As part of our September Spotlight on The Brigade, 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.
When it comes to designers Ben Hoban and Alex Wynnter, they are nothing if not excited about wanting to share with you their enthusiasm for their inaugural title, The Brigade. More than that, though, they have high hopes and ambitions that you are going to be immediately immersed into the world they’ve been crafting for quite some time. Emblematic of the notion that theme matters as much to a game’s resonance as its mechanics, Ben and Alex have been actively working on both fronts getting everything ready for its debut. As you’d expect, however, a lot of their efforts leading to this point have been putting out fires left and right.
Which in a way is rather fitting, given that’s what The Brigade is all about.
In this competitive firefighting game, everyone finds themselves the leader of rival fire houses. You want to become the town’s firefighting chief, so you must build up the loyalty of the denizens of the fantasy town of Tinderbox by putting out their uncontrolled entropic thermal problems. Mostly this is because a few years ago the Pyromancer’s University moved in and things around town have gotten a bit more, shall we say, explosive since. It seemed like a good idea at first, what with the local tax break, an influx of town commerce, and the opportunity to benefit from young talent, but it turns out Tinderbox has a propensity towards combustion. Go figure.
So, naturally, Ben and Alex have been quite busy getting all of that packaged in a box for you to enjoy – effectively making thousands of tiny little cardboard powder kegs (which we assume is a neighboring town). Compounding all of that is that these two eager designers have had to coordinate their fire-dousing and game creation efforts whilst on opposite sides of the globe. Thus we spent much of the month being able to get one the other, but finding a time to chat with both has been a logistical headache. Poor Claudius may have developed a complex because of it.
Thankfully we were able to finally pull it off, getting both men to sit and chat about their hot new creation. They were more than willing to provide some details about the game and their plans for further exploration into the lands around Tinderbox, and that’s what we’re sharing with you here today. And since we can’t be sure how long they have before something flares up again, let’s get right to it.
Round One Questions
CR: What was your Gateway Game?
Ben: Talisman maybe? I think I started with Fighting Fantasy Books in the 80’s. I’m quite old.
Alex: Stratego was the game my father taught me how to play (after Chess) and was the one I started to think strategically in.
CR: What was the last game you really enjoyed playing (besides The Brigade)?
Alex: I enjoy all games. I use them as professional development, so even if the game isn’t as good as other games it’s a learning thing. I enjoy speculating how it could be improved to make sure my games don’t follow the same pattern.
Ben: I enjoy anything that gets my daughters to the table; we have been getting down to some Arcadia Quest of late which has been fun. I’m also playtesting a dungeon crawl card game with an Italian designer at the local board game meetups which has been really fun.
CR: How big is your game collection?
Ben: Not very, I only rediscovered the hobby five years ago and started buying up all the old GW [Games Workshop] games I used to play with my friends, before I realized that there were 20 years of better games out there. I mostly have games that my kids can play.
Alex: Mine on the other hand is embarrassingly big at the moment. I am trying to cull down because we need the space.
CR: What is your favorite type of game to play?
Alex: I like a game that doesn’t go longer then an hour and has a wide range of free choice. Luckily I am in the age where these games are the ones being designed.
CR: How do you feel about Monopoly?
Ben: It’s great until you know better. I still remember epic games with the family as a kid, as crappy a game as it is, it has the ingredients of luck, player interaction and (limited) decision making that are key to the experience. As long as it sets the bar low for getting people into board games, I’m all for it.
Alex: It also turns them against each other and makes people hate the hobby, haha.
On The Brigade
CR: There have been a couple firefighting games prior to The Brigade, but this is one with a partially semi co-op angle to it. Was that always the intent from the beginning of its design, or did that evolve gradually?
Alex: It did start off a fair bit more competitive so I guess it did evolve that way. It was fairly easy to create the co-op rules given the theme / setting.
Ben: It’s less co-op than you think, though. It’s rare that players will be putting out fires for the greater good of avoiding an evacuation. The game was always meant to be competitive. I guess it’s the nature of the theme that the board might burn away eventually!
CR: The Brigade taps into the idea of private firehouses, which was how firefighting operated in many places prior to the advent of them becoming a public service. Did you research that during the development of the game?
Ben: The game was inspired by a sixty second scene in Gangs of New York…so in as much as that film was an accurate depiction of private fire brigades, then yes – thoroughly researched!
Alex: I did actually start researching a bit for design purposes, I looked at the old plaques buildings had to symbolize which insurance company was protecting what. Also old fire helmets and equipment.
CR: From a curiosity / worldbuilding perspective, which came first: the Pyromancer’s University or the town of Tinderbox around it? Because it seems like living in Tinderbox is just a self-fulfilling prophecy waiting to happen, no?
Ben: Tinderbox came first by a long shot. The University was started 25 only years ago after the events of Ruby Twosday. All the details of that are actually filled out in the stories that accompany the upcoming Tinderbox Tales games.
CR: What aspect of The Brigade are you most proud of?
Alex: I love the overall design and artwork and integration with the stories in the Lore Book. Countless hours were spent creating all the frames and icons for the cards. Like a lot of things, the design and look is a little taken for granted, but I am very proud of what we have created.
Ben: I think the theme. It was a moment of inspiration, but I’m proud to be the first to combine fantasy and firefighting. In a very busy genre it’s tough to come up with something original that also works.
CR: Town tiles that aren’t saved are removed from the game. Although it’s the major loss condition, have you ever played with anyone who deliberately, shall we say, decided to watch the world burn?
Ben: Thankfully not to date. There are a couple of crew members that can really help spread the flames though if that is the tactic. I guess if you get them early on that might be the way to go, but it’s a hard balance to strike as you still need to have the most value in loyal tiles when it all goes up.
Alex: Yes! I have that one chaotic friend that just likes to hassle people. There are a couple of crew members that help set things on fire (for the purpose of saving them again) and he will find that one guy and wreak havoc.
CR: The Brigade is one of the most successful Australian-based Kickstarters for board games (5th most in backers, 7th most by funds). What sort of unique challenges are there to running a campaign from Australia, and how did you address those to reach your level of success?
Ben: To be honest, I’ve been living in Spain for two years, so the biggest challenge for me was liaising with Alex. I thought having the campaign in Australian Dollars but advertising the price in US Dollars would have caused more confusion than it did, but I guess the backers are used to it. I am moving back to Australia at the end of this year, so the biggest challenge I foresee will be trying to answer comments around the clock like we have been able to do with me in Spain. I guess we will be looking for US and EU collaborators to manage the community side of the campaign to plug that gap.
CR: The Brigade simmers with flavor. Assuming the town doesn’t burn town, do you have future plans for the denizens in and around Tinderbox?
Ben: A big future. We are establishing The Vague World, starting with The Brigade, which will be home to the ongoing range of games. The flavor and fluff of Tinderbox is thanks to our writers Ivan Nevill and Ben Harnwell, and we’re already expanding that world significantly in the upcoming Tinderbox Tales – a series of 3 smaller games coming to Kickstarter Oct 9th.
Some of the characters from The Brigade pop up again, but a lot of the characters are new and there are three short stories that really fill out the setting with history, politics and backstories, all in the comedic fantasy style we built up in The Brigade. Based on the scene and setting, we have had a lot of designers contributing games that fit within the Vague World vibe. We’re already looking forward to expanding to the neighboring towns of Steel, Flint and Haystack…
CR: Finally, just from an HR perspective, is there anything stopping any of the fire houses from hiring an aquamancer? Because we imagine if they’re looking for a substantial advantage, they could seriously clean up with a water mage…
Ben: Well you can get a water elemental on staff, but the aquamancers in general are still bitter about being overlooked by King Pewbert when he declared the 8 official schools of magic allowed in Tinderbox. So you wouldn’t see most of them anywhere near the place.
Even if you don’t become the next fire chief, the town of Tinderbox is likely going to need continual help to prevent it from becoming a highly pretty pile of ash. It’s not an easy profession, but it’s a rewarding one, if for nothing else than you can ensure your own house stays standing. The town needs champions to deal with all this collateral damage – will you be that person?
So what say you? Do you have what it takes to join The Brigade and become a hero of Tinderbox? The job openings are heating up! And as part of the application process, we’re going to select one lucky person to be given a simulated firefighting test in the form of a copy of The Brigade. We just need to find a candidate with the right tempera…ment.
Photo Credits: The Brigade cover and photos by Red Genie Games.