A Vision for Games--An Interview With Starling Games' Brenna Noonan

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Hey, everyone! Today we have the privilege of interviewing Brenna Noonan, Brand Manager for Starling Games. Hot off the heels of their hit game Everdell, they’re in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign for an expansion for Archmage. She took time out to talk to us while getting ready for Boardgamegeek Con. Let’s get to it!

Brenna, thanks for joining us today! Thanks for having me.

So, for those who aren’t familiar with Archmage, can you give us a quick overview of the base game? Archmage is a euro-thematic hybrid, which is basically a fancy way of saying that the game has its fair share of crunch, but is also dripping with theme that we’ve worked hard to integrate into the mechanics. You are a mage who is vying with other mages to become the Archmage and preside over the land. Every mage has a company of followers who they can either deploy across location tiles to gain control of an area, or they can be initiated into your order of mages to help you learn spells. They’re also your cannon fodder in combat, as you can use them to battle your opponent mages’ followers to weaken their positions. One thing that’s cool about Archmage is that you have a fluid spellbook, so as you promote apprentices up the rungs of your order of mages, you’re gaining more advanced spells but losing the more basic spells, until you can get new apprentices initiated. So you can really tailor your spellbook not only to how you like to play the game, but also to what would be most beneficial to you in the situation at hand.

Okay, so how about the expansion, Archmage: Ascendant? What does it do to the gameplay? The new expansion, Ascendant, is pretty expansive in that it offers four new modules that can be integrated into the base game, either one at a time or all together.

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One of the things we heard a lot from Archmage players was that they wanted more spells, for even more variety and flexibility. So we’ve added a bunch of new spells, and I think players are going to find them really exciting. My favorite new spell is probably “Return Home,” which allows you to immediately return to your mage tower. It’s awesome to still be able to explore far-off new locations, then have the option to get back to my mage tower to promote some apprentices.

There’s also a new mission system which we’ve called “Prophecies,” wherein you select Prophecy cards that have missions on them, such as “cast 3 advanced spells in a single turn.” If you can accomplish the prophecy as it was foretold, you can get bonus VPs at the end of the game.

We’ve added new location tiles to the game, called “Places of Power.” Each Place of Power is linked to a mythic race and their school of magic, such as the Elves. If you can establish control over a Place of Power it gives you a passive ability. So this adds a bit more asymmetry to the game, as well as some more excitement and wonder to the exploration process. However, it’s also possible to lose control of a Place of Power to another mage, so it’s possible you may cycle through several different powers depending on what you control.

Archmage has a pretty robust solo mode, and we’ve expanded on that with Ascendant to add a 2-player co-op mode. Whereas in the solo mode you’re left to your own devices to take down the Warlord, now you get to team up with a fellow mage. We’ve added some new spells to the co-op mode, as well as a new movement deck for the Warlord (he had previously used a die in the solo mode). This also adds some new rules for solo, as players can opt to use the movement deck instead.

You’re in the thick of the Kickstarter, so what can you tell us about stretch goals? We’ve got some more spells and Prophecies that we’d like to include, and we’d also like to add gold foiling to the spell cards to match the base game.

People are just getting copies of Archmage out in the Wilds, yet you’re running a Kickstarter for the expansion. You did something similar with Everdell. Can you tell us what the strategic thought is behind that tactic? I think both games had finished shipping to Kickstarter backers about 3 months before the expansion campaigns launched. With so many games coming out these days, I understand it’s hard for people to play everything they’d like to, and I certainly struggle with this as well. Another symptom of this phenomenon is that it’s really easy for buzz to die on and what was once a heralded release to become passé. So if you have a strong release with good reception, as we were lucky to have done with both Archmage and Everdell, it’s important to harness that, because if you wait too long in today’s market, your audience may have already moved on to the next thing.

Everdell has received numerous accolades for its artwork, and Archmage is similarly gorgeous. Tell us about the process of finding artists for your games. That is all the work of our Creative Director, Dann May. Dann has an incredible eye for matching artists with projects, and he hit out of the park with Andrew Bosley (Everdell) and Enggar Adirasa (Archmage). He also has a very clear vision for how he wants the game to ultimately look, and is able to provide a guiding hand to the artists in realizing that vision, while still letting them be inspired and create freely. That’s something that we really strive for with our Starling titles, to have artwork that could just as easily live in a frame on your wall as it could on the cover of a board game.

The holiday season is rapidly approaching. What can we expect from Starling Games for Christmas 2018? Are there any big releases hitting just in time? We’re actually coming up on a re-print cycle, which means a lot of our titles are selling out, so if you’re reading this and want something for the holidays, act fast! We don’t have any releases specifically planned for the holidays. This is usually a slower time of year for product creation and the main time the team may take some time off, so right now we’re more focused on just selling through our stock.

Looking forward to 2019, what should we be excited about from Starling Games? We have three games in active development right now that are all wildly different from one another. You should be seeing at least one of them in 2019. We’ll also be excited to deliver several Kickstarters that we’ve run in 2018, and to get those games out into the wild.

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Fast Five Questions

  1. What’s your favorite non-Starling game of 2018 so far? (Ok give like a top 3 if you can’t pick just one!) Ironically, I don’t get to play nearly as many games as I would like, since most of my time is spent developing our own games. But, I’d say 2 new releases that I’ve really enjoyed have been Spy Club and Pocket Sub. My time to play games is so rare these days, I find myself really appreciating games that are quick to learn and accessible, yet still scratch a certain itch.

  2. Favorite holiday food? Peppermint bark!

  3. Favorite Stan Lee creation? That would probably be Vision — yeah, yeah, I know he wasn’t originally created by Stan Lee, but it’s Lee’s update to the character that most of us know today.

  4. Best book you’ve read in the last year? For fiction, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. For non-fiction, Bad Blood by John Carreyrou.

  5. Your bucket list vacation destination? Call me crazy, but Antarctica. I’d love to see the southern lights and the glaciers.

Thanks for joining us today, Brenna!

And thank you for reading! Check out the Kickstarter for the Archmage: Ascendant right here.