Teratozoic – An Interview with Teel McClanahan III

Posted August 8, 2014 by Oscar Russell in Nerdy Bits

Teratozoic, is a current Kickstarter project by Modern Evil Press with Teel McClanahan at the helm. Oscar had the chance to interview Teel about the tabletop deck building game, which you can check out and back on Kickstarter here. There is also a Print and Play version of the game if you want to give it a quick test before pledging, and also stay tuned to We The Nerdy as we will be reviewing the game early next week.

We The Nerdy: Where did the idea for Teratozoic come from, is this something that has been brewing for a while? 

Teel McClanahan III: The initial design came out of about a year and a half of working on variations on deck-building games. Some were promising, but too complex. (I tried combining deck-building with resource management, territory control, and cooperative war gaming; I’ll figure it out, someday). Others got as far as fully-functional prototypes but didn’t make it through art development. Most of them didn’t come together into a satisfyingly great game play experience, they were good, but not great. 

Then one night in the middle of the night I got the idea for what would eventually become Teratozoic. Within an hour or two I’d written out the core game play loop, Era mechanics, and card text for over 100 “Advanced” cards. The next morning I did some quick mock-up card art with a monster theme (I already had the basics of the theme) and by afternoon I was play-testing the game with my wife. Before we finished a single game I’d pulled 1/3 of the Advanced cards, and by the end of a couple games I’d tightened the deck by as much again. Within 48 hours I’d play-tested with a couple more people, further tightened the deck, and had a solid game I knew I wanted to take further. 

ccd452b234978b1fe05c4e7e2d34adf3_largeWTN: Many games that have a 2 player tag attached to them, sometimes work a lot better with an addition. How well will this work in two player mode. I note the rules are marginally different? 

TM III: The core of the game, that initial idea I was testing that first day, was strictly a 2-player game. It was also a 2-color game. (The final version has 3 main colors of monsters.) I could see how it could expand to more players, that the math would work and the core game play would be at least as fun, and over the next couple of months as I worked on the game I expanded it to support 4 players. At its core, Teratozoic has been built around a great 2-player game from day one. 

As development progressed and I worked toward the Kickstarter, I was thinking about adding a possible expansion a third color of monsters, and support for 2 more players. It worked so well and added so much to the game (not just player count, but variety of monsters and complexity of strategy to achieve high scores) that I couldn’t bear to leave it out of the base game, whether by making it an optional extra or a stretch goal. The game is good with two colors, but I think it’s better with three. 

Unfortunately, adding in all those extra cards (50% more monsters!) extended the 2-player game to almost 90 minutes with what I considered the minimum satisfying number of Eras (four, including the Teratozoic), and I knew that a lot of people wouldn’t want to play that long, so I offered two suggestions for the 2-player game: Go down to 3 Eras (which is okay, but doesn’t have as much depth of strategy), or go back down to 2 colors. If you don’t mind going over an hour of play, the 2-player game is still as strong as it ever was, even with 3 colors and 4 Eras (this 2/3/4 game is my favorite way to play), but I wanted players to know they should feel free to adjust the game to suit their tastes. 

WTN: What made you opt for no stretch goals, how did that affect working out your overall amount you needed of the project? 11efe44bb51e30ab2064cab8937c0a5e_large

TM III:The key to deciding not to have traditional stretch goals stems both an insistence on only publishing products of a quality I’d be happy with as a gamer and from my own frustration with Kickstarter projects that put basic things like quality card stock or even core components (the difference between cubes and meeples, for example) behind stretch goals. Even if the publisher has every expectation of reaching those goals, I don’t like the idea that they even pretended that they would publish a game with sub-standard components. 

Of course, I’ve also been planning on working with POD printers for small volumes of the game, and not banking on the ability to reach the high volumes required to move production overseas. By planning to be capable of printing as few as 50 copies of the game, decisions about component quality and whether to include the third color of monsters didn’t bump the minimum funding goal instead they adjusted the retail price of the game and my expected margins. I toyed with the idea of having a stretch goal to drop the price if the campaign reaches enough copies to print overseas, but it’s such a foreign concept to the Kickstarter platform I decided to keep things simple. 

As a newcomer to the games category, I didn’t expect to be able to reach that level of response, but I did have some ideas for stretch goals cost-calculated out beyond the $30k range. (Which is where you see most games’ stretch goals, for good reason.) That’s about ten times where the funding is at right now (a little over halfway through the campaign), so it’s a long-shot, but it’s definitely something I considered and prepared for. Realistically, in the $2k-$10k range Teratozoic will be landing in, there’s no margin for stretch goals there’s barely margin for the game. I know I can deliver a quality game at this level, but I can’t deliver more. 621a0ec7d772130ddb4915905c2d4148_large (1)

WTN: The art on the cards looks great, and has a very friendly quality to it. How important is it getting the art as good as the game itself? 

TM III:Thanks! I’ve put a lot of work into the monsters all the art and design is my own. Most of my art background is in modern/pop and abstract expressionist paintings (see http://wretchedcreature.com/), and most of my drawing experience comes from doing online comics, so my specialty is really in getting designs boiled down to their core elements. Communicating a lot with a little, with line art and minimal colors, which leads automatically to friendly, accessible imagery. 

I’m still working on my capabilities as a realistic illustrator (I have some games in early design stages which call for fairly realistic art, and I’d like to do it myself), but I know that realistic details aren’t actually required to create great art. Attention to details, yes, but not realism. In a way, it was my own weakness as a realistic illustrator which drove me to put so much effort into creating the best possible art I could, within my capabilities.

As with my efforts to find the best quality of components I could for Teratozoic, I couldn’t publish it with sub-standard artwork. While I’m not currently in a position to hire outside artists, I knew that with enough effort I could achieve a great result on my own. I’ve already set aside more than one game because I couldn’t achieve a satisfying art direction within my capabilities, and would have done the same for Teratozoic if I weren’t happy with the monsters themselves. 
WTN: I mentioned before that it has a very friendly look to it, Who is this game aimed at? You say that this could be a gateway game for many people, how so? Will anyone be able to pick this up, or does having some gaming experience help? 

TM III: I just wanted the monsters to look as fun as I felt the gameplay was I didn’t realize just how much other people would see that art as “for kids” as they did until the art was done and in play-testing. That just wasn’t something I was after; I was mostly aiming for fun (rather than scary) monsters, and I guess family-friendly monsters was the natural result. 

Along with the friendly art, the basics of the game play are extremely easy to grasp by gamers and newcomers alike. This means that casual gamers and children can have fun building monsters without even being aware they’re deck-building and then after a few games, when they get the hang of honing their gene pool to win not just individual generations but the final big-monster build at the end, they’ll be conceptually ready to graduate to a game like Dominion where you build an engine around one currency but win by converting it to another. 

994572610f2112995e961dcb82df16ac_largeAt the same time, experienced gamers (whether with bluffing & betting in games like poker or with carefully tuning decks-as-engines in deck-builders) can find a fair amount of depth in Teratozoic. At first glance, and mathematically, it seems almost entirely random; and luck certainly plays a part in which cards you draw, but as you play more and think carefully about every action you take and every card you choose to keep, the possibility for strategic play becomes clear. 

In fact, it’s gotten to the point where I’m basically not allowed to play the game with my friends any more, because I understand the strategy too well and generally end up winning by a large margin. This is the sort of thing you see primarily in heavily skill-based games, where players with more experience have a major advantage over newcomers. My friends still like playing the game, but until they catch up to my skill level, I mostly just watch Teratozoic played, any more. 

WTN: What makes Teratozoic stand out from the crowd? 

TM III: The art is pretty unique, of course, especially in concert with the way the cards come together to form so many unique creatures from individual parts. Additionally, every card has different artwork there are no duplicates in the entire game. 

Mechanically, and especially if you’ve already played a few deck-building games, Teratozoic is quite unusual. I liked how one reviewer referred to the card selection process as a form of drafting, which is somewhat true rather than selecting from a persistent line-up of cards, or stacks of duplicate cards, players select from the monsters they’ve all been building, and just like in a drafting game, players can choose to keep the best cards back for themselves rather than risk other people taking them. 

There’s also a lot more player interaction than you see in most deck-builders (or even drafting games, where you generally only interact directly with adjacent players), and there’s almost no downtime waiting for your turn since everyone plays out most game phases simultaneously. The system of Era cards alters the game’s mechanics as you play, and they also allow you to customize the pace of the game both before you begin and if you play your cards right during the course of the game, increasing or reducing the number of opportunities you’ll have to improve your Gene Pool before the end; I’m not aware of many other games with such flexibility of core mechanics built right into the game. 
WTN: How have you found the Kickstarter process so far? 

TM III: Well, this isn’t my first Kickstarter, but it is the first I’ve done since things really started to explode a couple of years ago, and it’s my first boardgame Kickstarter, so it’s interesting to see how things have changed, recently. There’s certainly a much greater tendency toward blockbustering; projects seem to either reach their goals spectacularly fast or the crowd assumes they aren’t going anywhere and they fall flat. 

I tried to set my goal low enough that it could be reached within a few days, and when we didn’t hit it within the first three days I was worried I’d be in for disappointment. With continued marketing & word of mouth, a little over a week into the campaign it passed 100% and then rapidly gained another 25% in about 24 hours people like to back a winner. The pace has been fairly steady since, and is about 175% as I write this. 

I’ve been trying to be open and actively communicate with my backers, and with their help have been working to improve the game’s rule book before it goes to print next month. I haven’t reached the thousands of backers required to hit that critical mass of comments I’ve enjoyed seeing on several other board game projects I’ve backed, but I’m very happy to have even a few very excited and engaged backers on my own project. A larger and larger community of players who enjoy my work is something I hope to continue to build toward as I finish & fulfil Teratozoic, then develop & deliver on future games. 

There’s something unique about Kickstarter that you don’t find in other places. I’ve run successful crowdfunding campaigns, even built campaigns from scratch on my own site with custom tools, but you don’t get the sort of engagement that can be found on Kickstarter. Especially with the relaxation of project guidelines and certain silly projects of late, it’s become quite clear that there’s a growing community of backers who aren’t merely trying to support creators’ works, but to have a good time doing it, and to be part of a group. I think that the more we acknowledge and embrace those aspects of Kickstarter, both as creators and backers, the better off we’ll all be in the future. 

Don’t forget to check out the Kickstarter page here, and get pledging!

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About the Author

Oscar Russell

Comics Editor for WTN, and co-host of the All New Comics Dash Podcast. I like comics and tabletop gaming!