As part of our October Spotlight on Periorbis, we strive to inform readers of little extra tidbits surrounding the game. Games are made by people, and one of those tidbits we enjoy is learning a little bit more about the people behind them. Some designers shy away from the public stage, while others enjoy being front and center.
In the case of Periorbis, we luckily only had to go as far as London to find out the state of this asteroid mining exercise. Which is wayyyyy more convenient than having to arrange for yet another interstellar relay transmission. (Seriously, our communications bills this year are, well, astronomical.) Thankfully, rather than having to deal with chatting with folks on a distant mining platform constantly on the move, London by contrast is a bit more static. Relatively speaking. And it was there we found Jase Allan, one of the co-designers of the worker placement asteroid game Periorbis.
And when you think about it, it probably makes more sense that the guys running the whole operation would more likely be at headquarters than out doing the drilling themselves.
Of course, that’s not to say they haven’t been busy. Doing work is, ultimately, what the game is all about.
In Periorbis, players are representing newly formed mining companies who have decided to set up shop in a not-too-distant asteroid field. Your goal – naturally – is to be the most successful of these companies after a dozen or so rounds.
Attaining this profit is easier said than done, however, as the asteroids you’re trying to harvest from are constantly in orbit, drifting in and out of your available range to reach them and bring their valuable minerals to market. In addition, unlike a normal worker placement game, Periorbis includes the use of specialized workers who will provide you extra benefits if they’re used for the action they’re adept at. As a result, the best miners will be those who know how to leverage their assets and adequately plan for the future market accordingly.
It also helps when designing board games too. Or so we were told by Jase and the Perihelion crew when we sat down to talk about the parallels between producing a game and spearheading a lucrative outer space conglomerate. Some of which we share with you today. Enjoy!
Round One Questions
CR: What was your Gateway Game?
This is a hard one. I’ve been playing board games and computer games from very young. I guess there are two very different games that I would class as my Gateway Game. Firstly, from a pure strategy point of view it would be Chess as I played this lots and lots in my school years and even entered competitions. But from a more fun perspective it would be Axis and Allies (although now I hate playing games that have too much chance in them!).
CR: What was the last game you really enjoyed playing (besides Periorbis)?
That’s a tricky one to decide as there are a few games I love to play. This may be a bit old school, but I had a great game of Power Grid (with the North America map) a few sessions ago. My main problem these days is getting time with my buddies to sit down for a few hours so we don’t get that much opportunity to continually play new games.
CR: How big is your game collection?
It’s reasonable: I have about 55 games. I’m lucky in that my group of friends all buy games, so between us all we have a pretty decent collection. The games that get the most play are probably Terra Mystica, Power Grid, Caylus and that classic Puerto Rico!
CR: What is your favorite type of game to play?
I like a variety of game types, but I would say that worker placement mixed with economics is my preferred game style. I’m a math guy at heart and love to plan ahead. It’s safe to say that I avoid games that have lots of dice rolling for outcomes…but my arm can be twisted if there is enough top class sipping rum (something over 12 years) at the meet.
CR: How do you feel about Monopoly?
Urgh….Well, if you’re talking normal rules that is. But I do like a variety that can be played for real money – pence that is, not pounds. It lets you cash out early and stops players paying silly amounts to complete a street. You need to decide how much you want to invest and if you think you’ll get it back over time. Much better than winner-take-all in my opinion!
CR: Given the game’s intricate focus on what it’d be like to mine asteroids, we’re assuming that concept developed early in the design process. How did that idea come about?
We pretty much came up with the asteroid mining theme right at the beginning. I think it was because as a development team we all like sci-fi (books, movies etc). There is a book by the sci-fi author Alastair Reynolds, Pushing Ice, which is about a crew who mine asteroids for ice and get caught up in something unexpected and alien. This is a fab read and probably one of the main inspirations. If you haven’t read it, put it at the top of your list now!
CR: The orbital movement mechanic is an intriguing idea to plan around. Was the final version the only iteration of this approach, or were there other attempts to illustrate asteroids moving?
Periorbis has gone through literally 1,000s of hours of test play. Part of this test time was that we had to figure out the timing and altitude for each asteroid to make the game work well and feel good to play. It’s not obvious, but each asteroid actually has its own elliptical orbit, so there is math behind the layout which, was then finessed for gameplay.
But to answer your question, the orbits in the final game are pretty different from the initial test concepts. We experimented with a deck of cards, but wanted to be able to see and plan well ahead. We also messed about with having pins that moved around the board a bit like battleships, but that just took too long and interfered with the gameplay.
CR: What was the inspiration for inclusion of specialized workers in Periorbis?
We wanted the game to have lots of depth and variability. Having specialized workers can make the game daunting on the first play, but after that initial learning hump it gives Periorbis great replayability and subtlety as you decide how to build your crew. It also means that players don’t all follow the same strategy, and that they need to adapt their play for each new game to respond to which cards come out. We were actually thinking about adding another specialist – the Pirate – who could steal the ore of your competitors, but the game was already getting big enough!
CR: What would you say is your personal favorite special worker ability?
That’s a hard one; it’s like asking which of my children is my favorite! But if I have to pick, I find an Engineer can really help grease the wheels in a game. It can help you build mines and crew space more cheaply and convert science into upgrades for a little less cost. If you accumulate this over a game, it can really give you a good edge. But it is a mining game at heart and it’s pretty tough to win without getting some of that ore out of the asteroid. So when that good miner hits the labor market everyone makes a grab for it!
CR: You mentioned in the Kickstarter that the game deliberately decreased luck as a factor. How important was that to get the game to play the way you wanted? (That is, why was luck a problem?)
Very! Nothing vexes me more when I spend time playing a game, trying to strategize and think ahead, only to be confounded by a run of unlucky dice rolls! The amount of time my tanks have been held back by infantry in Axis & Allies has scarred me.
There is still a fair bit of randomness in Periorbis (i.e. types of workers available and cargo ships), but it affects all the players equally and, importantly, there is plenty of room for you to interfere with other players – which is lucky or unlucky depending on if you are receiving or giving!
CR: Periorbis has undergone a few name changes over its lifespan. What sort of extra challenges go into renaming a game not once, but twice?
Initially the game was called Asteroid Miner. Even naming it first time around we played with a few names. Rock-hopper and Astro-Miner were names that we were fond of. We settled for Asteroid Miner as we felt it quickly told you that the game was going to be space based and it pretty much gave you the game concept. Before we actually went live, we checked for other developers that had used the name. We found one who had used the name for an unsuccessful game and, as you do, reached out to them. We thought they were fine with us using Asteroid Miner.
However, partway through our successful Kickstarter campaign we were hit with a trademark on the name – or to be precise a ‘pending trademark’. Who’s to say what triggered this. The success of our Kickstarter campaign? A genuine misunderstanding? Or something else. Whatever the reason may have been, it was a kick in the crown jewels.
So we paused and regrouped. Eager to avoid this situation again, we renamed it Periorbis. It’s a made up word based on Peri being Greek for ‘close’ and Orbis being Latin for ‘orbit/circle’. The chances of another game with the same name would be…astronomical.
We then had to deal with the fact that the test copies for review had the old name, but all the reviewers kindly updated their websites. We still have the issue of the original review videos using the Asteroid Miner name, but such is life!
CR: Like many, Periorbis had a much better crowdfunding campaign on its second time around. What do you feel was the biggest contributor to the relaunch’s success?
I think the community really responded to the position we were put in. When they understood what happened, I think it actually helped us get more support. So in a way, we should probably be thankful!
CR: Finally, be honest: how many Armageddon-related references have been made during the game’s development? We’re refusing to believe it’s zero…
Hahahaha! Sorry to be boring, but it never came up! It may have been that it was such an awful film that nobody wanted to mention it for fear of tainting Periorbis.
And in case Mr. Willis is reading this, we’re big fans of his other work!
Periorbis is a game that may be set in a fictionalized future, but the core mechanism of orbital movement and the inherent trickiness that’d be involved in navigating them are founded in legitimate scientific concepts. Which we’re always fans of.
To that end, we must confess that with our current technology, we aren’t able to help you start an interstellar mining corporation. Or land on an asteroid. Or start a corporation period. At best, we could help you Google what asteroids look like. Which probably doesn’t help much. But, well, if you haven’t looked up 704 Interamnia, you don’t know what you’re missing!
Tell you what though: we can’t send you into space physically. But we can via the power of board game immersion. And we’ll do that by giving a copy of Periorbis away. So let’s get to it!
Photo Credits: Periorbis cover and photos by Perihelion Games.