Q&A: John Wrot! of The King's Armory

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The King's Armory

The King’s Amory is a tower defense board game with an interesting story behind it. You may have seen the original campaign on Kickstarter this past summer, or my mention of playing a prototype at Gen Con. The game had an ambitious funding goal–despite raising over $25k, it didn’t reach the levels required to produce the game.

John Wrot
John Wrot!, designer of The King’s Armory. Photo: John Wrot!

So game designer John Wrot! (yes, the exclamation point is part of his name) took a different approach. He ran an Indiegogo campaign to raise some funds specifically for completion of the artwork; backers there were rewarded with anything from T-shirts to digital images to posters. He also sold naming rights and custom images. But perhaps the most interesting thing was that he allowed backers of the art campaign to earn credits toward the Kickstarter relaunch. There’s no guarantee that the final game will reach funding, but the Indiegogo campaign certainly found its fans, who are now even more committed to helping The King’s Armory succeed.

The new Kickstarter campaign, relaunched today, also has a significantly lower funding goal. The original game used spinners for the monsters to track hit points, which are quite expensive (particularly if you have as many as this game will). Wrot! worked to reduce costs wherever possible, and left some other things as add-ons or stretch goals. The new funding level is $49k–still ambitious, but I think it’s within reach.

Wrot! has also announced a partnership with Level 99 Games (publisher of the BattleCON games, Pixel Tactics, and the Minigames Library) so that some characters from BattleCON will become playable heroes in The King’s Armory. That’s sure to bring over some of Level 99’s fan base to check out this project.

I interviewed Wrot! about The King’s Armory and his approach to fundraising.

The King's Armory in play
Demo prototype of The King’s Amory. Photo: Gate Keeper Games

GeekDad: So the elevator pitch for The King’s Armory is that it’s a tower defense board game. For our readers who might not be familiar with the genre already, what is tower defense, and how does The King’s Armory simulate that?

Wrot!: Great question. Tower defense is an immensely popular genre of online ‘flash’ game. The basic premise of a Tower Defense, or TD, game is that waves of monsters will enter the playing field from one end, march along a set path, and attempt to exit the map at the other end of the playing field. The entrance would be the monster’s lair, while the exit would be your stronghold. Just off the edge of the path “Towers” are placed by the player, which have all manner of attack types and special abilities. These Towers and their occupants fire upon the monsters attempting to destroy them all before they can make it off the edge of the playing field. If successful in destroying every monster before the stronghold runs out of hitpoints, victory! Otherwise, your stronghold is destroyed and you lose the game. That being said, there is a very wide variety of incarnations that tower defense has seen over the years. The only real way to experience the differences is to try them.

Phew!

Now, The King’s Armory, a fully cooperative strategy game, simulates the above format as closely as possible by breaking the marching and the attacking into a turn by turn format. It was really important to me to keep as true to the genre’s original play style as possible, because after scouring the board game world, much to our surprise, we haven’t found a single game that truly attempts to emulate the fanatical online genre!

Here’s a quick breakdown:

The playing field, or map as we call it, consists of 16 double-sided path tiles that are used to create a new path each game. Each wave, a new set of randomly selected monsters arrives and will begin to march toward your castle. The enemies and the team of Heroes take turns, marching and shooting, then moving and defending, until only 1 side remains on the map. If the players are successful in defending the castle, the wave ends, upgrades are purchased in the form of new towers, new recruits (Archers, Foot Soldiers, Psionicists, Sorcerers, and Clerics), new equipment, and a host of other amazing enhancements. My personal favorite is the Sword Golem! Once all upgrades are complete, the next–and harder–wave begins! Victory is only achieved when the boss and his minions on the final wave are defeated. All in all the game provides a ton of replay value as so many factors are variable or randomly selected that you can expect to never experience the same game, or requisite strategy, twice.

The King's Armory launch party
John Wrot! oversees a game of The King’s Armory at the launch party. Photo: Gate Keeper Games

GeekDad: What was your inspiration for The King’s Armory? Are there any particular games that you’ve played that gave you ideas for theme, mechanic, and so on?

Wrot!: Gosh, so many. The first TD game to truly hook me was the original Gem Craft, a great gateway game. After that I sought out and conquered every flash TD game I could. My favorites are definitely Gem Craft, Bloons, and the Defender series, but above all the top two inspirations were: Incursion and Kingdom Rush. Even thinking about them brings happy thoughts.

For me, the play style of Kingdom Rush redefined the way tower defense could work; in it, the towers are no longer responsible for shooting; they hold a battalion of dynamic recruits that can move, attack, or even run into the path to stop the monsters from advancing. This is a core aspect of The King’s Armory. Incursion, which openly thanks Kingdom Rush as its inspiration, builds on that and has a primary Hero character that is pivotal to the balance of your offense. We really dug that idea and built it right into TKA. We also added our own flavors to the genre, by allowing Heroes to become more powerful by purchasing and donning unique equipment that boosts their powers; along with two other new ideas: Reinforcements that work as back-up super bonuses that can only be called on once but for a whole mess of powerful effects; and the Armory, which has seriously outrageous mega backup forces, such as the aforementioned Sword Golem! I love that guy.

Reinforcement cards
Sample reinforcement cards from The King’s Armory

GeekDad: Most of the tower defense games I’ve played have towers that automatically shoot at enemies or spawn soldiers to fight, but the towers in The King’s Armory don’t do that. Was that simply to make bookkeeping easier or did you have other reasons for that? In our play of the demo I found myself wishing that the towers would do some damage as enemies ran past.

Wrot!: As mentioned above, a major inspiration for us was Ironhide Games’ Kingdom Rush; you can find it on ArmorGames.com with over 40 million plays (we get nothing for plugging them, we just like the game); they use this same mechanic, and we liked it. So borrowing it from them, we did what we could to improve upon it, and apply it to a board game setting. For us, it gave a more personal feel to the game. We didn’t want to hide behind a cold tower, and hope something happened, we wanted to feel like we were responsible for the lives of the villagers, and we wanted to be able to move and interact with these different mobile entities. This in turn gives a more involved feel to the game, as well; whereas towers alone are cold and lifeless, towers with archers on them that I can control and have to protect… is alive and visceral!

This also allowed for 2 additional very important mechanics. The first is what we call “Tanking”; the ability for the archer, foot soldier, or even the spindly sorcerer or psionicist character, to leave the tower and run out onto the path and stop the enemies from moving, at risk of their own safety. The second is the opportunity to take damage, thus there is risk involved; your defenders, your ‘mobile towers’ if you will, can take damage and die, leaving you defenseless. Part of the strategy is how to deal damage without taking too much yourself. It’s a guarantee you’ll have to risk taking some damage to keep the foes from getting the castle gate; but how much is the right amount?

Some towers in Kingdom Rush do shoot, but those towers are immune to damage. They only touch on the tanking idea with the Foot Soldier type characters in the “barracks” option. We wanted every character to be playable for now. We do have different towers available in expansion ideas, but we didn’t want to water down the base game with too many extra options; especially since it is based on a ‘permanently dead’ concept indeed.

I should mention that we do have expansions planned, and in those we do plan for new tower types that give different bonuses and some that attack themselves will certainly be strongly considered for inclusion. (I can picture the little villagers huddling for safety throwing stuff out the windows and passing monsters!)

The King's Armory heroes
Finished heroes art for The King’s Armory

GeekDad: I always like to find out what else game designers enjoy playing, because it gives me a better idea of their taste in games and whether it matches mine. What are some of your favorite games that our readers may be familiar with?

Wrot!: Well, first of all, I’m a huge RPGer. I’ve played D&D, like many of us, for most of my life at this point! …actually hard to believe the percentage is now over 50%, but it’s true. And the majority of that has been on my own ‘homebrew’ system, but that’s for another time (teaser alert).

On the traditional board game front, I’m a fan of Euro-games and games that allow cooperative play. I’m a bit of a team player, so I tend to prefer games that don’t cause elimination till the very end. So you’ll catch me with Settlers, Pandemic, Carcassone, and any manner of classic party games; Apples to Apples, Guesstures, Taboo, even charades if the mood calls. Basically, if it has a nice group feel to it, I’d be happy to try it at least once.

GeekDad: This isn’t the first Kickstarter campaign you’ve run for The King’s Armory–the first time around you had a very high goal and didn’t reach it by the funding deadline. What’s changed this time around?

Wrot!: A lot, and nothing, at the same time.

First, nothing. The game play and dynamics of TKA have been so thoroughly playtested and so well received by new gamers, professional reviewers, and everyone in between that in the past few months I promised not to change a single thing that could effect balance or playability.

On the other hand we were forced to take a sharp look at our budget and see what kind of fluff could be cut from our very ambitious goals. The biggest change you’ll see is the removal of the “Spinner” mechanic (at least temporarily). Whereas the spinner mechanic, like Heroclix, is an easy and concise way to track a character’s stats, those bad boys are a fortune to produce, especially in the quantities we were asking for. Instead, we’ve switched to simple “stackable chips” mechanic like that seen in Rahdo’s video review. These are less expensive to produce, and we expect it to cut our budget by a good margin.

We’ve also been offered some amazing help by our backers in the way of free translations, graphic design discounts, and the like. Our game is still huge and ambitious, and we hope to have the support of people who respect our commitment to not “breaking the game’s balance and playability only to sell it back to us later.” Our new funding goal reflects our desire to try to meet both the needs of a lower target, and the needs of the players that deserve a quality game. We think this is especially important in a time when so many have been burned by Kickstarter games that have promised great things, but were only terrible. We hope to reverse that trend, and restore people’s faith in the Kickstarter process.

The King's Armory board
One map section of The King’s Armory (with monsters!)

GeekDad: What was the most valuable lesson you learned from running your first Kickstarter campaign?

Wrot!: Prepare harder.

We launched our first campaign too early. We needed to do more research, more marketing, and get more key items in line before our launch (international shipping, reviews, game-play vid, etc.), and we didn’t. The only reason I don’t regret that is that we’ve grown so much and met so many absolutely wonderful people during our first campaign that I honestly wouldn’t trade that time back. Not at all.

GeekDad: Since this is your first board game publication, how are you handling manufacturing and distribution? Are you doing that yourself, or do you have somebody lined up to do fulfillment for you?

Wrot!: I will be publishing this game myself. *AH!* Frankly, this is one of my babies, my passion project. And I’ve got the wherewithal to see it through to the gruesome or glorious end. So that’s what we as a family have chosen to do. We have a great manufacturer lined up with whom we’ve been working along the way, through all the ups and downs. For distribution we intend to use Amazon’s Fulfillment Services; this will allow us to provide much more friendly shipping options to our international backers, and even cover VAT for our friends in the EU!

For more information, check out the Kickstarter page for The King’s Armory.

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