As part of our July Spotlight on Dark Dealings, we strive to inform the 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 game designer Michael Kelley, he is getting an accelerated crash course in having the spotlight turned on him, with not one but two games debuting within months of one another. Such things have the potential to be overwhelming, but Michael has opted to simply roll with it and enjoy the inaugural ride with a bit of humility and an even temperament about what lies in store down the road.
For a pair of games that are about dark settings, Mr. Kelley remains markedly upbeat about his arrival on the gaming scene. It’s a little weird, albeit in a good way.
Of course, that optimism won’t help him, nor the annoying do-gooders, in Dark Dealings. See, in those lands, being upbeat and outgoing leads you to do silly things like storm the castles of the local evil overlords, who are merely trying to subdue and dominate everyone within their realm. Those challenging their draconian rule are dealt with, often painfully, and it just creates a whole lot of extra stress for both sides. Not to mention the inordinate amount of cleanup that goes into scraping former heroes out of spike pits.
So no, Michael won’t be visiting that realm anytime soon – though he’ll of course advocate visiting when you have a chance. Instead, he was gracious enough to sit down to chat with us in a more neutral setting, one that wouldn’t inspire him to attempt singlehandedly overthrowing tyrannical dictators wielding magical powers.
At least, we think that will deter him…
Time will tell on that one. Anyhow, Enjoy!
Round One Questions
CR: What was your Gateway Game?
I used to love watching my older brothers play D&D and the White Wolf RPGs. But my first memorable foray into hobby board-gaming was HeroQuest. Still a classic.
CR: What was the last game you really enjoyed playing (besides Dark Dealings)?
CR: How big is your game collection?
I keep it pretty tight compared to many of my game group friends. I trade and sell frequently. At the moment I’m probably around 45 or 50 games, but I’d like to sell off at least 10 of those.
CR: What is your favorite type of game to play?
Hard to say. I love solo games, love cooperative games with my wife, enjoy hidden role games like The Resistance…
CR: How do you feel about Monopoly?
We played it recently! And with the correct rules (using auctions, no money from free parking, etc.). It was less terrible than the endless games of my childhood, but still took three hours. So, not a big fan.
On Dark Dealings
CR: In Dark Dealings, you play as the evil overlords trying to stop the heroes. What prompted you to root for the bad guys this time around?
I love dungeon crawlers, and I’ve always been attracted to the role reversal of playing the bad guy in some games. Dungeon Keeper is an old favorite PC game, and I also really like Dungeon Lords, so it was a naturally attractive theme.
CR: Do you have a particular hero that you always enjoy thwarting, or a favorite defense card? After all, some prefer elaborate spells. Others go with simple pits full of spikes…
My favorite class of hero is the Wizard, for a few reasons. First of all, almost everyone else (including Peter and Bryan [of Nevermore Games]) hate and avoid them, but I actively seek them out. If you can properly place them in order, and prepare for them, they are incredibly easy to defeat with very low armor.
CR: Dark Dealings is a vastly different game in tone and scope than your other 2016 game release, Salvation Road. Did you end up designing them at the same time, or is that more of a coincidence? Did they have any impact on one another?
We got AJ [Porfirio] interested in Salvation Road a full year before Dark Dealings, and it had already been in design at least six months before that. Dark Dealings didn’t start getting designed until several months after Salvation Road was basically “done”, except for minor tweaking. I’m not sure if they had any influence on each other, except that both had solo rules, and I was sure I wanted to make a light card game after the moderate-sized Salvation Road.
CR: Artist Rob Lundy does a great job bringing the game to life. How closely does his artistic approach match your initial concept of the game?
When I put together prototypes to show off, I used Chibi-style big headed anime heroes. Rob’s approach captured a bit of this spirit but also added his own unique style instead of simply copying the Japanese genre.
CR: Creating games under 30 minutes can often be difficult to design while retaining replayability. What would you say is the main trait that lends to Dark Dealings’ staying power?
It’s a game that has a fair amount of randomness in what heroes and defenses come out and in how your opponents bid. There also isn’t one “perfect” way to stack your heroes or bid. Having a barbarian early one game, and last in another, could be the right call depending on how things fall out. All of this makes each game a different experience. But more importantly, the game is highly skill-based, with some memory elements. I’ve never had a super “easy” game, where I coasted through winning easily, so the mental challenge always keeps it fresh for me.
The second half of the game, when you fight the heroes, has remained virtually unchanged since my very first prototype. But the drafting and bidding went through many iterations and used to slow down the game terribly. At one point it took 45 minutes to an hour to play one game, with money tokens and complicated bidding rules. Simplifying and streamlining the first half of the game was the big challenge for a while in the design process.
CR: The game did phenomenally well on Kickstarter, with almost 3,000 backers. What was your reaction to the campaign when it was all set and done?
I was incredibly pleased and humbled by the outpouring of support. It was a welcome change from the Salvation Road campaign, which looked like it might not fund during the middle of the campaign. With Dark Dealings, I was able to have fun engaging with the backers, instead of stressing out and anxiously looking for any way to drum up support.
CR: Finally, tell us: what is your favorite in-game Dark Dealings moment to date? A last-second win? A catastrophic loss? Do tell…
Catastrophic loss, without a doubt. I was teaching the game to 5 new players, and I stressed to them that you shouldn’t expect to defeat all eight heroes at first, that surviving as long as they could was still considered a success. And of course the whole time I was giving off the vibe that they might die, but I was sure as heck going to run the gauntlet.
And then I was defeated by my very first hero, a single-vulnerability thief that I had unwisely saved till the end, and then had then failed to draft a single defense that could target him. Every other player lasted a while, but I was out on the first round!
With all of these heroes running around, we knew it was only a matter of time until one of them succeeded at taking out one of the provincial rulers. Now these insufferable champions of the downtrodden have greater ambitions of stopping the entire Council of Evil Overlords. Of course, the bad guys don’t want to that to happen. So they reached out to their dark and eldritch masters, who reached out to a PR firm, who reached out to us.
What? We follow a lot of newsletters.
It would seem that they’re looking for new blood – possibly literally – to join their ranks at fending off a new wave of emboldened heroes. They’re putting out a call to see who is willing to help their fellow nefarious kind keep the good guy down by calling all overlords. Think of it as an evil doer job posting.
We hear that the role comes with unbridled power, your own dungeon, as many indentured zombies as you’d need, and the ability to rule over entire countries with an iron resolve. Plenty of benefits. Must be willing to relocate, however, and experience making demonic bargains are a plus. To be sure we don’t waste anyone’s time down at Inhuman Resources, you better be sure you know what you’re getting into. To that end, we’ll even help you test out the role by providing a copy of Dark Dealings as a form of…let’s call it simulation. Come sign up for grand new opportunities!
Photo Credits: Dark Dealings cover and artwork by Nevermore Games.