Seth Jaffee Talks Eminent Domain: Microcosm Kickstarter

Seth Jaffee of Tasty Minstrel Games shares about the new game and how to get the most out of Kickstarter.
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As I write this, Tasty Minstrel Games has only three days left to go on their Eminent Domain: Microcosm Kickstarter. Only asking for $5,000, they are already beating their goal nearly eight times over! Microcosm is a micro-game set in the same universe as their very successful deck-builder Eminent Domain.

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It uses a lot of the same icon and boosting ideas that came from the original game, but packs it into a short and sweet ten-minute, two-player game. Seth Jaffee, answered a few questions about the design process behind Microcosm and how Tasty Minstrel Games gets the most out of their Kickstarters using a tactic he likes to call the “Quickstarter.”

Landon: When developing games, sometimes developing the world or setting can eat up design time as well. Is the decision to stick with the Eminent Domain universe a business or personal choice?

Seth: Actually, I originally intended to AVOID the Eminent Domain universe. I felt like I’d done that before. I started with a classic civ theme, but the mechanisms felt so familiar to Eminent Domain, and the existing branding and art was a real factor as well. Many players suggested I re-theme to the Eminent Domain universe and in the end it made sense to do so.

 

Landon: Several companies, like Tasty Minstrel Games, have started to use Kickstarter as part of their business model for regular releases. What are some of the advantages to using Kickstarter for a release method?

Seth: People sometimes think TMG has used Kickstarter from the beginning. Maybe it’s true that we’ve used it from the beginning of Kickstarter, but not from the beginning of TMG.

Kickstarter allows you to make a more personal connection with your backers, which people appreciate. It also allows you to fix cash flow issues that could otherwise hold you back, opening the floodgates for a company like TMG to produce more games more quickly than we’d otherwise be able to do.

 

Landon: Was Microcosm meant to be a microgame from the outset?

Seth: Yes. Michael was very fond of the whole idea of microgames and they had become very popular. I haven’t been fond of many of them myself – not that they’re bad per se, I just prefer a meatier, deeper game experience. But with the popularity of the microgame I figured I’d give it a shot, see if I could come up with a microgame I would like better than some of the other similar games out there.

 

Landon: How does design and testing for a short game differ from longer games such as Eminent Domain and Belfort?

Seth: It’s much easier to get a short, simple game to the table with playtesters – it represents much less of an investment on their part. It’s much easier to get the game played a large number of times in a shorter period if the game is short and simple than if it’s long and complex. Too bad in a way, because the short, simple games usually don’t need as much playtesting as longer, more complex games with more moving parts.

 

Landon: Did you find using the same symbols to be an advantage or difficulty? For instance, did the symbols increase the learning curve since they meant something else in a previous game?

Seth: In my mind, the symbols mean the same thing in Microcosm as they do in Eminent Domain. It’s possible my view of it is more flexible than some people’s, but the bottom line is that a Research icon boosts a Research action, and the Research action gets you Technology. That’s pretty analogous.

I suppose Colonize icons work differently, but I guess to me that’s not an issue. I hope players don’t get confused!

I’m more worried that players will be discarding cards rather than simply revealing them, because in Eminent Domain you discard cards played to boost. That’s an instance where something’s fundamentally different than you might expect. But hopefully the rules and card text is clear enough and if players do that, as long as they’re playing by the same rules, it’ll be pretty fair – they’ll just spend more turns picking up their discards.

 

Landon: Does making multiple games in the same universe make you go “I wish I had done that with the first game!” Such as the colored bars in Microcosm that help readily identify a planet type.

Seth: I hadn’t specifically thought about the colored bars and whether they would have been a good idea in Eminent Domain. I’m not sure there’s anything in this case that makes me wish I’d done something different in Eminent Domain, but I certainly think it’s common to have that thought when working on an expansion, or an altogether different game.

 

Landon: What’s next? What do we have to look forward to from Eminent Domain or TMG?

Seth: I have an Eminent Domain dice game which may or may not see light of day (maybe some time in 2015), and I’m wrapping up the next Eminent Domain expansion, Exotica. I’m currently soliciting Print And Play feedback for Exotica while I’m getting illustrations done for tech cards – I’d like to see Exotica release at GenCon next year. Exotica adds Exotic planets and Asteroids to the planet deck, along with associated technology and a Mining tile (similar to Escalation’s Fleet tile).

After that, I only plan on the 3rd (and probably final) Eminent Domain expansion, which will add a Politics role and public Agendas with global effects.

I’ve got some ideas about using the Deck Learning mechanism in other games as well. My next attempt will probably be a Railroad Tycoon sort of network building/delivery game.

Note: You can check out the print-and-play test here on Board Game Geek.

 

Landon: I don’t believe TMG has had a failed Kickstarter, yet. How do you prepare for a potential failure? Restructure the KS and try it again? Add more freebies?

Kickstarter isn’t a charity, and that even with a large and dedicated base of followers, you can’t just “fire and forget”

Seth: This is more a question for Michael. It’s certainly not impossible to fail – we’ve restructured and relaunched at least 1 project for example. That served as a good reminder that Kickstarter isn’t a charity, and that even with a large and dedicated base of followers, you can’t just “fire and forget” – you do have to attend to every project.

 

Landon: Have you found running the short Kickstarters to me more desirable for success and backer interest?

Seth: The answer to this question is variable – it’ll depend on what project and who’s putting it up. For TMG, I think the Quickstarter format (as I call it – still waiting for that term to catch on) is a really good idea for certain games… games with an existing audience such as Eminent Domain, Belfort, or Dungeon Roll for example, and by extension any expansion to one of our games (especially if the original game was on Kickstarter). Also projects that don’t have much in the way of stretch goal material, or projects that are complete and we don’t want to add content or complication via stretch goals. Especially projects with a big name designer such as Aquasphere by Stefan Feld. We had no stretch goal material, and with Feld’s name attached there was likely to be enough interest to fund quickly. No sense in making backers wait an extra month while a little more funding may or may not drip in.

Ever since the beginning, right after the original Eminent Domain project, when I saw the funding pattern – an influx of funding at the beginning and a spike at the end, with a long drought in the center, it just made sense to me to cut that middle part out. Just have the 48 hour reminder go out soon after that initial rush, and compact the whole thing.

Of course there are some other considerations, such as what days of the week people are online and things like that, so it seems like 9-12 days is probably the shortest I’d want to go. But I have always been, and will probably always be, an advocate for the Quickstarter format whenever it makes sense to use it.

 

Landon: Will Battlecruisers get a similar treatment on Kickstarter with the “Quickstarter” idea?

Seth: I don’t think it will. Battlecruisers benefits from the potential for good stretch goals – adding sets of cards (which require 4 or 5 cards at a time – 1 per player – as well as another piece of art) usually works well. Also, while it’s being set in the Eminent Domain universe, it’s not otherwise related to Eminent Domain like Microcosm is, so Eminent Domain players might not be as ready to jump on Battlecruisers without checking it out first, and that can take time. I’m sure a lot of Eminent Domain players will end up liking Battlecruisers as well, but they don’t know that yet.

 

Landon: Just for fun, is Jaffe pronounced like taffy or chaff?

Seth: Well, it’s Jaffee, and it sounds like taffy 🙂

There you have it, perhaps a 45-day Kickstarter isn’t always the best way to go.


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Landon Sommer
While I do play some of the greats like Civilization and X-com, consider me your Tabletop guru here at gameskinny. Want to know about a tabletop game? Just ask!