By Billy Bolt
Earlier this year I came across a CCG with a Solitaire mechanic built into the game. I played solitaire as a kid, and at work like most of Americans. I was excited to think that I would not have to wait for friends to play a CCG. Sadly, for months, I was forced to wait as the release date was pushed back. Following the Company for a few months, I wanted to find out why their debut was so difficult. Jey Legarie, creator of Dungeon Crawler, was graciously willing to give me some answers.
Sometime in early spring I read about the Dungeon Crawler game on the tcgplayers.com website. The word solitaire caught my eye. How did the idea of making a CCG, with this mechanic, come about?
Jey: I grew up an only child, so games that I could play alone were obviously beneficial to me. My grandmother was around in my early years and we would play card games together passing the time, but I would often enjoy playing Solitaire. I had always enjoyed the fantasy genre, but I was never really entertained by overly competitive games. I would say it was a combination of these things that lead me to create Ara the home world of Dungeon Crawler universe.
Billy: On your website you talks about Dungeon Crawler starting out as a video game concept, what made you decide to put it to paper?
Jey: As an upstart, I realized that I couldn’t afford to pay a large staff of artists and programmers to build a table top game or video game. There were those that were willing to work for free as a joint venture, but they lacked enough time as they had other financial responsibilities, so the game didn’t go anywhere for nearly 10 years.
In 2007, driven by desire to make Dungeon Crawler a reality I was forced to take a closer look at what medium would be most productive with a staff of just me, and cards seemed the most attainable of choices. Switching to this medium reduced a large portion of labor costs, and I was able to contract people within a more reasonable budget which reduced the amount of time it would have taken to produce the game. Making the decision to introduce Dungeon Crawler to the world in this form was difficult, but supported the concept I had for Dungeon Crawler very well.
Jey: Well, like any business I had a business plan with deadlines that gave wiggle room for “hiccups” on a personal level, and gave months of time for any printing errors that I could have anticipated to occur. So the original release date was well plotted, and even guaranteed with a month’s leeway for customs from the printing company, satisfied I brought the website to life and released the information to the public.
I had great confidence in the printing company as they were featured in GenCon’s 2008 program and came recommended from a friend. I even did research on the web and found that the company had a decent track record. When I initially spoke to them they were very responsive (this was much to my liking as many other printing companies were not attentive or even responsive).
As time progressed in the project their business mannerisms changed, and the agreement changed. They noted via email that there were problems where they were out of printing paper, spooling issues and I was left waiting for proofs that were never intended to be delivered. At the date I was given that product would be shipped I contacted them for the Bill of Lading and was told the sheets had not made it to the printing press, because a Casino order came in with priority and the machines needed to be reset to accommodate their order.
This inevitably was the first push back on the release date, but not the end of problems. They failed to have the entire order ready by the second release date, but sent me via Fed Ex (at my cost) a portion of the shipment to accommodate pre-orders, and another promise that the product would be received in plenty of time for GenCon 2010. This is when I got our first physical look at the product, and there were many problems including the misprinted boosters and no cellophane on the starter decks to name a few.
The situation was very difficult to manage as the printer was on the other side of the world, and since they had requested half of the payment to start (which made sense) and remainder at the time of shipment, I was left with little choice but to continue with them. I then had another shipment of just starters sent to me via Fed Ex (my cost again) as I needed to have stock on hand (given the new track record), and the printer took the boosters back to the press.
Crunching for time we set up to have arrangements made to get the product to Indianapolis as soon as it hit the coast, but that wasn’t enough. Although, it could have still made it to GenCon after customs held the shipment for x-rays, we were additionally slowed when customs delayed the shipment even longer by holding the product for by-hand searching, hence the 30 day additional wait.
This was definitely a learning experience for me.
As a note; the friend that recommended the printers, unfortunately, also had a bad turn of events during our own fiasco as their second order was left out on the docks during monsoon season and their inventory was destroyed.
I read in a few places, including your forums, which suggested that DC was making up excuses about the lack of product availability. What would you like people to know about this hurtle? Also, do you have plans in place to make sure that this doesn’t happen in the future?
Jey: GenCon was a new event for us, as were overseas customs issues. We learned the hard way that it can literally take months to get products from overseas through customs via shipping by seas. We have learned that doing product locally we will; prevent massive anxiety, get better quality, save face, actually make a marketing plan with a schedule/plan and be deliverable in a timely fashion.
GenCon was a turning point as well as a first event for me. I learned the hard way that it can literally take several months to get products from overseas through customs. At GenCon, I got the opportunity to make contacts (thanks to wonderful people that volunteered their time to support Dungeon Crawler); these contacts are making it possible for me to turn the product around and provide local (US/Canada) production and storage/shipping. By doing product locally I will be able to have better control over the product which will ensure better quality, faster turn over, and better services.
I have played and enjoyed quite a few games of solitaire, but I have to admit I struggled with the rules a bit. I find this common in a lot of the games I have played over the years. In your opinion, what would be the best way to overcome this ongoing struggle for the player picking up a new game?
Jey: I’ve personally found that everyone thinks and learns differently. Many people learn through pictures or visual aids, others by storytelling or literary means. I myself learn by example, if I see it happen and understand the “why/why not” I get a much clearer grasp of how to do things. We’ve discovered that many people really had difficulty with our player’s guide, and some were able to explain why, so we’ve taken that back with us to work on and do a better job. We have something coming along that is looking really nice and we feel we can be confident in it.
I think many people that have tried the game, once they wrap their heads around some of the key mechanics that look difficult, but are actually simpler than they first appear, get the flow of the game. But, also it’s hard to break a certain chain of thought from another very popular ccg that many people play, it just doesn’t work the same. In my opinion, at this time, the best way to learn the game is to try with the player’s guide, then come online and check out our tutorial, then if you have questions watch the demo put up by Cigal and then ask questions on the forum. Also, if you’re local to someone running an event, drop in and get a personal demo! For me that is the best way to learn.
There seems to be, in a lot of CCG’s, an art style unique to each company. In DC it seems that the word unique has been taken to a whole new level, from live models to colored pencil art. Why did you decide to go with such a wide variety of art, not settling on just one standard? Also, how many of the images in the first set are yours?
Jey: There have been many comments on the art. I don’t have anyone that actually uses colored pencil, but there are some interesting styles and mediums used. I have one specific criteria for artwork, “dark”(a tone of seriousness). If the artists could keep it “dark” and show an understanding color balance, scale, and can keep on model, I am happy to bring them onboard. From the vibrant colors of Jared, Simon and Amy to the gritty visuals of David, Falk, Niko and Alex we covered a wide breadth of imagination.
I took on the more basic creatures of the DC universe as these were going to be the hardest to describe and pull off how I wanted them (besides for each image I finished it would save me some $). When an art director says to you “draw a dragon” there’s a million different directions you can go. So, rather than battling back and forth via text I pulled together 6 pieces (Dreadlander, Infernal Minotaur, Minotaur, Ogre, Troll, Young Granite Dragon) and tried an experiment with Kobold where I did the sketch and had another artist, Brian, do the color. I also sketched Manticore, and Simon loved the pose so much he then went over it and polished it up amazingly.
Jey: To put it simply, time. I was busy with the rulebook, website, writing, design work, organizing with the artists, game mechanics, testing, business aspects… I just knew I wouldn’t have enough time to do more art.
In my opinion I would say that DC’s solitaire mechanic is your strongest selling point, the main reason I bought a starter. What else might you tell people to convince them to give DC a try?
Jey: We love both the Solitaire and Multi-player game formats. When I say “we” I mean my wife and I – lol. As far as the game itself; it’s fantasy based, flexible and expandable. You can play at your own pace for solitaire, you can play in multiple formats and you can expand as you’re able. It has a low cost entry price point which you never need to run out and buy 50 cases of cards for. It’s a great time filling game that you can get your “RPG fix” from, when your weekly game gets canceled or you just can’t get the group together. The randomness of the cards really lends itself to some fantastic and strange encounters.
Despite the rocky start I think that Dungeon Crawler has a bright future. From my experience as a customer, they did everything possible to keep the public informed at every step. The game is fun and brings many challenges with every play. If you are a fan of fantasy style games, then I recommend picking up a starter!
So what do you think?