Salvo Guastella, founder and lead designer of StarSeeker Games joins Diagonal Move to discuss his new game, Fox on the Run, and the StarSeeker universe.
DM: Thank you for joining us today Salvo. How did you get started in board game design?
SG: There wasn’t a specific point in time when I began making games. As a child, I would invent simple games to play with my friends and I just never stopped. The games became more detailed with more elements to them. Over the years, the way I make games has evolved into a process.
Essentially, this is series of steps that take me from the first idea through to a formal project. It includes everything from my initial notes to writing the rules. I have made many games this way, mainly to play with family and friends.
In 2018, I decided to ‘go public’ and formally publish a game. That game was ‘Brawlings’ which was released via StarSeeker Games in 2019. Later this year, I will be working with BeeZarre Games to publish ‘Fox on the Run’ via Kickstarter.
DM: Can you tell us more about your design process?
SG: When I work on a game, I try to create what I call ‘modules’. These are elements within the game that I can use to form patterns or structures.
For example, within Brawlings, the module is the number three. Brawlings is a card game and the cards are grouped into multiples. Three colours, three types of monster. Doing this helps me to balance all the elements within a game.
Brawlings is a fighting game that began as an attempt to make a chaotic game. There were many versions, but this idea of chaos intrigued me. Over time a mechanic based on this idea developed.
I also like to tell a story with my games. As the mechanic progressed and I introduced the idea of monsters fighting, I began to wonder ‘why were they fighting?’ and ‘where do these creatures come from?’. Maybe they were creatures brought from another dimension brought into the world by a magician.
I am originally from Syracuse, in Sicily, which is the birthplace of the scientist, Archimedes. It occurred to me that it would be a nice tribute to my city and to Archimedes to include him in the StarSeeker Games shared universe.
DM: Are all your games part of the StarSeeker Games shared universe?
SG: Almost all my games fit within the same broad timeline. Archimedes, for example, appears in the background for Brawlings and will also appear in another game that is currently in development. Some of the Brawlings themselves, the creatures, also appear in my other games. Fox on the Run and a late stage prototype called Crossbones also inhabit this shared universe.
Where everything fits is not yet finalised. I’m currently fleshing out the details. What it is allowing me to do is provide continuity between games. Characters will appear in different games yet will retain certain traits and characteristics. This will be true whether they appear in a card game, a role play game or an action game.
It’s a work in progress. There are so many ideas for it in my head. I’m trying to write the background stories at the moment but I don’t want to force anything.
As much as I am inspired by these shared ideas, I am not limiting myself to them. I may have a mechanic, or even a complete game, that doesn’t have a place in the universe. If I create new characters, I will try to find a place for them, but I will not make them fit.
One of the good things about a universe is that I can set games at different time periods within it. Maybe the events depicted in Brawlings happened a thousand years before the events in Crossbones. The pirates in Crossbones may only know of Brawlings through their history books. Locations can be shared. The Mannix Forest from Fox on the Run also features in Crossbones. The universe provides inspiration and allows a lot of creative freedom.
DM: Crossbones sounds intriguing. How did it begin and at what stage of development is it currently at?
SG: Crossbones began life in 2017. I was on the way home from work and I thought to myself ‘I’ve never made a game about pirates!’.
It wasn’t an idea for a specific game or even a mechanic. I just knew I wanted to make a game about pirates. So, I began to ask myself: ‘If I were a pirate, what would I want to do? How would I want to feel playing a game about pirates?’
The answer was that I would want to attack my opponents and steal things. Or, maybe I would want to build a reputation by finding treasure. I wanted all these elements, these feelings in the game.
I researched the history of piracy and particularly referenced a book called ‘A Brief History of Piracy’. Blackbeard and Bartholomew Roberts were both in there. I used the history of these real pirates to inform the mechanics of my fictional pirate game.
Crossbones is currently is nearly finished. I’m happy with it but I am concentrating on the forthcoming release of Fox on the Run for now.
DM: How does Fox on the Run play?
SG: Fox on the Run is an asymmetrical game for two to four players. There are two factions, Foxes and Guardians, and players work together to control characters in their faction.
The story is that two foxes, Scarlet and Indigo, are lost in the Mannix Forest. They are on the run from Zev, a wolf, and Puffer, a badger. Together Zev and Puffer are known as Guardians. Indigo and Scarlett are trying to find each other in the forest before they are caught by Zev and Puffer.
The board is comprised of 25 directional tiles that start the game face down. Each turn a character will move to a new tile. If the tile revealed, movement stops. However, a previously revealed path tile may force the character to move again. They may have to follow the path to a new location.
After movement, there is then the option of using their character’s special ability as a second action. These are unique to the characters. Indigo is quick so can move diagonally. Zev can reveal tiles around him.
The game ends when either Indigo is captured, Scarlet and Indigo finish a turn on the same tile, or all directional tiles are revealed.
Fox on the Run is a game about working together to create paths for characters to follow. It’s an abstract game but one with plenty of player interaction. There needs to be communication between teammates to do well.
DM: Brawlings was self-published. How do you feel about the move to Kickstarter for Fox on the Run?
SG: The Kickstarter is going to be a collaboration between StarSeeker Games and BeeZarre Games. I met the owners, Giuseppe and Nicole at a convention in Italy. They liked Fox on the Run so much that they agreed to work on the Kickstarter with me.
From my point of view, this was fantastic. BeeZarre Games have already had a successful Kickstarter with their game, Venture. They are bringing all the knowledge and experience gained from that campaign to Fox on the Run.
Running a campaign is a complex and daunting process. It’s tiring – when I finish my day job, I jump straight into work on the campaign – and it’s a risk. Kickstarter is always a risk. As a small company, I don’t think that it is a step that I would have been able to take without the support I am receiving from BeeZarre.
Having said that, I am enjoying the process and the planning needed to keep track of the great many moving parts. I’m also finding that there is such satisfaction to be gained from seeing the project take shape.
DM: How will StarSeeker Games stand out from larger companies publishing via Kickstarter?
SG: StarSeeker and BeeZarre have built up small but dedicated followings from the work we have done on Brawlings and Venture.
We had planned to be at most of the major conventions both in the UK and Italy prior to launching the Kickstarter, however, the coronavirus crisis has forced us to change the approach.
We are now providing lots of media content for our existing fanbases, through social media and our websites. I like to share how I work with my Instagram followers, the ideas that I have in all stages of development. I try to be open in that way.
The goal is to get a game out there that people play. To build trust between StarSeeker Games and our backers. Trust is key. If we can build trust, people will be willing to support us, and we can then make more games.
And that is the point: to make games. It’s not about making money; it’s about making games. Knowing that there are people out there who enjoy the games I create is amazing.
Fox on the Run is coming to Kickstarter in June 2020