As part of our April Spotlight on Feudum, 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 Feudum’s energetic designer Mark Swanson, the issue of getting him to sit down and chat was mostly one of finding the time to do so. Because as it turns out, banks don’t accept board games as rent payment (we’ve tried), and scheduling time on the one phone within Feudom’s rustic landscape can be tricky.
Once we were able to get through though, it became clear in a hurry that the dedication and passion poured into making the rich and complex game of Feudum hadn’t at all hampered his enthusiasm about his inaugural title. Quite the opposite in fact. Channeling a lifelong appreciation for gaming and a desire to encapsulate many of the mechanics he’d come to adore in other Euro games, Mark set about a personal quest to create such a world, including innumerable hours of self-exile at the design table and extensive playtesting sessions. In a slightly meta sense, the result of those efforts became the Feudum we know: a game where players are forcibly cast off by an irascible queen into unknown and inhospitable lands to rebuild their lost reputation.
Turning a game from mere concept into a finished product is never an easy task, let alone one that has as many moving pieces as his inaugural game. Yet Mark’s persistence and devotion never wavered, resulting in a finished product he is quite happy to discuss. Which we of course immediately set out to do.
What follows is a short conversation with him about how many of the core game components came together, and perhaps, where they go from here. Enjoy!
Round One Questions
CR: What was your Gateway Game?
A lot of games all at once: Tigris & Euphrates, Ra, Puerto Rico, Settler of Catan.
CR: What was the last game you really enjoyed playing (besides Feudum)?
So many to choose: Goa, Voyages of Marco Polo, Terra Mystica, Caverna, Suburbia, Shogun
CR: How big is your game collection?
I haven’t counted. More than 100 for sure.
CR: What is your favorite type of game to play?
Well, my favorite mechanics are action programming (Wallenstein / Shogun, Maharaja), area control (El Grande) and worker placement (Caverna, Le Havre, Caylus), and I do like all of those games!
CR: How do you feel about Monopoly?
Hahaha. It was a game ahead of it’s time, for sure but there’s too much luck. About 50% luck according to statisticians. I actually played a lot of it before I discovered German-style Euros, and after that, it was hard to go back. Monopoly does reward negotiation and diplomacy though, which can be interesting.
CR: Feudum makes for a robust sandbox game in Euro form, including major mechanics such as action selection, area control, worker placement, and resource management. What were the challenges developing a game with so many moving pieces?
Some of the challenges included balancing multiple paths to victory mathematically while marrying form and function so that the theme felt integrated. It was a slow but rewarding process. Playtesting and refinement were essential.
CR: Justin Schultz brings a very distinct art style and flavor to the game. At what point did you know that you had found the look for your world?
I walked into an ice cream store called, “Sparky’s,” and saw a poster for a local band. It featured a whimsical monster coming over a hill, done in a unique etching style. I tracked down the artist on the internet and we became friends. His distinctive style of populating his art with monsters, reptiles and robots conjured up memories of children’s picture books, albeit slightly skewed. I learned that he liked to lure viewers in with ‘superficially charming images’, but then reveal something more heartbreaking or daunting upon closer inspection.
CR: The game’s primary vehicle is the difficultly deciding which action selection cards to use each round. Was this inspired from other games you’ve played before?
Yes. I was particularly inspired by the action programming in the games Maharaja and Shogun.
CR: Arguably the most innovative part of Feudum’s gameplay is the dynamic interaction between guild powers. How did you go about balancing the different guilds?
I made sure that every guild had the essential resources necessary to eke out your existence. If you think about it, all of the guilds have resources critical to gameplay, but you still have to prioritize based on your strategy. This weighty feeling of having lots of solid options was paramount to me during development. Hard decisions are the hallmark of any good Euro. Also, the quantity of resources in each guild and the mechanism to push, pull or acquire them all had to be reasonably balanced.
CR: To that same end, were there any other guilds that you had to remove from the game for one reason or another?
Early in game development I knew I wanted six archetypal medieval characters based on my six-side pawn mechanic, so there was never more than six guilds. However, the resources in the guilds and how they interacted with each other definitely evolved. I added sulfur later in the game to thematically justify the production of krud barrels (gunpowder), which inspired an alternative (and mirthful) way to nourish pawns at the end of a round.
CR: You’ve already created a handful of small expansions for Feudum, including new tiles, alternative action cards, seaside locations, and…squirrels? Were any of these initially included in the base game but removed, or were they always envisioned as add-on material?
They were all birthed as true expansions! This was one of the most enjoyable phases of the game. I personally do not like complex expansions that compete or detract from the main game engine. So, I tried to make expansions that were subtle, nuanced, and added just a hint of extra flavor.
CR: Similarly, thanks to the game’s adventuresome and open-ended world, it seems to leave plenty of design space for even more content. Are there currently more plans in the works to enjoy your exile?
For many, the game is already a bit overwhelming, haha, so I’m not rushing to do this….
However, there is one more expansion that involves a map expansion and two new guild characters that I’m really excited about.
CR: While it ultimately proved to be a success, what was going through your mind when you were gearing up to launch your inaugural title and first Kickstarter with such a heavy game?
Based on favorable playtests at Gen Con’s First Exposure Playtest Hall, I had a feeling that Feudum was going to attract attention. I realized that starting with a heavy game is a risky venture, but I wasn’t deterred by that. This is the game that I always wanted to invent, so I just went for it. But I must admit, I was quite surprised by the massive support and fan base it has generated. I am truly grateful for this!
CR: Finally, we’re really curious to know – is the behemoth actually evil? Or merely misunderstood?
There is tragic narrative that unfolds from rulebook to rulebook. I don’t want to give anything away, but you might be surprised to learn who the behemoth actually is. His name provides a clue…
Feudum is a hefty sandbox style game about coping with being kicked out of your beloved and ancestral homeland into a strange world where you have to start your life all over again. It’s a messy, complicated process that is bound to take a while. Luckily, Feudum has many things you can use to your advantage to rebuild your status, from expansive lands and resources to conveniently similar social institutions that you can use to your advantage. In this realm, you have ample opportunity to reshape your identity as you see fit. Perhaps you were a passive lord who’d like to regain fame by becoming a conquering knight. Or perhaps you were a freeloading layabout who’d like to embrace piety and serve from a position in the church. Perhaps still you’d like to make a name for yourself by going on a grand adventure and see far and wide what your new home truly looks like. All of these are possible in Feudum.
Whatever path you choose, however, there are two things to be mindful of. The first is that while the Queen may have kicked you and your kin out, that doesn’t mean she still isn’t keeping her eye on you. The second and more pertinent is that…how should we put this…there are some giant monsters roaming the land who may try to eat you whole.
We know, it’s kind of a bummer.
But thanks to the local travel board, we’ve been tasked with launching an expedition to find some of these creatures and study them in the hopes of either using them to our advantage or learning how to better keep out of their way. We’re still taking applicants for that, in fact. You can find out more about this process in a brochure that we’ve cleverly disguised as a game contest at the link below. But don’t dawdle – the expedition is almost ready to go!