Board Games by Patrick Leder
Owner and CEO of Leder Games. Follow me to hear my rants, nonsense, and discussions of design. Twitter: https://twitter.com/PatrickLeder
No matter how great the cover art, the insert, or the beautiful components, a bad rulebook can sour the best of first impressions. On the flip side, a good rulebook fills you with anticipation as you imagine how the plays will unfold in your group. Well, little did I know when I first got into the hobby that much of this magic happens through the hands of rulebook editors. That is why today, I'm interviewing Joshua Yearsley, editor extraordinaire who has worked alongside Leder Games and many other notable publishers.
Hey Josh, thank you for making your time! First up, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Totally! I’m thirty-one and I live in western Massachusetts. (Most people’s follow-up question is whether I live in Boston. Nope! Other side of the state.) I live with six people in a cooperative house—we share responsibilities equitably and cook house dinners daily, allocate rental profits democratically, and give an equity share of the house mortgage to people who live in the house for five years. (And we play a lot of games together!) Besides games, I really enjoy reading, drumming, and generally being active with biking and weightlifting and such.
Before we dive in, what are the three games you'd choose to describe your gaming preferences?
Whew…can I include games I’ve worked on? I’ll assume not. Twilight Struggle, Eclipse, and Spirit Island.
So how did you end up entering the board game industry? Was it something that was lingering for a while or did it happen on a whim?
I didn’t plan on it! After spending a couple years in a doctoral program in materials science, I decided that going into academia was a fool’s game since the job prospects were so dry. So I told my graduate adviser that I wanted to stop with my master’s degree, and she asked me what I wanted to do. Over the years, I’d had great experiences working with my fellow grad students on refining their dissertations—everyone but me seemed to hate the writing process with a passion, so people started coming to me for help—so I said, “publishing.” She immediately offered me some basic copy-editing work at a science journal where she was editor-in-chief.
Around that time, Kickstarter was really taking off, including the games scene there. I reached out to one designer who was making a hard sci-fi roleplaying game—extra points if anyone figures out which one—and asked if he needed an editor. Funnily enough, my materials science background made me an appealing candidate, so I got the job. (There actually were a few points in the book where I caught some absurdities with how materials worked, so I guess the designer’s intuition worked out.)
That was my first job in games, so I earned very little from it—nowhere near a reasonable amount, but what did I know? The science work paid better, so at the start I did 90% science editing and 10% games editing. Now, I work totally in games.
That's awesome, I love how supportive your adviser was in the process. So, for those who aren't aware, could you give a quick rundown of your job description?
Basically, the editor is the advocate for the audience. The designer makes a compelling game, and the editor makes sure that it’s learnable and usable. (In reality, the relationship is more complicated, but that’s a good enough description for now.) I work to ensure that the game is clear, concise, and consistent, whether that means tightening up sentences and fixing typos, restructuring chapters, writing examples, improving the graphic design, creating iconography, prototyping walkthroughs and player aids, or even getting involved in deeper development work to make the rules themselves more streamlined. Depending on the project, I might touch a lot.
What's the most stressful part of working as a rulebook editor? Most rewarding?
It’s stressful to know that, no matter how hard you work, there’ll always be a mistake lurking somewhere, and that someone is going to have a worse time because of it. Games are complex systems, especially the ones that I like working on, and making a watertight system on the first try that accounts for the vagueness of language, the differing experience levels of players, and many permutations of possible interactions—that’s impossible.
But it’s rewarding to try. Every game is a puzzle, and intricate puzzles are fun to work on—or at least for me (and I think for much of your audience). And it’s doubly rewarding to watch as people have easier and easier times learning as you blind test better and better iterations of the rules. Of course, it can be frustrating to watch people stumble over things that should seem obvious, but that frustration contains all the lessons needed to solve the puzzle.
It's clear that you're wired for this. Are there any unique/strange habits you've developed as a result of your work?
What a neat question! I’ve started thinking much more in terms of a “rule of tens” or orders of magnitude. (Though I’m sure my science background plays a role there too.) For example, when I finish an edit and see that I made a thousand edits, I assume that there are still a hundred or more mistakes sitting around. Same deal the second time—if I fix a hundred things, then I can assume there’s at least ten left. So, I’ve become more aware of, and comfortable with, the idea that even though I don’t see the mistakes yet in something, I will inevitably see them if I give myself some time and then look again. This is all just based on my experience, but some limited research does suggest that the limit of human ability to recognize even simple mistakes caps out at about ninety-something percent per pass, so maybe my rule of tens holds water.
What are some common headaches for rulebook editors that most people don't expect?
Making sure your interpretation of the game actually matches the designer’s! There might be old rules hanging around, or you might misinterpret something that seems clear but isn’t. Often this is a good thing, because it means you found a place to make the rules clearer, but you actually have to recognize it and confirm it first. You can’t just assume that your interpretations are the correct ones.
But on the flip side, if you ask the designer “Is this actually how this works?” too many times, you’ll waste time and annoy people, so one of the best ways to get around this is to actually play the game with the designer a number of times or watch plenty of videos of the designer playing the game.
This issue is doubly headache-y if the rules change while I’m working on them. The more that the rules change, the tighter I need to be integrated into the development process.
Do you typically have publishers getting in contact with you or do you reach out to them with a portfolio of your works? Are there any busy seasons?
At this point, all of my work comes from publishers contacting me. That definitely wasn’t true for the first couple years of doing this—I have an old Excel doc listing all my cold calls (well, emails) from 2013, the first full year that I did this in earnest. The numbers are pretty stunning: I sent out 231 emails—each tailored to the recipient—and 51 responded with some possibility of work, but ultimately only 6 produced any work. So that’s a bit under 3%. But it was a start, and it grew from there.
As far as busy seasons go, I haven’t personally noticed any, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the busiest time was November through maybe April, basically outside of the big con season.
Do you happen to have a preference on the type of games you like to work on or avoid?
If it looks challenging because it’s doing something new, I’m in. I’d rather work on something hard and fail than work on something easy and succeed. Learning and growing is what keeps me interested in my work.
What is the ideal scenario for you to perform at 100% in helping the publisher? What are the most common "bad practices" among publishers that get in the way of this?
The most common bad practice I’ve noticed among publishers is not clearly defining roles, responsibilities, scope of work, and power structures to match the comfort level of the team members. In tightly knit teams that I’ve worked with a lot, we have the rapport necessary to navigate strong disagreements smoothly. But often, freelancers get thrown into teams with lots of people they haven’t worked with before, and they have to navigate those relationships on the fly: Who’s doing what? Who has say? Will other new people be added? When?
It’s certainly not necessary to create strict hierarchies and processes—those can slow everything down and kill morale and agency—but it’s important to create a feeling of safety for new people on teams. And setting out transparent expectations and roles will foster that feeling.
When you first get your hands on a rulebook, what are some immediate red flags that make you suspect that it will need a lot of work?
To be brutally honest, almost all rulebooks that go to an editor need a lot of work. That’s not an indictment of designers—because after all, they’re designers, not writers. Well, a few are writers, but not many.
While the state of the rulebook is less telling of whether it will need a lot of work, the state of the project is more telling. Is the designer actively engaged with the team and answering questions in a timely manner? Am I filling in for another editor that left? Are the expectations of my work and the deadline aligned with the actual state of the project? If the project manager thinks the rulebook should be done in a few weeks but development is still ongoing, that’s a red flag, for example.
What is the extent of your work? As in, how much creative freedom do you exercise to shape the final design of the rulebook, from the overall look, the general layout and structure of the rules, etc?
It depends! Some companies have a very strict process where your scope of work is limited and you have just a few days to work. Once, a publisher instructed me that I was only to ask questions and point out problems, but suggest no solutions unless it was a very straightforward typo or grammar error. This seemed like an odd way for me to help, but it seemed to work fine for them.
In other cases, I have significant creative freedom, and not just when it comes to the rulebook. A game that has many unintuitive mechanics and generates lots of edge cases will defeat even the best editor, so sometimes my work blends development and editing. On Oath, the next big game from Leder Games, I have extreme creative freedom in rulebook, aid, and component design, layout, and systems development. I think I do my best work when thinking about the game experience holistically—when my work gets closer to user experience (UX) than editing alone.
You mentioned earlier how important it is to be in sync with the designer's intent. How much of your own interpretations and intuition do you rely on vs. closely following the designer's direction? How do you balance this and how do you deal with any pushback?
Usually, the designer won’t give me all that much direction. They know they’re too close to the project and that generally the person with fresh eyes will be better at advocating for the average reader, and sometimes they’re burned out and just want to hand off the game to the next person. That’s totally understandable.
That said, there are some notable exceptions. One true standout is Steven Medway, the designer of Blood on the Clocktower. Sometimes, while working on that rulebook, Steven would reply to suggested changes with paragraphs-long, very well thought-out analyses of why he preferred a different wording or structure. And very often I’d agree with him!
It quickly became clear to me why he was so astute—their crew has taught Blood on the Clocktower all around the world at So. Many. Conventions. I swear, every time I go to a con, they’re somewhere, teaching a new group of people, again and again and again. They’ve developed a worldwide network of teachers, who have all added their own takes and twists on the teaching process, debating about the best way, so they’ve identified many stumbling blocks and best practices alike. It’s a testament to not only the drive he has as the designer, but also to the wisdom of crowds and engaged fanbases.
Have there been times when you've regretted not sticking to your intuition?
Most of the time, I regret when I stick to an intuition and end up being wrong rather than the other way round, so I’ll tell you one of those stories. In Root, the icon for the mouse suit used to be different. And an odd thing about the old mouse was that it looked quite a bit like things that weren’t mice. People would call it a teapot or a ghost or a monkey. So I pushed for a change and got a more traditional-looking mouse—what Kyle, the artist, would call “a Mickey Mouse mouse,” since he wasn’t happy about the change—and this icon people definitely, clearly, consistently identified as a mouse.
So this was a good change, right? Wrong. When viewed as the card suit up close, the mouse icon is definitely distinct from the rabbit icon, but when you set it on the forest background of the Woodland on the game board, the mouse and rabbit icons start looking pretty similar, since the whiskers on the mouse—the feature that distinguishes it most from the rabbit—are quite small at that distance. So people could tell it was a mouse when the features were clearly present, but couldn’t reliably tell it apart from the rabbit in that context of the board. Unfortunately, we made the change too close to production to catch and fix the problem. It’s not a huge problem, but I regret it nonetheless.
Interesting, I've never had trouble with this myself since the suits are also color-coordinated on the board. Since we're on this topic, what was the worst disaster that you had to deal with on a project?
Haha, well, I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus. Most of the time, people are working really hard and are just human, so I wouldn’t characterize most of the hard days I’ve had as “disaster” but just the normal experience of working with other people. With that in mind, it’s disastrous to submit a final rulebook only for the graphic designer to send it back with all the text completely changed, with no notice that the text was going to change so drastically, and with very little time to fix anything. (Or worse, to receive the game in print and see that those changes were made.) This goes back to the “bad practices” question—everyone on the team should have at least a decent idea of what everyone else is doing.
That sounds so stressful! Let's move onto happier thoughts haha.
Could you share with us a portfolio of your works? As in, what are some of the most notable works or publishers you've worked with? Which was the most memorable and why?
Root is certainly the most notable and the most memorable game I’ve worked on. Cole Wehrle, the designer, is basically a dream collaborator for me. I’d played Pax Pamir—his first published game—and loved it. Any game that combines a serious argument about a subject, and a deep attempt to understand the world, with fun gameplay is a gem, in my eyes. When I learned that he was coming on as a designer for Leder Games, I was so excited. And thankfully, in this case the saying “never meet your heroes” didn’t apply.
Some other notables include Marvel Champions: The Card Game, Kingsburg Second Edition, and Sabotage from Tim Fowers. On the roleplaying game side, I’ve edited tons of material for the Fate system—including almost the entire Fate Worlds line, Fate of Cthulhu, Uprising, and Shadow of the Century—as well as Strongholds & Followers for D&D 5th Edition.
Root is my favorite game! How did you get in touch with Leder Games and did you anticipate the game becoming so popular?
I got in contact with Leder Games through a designer I met at a playtesting convention. Basically, after playtesting his game and providing some feedback, he ended up going on my website and reading my post about Chaos in the Old World, a game I truly love but whose rulebook I had some problems with. In that post, I provided some recommendations for fixing some of its problems. Turns out, he’d worked on the game, and he sent me an email saying he agreed with my critiques and mentioning that Patrick Leder needed an editor. That’s basically how it started.
We really had no idea that it would get as big as it did. I personally thought the design was a gem, but it’s such a weird one—Furry animals and political cultures? Cute graphics and cutthroat gameplay? So much about it runs counter to expectations, and it rides the line between two different gaming audiences, but it turns out that people saw what we saw in it. Honestly, when it came out and we started to see the response, I worried that I’d already hit the peak of my games career and that I’d never get to work on anything as cool again.
Who did you work most closely with and how was the overall experience? Any significant challenges or highlights?
I worked with Cole Wehrle, the designer, almost exclusively. Leder Games was a very small company at the time, about half the size that it is now. We didn’t even have a graphic designer, for example, so Cole did much of that work, and I did some of it too. (Though he likes to do that work anyway.) It was the most challenging project I’d worked on to date, not just because it’s an intricate game but also because I was learning so many skills—InDesign and Illustrator, in-depth usability testing, guided walkthrough design, and so on. The hours were intense too—I’m surprised we shipped that game on time, since we had to learn so many things on the fly.
Root has a rep for being a very difficult game to teach due to its asymmetry, but I was surprised by the clarity of the rulebook. How many iterations did it take to get to that point and could you use this as an example to highlight some of your "best practices" that all editors should follow?
According to my time-tracking tool (essential for any freelancer!) I worked on Root for more than 150 hours, which doesn’t count all the time—in the shower, in bed, practically everywhere—that I was thinking through thorny problems. The Law reference book went through countless iterations, but most of them were incremental since the structure of the book is pretty simple and didn’t change that much over time. The Learn to Play guide went through about five major iterations, completely changing the presentation of material.
As far as best practices go, I actually wrote an entire article about exactly this thing after my experiences with Root. Check it out here.
Did you notice any significant changes in the number of email inquiries from publishers after working on Root?
Hard to say, really. Probably! What stands out more in my mind are the pictures on Twitter of kids excitedly delving into the Root rulebook and the people who would come up at cons and say they appreciated my work. That stuff warms my heart.
In your opinion, is the quality of rulebooks getting progressively better or worse?
Over the last ten years? Definitely better. Over the last few years? Harder to say. Probably, considering that the games industry is continuing to grow and become more competitive. That said, the harms of bad rulebooks tend to concentrate the game’s teacher—there’s a stat from Hasbro that says something like half or less of people who have played Monopoly have ever read any of the rulebook at all—so only a fraction of players get exposed. So that concentration of negatives may reduce the pressure to improve rulebooks further. I hope that’s not the case, though.
What would be your #1 advice for those who may feel like this is also their calling?
If you’re not already teaching a bunch of games in your game group, you should be. You can only learn how to teach a game well in text if you understand how to teach at the table. They’re definitely not the same thing, but you can’t learn how to make a good rulebook until you step into the shoes of the teacher, who is your main audience.
Lastly, are there any exciting developments in the works you could share with us? What would be your dream project? (whether board game related or not?)
Machine learning is the next frontier for me. I’m extremely interested in how language works, and there’s so much we don’t know about what makes for clear, well-structured instructions. I have many intuitions from my years of work, but in terms of truly empirical, measurable knowledge about good practices for language use, we’re in the dark.
I admit it, I’m an academic at heart—and in this case a true believer. Deep learning, a specific kind of machine learning, has made so much progress on so many problems in the past four or five years, and I think we’re just starting to see all it can do. I’ve put together some basic models that can do image recognition and tell Risk apart from Catan and Monopoly, for example, but my real interest is not in images but in natural language processing and in reinforcement learning, which is used in AIs that play games, such as AlphaGo. I’d encourage anyone out there who’s interested in how people think to read up on deep learning—it’s really not as complicated as it seems.
Thanks again Josh! It was really neat when I interviewed the artists of Wingspan because it gave me a whole new appreciation for the artwork while playing the game. Looks like I'll go through the same whenever I dive into Root's rulebook. I'll definitely be checking the credits section whenever I crack open a new game from Leder Games now!
Thanks for the read everyone and here are some links for you to stay up to date with Josh:
Plus, you can find more of my interviews here: BGA Interviews
Today, Cole Wehrle, Patrick Leder, and Joshua Yearsley of Leder Games went live on Twitch to reveal the Badger faction! I've summarized the details below and included some of my thoughts. If you notice any discrepancies, let me know and I'll update the article. (Edit: The article title has been revised to show the official title as revealed by Cole Wehrle)
Here's what you'll find:
- Badger Faction Concept and Details
- Commentary and First Impressions
- Miscellaneous Info and Updates
Badger Faction Concept and Details
Patrick was placed in charge of coming up with the designs for two militant factions (the Warlord faction was covered in a previous article). In order to fit right in with the spirit of Root, the new additions had to introduce a whole new dynamic into the Woodland. There needed to be friction in motives and playstyles that makes all others adapt around the new factions.
And this is where the Badgers come in. With working title of "Stone Seekers," they're relic seekers traveling in caravans to return these objects to their rightful homes. Unfortunately, getting home won't be so easy amidst of all the political unrest.
Badger Faction Player Board
Here are the player board details (wordings are not final):
- Armoured - In battle with any Badger warriors, you ignore the first hit you take (even from an ambush)
- Cumbersome - When moving, you can only move one warrior unless you choose to move a caravan along with your warriors
- Recruiting - Place two warriors here
- Supplying - Craft with two pieces matching this route
- Rescuing - Take the full Rescue action
- Exhibiting - Score 1 VP
Recruit - Place one warrior in any recovery clearing. If you're Recruiting, also place warriors equal to waystations as evenly as possible between recovery clearings.
1st: Craft using waystations. If you’re Supplying, also use caravans
2nd: Take up to 4 actions
- Move - You may move from waystation to waystation, as described in Relics, with no relic
- Build - Spend a card to place a caravan or waystation in a matching clearing you rule
- Rescue - Draw one card. If you’re Rescuing, you also draw the top card in the discard pile if you rule a matching clearing
1st: Choose your mission
2nd: Discard down to 5 cards
Anytime on their own turn, if they or the Badgers rule their clearing, a player may:
- Move - Take any number of moves from a waystation to another waystation, if they are moving at least one warrior or pawn with a relic. They treat Badger pieces as their own for rule
- Scout - Spend a card matching their clearing to move a relic from an adjacent forest into their clearing, then put a warrior or pawn on it that does not already have a relic
- Recover - Remove the relic from your warrior or pawn in its recovery clearing, score 2VP, and get the mission bonus. The Badgers score 1VP (Badgers score 3VP if they recover)
The setup for the Badger faction is still getting worked out, but here's the rough idea with the picture below as a guide
- Put down the recovery clearings. 1 in an edge clearing that a different faction hasn't chosen, and 1 at least 4 clearings away (the token design is in progress but they're indicated by the large black and white tokens below)
- Take relics of opposite color and put two each in forests adjacent to the recovery clearing
- Place 3 starting warriors, a caravan, and a waystation in a clearing that’s not adjacent to a forest containing a relic
Commentary and First Impressions
Mixup of highly immobile and mobile - With a reach value of around 7 or 8, Badgers typically move one unit at a time and can't sprawl out across the board as easily as others (e.g. the Cats). But if you manage to effectively use your caravans and waystations, you could zoom past the forests in an instant (note that you can have up to 3 caravans on the board at a time).
Capture the flag vibe - Badgers need to leave their safe space and dive head first into a sea of enemies. The warrior unit that picks up the relic immediately gets a big target on its back. Other factions can (1) come to your aid in delivering the relics to reap its benefits, (2) pretend to help out but only take advantage of using your waystations, or (3) steal them away and setup of a blockade. There's big potential for interactivity and I'm sure there are many more ways in which the Badgers will change up the playing field.
Miscellaneous Info and Updates
- The new kits for the Badgers will be available on Tabletop Simulator today, so you can test out the gameplay yourself! You can find them on Leder Games' Woodland Warriors discord. Even if you're not interested in the TTS mod, you should join in on the fun if you're a passionate Root fan
- Minor faction info will be revealed in the upcoming stream
- Cole is still hoping to stream a solo playthrough of Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile in 1 to 2 weeks
- Official title for the new Root expansion will be revealed soon. Anyone have a guess?
So, what do you think about the Badgers? Are you more interested in them or the Warlord?
Kyle's story is all too common among artists—juggling multiple hats to make ends meet, the harsh reality of having zero visibility, and what seems like eons to finally "make it." Here's how the winner of the 2018 Golden Geek Best Board Game Artwork got there.
Hey Kyle, thank you for making your time! First up, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Sure! I’m Kyle Ferrin, I’m a board game artist and illustrator working for Leder Games, an independent board game publisher responsible for Root and the Vast series of games. I’ve also done some work for smaller card games like Dungeon Mayhem by Wizards of the Coast. I live in Utah with my wife, Meredith, and our 4 kiddos.
Your artstyle/linework gives me an impression that you've had tons of mileage on doodling in classes. Is this true? And were you always known among your peers/family as the "art guy"?
I’ve always doodled, it’s true. I’m the oldest of 8 kids and even though I loved drawing from a very early age my parents didn’t find that exceptional in any way until I went to kindergarten and my teacher let them know that I spent a lot of time drawing compared to the other kids. I used to draw Garfield from memory and make up superheroes and comic strips. “Art Guy” is a pretty good way to describe my role in a lot of different settings, haha.
Was becoming an artist always the most obvious path in mind? If not, what was the pivotal moment that led you to pursue art as a career? Were there any times you felt the pressure to have other jobs to support yourself?
From May 2006 to May 2008 I served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and during that time I didn’t draw much. It was definitely allowed, I just thought it might be kind of a distraction if I did anything too time consuming. Mostly I doodled in margins for a couple years. Then in 2009 I started attending college with the goal of an English Teaching degree. I wasn’t very passionate about it but I found success in a non-major Graphic Design class. After failing a few literature classes I switched majors and pursued a Visual Communication degree. I now have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in VisComm which I mostly used to get Graphic Design jobs until I had the opportunity to make illustration my main hustle. There were a lot of years of working manual labor and food service jobs before I got graphic design work, and then more years of that before my after hours commissions became a realistic day job.
One of the most frequent questions asked by amateur artists is "how to find my style". First, how would you answer that question? Second, what kind of style are you recognized for?
Your style finds you. You strive to improve your craft and as you develop an artistic taste you begin to settle into what looks like “you” to you. I believe the style of most artists is just the result of leaning into your strengths and embracing your more aesthetically pleasing weaknesses. Todd MacFarlane couldn’t draw anatomy well for a long time, so he drew Spawn with huge capes and that became part of his style.
I’m probably recognized most for my pen and ink sketch-style linework. It’s an aesthetic born from not doing pencil sketches when I doodle most of the time. I like how you just have to commit when you work that way. You don’t get to erase and erase and erase, you just kind of have to live with it, which is one of the reasons I like ink and watercolor. It kind of bakes itself in as you work and if you don’t like it you have to start over.
Who/what were your biggest influences to your style? Who are you inspired by these days?
Quentin Blake is a big influence. Bill Watterson for sure. Both of them have a graphic quality to their work that doesn’t rely on realism but conveys a lot of emotion. These days I love following the work of Jeffrey Alan Love, Kate Beaton, and David Peterson’s work on Mouse Guard. Dustin Harbin and Sam Bosma are wonderful as well. I follow a lot of artists on twitter, it’s a tremendous inspiration for me.
As an artist, I personally experienced a burst of creativity after my wife and I had our son (now 10 months old!). In what ways do you think having kids impacted you as an artist?
I draw a lot of animals for my kids, and I use simple shapes with large areas for them to color if that’s what they’re interested in. It forces me to be fast and emotive and the goal is always about trying to keep someone happy. I think those qualities all translate into my work in some way or another.
So how exactly did you end up transitioning into the board game industry and what was the first board game you had worked on? Could you share how that experience was?
I’ve always loved board games and card games. The first board game I worked on was Vast: The Crystal Caverns, that was called “Trove” at the time. They came to me having seen some of my Dungeons and Dragons commissions and some goblin art I did for the RPG Dungeon World. When Vast ended up being a success, Patrick Leder flew me out to a few conventions. We worked so well together that he hired me full time to be an in-studio illustrator for his company. Board games are a lot of work, with different considerations than making a book or poster, but it’s been fun to create art objects that people interact with and connect with in that different way. I had no idea the hobby was so big until I did my first Gen Con, I’m happy to be a part of it.
How were you first approached by Leder Games? What was the team's main vision behind the art on Root and how do you think your style/experience helped accomplish that vision?
They first reached out to me on twitter with Vast. Root was a group effort that came to being after I was already a full time employee and I got to work on it from the beginning. I helped come up with the theming and setting and worked closely with Cole and Patrick on the feel and aesthetic of the game. The main goal was to make an asymmetric war game without historical baggage, a war game for people who didn’t know they liked war games yet. I think the chance I had to work on it from such an early time in Root’s development helped the whole product become a more holistic experience. I created the meeples and the board as the game was being designed. The game and the art helped inform each other as we went.
What is your typical workflow like? Is everything done digitally?
Most of the work I do is drawn/inked traditionally and then colored digitally. Usually I’ll get a list of card names, for example, and then I interpret them into sketches or sometimes just take them all the way to ink and color if we are tight on time.
What was the most challenging aspect of working on Root? What was your favorite part?
The hardest part was the turnaround. I was drawing cards as cards were being created and that meant having public facing print and play material with as much art in it as possible for our Kickstarter backers. My favorite part is seeing people play Root. I love walking around free play tables at conventions to see people with rulebooks and boxes open.
Which faction do you play as the most and how do you think that reflects your personality?
I sometimes joke that that the Marquise de Cat is kind of like being a parent, because it’s mostly about trying to put out fires, haha. I play the Woodland Alliance a lot because I think they have the steepest learning curve and I am usually teaching new people to play. Maybe that just says that I’m nice? haha
Are all of the factions equally loved by you or was there a particular faction you enjoyed illustrating the most?
I love drawing the birds. The Eyrie was fun to illustrate but especially the bird cards make me happy. I’m glad the Underworld Expansion includes crows so I can revisit my bird friends.
What was your most memorable moment working on Root?
I think when we sold out at Gen Con in 2018 that was the most memorable thing. We made stuffed animals of the Vagabond Raccoon, which was kind of a silly passion project, and we even sold out of those! I think that was the first moment that I realized that people really connected with this game so strongly.
What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
Thanks for your support! You’re the reason I have a job! You put gas in my minivan and keep the breakfast cereal on the table for my kids. Thank you thank you thank you.
Lastly, are there any exciting developments in the works you could share with us? What would be your dream project?
Most of the things I’m working on are still under wraps. The official release of Vast: The Mysterious Manor is this Summer and I can’t wait for folk to play it. The minis look so good and the gameplay is next level. I feel like I’m already living the dream. I hope to just keep doing this and improve my craft as I go.
Thanks Kyle! Appreciate you making your time for us and we look forward to your continued work in future board games! It's always inspiring to see artists who've kept up their craft all these years and it's a personal reminder for me to be more diligent with my art as well.
Lovely Readers! Please support Kyle by following the links below:
- Kyle's social media: twitter, instagram
- Kyle's Artist Shop: https://kyleferrin.threadless.com/ (check out the awesome Root merch)
Below are my links to past interviews:
- Victoria Ying, artist of Bargain Quest
- Alexandr Elichev, artist of Gloomhaven
- Atha Kanaani, artist of the Pandemic series
- Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games
- Victor Pérez Corbella, artist of Champions of Midgard
- Sabrina Miramon, artist of Photosynthesis
- Ruwen Liu, artist of Cake Duel
Plus, you can leave comments below with:
- Suggestions for artists/designers/any other board game people to interview
- Any feedback about the interviews so far
- Comments about the games mentioned
- Ask me anything!
Cole Wehrle and Patrick Leder was live on Twitch today to give a progress update on the upcoming Root: The Marauder expansion. Here are some of the details I gathered and summarized for you. Let me know if you see any discrepancies and I'll update the article.
The main topics of this video were the following:
- Introducing the Warlord Faction
- New Setup Rules
Introducing the Warlord Faction
Here's the Heckin' Warlord faction in all its glory (no official name yet). As you can see from their frowns and bloody red color, they're angry, gunning for chaos, and perfect for the aggressive players in your group.
This is the breakdown of their characteristics and abilities. The text is difficult to see so I've typed it up below the screenshot (and included commentary in a couple of spots):
- Warlord - The warlord is a pawn that can be removed
- Looters - As attacker in battle, take one item from the defender’s Crafted Items box for each building you remove
- Wake - You must replace your mood card
- Scorch - For each flame, remove all ruins and enemy buildings and tokens in its clearing, take revealed items, then role to move the flame, not along rivers (using a die)
- Recruit - Place warriors equal to Prowess in the clearing with your warlord. Place one warrior in each clearing with a stronghold
- Anoint - If the warlord is off the map, place it in the clearing with the fewest pieces
- Take Logistics Actions up to your Logistics (in a clearing you rule by spending a matching card)
- Advance a number of times up to your Prowess. You may move the warlord with any warriors, then you may battle in the clearing with the warlord
- Craft using strongholds
- Ignite any number of times. Choose a clearing with your warlord or warriors. Spend a matching card to place a flame token there.
- Oppress - Score based on how many clearings you rule with no enemy pieces
- Draw 1 card. Discard down to 5 cards
Commentary and Additional Information:
- Cole and Patrick have mentioned that the warlord is relatively straightforward to teach. The Badger (introduced later) will be more complex
- Setup - The warlord will start out with 3 warriors, 1 stronghold, and the warlord in their "homeland" (will explain later). The faction has 1 warlord and 20 warriors total
- Mood cards - This seems similar to the idea of the Eyrie faction where you choose a Leader and that dictates your focus/benefit for a period of time. There are 7 mood cards total and they are titled Stubborn, Egotistical, Reckless, Furious, Indignant, Rowdy, and Wrathful. No final illustrations yet but each card will show the warlord expressing each of those moods. The replaced mood card is removed from the game
- Scarcity of cards - Unlike some of the other factions, the warlord doesn't have a way of getting bonus cards, except through one of the mood cards' benefit. Given the scarcity of the cards, it seems like crafting won't be a big priority, and will be mostly spent on taking Logistics Actions (Move, Battle, Build) and Igniting enemy clearings
- The basic approach of the warlord seems to be drawing power from a continuous aggressive takeover of clearings targeting enemies who are focused on crafting. You enter a foreign land, set it on fire, loot their items, gain more actions, and the flame will quickly spread out to the neighboring regions if not dealt with. Combined with the new setup rules, I think the warlord will be interested in starting in a clearing close to crafting factions
- The style of play reminds me of both Woodland Alliance and the Vagabond. Vagabond, obviously since their moveset is dependent on the number of its looted items, but Woodland Alliance because they feel like a thorn on the side with their flame tokens
New Setup Rules
The new setup rules will allow experiences closer to Root's competitive scene. It'll focus on drafting for the factions (see faction cards above) and having a great deal of freedom in where to start on the map. Here are some examples of the faction cards and their setup instructions:
The cards with red headers indicate factions with higher "reach". The Warlord and Badgers fall under this category. For those unfamiliar with Root, reach values indicate a faction's degree of influence and mobility around the map. Here's the basic idea of the faction drafting phase:
- Start with the stack of faction cards
- Take a random red card and set it aside (in the example below, it's the Warlord faction. Sorry that the screen capture is so hard to see!)
- Take all the remaining cards and shuffle them all
- Deal them out according to the number of players. The setup shown below is for 4 players. If the 5th card drawn is a white card, it's tucked behind the 1st red card you had set aside. That faction cannot be chosen until the red card above it has been chosen by a player
- Each time a player chooses a faction card, he/she must execute the setup instructions before the next player picks a faction
Lastly, the expansion will introduce a bonus content for a modular board. It'll be a platter of "boards" you can add to the main board:
Commentary and Additional Information:
- As you can see from some of the faction setup cards, there's a new concept of "homelands". Two players cannot have the same homeland
- The new setup rules don't go by the corner system where some of the factions have had to start out their base in one of the corners of the map
- The goal of this new system is to generate the widest possible number of scenarios that can unfold in a typical game of Root
- Allows the typical corner factions to be a lot closer than usual
- Will make 5-6 player gameplay more accessible
- This will likely be the 2nd to last Root expansion
- The upcoming Kickstarter will include Clockwork 2.0 for other faction bots
- Possibly new balance adjustments for Vagabond
- Later videos will cover the Badger faction and details on the "minor faction" that will enhance 2 player gameplay
- Leder Games will be phasing in print and play materials until the Kickstarter launch. So you'll have some of the content available before the campaign
So, what do you think about this upcoming expansion? Which addition/change are you excited about the most?
$9,516 / $7,929
Ends in 18 daysSee Kickstarter
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