Read Part 1 here.
Airship Ambassador: Creators often talk about how elements of their own lives influence their projects. How did this play into Scrapyard Empire?
Dennis Consorte: When I was a kid, I used to love taking things apart to see how they worked. My problem was that I never could figure out how to put them back together. My behavior in breaking all of my toys resulted in my parents buying fewer of them for me. This put me on a path to find other ways to occupy my time and to satisfy my desire to understand how things worked.
With no hardware to play with, I soon discovered software. I learned how to code at a young age. I was fluent in Basic, Assembly Language, Pascal, C++ and a few other languages (and today I dabble in PHP and other web scripting languages). By the time I was in high school, I had dreams of creating the next great video game. I made a few simple games like a Galaga knock off and an AI version of Othello.
But that dream soon faded and I gave up on developing video games for many years. I’m almost 40 now, and like many others at my age, I’m yearning for the things I missed while younger. Digital is so commonplace now, and as a result, analog technology and old fashioned stuff that’s printed on real paper is making a comeback. I want to be part of this introduction of tangible games to people who are so used to digital imagery, and Scrapyard Empire is part of this realization of my small dream.
AA: All of those ideas really resonate with, and even motivate, many people in the steampunk community. Today’s technology is great but the clean modern aesthetic doesn’t always appeal to a more artistic perspective and appreciation. What kind of back story is there for Scrapyard Empire which didn’t make it into the final version?
DC: We had a number of ideas for the back story to Scrapyard Empire. The one that stands out most is where the world is about to end, and various nations call upon their scientists to devise an invention that either prevents the impending apocalypse, or helps their people escape their doom.
So for example, a time machine could be used to turn back the hands of time and change the course of history in a way that prevents the apocalypse, while a dirigible could fly countless citizens to freedom. In the end we decided that a wacky contest devised by an eccentric inventor was a lighter theme that more people would enjoy for this particular project.
AA: What a great decision to add a sense of whimsy and fun into the game. Are there any plans for expansions?
DC: Possibly. Lately we’ve been testing ways to add abilities to the invention cards and those will probably make it into the first edition of this game. Beyond that, we’d like for the miniatures to have a use beyond serving as markers for the game. I would really enjoy producing a miniatures game that utilizes the fantastical inventions from Scrapyard Empire in a new and exciting way.
We’ve already got a 15-character expansion pack available as an add-on, and we may make new machines and inventions if there is enough of a demand for it. The beauty of these cards is that they are relatively simple by design. This has the advantage of making them highly versatile, and it wouldn’t be hard to utilize them as part of a much more robust game down the line.
AA: When I get my nieces and nephews to play Scrapyard Empire, what do they need to know?
DC: They’ll be able to pick up on the main concept to the game – collect cards from the Parts deck to build Small Machines, and build the right Small Machines that can be combined to form your Invention. But don’t overlook the special abilities that each small machine gives you when built. These abilities contain hidden gems that will help you win the game if you pay attention to your opponents’ cards and character abilities.
AA: What kind of research went into creating the Scrapyard Empire world?
DC: A lot! Some of this research was done during the development of the game, and some of it was done ex post facto. Once we knew we wanted an inventors’ theme, Mike Patierno pulled a number of ideas for the scrapyard and its associated inventions out of his hat, based on years of exposure to the genre. The rest of the team then researched how these devices might look and function, and that provided some direction for the artwork and game mechanics. We also played numerous games that people compared our mechanics to after helping us play-test.
We also did quite a bit of competitor research, and in fact discovered a couple of other steampunk inventor-themed games that were released after we had finished our first (extended) round of playtesting. We looked at their mechanics and artwork to make sure that our game was actually quite different. I even went so far as to reach out to the creator of one game that played very differently from ours, but which had some of the same inventions.
From that conversation, I made the decision to change the names of some of our devices, to make them just a bit more different. I felt that this was good for both their projects and ours, and it also made for a nice introduction to some great people who share similar dreams to ours.
AA: One aspect I appreciated about the game is that is can be played by one person in solitaire mode, or in a group. What prompted that aspect of gameplay and what kind of discussions went into it to make that happen?
DC: Believe it or not, the idea for a solo mode came from my therapist. The thought had crossed my mind briefly before that, but it wasn’t until I introduced him to the game that he made the suggestion and gave me the slight nudge that I needed to explore it further. It makes sense – from a psychological and logistical standpoint, not everyone can find several friends at a moment’s notice to play a card game. And of course, we all have friends who are late to events, where having a solitaire game to occupy one’s time while waiting is a great way to pass the time.
We put a lot of effort into Scrapyard Empire: Solitaire and in fact had two release candidates for the game. One was a version where you play against a drone player of sorts. While that was more in tune with the 2-4 player game’s rules, we felt that the solo version we decided to release as part of the core game was just a lot more fun. Since our goal was to make a fun game, this became the logical choice.
AA: You’ve run several game sessions for design and beta testing. What are some memorable fan reactions to Scrapyard Empire which you’ve heard?
DC: We’ve run countless sessions during beta testing. Though most of them didn’t make their way to our Youtube channel, they all had memorable reactions. My favorites were when games were extremely close, because it really is a race to build your inventions before the other contenders. This often resulted in maniacal laughter, heads buried into folded arms and lots of colorful language.
But the fan reaction that stood out most to me was from a local gamer who we recruited one night from around town. Ed Rivera said that he wasn’t accustomed to set collection games like Scrapyard Empire, but actually enjoyed it a lot more than some of the most popular deck builders on the market. He was masterful with using the aspects of the game that were similar to common deck building mechanics, such as the special abilities associated with the small machine cards. Yet he felt that the dice mechanic and being able to dig through the scrap pile (i.e. the discard pile) was something fresh that added a level of excitement to the game. A compliment like that will be remembered for a long time.
AA: After all these teasing questions, what is the actual game play?
DC: In a 2-4 player game, everyone is dealt cards from 4 decks: 8 Part cards, 5 Small Machine cards, 1 Invention card and 1 Character card. The Parts, Small Machines and Inventions decks are placed face-down on the table, and the top card is flipped face-up next to it to form the “scrap pile.” Parts and Characters are laid out face-up on the table, while the other cards are in-hand, hidden from the view of other players.
The object of the game is to build 2 or 3 inventions, depending on the number of players. You do this by collecting the right Parts to build Small Machines, and the right Small Machines to build Inventions. Each Small Machine is comprised of 3 Parts, and each Invention is comprised of 3 Small Machines. That’s the core of the game, but it’s the little nuances that make it more interesting and engaging.
Each turn is comprised of 4 phases. Below is a summary of the basics, but there are a few items that you’ll need to read about in the rule book for clarification:
Draw Phase – take 1 card from the Parts pile
Action Phase – you get 2 actions per turn. Actions include drawing a card from the 3 decks, “digging” from the scrap pile upon a successful dice roll, stealing from or trading with other players, or activating a special ability. One unique thing about the dice, or “luck” component to this game is that it can be augmented by discarding extra cards. So for example, if you need to roll a 4, 5 or 6 in order to dig for a part you need but end up with an unlucky 2, you can simply discard 2 of the cards that you don’t need to bump that 2 up to a 4, and get the card that you do need.
Build Phase – discard 3 parts to build a small machine, or discard 3 small machines to build an invention. You may build as many items as you have cards for.
Discard Phase – with the exception of certain characters with special abilities, every player must discard down to 8 Part cards, 5 Small Machine cards in their hand and 1 Invention in their hand. Just like in real life, you only have so many places to put stuff, so you have to manage that space effectively.
It’s agonizing, I know, but we’ll break here at the halfway mark in this four part interview with Dennis Consorte.
Join us for part three where Dennis talks about behind the scenes game creation activity.