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Gen Con 2014 report: Interview with Jay Semerad, designer of Foretold

Foretold: Rise of a God-slide0
Michael Tresca

I interviewed friend of the column Jay Semerad, designer of the hybrid card/board game Foretold: Rise of a God, about the game's launch at Gen Con. The game ranked second on BoardGameGeek's Gen Con GeekBuzz list.

MT: How did this game come about?

JS: I've been working on the design on and off for a few years as a side project. I worked in the video game industry in the past, I worked on music and audio for next generation consoles and for independent projects so I've been involved in the game industry for awhile. I worked in college as a game designer on concepts as a student and produced a few other smaller projects in the past but none that I wanted to publish.

MT: Where there any video game design concepts you brought to the Foretold?

JS: Tower defense was part of it. League of Legends has really been popular lately. There are a lot of other tower defense games out there. It's always been an interest of mine. The tower defense aspect in Foretold are based on tiles, and your tiles form your temple and they're modular, and you can shift and move them in any way you want. Your opponent is always trying to get to from point A, which is the entrance to your temple, to point B which is the heart of your temple. If your opponent gets through that part and conquers the defenders in that room then they smite you and that's the primary way to deal damage. That's how you lose your hit points. If you lose all 20 then you're dead. Part of the experience of the designing the game just came from playing Magic: The Gathering.

MT: How did Magic: The Gathering influence Foretold's design?

JS: Magic players have their own kind of built-in audience, and when they play with their friends they play Magic. But we have a lot of other friends that don't play Magic, so what do we play when our Magic friends aren't around? We can't pull out a bunch of Magic decks and just make them sit there and watch. So part of it to create a game that non-Magic players could also enjoy and play with their Magic gaming friends. Some of the interactions you see in Foretold's basic interactions are similar to the spells you might play in Magic, but they're easier and timing restrictions are less wordy and the rules interactions are less severe.

MT: Where did the idea for Foretold come from?

JS: I actually had a dream where I was playing a game in my buddy's backyard. It was kind of like Magic except we all had tiles and we were playing these spells and controlling these little people. I woke up and remembered a lot of it. I wrote it down and started mocking it all up on post-it notes and poker chips. And I spent about a year just rendering it on mini-poker chips and post-it notes and sticky notes, hand drawing everything.

MT: How close is the final product to your dream?

JS: Originally the faithful were all chips and they were all double-sided chips. When they were all face down they were all generic people with no abilities. Then you could use your god-like powers to upgrade them and give them special talents. You could turn them into a mage or a warrior or something like that. The chips were cool but they were hard to manage and it just turns out that a lot of games use cards for a reason, because card design is elegant. You can fit all the necessary text on there. People, including myself, didn't like the fact that you had to use a cheat sheet. When you started the game you would get a cheat sheet handed to you with fifteen different descriptions of all the faithful in the game, so people felt they had to read every single ability before they would be nervous enough to flip a chip over and look and read what it was. It was just too much to handle; you were throwing so much at them at the same time and there were so many open decisions that it just wasn't worth it. To keep the decision points at a minimum -- despite it being a very open world concept where you can really do anything you want in the game -- we switched to a card form which people are more comfortable with. Rather than having a big pile of chips in the center of the board we had a market place where certain cards would be revealed every turn and then you could choose from them.

MT: What about the Greek theme?

JS: It was always going to be a Greek temple-raiding concept. I've always liked Greek mythology, I've always found it interesting. I liked the flavor and the theme behind it, it never seems to get old to me. We had the temples and the tiles and I still remembered a lot of the research I did on temples I did in high school for an honors project and stuff like that, so it came in handy, I got to brush up on that. I named a lot of the room tiles after the original parts of a Greek temple, but I went with English names because I didn't want it to be too obscure. A lot of the names are simple in Foretold: you have mason and warrior and berserker but you also have hoplite and that's about as Greek as it gets. It's very Greek but very Greek-light. And people who play the game will see that in the flavor and art and in some of the titles, but they won't be drowning in names they're unfamiliar with.

MT: After you conceived this game, how did you bring it to life?

JS: I knew Steve Port from Magic who was an entrepreneur willing to embrace new projects. I pinged him one day, told him I'd been working on the game, tested it with my friends, and that everyone seemed to enjoy it and asked if he'd be willing to try it out. He responded that it was a coincidence because he'd been looking to pick up a game for a long time and said no ten different games but never picked up one. So he asked me to show it to him at Gen Con. So I busted my @$$ and had some cards printed, I made all the original tiles on beer coasters, and printed everything up myself, spent a lot of time and hundreds of dollars and thousands of cards printed out to get the game where I thought it was a playable prototype.

MT: How long did it take the game to come to fruition?

JS: I pitched it to Steve last year at Gen Con. He said, "I think we've got a game, let's do this." I saw him about a month later at a Magic event in Detroit, laid out a temporary contract, agreed on our next steps, and spent the next three months crunching on the design and really getting it focused to the point where combat was fun, tiles were fun, cards were balanced, cards were easy enough to read and interesting yet their text was concise. We ran it from September through the end of 2013 in terms of refinement. And then in early 2014 we brought the prototypes over to Minnesota and we did some additional testing with Steve's team in Minnesota and my team in Michigan. We also enlisted some help from some professional Magic judges and other people like that who could help refine the game even further to clean up the rules text and make sure everything was worded properly and consistently and that we used all our capitalization on the right parts. So we refined it and then we launched a Kickstarter in March. We made over $30,00 on Kickstarter with over 300 backers. By August 2014 we now have the product produced and in hand. W e managed to complete the entire development cycle of the game in one year and managed to get the game, graphics in place and design, the art in place in design, and all the layout sent to our manufacturers overseas and to get them produced in three months.

MT: Okay so what's your secret? I've backed Kickstarters who have not even come CLOSE to achieving that kind of turnaround.

JS: I started with Steve. He was the first and only person I wanted to approach for the game. I could go with a traditional publisher and just give away my content and let them own it indefinitely and give me five percent on the backend or something like that. But I went with Steve because it was something he was looking to get into, it was a game that fit into his business model, because he also makes accessories and products related to it, and he saw the fit, I saw the fit, and we knew it would work. We had a lot of kinks to work out as it was the first time we worked together. We paid a bit of extra money, thousands of extra dollars just to get the game shipped on time to our Kickstarter backers, because we didn't want to have the game selling at Gen Con but give none to our Kickstarter backers. Steve's first motto is customer service: take care of customers first. We added extra marbled dice and 16 promo cards, shipped for free, at a much greater expense than we anticipated. We barely made any money off the Kickstarter other than good exposure.

MT: Who did you work with to get the game produced?

JS: We worked with a company in Shanghai that knew what it was doing; they made all the Ascension games in the past. They did a pretty good job with everything. All of our components are very high quality, the tiles are really nice, they're thick, they're weighted well. The card colors are all vibrant. The art that Garrett Post did came out really well. Overall, we're really happy with the quality of the product and we think we've got something good.

MT: All the Kickstarter backers have the game now?

JS: All the Kickstarter backers should have the game or they're picking it up at Gen Con or from me when I get back in Michigan -- there are fifteen waiting to pick it up from me.

MT: Now you're selling it at Gen Con.

JS: We had a certain number of advanced copies shipped over from Shanghai to bring to Gen Con and give to our backers. The remainder of the print run is being shipped standard freight overseas so it could take a month or two to get there. Retail stores may not carry until November, but we hope it gets shipped out by the end of the month and arrives by mid-October. That's of course assuming it gets through customs and passes all the other potential snags.

MT: Where can you order it online?

JS: You can get it at Legionsupplies.com. If you go to Foretold-game.com you can check it out there. It will take you to a link to preorder the game at Legion Supplies. If we have extra copies left after Gen Con it may be available to order online. Any of the big distributors will carry it so you should be able to find it at your local game shop as well.

MT: Is Gen Con the final stop for Foretold?

JS: Steve will be at Essen in Germany in the fall and is looking at international distribution, with translations in Europe. We have expansions planned, I've already brought the prototype mockups for expansions. I don't know how much I'll be directly involved post-Gen Con but whenever I have time permitting I'll be doing a lot of local demos at local game stores.

MT: Anything else you want to add?

JS: It's been a long labor of love. It's really surreal to see it play off. You watch people play your game, say it's really solid, and I just watch them analyze it and play it. And every time I walk up to see people playing it without my help -- for two years I've had to help people to play it -- but now the rules are streamlined it's really easy to play, and by the third or fourth turn you really know what you're doing and then from there it's really developing your strategy. It's like having a child and setting it free.

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