Professor by day and game designer by night. Interview with Mark Swanson, designer of Feudum

Марк СуонсонIn early April, the company «Crowd Games» opened pre-order for an unusual board game Feudum, the design of which is strikingly different from the typical games about the Middle Ages. Interested in the novelty, I decided to take a short interview with her author, who describes himself with just one phrase — «professor by day and game designer by night».

Let me introduce you to Mark Swanson, the father of three children and the teacher of faculty of journalism of university of Missouri.

Hello Mark!
Your game stands out with a very unique visual appearance, could you, please, tell us how did it come about?

I’ve always loved expressionism with its thick black lines, etchings and muted color schemes. French expressionist painter Bernard Buffet in particular. This is probably why I like Alexandre Roche (artist for the game Troyes), and of course, why i like my illustrator Justin Schultz:

Feudum is your first game, but it is very hard-core. Why did you begin with such a difficult game, and what was your motivation?

I’ve always been on a quest for the Holy Grail of games, but I never found one that encompassed everything that I wanted in a game: action programming, area control, resource management, multiple paths to victory, a working economy, and a real sense that my fate was truly in my own hands. So, I set out to invent it.

Игровое поле In Feudum there are many characters, which are woven into the storyline. What came first — the story or game mechanics? How did you come up with this world?

At the beginning, theme and mechanics were broadly integrated in my mind. I knew I wanted an «open world» or «sandbox» style of game where minimal character limitations were placed on a player. (I was inspired by video games like Grand Theft Auto and Shadows of the Colossus). I also knew I loved medieval history and fantasy. In order to entice my friends to playtest the game, I had to offer more than just abstract concepts and math. So, from the onset, I drew an elaborate map with interworking guilds. After that, I focused exclusively on mechanics, and the economic ecosystem of the game. Later, I developed an elaborate backstory behind the characters. I made sure that the narrative correlated with the mechanics, so the game would feel truly integrated!

Марк СуонсонBehemoth and the Sea Serpent are most recognizable characters in the game. But I found their role not to be very significant. Maybe I simply did not use them correctly?

The relevance of the Behemoth and Sea Serpent hinge on how quickly the Alchemist develops barrels of krud. Initially, influence markers are scarce and eventually must be purchased from the Knight Guild. However, if the Knight guild is full with 6 influence markers of your color, trading in 3 out of 6 to control a monster can be very advantageous.

Гильдия рыцарейHaving a monster increases your movement allowance, gives you more pilfer options, and pins opposing players thwarting them greatly. Once an opponent is pinned, it is quite easy to move other pawns onto the space to eventually conquer the player, without allowing them to move away. If the knight guild never has ample influence markers, the monsters can be a non-factor. The monsters were added, because too many influence markers in your possession were useless, especially if you had the «butt» landscape tile.

ВеликанWhat part of the game development process did you enjoy the most?

There’s a moment during playtesting when you realize that the game is working, and people have forgotten it is a prototype, and they’re trying to strategize and win. That’s when the real fun begins. The hard work is over, and the fine tuning beings. I liken it to adding details to a painting. Some of these details include perfecting the rules, creating the backstories, and creating user-friendly iconography.

What was the most memorable situation for you when you demonstrated Feudum at different events and conventions?

I remember when players furrow their brows and then smile. It is very rewarding to see people realize there are countless strategies and innumerable ways to win. I am pleased to have developed a deep game that rewards intellectual investment.

Марк Суонсон представляет свою игруJamey Stegmaier describes his Scythe as a game «not about war, but about its anticipation». How would you describe your game — what is the most important in it?

Feudum is an open world game where you can eke out your medieval existence in any way you choose! You can farm the earth, fight as knights or finagle your own fiefdoms! You can choose to live a peaceful agrarian life, or shiftily plot ways to conquer opponents. The game does not overly reward direct conflict, so in that sense, the game is not about war. However, there is high player interactivity and plenty of non-direct conflict.

Who in your opinion would be a typical Feudum player? What other games does he like?

The typical Feudum player is someone who likes slightly heavier games with an economy, hand and resource management, and action programming. The game features the kinds of strategic complexities found in deeper games such as Terra Mystica, Brass, Caylus and Dominant Species. Jamey Stegmaier compared the game in «depth and aesthetics to Trickerion«, while Jeremy and David of Man Vs Meeple likened it to Vinhos, the Gallerist and Madeira saying, there’s a lot of thinking but «in the most fun way possible!»

Which games do you like? Can you name a few games from your top list?

There are so many… I like Goa, Terra Mystica, Tzolk’in, Caverna, Puerto Rico, Le Havre, Caylus, El Grande, The Voyages of Marco Polo, Taj Mahal, Citadels, Traders of Genoa, Ra, Shogun (Wallenstein), Maharaja, La Città, Russian Railroads, Power Grid, Dominant Species, Tigris & Euphrates, Hansa Teutonica

Марк Суонсон и его играAre there mechanics, which you do not like at all?

I’m not a fan of games with trading mechanics (Settlers of Catan) because fast trading too often comes at the expense of thoughtful trading. One exception to this rule would be Traders of Genoa. Also, I generally avoid dice mechanics with some notable exceptions including Quarriors! and the Voyages of Marco Polo. I suppose I’m a contradiction. Haha.

Are you planning to develop more games? Will they be in the Feudum universe, or will they be something totally different?

I am currently working on a worker placement game, thanks to inspiration from Uwe Rosenberg. I may visit the Feudum universe one last time with a map extension, that adds two new guild characters.

What do you like besides board games?

Watching Lionel Messi, spending time with my three daughters, and the thought of one day gliding through Wyoming on an electric snowmobile

Thank you, Mark. Good luck!