A short while ago, we posted a preview of a game called Spell Stealers, a press-your-luck dice game that brings you lots of variety to increase your chances of getting ahead. That being said, we’ve had the pleasure of interacting with the creator of the game, Greg Santo. Greg has agreed to take some time and answer some questions about himself as a game designer, Spell Stealers, and what the future holds for his company!
First off, how did you fall into game design?
I have been designing and programming video games since I was in middle school. I spent most of my time throughout high school and college honing my programming skills by reading online tutorials related to game programming and design. Eventually, after graduating college, I landed a job as a professional game programmer at Pandemic Studios in Los Angeles. One day, during a lunch break while serving jury duty, I stumbled into a game shop near the courthouse. While browsing through their selection, I found myself fixated on one of the games they had out on display. The artwork and all of the components were so beautiful that I couldn’t resist the urge to purchase it. The game I was so drawn to was called Forbidden Island and, although I had no idea what it was about or how it played, I figured it might be something my wife would enjoy playing with me. My wife is not a very big fan of video games so I figured some face-to-face play across the table would be much more appealing to her. Once I took the game home and read over the instructions I found out that it was a cooperative board game, which I didn’t even know existed. We played through the game several times and had a blast! Immediately my brain was spinning with ideas of how I could create fun and interesting gaming experiences using this new medium. Let’s just say… I was a very distracted juror for the rest of the time I served.
How did you come up with Spell Stealers, and how long were you working on it?
With my new found hobby, I spent a lot of money on all different types of games for … “research.” I was enjoying gaming with my wife so I wanted to make sure I bought games that she would enjoy as well. At the time, we were playing a lot of Yahtzee and Zombie Dice. Both are dice games with press-your-luck elements. The games are fun but I noticed that when we play with larger groups, things are only really exciting for the player who is currently taking their turn. All the other players are just kind of sitting around, watching. I decided to explore ways to correct this.
I knew that I wanted to make a dice game which would improve upon the other dice games we were playing in several ways. First, I wanted to give more weight and meaning to the decisions the players made (both the current player and all the other players). Next, I wanted to keep all the players engaged in the game, even when it’s not their turn. Finally, I wanted to turn up the excitement. I wanted people around the table cheering and clapping and laughing! With these guidelines in mind, the gameplay mechanics actually fell into place pretty quickly. In about a month I had the base rules for the game all laid out.
To create more meaningful decisions for the current player, I gave them a set of 3 different dice with varying probabilities of success. This gives the current player the power to decide how much risk they want to take and when they want to take it. Every other player also has a set of 3 dice, whose shapes correlate to the 3 dice the current player uses. The probabilities of success using these 3 dice are only determined when the value of the current player’s dice-roll is revealed. This keeps the other players constantly involved, evaluating their chances of success on-the-fly and then deciding whether or not they want to take the risk. To turn up the excitement I made all of the actions the players take happen in real-time (meaning, there is only a limited amount of time in which certain actions can take place). This, combined with the amount of thinking involved in weighing the risk/reward of various actions, makes for a very fun and exciting experience.
What are your favorite types of games, and did any of them inspire Spell Stealers?
I love all types of games! In my opinion, everybody in the world loves to play games. Now, many people might claim that they don’t, but I believe those people just haven’t found the right game yet. What’s funny is that, now that everyone carries a smart phone (which is basically a portable gaming device), many of those “non-gamers” are starting to find games that they enjoy. Because my mission has always been to introduce games to as many people as possible, I tend to prefer cooperative games more than competitive games. I also tend to prefer games that are easy to pick up and play as well as games that create a lot of fun interaction between the players. I also like to play games that don’t take themselves too seriously. I feel a bit of humor is needed to make the game more appealing to a wider audience. I kept all of these things in mind when I designed Spell Stealers.
One final thing I’ll say about this is that I also prefer games that will be fun for people of all ages. In this day and age, where people are very busy with their smart phones and tablets – tucked away in their own little world, I feel that face-to-face interaction with actual human beings is very important. This interaction is especially important within families. When I was a kid, my family often sat together around the table to play Monopoly or Scrabble. These gaming experiences were very important for strengthening the bonds within our family. This is a tradition I plan to carry on as I raise my children and I want to be involved in sharing that tradition with the world. For this reason, I designed Spell Stealers to be a game that is fun for children and adults alike.
You’re relaunching your campaign due to a small hiccup, and your backers have been appreciative for your honesty. How are you feeling about this relaunch?
When you run a Kickstarter campaign you have to wear many hats, one of which is the “accountant hat.” I make no claims to be a qualified accountant but I did a great deal of research and tried my best to make sure I didn’t overlook any detail when preparing my budget and setting my funding goal. Unfortunately, something slipped through and I didn’t catch it until a few days after the campaign went live. Fortunately, it was only a few days and so I was able to cancel the project and make the necessary adjustments and re-launch within a week. I’m very thankful that the majority of my backers were understanding and were happy to resubmit their pledge when the new campaign page went live. That being said, this relaunch isn’t really a “relaunch” – it’s like I’m launching again, for the first time, except with correct numbers. I was able to make some modifications to the campaign page in the process, such as reshooting the project video to make it more concise, which I believe will help the project in the long run. I still have a lot to learn, however, and a great deal of work to do to get the word out about Spell Stealers. I invite everyone out there reading this to help me spread the word about Spell Stealers to as many people as possible. There is no question in my mind that there are people out there who would really like to own this game, now I just have to find them and let them know it exists … and the more help I have, the easier this task will be.
I like the stealing aspect of your game for the variety and the ability for all players to be active when it isn’t their turn. What else do you feel separates Spell Stealers from other push-your-luck games?
Spell Stealers is unique for a variety of reasons. First, Spell Stealers makes use of custom polyhedral dice instead of the traditional 6-sided dice you find in most press-your-luck dice games. These custom dice provide players with all the information they need to make an informed decision about the amount of risk they want to take and when they want to take it. Second, as you mentioned, Spell Stealers manages to keep all players actively involved in the game, even when it’s not their turn, and it gives them meaningful decisions to make that affect the game and all the other players. On top of that, Spell Stealers has a very high level of player interactivity. Due to the nature of real-time actions, players are always interacting with one another in various ways and at various times. Not only are the players actively involved at all times, but they are actively interacting with one another at all times which brings Spell Stealers into party-game territory. To be very honest, I have never heard of a “press-your-luck dice party game” before. Lastly, Spell Stealers has a nice theme layered on top of the gameplay mechanics which gives meaning to the actions the players are taking. In Spell Stealers players assume the role of master thieves racing through an enchanted temple in order to steal a powerful magic spell. As some of our reviewers have mentioned, most press-your-luck dice games are not heavily thematic. The story and art of Spell Stealers, along with the fact that the players are actually moving their character pawns through the temple as they gain points, helps bring players into the world of Spell Stealers and gives context to the actions they are taking. And, if we reach our Kickstarter stretch goals, the player pawns will be replaced with custom plastic miniatures which will further enforce this sense of theme.
Do you have any future projects in mind that you might be able to give us teasers for?
I have several projects I am actively working on. I love story and I love storytelling through games (which is a major reason why I love video games so much). I am actively exploring ways to bring interactive storytelling to the tabletop. Aside from that, I have a prototype that I’m currently working on for a cooperative survival game. I don’t want to say too much about it just yet, but I believe I’m doing some pretty unique things with the way players can dish out damage to the enemy as well as some unique gameplay mechanics that make the cooperative aspect of the game more engaging.
Thank you, Greg, for taking the time to answer our questions. We appreciate the hint at what is to come! Spell Stealers is on Kickstarter with a new video, and a poll in the first update for consumer input on the stretch goals. We really enjoyed Spell Stealers and that it sets apart from other dice games because you have some control on your probability of success, but that it stretches for all age ranges. If you’re looking for a fun dice game that can be played quickly and is a great fit for many ages, check out Spell Stealers and see if it has a place in your game collection.