Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Five or So Questions on New World Magischola: House Rivalry!

Hi all! Today I have an amazing interview with Maury Brown on the New World Magischola: House Rivalry board game! It's currently on Kickstarter and just a really gorgeous project that sounds like a ton of fun. I hope you all enjoy reading Maury's responses below:


Tell me a little about New World Magischola House Rivalry. What excites you about it?

New World Magischola House Rivalry is our first foray into board/card games design and publishing. That's both awesome and scary! When we decided two years ago to open a wizard school live roleplay experience in the United States, we realized that to do it the way we wanted to required us to write a whole new magical world that was specific to North America and its history. We wanted to be both respectful and inclusive of the many peoples and cultures -- and magical traditions -- of North America, and to also honor and engage thoughtfully with our fraught history of Colonialism. While we originally set out to design a larp, we ended up writing a world, and now we have an intellectual property that exists beyond the larp, with stories that can be told in many media, including board/card games, RPGs, books, and more. 

So for me, I'm excited because we are opening up the world of the Magimundi and the experience of going to wizard school in it to a lot more people than those who are able to attend our 4-day signature wizard school events. They get to experience at the table some of the fun, whimsy, and magical mayhem of Magischola by taking courses, joining clubs, and using conjures to improve their progress or hinder a rival's. They get a feel of navigating school because you have to pass your courses with a B or better to get credit, and you earn more points for completion the higher your grade is. It's definitely a competitive game, since only one House can take the Trophy, but there are lots of opportunities for roleplay and fun engagement with your friends around the table.

There are two other things I'm pretty excited about regarding House Rivalry:

1. The deliberate design choices to be inclusive in the playable characters. Of the original 6 PCs, 2 are people of color and also have Hispanic names: Martín Spinoza and Soledad Reyes. We also designed Jax Slager to be deliberately agender or nonbinary, and we ensured our art showed different ages and body types or sizes. It is very important to us to not fall into the same sorts of fantasy art that we often see in posters, games, and comics. This is a diverse and inclusive world, and we want everyone to imagine themselves as being part of it. We have to do that through the fiction and the artwork. Of the five House founders of New World Magischola, there are two women of color (Tituba and Marie Laveau), one white male (Étienne Brûle), one white female (Virginia Dare) and one indigenous nonbinary (Calisaylá). We paid homage to the diverse peoples who form the history of North America: indigenous peoples, people from Africa & West Indies, British, French, and Spanish. All too often people have a tendency to over-simplify our history and our fictions, rather than showing the tensions and the multiplicities within it, and we wanted to embrace that instead. The Magimundi is for everyone, even though it's not a utopia.

2. I'm excited because this game is designed for mixed groups of gamers. All-too-often we can get into conflicts by identifying as *either* a "gamer" or a "hard-core gamer" or a "casual gamer" or a "non-gamer." We, as a gaming community, can gatekeep in these ways, subtly asking "are you one of us?" One of the ways we do this is by designing games that are more complex and have a lot of rules to master, or that take a long time to learn. Some gamers look down on casual games as not being challenging enough, and even make fun of these games and the people who play them. It can be difficult to prove your credibility as a gamer, and some gamers don't want to take the time to include newer gamers to their gaming groups. House Rivalry is designed as a bridge game. It's complex enough that the more hard-core gamers have something they can do and enjoy. There are multiple strategies and different tactics to manage your resources, choose your actions, and use the variable player powers of your character and House. However, the game is easy-to-learn, and there are lots of party game elements, especially in the Clubs. What this makes House Rivalry really good for are mixed groups of gamers: the hard core and the casual and the in-between. It's a great game to get people together and to play when you don't have the time to teach a complicated new system, but you want some strategy. It blends luck and strategy in a way that feels satisfying to all levels of gamers. For me, getting different groups of gamers of varying abilities and credibilities around the table is a great aspect of the game, and one I'm most proud of and excited about.


Tasty tasty board game bits.
What were the greatest challenges mechanically for making a themed game that is appealing for mixed groups?

The greatest challenge was finding the balance between being easy-to-learn, but also having depth and strategies that are not necessarily apparent to the casual gamer. We know that frequent gamers prefer strategy and meaningful choices, which should mean that if you play well, you will win. Casual gamers are more tolerant of luck and randomness in a game; too much "swing" and a hardcore gamer will not want to play. One of the things that our developer, Mike Young, did so well was apply math to the game, figuring out the "worth" of each action, and balancing the effects of cards so that when you took a calculated risk, you got a calculated reward. Another thing is the balance of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Everyone has been to school in their lives, so they have some idea of how it works. You take classes (only so many at a time) and you study to improve your grade, or do extra work to finish the course faster. So the actions of Enroll and Study are pretty intuitive, and easy to pick up even for young players. The third action, Conjure, is when you use some resources in your hand to your advantage. This is where the hardcore gamers love to evaluate the different resources they have, and calculate the effects of them based on their turns and time. More casual gamers might choose a Conjure just because they like the art, or because they want to say "take that" to a rival. Either way, because the game is carefully balanced, the effects are going to be similar. A good player will be able to prioritize and stack these resources to greater effect, but a new player can just throw some spells and make things happen. 

We also designed the game with some party mechanics that each player has choice over playing. This is done with our Clubs, which were a new addition to Dylan's game idea. About one-third of the Clubs include roleplaying party mechanics to earn (or lose!) House Points for the RP. These include singing while in Kokopelli's Choir, whispering while in the secret society Obsidian Circle, and starting every utterance with "Wrong!" while you're in Debate Club. Those who love this sort of thing enroll in those clubs and have a great time with it! Others have to catch them messing up, which is fun. If these active, party mechanics are not your jam, you're not required to enroll in those clubs, and can instead get your club requirement through another club, such as Crossed Wands Club, where you manage your time and resources in a more traditional manner.

What we wanted was to hit the "sweet spot" where the casual gamers could learn to play quickly and have fun, and the hardcore gamers could see the layers and strategize toward victory at the same time. That means the game has to be seemingly simple and surprisingly complex, accessible as you learn, and then a later epiphany of "oh! I see how this works!" after playing a few times. The game introduces casual gamers to the concept of resource management and variable player powers, but moves along quickly with a series of rounds that include chance-based mechanics such as the Magischola deck, which keeps the hardcore strategists from necessarily running away with it in a mixed group. Definitely a tough balance, but our playtesting shows that we've done a pretty good job! (there's a quote on our Father Geek review that sums this up rather nicely).

The school crest. They've got turtles, y'all.
How did you integrate the fiction and themes into the mechanics? Did you leave anything specific out that might feature in other formats?

Ha! Yes, the Magimundi is really deep, and there was no way to include all the elements into this game. One thing we had to leave out that I wish could have had more play is the presence of the House Founders of New World Magischola. It's one of my favorite parts of the lore, and where the inclusive nature of the world and its engagement with North America's Colonial past comes through. Otherwise, the game is 2-5 players because there are 5 houses of New World Magischola, and you play by House. We had to name the actions taken by the players to feel like something they would do in magic school. Enroll and Study are definitely school actions, but they're also rather mundane. The third action was originally called "Dominate" but that didn't feel very magical, and it also felt too punitive or hyper-competitive for the feel of the game. It took us a while to come up with Conjure, but that has the magical feel of casting spells or using the magical artifacts at your disposal, which either help you along magically, or hex your rivals. There are definitely some easter eggs on the cards for those who are more familiar with the world or the larp. Things like the Wendignado card, which is a reference to the tornado that hit our location during the inaugural larp -- while students were in the woods casting elemental wind spells against a wendigo. Rather than call one of the cards "Sugar Rush," it's called "Hot Fudge in the Dining Hall," which was a refrain in our third run as participants discovered the chocolatey goodness was available at every meal, and began to top everything with it. We had created a lot of creatures and lore, so the wizard courses are the actual NWM curriculum, as well as the clubs. The creatures expansion are all from our book, the Compendium of North American Cryptids & Magical Creatures. 

A photo from the New World Magischola larp, the inspiration behind the board game.
What motivated designing a board/card game for Magischola - why move away from roleplaying?

We realized that a lot of people loved the world we created, the lore we had built, and the creatures we'd imagined. We own this work as an intellectual property, so leveraging it into multiple media makes sense. We're already at work on a collaborative storytelling board game, also set in the Magimundi, but with completely different play. We definitely aren't moving away from roleplaying as a company! This game has a roleplaying element, the next one does to an even greater extent, and we have two (maybe three!) RPG scenarios coming out in 2018! The world is rich with opportunity so we wanted to have the chance to tell stories within it in a variety of ways. We also realized that we have a lot of fans who can't attend the premium larp experiences, but want to interact with the world. It's definitely been a challenge! We're newcomers to the board game industry and trying to gain a foothold. But it's a huge market, if we can successfully break in! We want others to know about the Magimundi!

Larpers at a Magischola event repping their house. :)
Tell me about the role of competitiveness in New World Magischola: House Rivalry. What made you choose to make a competitive game? How does it further the goals that you have for the game, and the stories you want to tell? 

This is a tough one! I consulted with Ben to answer this one, to talk through my feelings about it, because it's complicated. One of the things people wanted from their magic school experience at New World Magischola larps, was the kind of fierce competition for House Points that they had seen in the Harry Potter books and films. While neither I nor my partner Ben Morrow are very competitive people (and our larp design is based around consent, cooperation, and relationships), our players were motivated by the competitive aspect of the First House Trophy. It drove a great deal of enthusiasm, creating an external motivation for taking an interest in their magic school classes and engaging in plot that could lead to a points reward. Also, getting recognition feels good, and the adrenaline rush that can come from healthy competition also feels good.

Dylan's initial idea for the game, long before he met Ben and me, was to capture the feel of being at magic school, and helping your House win the day. When he made his pitch to us, we knew that the competitive play for points was a motivating force for many of our players, and we thought that offering that kind of feeling through a board game would make the game feel like the magic school experience that they had read about, and had been waiting to experience for quite some time. Since the object of the game is to win the First House Trophy, this game is not the most ideal generator of stories, but it does share our world. Players can look at Jax Slager's card and wonder about their story, and Jax does have a fairly big story waiting to be discovered in some of the other media that's forecoming. Similarly, our magical creatures book can give players more info about the Ghost Helicoprion when they see its tooth whorl on a Conjure card. Ultimately, we wanted to entertain, and we're hoping that our game's content and artwork invites the curious to find out more about our magical world, and the stories within it. The *next* game, already in development, is very collaborative and storytelling-based, akin to Mice & Mystics.

What is your house, what's your favorite spell, and why? :)

Now, I'm the organizer and designer! I can't have a favorite House! But I will say that I test into Calisaylá, with Laveau close behind. Favorite spell? Hmmm. A young person at Gen Con created and cast a "Fair Wages" spell. I think that one is pretty awesome. If I could cast "Fair Wages" and "Universal Health Care" on everyone, I would. Otherwise, I really like Pàgakwàn (PAH-guh-kwahn), which is from the Algonquin, and creates a protective shield against physical attacks. 

Go check it out now!

Thank you SO much to Maury for this fantastic(al) interview! I'm excited to see more from Magischola, and hope you'll all check out the Kickstarter today! Share this interview with your friends, too, so more people can read and enjoy. <3 

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