made you choose Kickstarter and how did you prepare for your campaign?

As a small company and for our first game Kickstarter just made the most sense. We feel like it's a good way to gauge interest in the product and to get a community going as well as help with production costs. We analysed countless kickstarter pages of similar (and completely different) games and made an overview of what we should absolutely include and do (and not do). Additionally we also read loads of articles and blogs on how to run a successful kickstarter campaign, for example Jamey Stegmaier's blog proved to be super helpful (thanks Jamey!).

What are some non-game related creations (books, music, movies, etc) that you’re currently enjoying?  

I've recently finished reading Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, which I really loved. Looking to get started with his Stormlight Archive series during my holiday. I'm also halfway through Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of Fallen series, though I suspect it will take me a few more years to finish it due to the sheer volume, not only of the books, but also due to the huge amount of characters introduced and which I keep forgetting about.

I mostly read fantasy nowadays, though I also try to read some literature every now and then, most recently I finished Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, which was interesting. Music wise I listen to a lot electronic music, mostly funky house and melodic techno (Jesper Ryom for example) but I have pretty varied taste, so I also love me some American Sharks (really sweet punk rock) or Foals (indie). I haven't seen that many movies recently, though I'm looking forward to Jim Jarmusch's zombie movie The Dead Don't Die, I'm also really excited to binge watch Stranger Things season 3!

Finally, if we want to find the game and more of your work online, how can we find you?

There's a BGG page for the game here. The Kickstarter can be found here. You can also play on Tabletopia here or on Tabletop Simulator here.

I'm on Twitter (@CardbConspiracy)sometimes and I scroll through a lot of Instagram , though I don't necessarily post a lot (I just always forget to take pictures of stuff), the Grumpy Owl Games Instagram feed is a lot livelier though. If I ever have time in the future I want to start posting some more stuff on UX design in board game design, but that's still up in the air.

(All images copyright of Grumpy Owl Games)

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