Up, Up, and Away Missions: An Interview with Stronghold Games' Stephen Buonocore

Today we’re joined by the head honcho at Stronghold Games, Stephen Buonocore. Stronghold Games is responsible for terrific games, such as Voluspa, Article 27, and Survive! Escape from Atlantis—along with two new games getting lots of buzz: Kanban and Panamax.

But today he’s here to talk about his new game, Space Cadets: Away Missions—a standalone game in the Space Cadets franchise, which is currently on Kickstarter, and going like gangbusters!

Thanks for joining us, Stephen. First, tell us a little about yourself, and Stronghold Games.

First of all, Scott, thank you for having me!  It is most appreciated!

I would be a bit surprised if your audience had not heard of Stronghold Games, or of me, at this point.  As you know, I make myself quite available on podcasts worldwide, and of course, have a solid presence in the social media on Twitter and Facebook.  But, briefly:

Stronghold Games is a premiere hobby game publisher, now in business for over 5 years.  Our most notable titles are:

  • Our best-selling Survive: Escape From Atlantis! and its three mini-expansions,
  • Our 2nd-generation deck-building game Core Worlds and its two expansions,
  • Our co-published line of games Among The Stars with its two expansions, and more expansions and base games to come, and
  • Our cooperative/team-based space-themed game line Space Cadets with two, now three, base games plus expansions for both the initial titles in the line.

And I am the President and Owner of Stronghold Games!

What is Space Cadets: Away Missions?

Space Cadets: Away Missions is a cooperative, scenario-based, tactical action game set in the Golden Age of science fiction. In this game, the third standalone title in the Space Cadets franchise, players take on the roles of adventurous human spacemen (“Rocketeers”) who explore UFOs, acquire alien technology and fight hordes of hostile extraterrestrials.

Each turn, Rocketeers spend action points on activities such as firing atomic rifles, analyzing exotic equipment, or subduing the malicious Brain-in-a-Jar. When the Rocketeers are finished, the Aliens take their turns by following simple movement and combat protocols. Seven types of hostile Aliens threaten the Rocketeers, from the repulsive Mind Leeches to the rampaging titanic Sentinels.

Space Cadets: Away Missions has scenarios linked in a campaign story arc. These "Away Missions" are set at various locations, feature different combinations of Aliens, and have diverse objectives for the Rocketeers to achieve. Hexagonal map tiles are arranged to form the locations, such as flying saucers, rocket ships, space stations, etc. Cooperation, tactical planning and a bit of luck are essential if the Rocketeers are to overcome the relentless horde of little green men!

And the most innovative part of the game mechanically… The Overkill System™.  With The Overkill System™, your Rocketeers will be able to perform heroic feats on each turn… if they plan their tactics well and have a bit of luck with their dice.

Why did you decide to put this one up on Kickstarter?

Stronghold Games does not do Kickstarters for any of its regular game releases, which range from $15-$60 or so. We are on record as saying that we place our own capital, marketing, and especially our credibility on the line for our games.

However, with this game release, where we want to go all out and create a huge game with up to 100 detailed, professionally sculpted plastic miniatures, we are testing to see if the market exists for such a big game from Stronghold Games. 

In the same way that even larger companies used Kickstarter to explore a new market, such as Days of Wonder kickstarting “Smallworld 2 Digital” and Steve Jackson Games kickstarting the $100 “Ogre Designer’s Edition”, Stronghold Games is exploring this new market. We hope that this market does exist for us, and we hope that your readers will be part of making it happen!

How is this different from the other games in the Space Cadets franchise?

For those who know the existing two games in the line, Space Cadets and Space Cadets: Dice Duel, Space Cadets: Away Missions is as different from those two games as they are from each other. In other words, completely different!  The only connection between the games is that Space Cadets: Away Missions is a thematic prequel to both of the first two games.  And it is cooperative, which has been a hallmark of the line so far (cooperative or team-based games).

Also, while both of the first two games were set in what could be described as a “modern science-fiction timeframe”, Space Cadets: Away Missions is set in the Golden Age of science fiction artistically, circa the 1950s.  Using rocket propulsion, Humans have ventured into the solar system to explore the planets, and what they find… is horrifying!  The alien invasion of the planets has begun!

Which is your favorite mission in the game?

Well, I haven't played all the missions that the designers have created, as they've been going wild for me, creating more and more missions for the game, some to be released as “Kickstarter Promos” and not for the retail box.  However, I think so far that my favorite is “Bug Hunt”. 

The “Bug Hunt” mission surrounds, you guessed it, The Bugs, which are very basic aliens in the game.  They don’t have a lot of power… alone.  But what they lack when they are alone, they make up in spades when they are swarming!  The Bugs have the ability to swarm (attack as a single unit).  This can make them more powerful than the most power alien unit in the game, the rampaging Sentinel!  Performing heroic feats of attacking swarms of Bugs is very satisfying!

We just hit the $100,000 mark in the Kickstarter campaign, and what did we unlock at that Stretch Goal?  A new sculpt, “The Bug”!  And we’ll be putting 20 plastic Bug miniatures in the game now, plus The Bug Hunt Scenario and several other things!

Is this a one-time experiment, or do you see yourself using Kickstarter more, now that this campaign has been so successful?

One should never say “never again”.  However, using Kickstarter was done for a very specific reason, which I have described.  I have no plans at this time for using Kickstarter again.

How did you get your start playing modern board games?

It was the eurogame movement of the mid-90s that drew me in.  Not as much Settlers of Catan, though I did play that too, but it was Amun Re and Puerto Rico that really sucked me into hobby board games.  I’m a social person, so this was the exact gaming niche that I wanted to be in!

So what’s next for Stronghold Games?

Besides the Kickstarter for Space Cadets: Away Missions, we have announced:

Pictomania, by the great designer Vlaada Chvatil – this is now in preorder on the Stronghold Games website, and as with all my preorder games, you get 30% off MSRP if you order now, and the guarantee that it will ship to you before anyone else (including Distributors, Retailers, or other customers).  Street Date is March 18.

La Granja, my next eurogame, a copublication with Spielworxx, with whom we announced a strategic partnership.  This is coming on the heels of my two highly successful heavy euros for 2014, Panamax and Kanban.  This is a very approachable euro.  The buzz is awesome!

Dark Moon, the game formerly known as “BSG Express”, now rethemed to remove the “BSG” for obvious reasons.  This is the most popular print-and-play game on BGG.  A hidden traitor game with similarities to “Battlestar Galactica”, but played with dice and in only 60-75 minutes, as compared to BSG’s 2-3-4 hour marathons.  We are very excited for this game!

AND more to come in 2015! 

Lightning Round! Five quick questions and you give us five one-word (or short-phrase) answers. Go!

I am too long winded and thought out to give you short answers, but here you go…

Favorite sports team?

Sadly, I no longer really follow sports.  BUT, in the past, I was always a New York fan: Mets, Jets, Rangers… all the losing teams!  Since I live in New Jersey now, I will allow myself to root for Giants and the Devils.  Barely. 

And I will NOT be rooting for New England in the Super Bowl.  Sorry, New England fans.  Do you cheat in your board games? I assume not.  So, neither should the Patriots in their games.

Favorite Star Trek episode?

How did you know I loved Star Trek?! Have you been stalking me via podcasts or something?  In classic Trek, it would be City On The Edge of Forever. In Next Gen, it would be Measure of a Man. In Deep Space Nine... the entire Dominion Wars seasons!   

What game would you most like to see back in print?

Heeheehee… This is a trick question! You want me to let on to what games I may be reprinting! Not going to tell you!  

Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met?

Rich Sommer, costar in AMC’s “Mad Men,” and avid board gamer. We are friends now.
Tom Vasel, the Dice Tower Network. We are Arch-Gaming Nemeses now.
Everyone in the gaming industry, of course – Presidents of all the companies.
Oh, and I have met quite a few of the Star Trek cast members, and other sci-fi actors.  Back in the day, I frequented many sci-fi conventions on the east coast.

What would you choose for your last meal?

Pizza!  But it would be one EPIC pizza… Oh, with beer of course. 

Stephen, we really appreciate you joining us today! Check out the Space Cadets: Away Missions campaign on Kickstarter.  Thanks for reading!