For the past few weeks, the team behind the new game Ivion has been demoing the game at our weekly game night; they also had a demo table at the local Bellingham Anime Convention (BA-CON). The game is wildly popular, and the team is close to meeting their Kickstarter goal. We talked to Lead Developer Aaron Shaw.
Dark Tower Games (DTG): First of all, tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into gaming.
Aaron Shaw: (Aaron): I learned pretty early on that I have a passion for turn-based strategy games. In the 5th grade, my brother and I got into Warhammer Fantasy. Then we got into Warhammer 40k. Then Dungeons and Dragons. Then Magic: the Gathering. Once we got into Magic, it was pretty clear that tabletop gaming was going to be a lifetime hobby for us.
DTG: What's your role on the Ivion team? How does your work contribute to a finished, engaging game?
Aaron: First of all, it's important to understand that Luminary Games is 4 people, and our office is my apartment's living room. So at the moment, everybody does a little bit of everything. My official role, however, is Lead Developer. My job is to balance the cards that the Design Team has created, and make sure the final product is as fun as it can be for as many different types of players as possible.
DTG: How did you get into game design? What was the inspiration for your work on Ivion?
Aaron: It has always been something I've enjoyed doing, but it was about 2 years ago that I fell headfirst into game design. Every fall, my group of friends start up a year-long D&D campaign. I decided I wanted to give DMing a go, so I became Dungeon Master for a year. Every week I had to plan encounters and new adventures for my PCs. Later on in that school year, I became missions Coordinator for the largest club on WWU campus: the Humans vs. Zombies club. This role put me in charge of designing 80+ person events, and shaping week-long story arcs for hundreds of players. Then I met Aislyn. Well, matched with her on Tinder, actually. We met for coffee and she told me all about this game she was designing, Ivion. The first date went well, so we made plans for a second, this time at Dark Tower Games, where she could show me her game. At that second date I realized two things: I wanted to spend a lot more time with this girl, and I wanted to play a lot more of this game.
I draw a lot of inspiration from some of the minds behind Magic: the Gathering, particularly Sam Stoddard and Mark Rosewater. I also draw inspiration from Magic itself. Magic: the Gathering is like a living history of Design. On my wall I have the entire "Alpha" set displayed on 3 posters. Several times during development I have used specific "Alpha" cards to explain various elements of Design.
DTG: Tell us a little about the game itself. How is it different from other games on the market?
Aaron: I believe that there is some serious stagnation in the CCG/TCG/LCG/XCG genre of games. Although there are some exceptions, there are so many games that fail to stray from the established concept of creature combat. Magic: the Gathering, Hearthstone, YuGiOh, Ashes, Elder Scrolls: Legends, Eternal, Hex. They all have this same fundamental mechanic of playing creatures to attack the enemy's life total. This is all well and good, as improving on existing ideas is fine, but here's the problem: Magic is over 20 years old. It would take quite a bit of innovation to create a paper card game that holds even a candle to MtG's tens of thousands of cards, even if the game improves on some of Magic's mechanics.
With Ivion, I believe we have created something unique and new. Here are some reasons why:
No Creature Combat
I have been playing Magic for 5 years, and there's only one person on the development team who has been playing magic for less time. I like creature combat, it's a good system. It is not however, the end all be all of CCG mechanics. In Ivion, your deck represents your character and your cards represent actions your character can take. This means that cards generally have a one-time effect, and do not represent a persistent source of damage. In order to defeat your opponent, you will generally want a steady stream of attack cards. We have tailored the cardflow in Ivion to allow for characters to reliably draw into the cards they are looking for. This is also important for immersion; since your deck represents your character, playing the game feels like you are taking on your character's role. Instead of having creatures do the work for you, YOU are the one that is paving the way to victory!
Ivion is played on a 4 by 4 tile grid. Most cards have range, which determines how close a character must be to their target. This adds both a level of depth to the game and a balancing tool for the development team. Players in a superior board position can divert resources towards playing and drawing cards. By forcing your opponent to spend resources to move, you can incrementally gain the upper hand in a fight.
Hearthstone did a really cool thing by creating Hero Powers. In Ivion, we've taken that a step further with Feats. Each character has access to three Feats, which can have a variety of passive or activated effects. Some Feats are utilitarian, smoothing out a character's resource management, and some Feats completely change the way your character functions.
This is handedly one of the most exciting things about Ivion. Decks in Ivion are constructed from three different card pools: 2 Classes, and 1 Specialization. Each Class has 3 copies each of 20 unique cards, and each Specialization has 3 copies each of 10 unique cards. Once you have selected which Classes and what Specialization you want to be, you have 150 cards to choose from for your 45 card deck. This is awesome for several reasons. First, this means that when you sit down to actually build a deck, you only have 50 unique cards you have to consider. This takes away most of the strain of deckbuilding that is seen in other cardgames, where finding a place to start can be overwhelming and off-putting. All you have to do in Ivion is pick 2 Classes, a Specialization that you qualify for, and get building. At the same time that we are reducing complexity, we are still allowing every card in the game to be played with every other card.
These are some of the key things that sets Ivion apart from other deckbuilding card games. And this is just from a mechanical standpoint! The other major strength of Ivion comes from its distribution model. With Ivion, we have stripped away the barriers to entry that many CCGs have, while also preserving the aspects of the genre that make expandable card games great. One method we have used to improve accessibility is how we are selling our product. Each box of Ivion will contain a full 3 copies, or playset, of every single card in the game. You won't have to buy multiple core sets or booster packs, you get the entire game with a single purchase! On top of that, a single box has enough cards, dice, and tiles for 6 people to play simultaneously.
Finally, Ivion is just plain fun! I'm clearly a bit biased, but I seriously think that we have created something really, REALLY, cool!
DTG: Crowdfunding is one of the top ways new games get into production right now. How do you get a game to stand out from the crowd on Kickstarter? How do you make sure you present your game at its best? What work have you done to build a community before launching the game?
Aaron: There is a lot to this question! One of the important things in making your Kickstarter is making sure that you have a unique idea. You need to bring something that hasn't been seen before, but is relatable enough that it gets people excited. A high quality page is paramount, as well as a talented graphic designer. It's not enough to tell potential backers about your game, you have to show them. This means you need to make sure your page is a quick and easy read! We have worked hard to reach out groups in our community, and establish a presence on social media. This part is very tricky, and takes a long time to cultivate. The moment your game has something to present, you should start showing it to the world.
DTG: Finally, if you could give any advice to anyone else working on a game right now, what would it be?
Aaron: It is cliche, but it is absolutely tantamount to success: never give up. There will be months, even years, where playing your game feels like a chore. You aren't going to get everything right at once, and it's going to feel at times like your game is fundamentally hopeless. But if you keep working on it, forcing yourself to continually iterate on your idea, it WILL become awesome.