Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Five or So Questions with Emma Larkins on Heartcatchers!

I have an interview today with Emma Larkins on Heartcatchers! It's currently on Kickstarter and looks like a great two-player game! Check it out on Kickstarter and see Emma's interview answers below.

Tell me a little about Heartcatchers. What excites you about it?
Heartcatchers is a strategic two-player deception game. There's a pretty simple mechanic of matching card colors and moving piles of cards around on the field - where it gets interesting is the face-down secret cards that are revealed at the end of the game, that can wildly swing the score. The thing that excites me most is when people get a maniacal gleam in their eyes and clap their hands together in glee after playing a particularly devious secret. That's what the game is really about - like you're a villain in a B action movie. Also when a crowd gathers to watch two people playing, to cheer them on, give advice, and vicariously enjoy the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

What was your inspiration for Heartcatchers?
Heartcatchers was inspired by my boyfriend Phil. I made it for him as a gift for our first Valentine's Day together (cardstock, pink construction paper hearts, doodles, the whole deal!). He's working on a tabletop game, and I wanted to make him my own game as a joke, but he ended up really enjoying it. He's the one who encouraged me to put in the hard work to take it from a prototype to a polished game.

What kind of games and media influenced your design for Heartcatchers?

Funnily enough, I was playing a lot of Hearthstone at the time (Blizzard's online Collectible Card Game, similar to Magic the Gathering) and wanted to capture the distilled essence of the game. In Hearthstone, you play cards that have different creatures on them, and each has an attack value, a defense value (health), and a set of special abilities. The first version of Heartcatchers featured cards that had numerical attack and defense values, and you had to match the numbers. You can also play "secrets" in Hearthstone that are only revealed when your opponent takes certain actions; the secrets in Heartcatchers (cards placed face-down and revealed at the end of the game, before the score is tallied) are a core mechanic.

Of course, over dozens of playtests, the mechanics of Heartcatchers evolved into something completely different. The numbers went away, the game simplified drastically, and now there are three colors that "catch" each other, rock-paper-scissors style. I also combined the Secret cards and the standard cards to I could reduce the whole game to twenty cards.

Is there a special experience you've had while playtesting and developing?
Watching crowds gather to observe games in play! I've showed the game to tons of people at a bunch of live events - Boston Festival of Indie Games, Gen Con, a few Playcrafting events, in addition to all the playtests. It amazes me how the game draws people in and gets them excited, even if they're not playing. The game has surprisingly never been held back by the two-player limit. The reveal moment at the end of the game is so enticing, to see the revelation of how the two players have tricked each other. I never expected it to become such a fun spectator experience.

Could you tell me a little more about the mechanics?
Lay out a field of six face-up cards, and give each player a hand of three cards. Over the course of the game, you place cards face-up on top of the six, making piles. You can steal your opponent's desirable piles and replace them with less desirable piles. At the end of the game, you're scored on the three piles on your side of the field, so the goal is to hide all the Heartbreaker Secrets (point subtracters) under your opponent's side, and all the Ultimate Love Secrets (point adders) under your side. Secrets stay hidden until the end of the game, at which point everything is revealed and the points are tallied - one point for each face-up card in piles on your side, modified by the Secrets. The reveal of the Secrets often drastically swings the score of the game; you never know if you've won until the last minute. There are twenty cards in the deck, and a game takes five to ten minutes to play.

A last note from Emma: 

There are less than two weeks left to get in on the Heartcatchers Kickstarter. Check it out today!

This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs.

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