We got to ask Keith Franks questions about Spirits of Carter Mansion, game development and much more.
The game looks fantastic and we have just backed it. We haven’t played many social deduction games, but this really appealed to me. Spirit’s of Carter Mansion had received a lot of positive feedback. What do you think makes the game stand out from other similar games?
Spirits of Carter Mansion is really light, and it does a lot to remove the negatively perceived aspects in the Social Deduction Genre. So that people that aren’t really into those kind of games, can still find ways to enjoy this. Here’s the usual list of things I quote when showing off how the game is unique:
- No player elimination
- No Day/Night phase
- Choose your own alignment
- Change your own alignment, or force others to change
- No penalty for coming out as Evil
- Possibility of full co-operative victory
- 16 Unique gorgeously illustrated rooms
How long did it take to develop and play test the game, and were there any major gameplay changes from what we see now?
Once Castles of Caleira funded in March 2018, I already had the idea for the game. I had a prototype that was basically broken, but the ideas were there. It took several iterations to find a space where the game didn’t just have a “lock-down” state, like for example we initially had players voting for what room, instead of a spirit guide. Which could be forced into a tie everytime, and accomplish nothing. The game is so much smoother now, and it lets players focus on each other, not tiny mechanical interactions!
A lot of these types of games are for larger groups of people. I imagine designing a social deduction game that can be played with just 3 players comes with challenges. Could you tell us a little bit about that, and was it always going to be for smaller groups?
The design brief was basically 18 cards, 3 per player + 3 set up cards gives us 18 cards at 5 players. So we worked with the assumption the game would be small, when playing Spirits of Carter Mansion, there becomes an established meta of player behaviour, and in a small player count game it becomes super interesting, because if you are looking to win, you often have to deviate and try new strategies. Which makes the game fresh and interesting.
The art for the game looks phenomenal and I love the theme. What came first the concept for the mechanics or an idea for the theme?
Spirits of Carter Mansion was always going to be a Social Deduction Haunted House game, I had the haunted house theme lined up already, and I was keen to do Social Deduction because of a few influencing games I had been playing During the launch of Castles of Caleira. When playing these games I noticed a lot of weird problems that players encounter; the main one being a player being excluded for being suspected of being evil. Which Spirits fixes by letting that player negotiate their alignment to be changed. Like a lot of games, it was a “I could fix this” type of mechanical design, but I always knew we’d be in the haunted house.
A couple of things you have said make me think you aren’t a fan of player elimination games, especially in social deduction games and that it maybe inspired you to start working on this game. What are your thoughts on games with player elimination and was it a major factor for you that inspired you to create Spirits of Carter Mansion?
Player elimination is complicated, and must be done in a way that doesn’t leave players with a negative feeling. Being removed from the game and waiting for it to end and doing nothing is lame, in werewolf you have to be silent too. It feels like a really unfun penalty, and there should be ways to handle it without creating a negative player atmosphere. My plan with spirits was to try and make a game that didn’t have things that created a negative player atmosphere inherently in the game (bad players will always create bad atmospheres anyway), but I wanted to avoid creating space for it. I think that Spirits of Carter Mansion handles it really well by giving players lots of freedom and choices in how they handle playing the game.
The Kickstarter campaign is doing really well and with a short amount of time left, I wonder what the general mood is like at Cutlass?
The usual honestly, Cutlass Boardgames has a lot of things going on at once. This Kickstarter campaign, which might lead onto Digital copies of both games being created (see the stretch goals for more info), We’re writing a novella which is the backstory behind the Cutlass universe (Castles of Caleira is kind’ve like a prequel, with the upcoming Cutlass: Or Crossbones Boardgame being the centrepiece), I’ve recently gotten another social deduction game I’m working on to prototype, which is a heavier game than Spirits, and is Cthulhu themed. We just keep hustling, until one day we can look back on all the cool stories we’ve told, and games we’ve created, and worlds we’ve introduced people to, and be happy that we made something to be proud of.
The pledge pricing is more than fair, especially for a physical copy of a Kickstarter game. Was that a conscious decision during the design process of the game?
This is usually something that comes later, but with Castles of Caleira especially it was something that we had to put great consideration into. Lately the scene is set at Kickstarter for 10$US games(without shipping included) in our size category, but both our games really punch above that in complexity, and art quality, creating a new space for really high quality art inspired games. Most small card games have an art style that is a single item on a blank background, (Sushi Go, Love Letter, Coup), where they highlight a single object, and add some text. Both Castles and Spirits, are great landscape and architectural pieces that have incredible quality art (that is expensive, but so worth the investment), that really set them apart, and earn the price bracket they sit in.
How did you get into tabletop games and more specifically creating and designing them?
Like many people Magic: The Gathering is the cornerstone of my origin story, but my parents got me into a couple of other boardgames like Carcassonne, when I was younger. I always just wanted to tell fantastic stories, and if micro card games hadn’t captured my fascination so much, I probably would’ve ended up creating Tabletop RPGs instead. (Fun fact I almost did with abandoned project: Journey into Death’s Grasp), I think it’s more about creating a product, or world, that upon introducing people to, it creates a sense of wonder and intrigue. Castles of Caleira is a fantastic example of this concept, as the fantasy landscapes are gorgeous, and slowly becoming more and more rare on our concrete planet. It’s such a unique blend of nature, and stonework, and great buildings against nature, that it shows a gorgeous blend and balance, which I’ve really come to appreciate.
What has been the most challenging part of designing the game?
The most challenging part of designing a game, is keeping the motivation to see it through it’s entire cycle from ‘Scratch to Shelf’. Having an idea is easy, making a prototype, and play-testing is easy, pitching to publishers or getting on Kickstarter is easy with patience and determination. seeing that you are confident enough in yourself and your product to be able to “Invest in yourself, like you’re betting on yourself to win” is what’s hard. Remaining motivated to see the product all the way up to it landing on people’s tables is hard. It’s very easy to give up in this incredible tough and competitive environment on Kickstarter, but we do it because we love it, and we work hard to be proud of ourselves and the things we create. Sometimes I look at the games, and Ideas I have, and the artworks I’ve had a part in creating, and think to myself that it is crazy that I was able to make this. It’s moments like that, that we need to remember.
What has been a major highlight for you since you revealed the game?
The major highlight for me with Spirits of Carter Mansion was the PAX Melbourne after-party. It was basically a bunch of industry people hanging out at a boardgame-bar type thing in the city, and we all were relaxing and talking about the day. I had brought my Dad along too, so it was really relaxed and didn’t feel like a work function (like I pin most industry stuff as), all of the guys I was sitting with were from the Australian Tabletop Gaming Network, and earlier that day I had done a sort of interview about the game with Toby, who encouraged me to crack it out and play a few games with the team. Before I knew it, a few drinks were had by all, and the boys were even dragging other mates in to join us and play this game, everyone was laughing and playing around and having fun, and it was quickly the loudest table in the room. It was really crazy to go from being what feels like a super under-dog, indie creator type, to suddenly feeling like you have a comfortable place in the industry, and it was such a big moment to feel like I had created something that deserved to belong alongside other Australian creators.
What do you think makes a successful Kickstarter campaign, and more specifically Kickstarter games?
Making a successful Kickstarter campaign is hard. All of the success comes before you even start, you have to build your own audience, and get people ready and excited to own a copy of your game. The page itself is basically just a great big bingo card, that people scroll down looking to tick off some boxes, and if they tick enough and get bingo they’ll back your game. Each person has a unique bingo card though, and is looking for different things, like weight, art style, theme, genre and so-on. You have to make your game seems presentable in such a way that people don’t have to struggle to find their boxes to tick, and encourage people to keep reading and look for more boxes. It’s a complex art form, that a lot of people basically have different thoughts on. I’m not an expert, I just like to think that I have unique ideas that catch people’s attention.
The heavier Cthulhu social deduction game sounds interesting. Hopefully we will get a chance to talk to you about that in the near future. Has developing Spirits of Carter Mansion influenced it at all?
Yes and No, Spirits was trying to accomplish something specific. This new game is more inspired by Blood on the Clocktower (Which I play a lot), I wanted to make something that sat between spirits, and clocktower. It’s still in development so I can’t spoil any secrets, but I’m really happy with how it is in prototype right now, so you might hear about it on Kickstarter aha
Lastly I wanted to ask you for your thoughts on future expansions for Spirits of Carter Mansion, is that something that you would consider in the future?
Expansions for microgames are complicated, as you will always be adding more weight to a game. I like how Castles of Caleira Season 2 adds more to the game without removing the things that I like about it, it’s more of an update that an expansion. If Spirits ever receives more future content it’s likely to be in the same way