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Interview: Jason Huffman

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1750cover

It was the Age of Powder and Musket, the Golden Era of Mighty Sail, and the High Tide of European colonial ambitions. It was a day of romance, glory, daring, and adventure. But it was also a time of bad food, brutal discipline, and horrific battles. Through a string of epic continental and world struggles, nations rose and fell, emerged and faded, and shifted alliances like sand through a monarch’s fingers. Yet two giants always stood tall and opposed, as mortal enemies anchoring either side for seemingly all eternity: Britain and France. Now, a new action-packed card game is seeking funds on Kickstarter, bringing you to the colonies and seas over which one of these epic conflicts waged. First-time designer Jason Huffman sits down with iSlaytheDragon to discuss his project.

Jason, thanks for your time! I realize war planning and grand strategizing keep one busy, so for the sake of brevity, describe 1750: Britain vs. France in one sentence.

1750: Britain vs. France is a highly thematic card game in which two players fight an 18th Century war for control of colonies in North America, Africa, and India.

Then again, successful campaigns always depend upon getting the details right. In that case, give us your design’s “elevator pitch.”

In 1750: Britain vs. France, players wage a highly thematic 18th Century, worldwide, military campaign.  One player controls British forces and the other controls the French, using dice and cards to fight battles for control of colonies in North America, Africa, and India.  Game lovers of Axis and Allies, Summoner Wars, and the old Star Wars CCG will find some familiar mechanics here. Another unique feature of 1750 is that it features 18th Century paintings in all of the game’s artwork, greatly enhancing the historic feel of the game.

Okay, you piqued my interest with mention of the old Star Wars CCG – in a game set in the 18th century!  What aspect is similar in 1750: Britain vs. France?

The biggest similarity is the way that the board is comprised of cards (you use colony cards to create the board) and the game’s units move between the colonies in a pretty similar way to the old Star Wars CCG.  I debated the use of a conventional board with the game but I really like the replay value that comes from using different cards for the areas you fight over, plus I get to continue to feature more of the artwork and maps of this era by going this direction.  The units are quite different, but the historic event cards also take some cues from CCGs.

I’m intrigued by the commodity cards.  Can you example briefly how that element works.  Is it essentially an abstract economic system?

Overall it’s pretty simple. Basically, colonies produce exports and creating sets of different exports (diversification) results in the player gaining additional income.  Some political objectives can also result in gaining more exports (Portugal’s allegiance results in gaining a couple of sugar exports for example).  Some historic event cards also come into play, allowing you to exchange exports for additional income or punishing the opponent for you having a “monopoly” on a particular type of export.  As colonies are won and lost, players will adjust the exports in their possession accordingly.

So then is money used to buy ship cards and/or other units? Does it cost to play event cards?

Yes your money (gold) in the game is used to purchase units (leaders and other military units like Privateers, German Mercenaries, Local Allies) from your Battle Deck.  Those are the units that fight at the colonies.  You also use your gold to boost your efforts to get political allies and to draw additional historic event cards.  You normally get a historic event card for free each turn, but if you want to draw an additional one, that costs gold.

Commodity cards for the game's colonial economy.
Commodity cards for the game’s colonial economy.

What particularly about the Seven Years’ War attracted you most?  Was that conflict the design’s original thematic choice from Day 1?  Or did you consider and test other historical periods, as well, looking for that “perfect” fit?

I knew I wanted to do a historical game, but I did evaluate other conflicts.  As I was developing the game mechanics the concept of fighting over colonies really stuck out to me.  So really it was both the artwork and mechanics coming together in a way that made sense for the player to have a great thematic experience.  I still have interest in developing games focusing on other wars; but for now I’m just focused on getting this one right.

I admit to being a history nerd, so I really dig the artwork.  How did you go about scouring up the images for this period and did you run into any issues finding what you needed and/or getting permission to use them for the design?

I had a reasonably good feel for the history images available in this era, because, I too, am a history nerd.  I have a lot of books on these wars with many of these paintings, so I had some sense of the direction I wanted to take things based on what imagery was available.  I absolutely did encounter some problems with finding suitable images to convey certain themes.  For example, I probably searched for about 4 hours to find an appropriate image to represent ivory in the game.  Fun stuff!  I did run into some issues on images in terms of validation that the artwork was in the public domain. I had to be exhaustive with that process, and some images that look like they’re from that period are really modern and just mimicking that style.

And which is your favorite image in the game?

Oh, it’s probably a toss-up between the portrait of James Wolfe and one of the Battle of Fontenoy.

You mentioned evaluating other historical conflicts. I think it’d be cool to do this with the Thirty Years’ War so that you could include the event ‘Defenestration of Prague’ in which some Bohemians threw three dudes out a three-story window which precipitated the whole conflict – just think of the artwork for that card! Do you have another historical period you’d personally like to explore – even if just for fun?

Ha-ha, that does sound like a fun one!  I will be looking at the possibilities of incorporating the Spanish into this game down the road, and I’ll also be taking a look at the American Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, for sure.

Is there a particular target audience you have in mind for 1750: Britain vs. France? Or which gamer types do you feel it will appeal to most?

I have several audiences in mind for this game.  History fans and history educators are definitely on the list.  Historic war gamers are another audience that I think will enjoy the game’s theme and gameplay.  That being said my overall approach is definitely to market to all card and board game players, making sure that the game mechanics are fun and enjoyable for players who aren’t that into history either.  While the game is very thematic, I wanted to make sure that you didn’t have to be a history expert to enjoy the gameplay. It’s a play experience that should last an hour or less, so more casual gamers won’t be overwhelmed by the game length or a very complex rule set.

Periodic artwork depicts all of the game's cards, including these historic event cards.
Period artwork depicts all of the game’s cards, including these historic event cards.

As 1750: Britain vs. France is your freshman outing, did you encounter any particular design problem in which other beginning designers might learn from your experience?

Well, I think one of my bigger revelations is that I find it beneficial to have a lot of different physical materials around.  One breakthrough for me was to implement a split between regular sized cards and mini sized cards.  I got a lot of different materials from teacher supply stores, stores like Hobby Lobby, and materials from other board games. For me, that seemed to get me to those, “Ah, ha!” moments a little bit faster.  The game is also basically on the third version of design.  From those first two versions I’d say that I learned a lot about not going too far down the road with a particular design without having a very strong “warm and fuzzy” feeling about the mechanics.  In other words, don’t over-commit to a design until those baseline mechanics are something you feel great about.

Good advice! So, you’ve mentioned a few popular titles that gamers may recognize pieces of while playing 1750: Britain vs. France. What kinds of games do you play in your free time? Do you have a hands-down favorite?  And have any had an influential hand in designing this game?

Lately, my regular gaming group has been playing a lot of Dominion and Macao.  I played some Star Wars CCG for the first time in a while at GenCon which was also a lot of fun.  SWCCG is definitely one of my favorites of all time.  I also play Warhammer off and on which I love.  Certainly SWCCG and Axis and Allies have had an influential hand, but I have probably gotten as much, if not more inspiration, from some old video games I used to play.  Then there’s a healthy dose of mechanics bearing no resemblance to anything I’ve played.

Thanks for talking with us! We wish you luck on the project. But before I let you go, I always save the most important question for last: Okay, so you have Maria Theresa, Louis XV, Frederick the Great, and both King Georges sitting at your table. What game do you pick for them to play and why?

Ha-ha, oh yes, very important.  Well, I of course hope they’ll break my game out, but if not, maybe some Dominion?  Seems appropriate enough! 😉

1750: Britain vs. France is currently seeking funds on Kickstarter. It has met nearly 50% of its goal, already, and the project will run through Sunday, September 28.  Stake your claim in this venture by heading over to the campaign page to plant your flag and join the action with a $45 pledge, which includes any stretch goal rewards the project my earn, plus shipping to the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Germany. Alas, pantaloons and powdered wig are not included.

 

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