Interview: Ben Harkins



Vault Wars is a game of bidding and bluffing set in the Epic Resort universe, for 3-5 gamers.  It is designed by Jon Gilmour (Dead of Winter).  If you like auction games with a little surprise, then this current Kickstarter project just may be of interest to you!  Ben Harkins of publisher Floodgate Games sits down with iSlaytheDragon to discuss his dream and project.


First off, Ben, describe Vault Wars in one sentence.
Vault Wars is a fantasy auction game where players bid for storage vaults of gear belonging to fallen heroes, taking turns as the auction master to convince their opponents to hand over their gold.

Now, I don’t want to be accused of unfairly restraining a publisher from spreading the joy about their game, so give our readers your elevator pitch.
When heroes are slain, their treasure-filled storage vaults are abandoned and put up for auction. As an aspiring hero, you must outbid your opponents to win these auctions and acquire the gear you need. Will you triumph by collecting a chest of gems and artifacts, or go home with a trunk full of junk? Outbid, out-bluff, and master the auctions to be victorious in Vault Wars.

Tell me, did you have a particular audience in mind when producing Vault Wars? Or do you think there are certain gamer types it may particularly appeal to?
I wanted to publish a game with a social component that played relatively quickly (an hour), supported up to 5 players and still had some depth to it. I feel like it fits right in between two big-box games on a marathon game night, and is something the casual gamer will love while keeping their hardcore gamer friends engaged with strategic decisions.

Vault Wars is set in the same “world” as your previous title, Epic Resort.  How did the design grow into that theme?
When I first played Jon’s prototype it already had a fantasy theme engrained in the motivation and items, but we did quite a bit to tune it to fit right in with the Epic Resort world. One of the biggest changes has been the variety of special rules added to the Vaults themselves; each one starts with the core rules and tweaks them in interesting ways.

How did you first come across Jon Gilmour and his design?
Jon and I were hanging out at Grand Con when we decided to try out his fantasy themed auction game. It got good feedback from the group we were with, and I really enjoyed it so we started chatting about where it could go from there.

Can you give us one example of how you tweaked Jon’s original theme to fit the Epic Resort world?
Overall, the slightly askew take on typical fantasy heroes is the core of what ties them together. Nuts-and-bolts-wise, we made the Heroes and Workers use all the same names and concepts (adding a new Aspiring Hero: The Hoarder). Bringing back the talented Jacqui Davis and Kelly McClellan for illustrations and Peter Wocken for graphic design really helped tie them to each other visually, while giving Vault Wars its own unique identity.

The part open, part closed information bidding is very interesting. What was the original “inspiration” behind using that?
This is rooted in the general flow of the television show Storage Wars, which is Jon’s original inspiration for the game. In the show, bidders only get to peek in through the door. They don’t get to rummage through the storage locker’s contents.

What do you think that element brings to Vault Wars that isn’t found in other titles of this style?
I might be slightly biased, but I really think it brings a ton of new value to a typical auction mechanic. The core component to any auction is valuation of the thing that’s up for sale. When you don’t know everything you’re buying, and you don’t know what other players know, the bluffing and triple-guessing makes for a really fun time.

Gotta collect 'em all! In this case, a complete set of armor earns more gold when selling.
Collect All The Things!

I really like the Worker expansion. Was that originally in the first prototype you played? Is its inclusion based on funding the specific stretch goal?
Sort of, the Workers and Heroes were originally combined into one marketplace, but we liked the idea of separating them out for a couple reasons.  One, there is a more cohesive focus on what’s in the market, making it easier to “get it.” Two, having hidden agendas (through the Aspiring Heroes) really added quite a bit to the dynamic of the bidding portion of the game.

We got a lot of polarized feedback that the worker expansion was both an “unnecessary distraction” and “absolutely necessary.” Treating it as optional seemed the right thing to do, and making it a stretch goal helps us keep costs down until the economies of scale are on our side.

The project is already funded and has reached a few stretch goals. And this isn’t your first Kickstarter game. What are a couple of lessons or mistakes you’ve learned from in previous campaigns that have been able to apply to help Vault Wars succeed?
The Kickstarter landscape is brutally competitive now. You really need to bring your best possible presentation right out of the gate and have a rock solid game design that’s vetted by trusted industry voices. I think it’s great though, as competition will ensure that successful games are really adding value to gamers’ collections. When everyone is held to such a high standard, then only the best will cut through the noise… I just hope our auctioneer’s voice is loud enough for everyone to hear!

Thanks, Ben, for taking some time out of your busy Kickstarter blitz to speak with us.  One more thing before you go, I gotta know if you have any plans to use the Epic Resort world again?
Absolutely! There’s a ton of thematic space for refreshing takes on high-fantasy tropes and I’m excited to visit it again when the right thematic-mechanic mix comes along again.


Vault Wars is currently seeking funds on Kickstarter.  The project will run through March 27.  The game is already funded and has reached a few stretch goals with still more available to unlock!  If you want to throw in your bid, you’ll need to head over to the campaign page and join with a $20 pledge (or $45 for some really nifty metal coins to bling it out), which includes U.S. domestic shipping and any stretch goals the project reaches.  Hurry now before the whole project is SOLD!

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this game. I never tried auction game before. Do you recommend this game to girls who never play boardgame before? Thank you!

  2. Pingback: WHEN HEROES NEVER RETURN (AN INTERVIEW WITH BEN HARKINS) – islaythedragon | Roll For Crit

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