Interview with Eric Vogel, Creator of the Dresden Files Card Game

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The Dresden Files book series by Jim Butcher has seen a number of adaptions into cool products over the years, most notably the incredibly popular RPG by publisher Evil Hat Productions. Well, Evil Hat has just launched a Kickstarter for a Dresden Files cooperative tabletop card game and we’ve got an interview with creator Eric Vogel.

Geek & Sundry: What kinds of challenges did the cooperative context bring?

Eric Vogel: Tremendous challenges initially. It wasn’t my idea to make it cooperative initially, it was Fred Hick’s and Chris Hanrahan’s. I had several months of fiddling around with false starts before I came up with the basic engine of DFCO. The final idea really started with the notion of a common action point pool for all the players, that they alternate between adding to and taking from. That created the essential cooperation dynamic that created the feel of the game.

GS: What was your process for distilling over a dozen books worth of growth into these instances of the characters?

EV: Once I had settled on the formula of 1 game is 1 book and 1 player is 1 character, it was at least an orderly process of distillation. There was some challenge in finding enough mechanical variation to make the books and characters sufficiently distinctive from one another, as well as reflective of their originals. All true cooperative games are logistics games at some level, where you win or lose on the margin of how optimal your order of operations is.

GS: What was it like having to essentially translate Fate, a highly fiction-focused game, into a form normally far less narrative?

EV: The challenge of representing a rich narrative in the form of flavor text and mechanics had much more to do with the Dresden Files itself, rather than Fate. As far as representing the Fate system within DFCO, that was a pretty simple conversion. I started with Fate Accelerated, the more streamlined version, and I looked at its constructs. Those constructs are already quite abstract. Because while the narrative of any given Fate game may be quite rich, the mechanical system through which aspects of character and storyline are represented as a construct, an instance of a type of thing, seems to be to be quite streamlined compared to most RPGs. I think that is a big part of Fate‘s appeal.

GS: What was it like working with Evil Hat? How much influence did they have on your design process?

EV: I love working with EHP. This is the 4th game I have done for them (although it will be the 3rd to be published). Once the game design is finished, they keep me looped in through every stage of the process. They don’t always make the production choice I would prefer, but they always weigh my input. That is rare among game publishers. Most game publishers communicate really sporadically, but EHP is always responsive, even when very busy. Fred Hicks in particular had a lot of things he wanted from this game, some high level and some quite specific.

This game was sort of my “love letter” to EHP, my attempt to make them a game that was full of Fate as well as full of Dresden. I tried to give them most of what they wanted, even though it is inevitable I had to push back on a few things.

GS: How well does the game play solo? Is the experience significantly different?

EV: It is like playing all 3 characters in a 3 player game, with slightly smaller hands to compensate for having perfect knowledge of the player cards. I am not much of a solo game player myself. There was a strong call from the single-player community on BGG for us to include 1 player rules, so I did. I relied on a couple of my friends who are big solo game players to give me advice about how to approach designing the single-player version, and to playtest it to see if they enjoyed it. If that feedback hadn’t confirmed that the single-player version was fun, I wouldn’t have included it – marketing concerns or no. Fortunately, it was fun.

GS: How replayable is the game?

EV: Very, and on several levels. First of all, the game is hard. You usually won’t beat any book on the first try unless you set the difficulty slider to easy, or play with open hands (which is not the normal game). Secondly, the book cards for any one book come out in a different order each time you play, which changes the optimal logistics.

Thirdly, you can play a given book with different combinations of characters, and the optimal strategy will be different. Fourthly, in addition to all the book decks, there is a random-scenario generator based on the Dresden short stories, and we add cards to that with each expansion. Finally, it is possible to combine cards from the book decks with cards from the random scenario generator to create even more scenarios. That is a lot of variation!

GS: What’s the most enjoyable part of playing the game?

EV: I think it is the distinctive quality of the interactions players have, the group discussion. I don’t want to explain it too much up front, but I think people who try the game will find that the group conversation about strategy has an interesting feel, different from other co-ops. One of the things I object to in a lot of cooperative games is that because of the inherent properties of group dynamics, one player self-selects as the leader and ends up telling everyone what to do.

At the same time, co-op players don’t like games that do not let them discuss, or plan as a group, because that interaction is a big part of the fun. So I attempted to get around that issue by having the design promote a more equitable group-decision making process. You can’t really overtly force that with rules, the design itself has to pull for it inherently. I am a clinical psychologist and psychology professor in my non-gaming life, so group dynamics and group decision-making effects are something I have studied quite a bit. So I have a kind of secret sauce I applied to this game to make that happen. I don’t think I am ready to give away exactly what it is about the game that creates that yet.

Be sure to check out the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game Kickstarter. They’ve got videos on how the game is played and tons of amazing examples of the game’s artwork. And let us know what you think in the comments below.

Featured image credit: Jim Butcher

Additional Image Credits: Evil Hat Productions

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