Exclusive: The Island of Doctor Necreaux: Second Edition Interview

We had a chance to talk to Grimslingers creators Jonathan Leistiko and Desirée War about their current Kickstarter Campaign for The Island of Doctor Necreaux: Second Edition. Check it out!

Decapitated Dan: Thanks for taking time to talk with me about The Island of Doctor Necreaux: Second Edition. First of all lets talk about you. Who are you and what do you do?

Jonathan Leistiko: By day, I'm a mild-mannered webmaster at TexVet.org. If you think, "Google specialize in services for Texas' veterans," you're on the right track. I also co-founded and help run the Austin Furniture Bank – the first-ever furniture bank in the county. Then in my copious spare time, I play and make games with Desirée (my fiancée).

Desirée War: Partner to Jonathan in Invisible City and teacher of Humanities at Austin Community College

DD: Let's talk Doctor Necreaux. What is it all about?

JL: It's a co-operative adventure where you're a sci-fi pulp adventure hero. The diabolical Doctor Necreaux has kidnapped the world's top scientists and forced them to build a Doomsday Device. Now he demands that the world submit to his rule or be destroyed! Your mission: Infiltrate his secret volcanic island lair, find the scientists, and escort them to the escape shuttle before the island blows up! To overcome the events, traps, and monsters in your path, you'll need clever and prudent application of your agent's unique combination of skills, a good tolerance for risk and exploring the unknown, and just a little luck.

DW: Adventure and surviving. It's also got a storytelling element, which I enjoy.

DD: Where did this idea to make the game come from?

JL: From January 2000 to December 2009, I made one game every month and "published" them as free print-and-play games at the Invisible City website. Two of them were Twisty Passages (https://goo.gl/T3KvwJ) and Space Monster (https://goo.gl/QBESWc). Twisty Passages was an experiment in abstracting a traditional event-and-location board (think: Talisman) into a deck of cards. Twisty Passages was also the first time I used the "speed as draw" mechanic. In Space Monster, the monster's traits are different every game because you "build" it with three monster cards.

In 2009 there were relatively few co-op games, so I pulled the adventure deck and speed mechanics from Twisty Passages and the monster creation (for agent creation) mechanics from Space Monster and made the "Pulp Adventure" game. Initially I thought it would be more Indiana Jones-style, but I noticed that there were very few 50s-era pulp sci-fi games. That's a genre that's always appealed to me, and first version of The Island of Doctor Necreaux appeared shortly thereafter.

DW: The idea for us to do a 2nd edition came from a combination of things: it was one of the first modern board games I played, and one of my favorites. I like the adventure-style game. When I saw that it had fans, that it could be improved based on fan-feedback, I knew that there was already a community around the game, so that sealed the deal. Regarding the idea for the design - that's a Jonathan question; but I do remember Jonathan told me that he'd wanted to design a game without a board.

DD: For someone new to The Island of Doctor Necreaux, what kind of game is it?

JL: The Island of Doctor Necreaux is a press-your-luck adventure game with variable player powers and a bit of resource management.

It's an adventure game because you're always drawing cards with strange new things to encounter – Malicious monsters, terrifying traps, ingenious items, and lots of other things I can alliterate. The game continually makes you push into the unknown.

It's a press-your-luck game because you have a limited number of turns to draw a minimum of (roughly) 52 cards or a maximum of (roughly) 78 cards. At the start of each turn, you declare a speed, which is the number of cards you'll attempt to draw before your turn ends. About 40% of the deck consists of traps which check your speed and will punish you if you're going too fast. So you have to balance the need to draw cards with your ability to deal with traps.

Variable Player Powers: At the start of the game, you create your agent by selecting three skill cards out of a pool of 26 or so. The cards you get have a huge impact on how you'll play the game. This ensures you'll rarely have the same agent from game to game. It also increases replayability; tactics that succeed with one agent are less likely to succeed with a different agent.

Resource management: Your agent's skill cards often use "charges" to activate them. You'll frequently find yourself wondering if you should spend a charge or take a bad effect. Also, your turns are a scarce resource. Should you rest and recover much-needed cards or charges, or should you press on?

DW: It's an adventure card game. If you think of King Kong's Island, you're not too far off. You get to play a highly skilled agent with special powers that may change with each game. Those powers help you deal with the luck of the roll.

Click photo for How To Play Video
DD: Since this is We Roll Solo, what kind of Solitaire play does the game offer?

JL: When you play solo, it feels like you're the start of a James Bond movie in a Flash Gordon world.

It's just you, sneaking into a madman's lair to save the world! From the very beginning, I designed The Island of Doctor Necreaux to provide "true support" for solo play. When I say "true support," I mean that you're playing one agent; you're not (functionally) playing a two-player game by playing two players' worth of agents.

It's worth noting that The Island of Doctor Necreaux comes with lots of easy-to-implement suggestions to adjust the difficulty level. It's simple to make the game harder or easier to suit your taste.

The solo version of the game is mechanically identical to multi-player play. You do start with more turns and the monsters require fewer hits to defeat, but these scale up and down for 2, 3, and 4 players too. The only "special" rule for solo play is the Solo Bonus rule: Some skill cards only work with multi-player teams. If you're playing solo and draw one of these, you discard it and get a bonus turn on the countdown timer.

DW: It's designed so that you can play with a single agent and still get through the island - you don't have to play two characters in order to do well. There are also advantages hidden in the game that only the solo player (or the player in a 2-player game whose teammate is stealthy) will find.

DD: So what can people get for the pledge levels?

JL: Desirée's gratitude and my gratitude. :)

Seriously, though: For free, you can get the no-art print-and-play cards and full rules. There's a link on the Kickstarter page.

All following pledge levels include credit in the rules, indicating your pledge level.

$15 gets you a print-and-play PDF. This is for people who live in places we can't ship to.

$40 gets you a copy of The Island of Doctor Necreaux, shipped to the US or UK. Add a little extra for shipping, and we'll send it to Australia, Canada, or Europe (except Russia).

$50 gets you the game and makes you an Invisible Citizen for a year. During the upcoming year, we'll ask our citizens to help us make decisions by voting. This may be as mundane as the color of a pawn, or as significant as setting our development and printing priorities for the upcoming year or two. Neat stuff!

$75 gets you two copies shipped to the same address.

$80 gets you two copies shipped to the same address and citizenship.

$250 got you a game and your image on a skill card, but those are all sold out. We *might* re-open that pledge level, but that remains to be seen.

$300 gets you a copy of the game and a two-page written analysis and critique of a game you send to us.

$400 gets you a copy of the game, a critique, and a Skype conversation.

$700 gets you a copy of the Island of Doctor Necreaux and a game custom made just for you! You'll get PDFs that are print-ready to send to DriveThru Cards.
For examples, see PerkyGoth (http://stonesoupentertainments.com/content/perkygoth),
Naughty & Nice (http://stonesoupentertainments.com/content/naughty-nice),
Renaissance Man (http://stonesoupentertainments.com/content/renaissance-man),
and Housewarming (http://stonesoupentertainments.com/content/housewarming).

$1,500 to $2,000 gets you a copy of the game and three hours of in-person time with me at ChupacabraCon, Board Game Bash, or BoardGame Geek con.

DW: There are a few pledge levels now. The "Adventurer" level gets people the game. We also created a level for just $10 more that gives you voting privileges in our future projects. We offered this "Citizen" level as a way to get the support that we need as a new company coming to Kickstarter.

DD: How did you find yourself getting into making games?

JL: I was a creative kid. From the ages of 3 to 9 I didn't have many kids my age nearby to play with, so I spent a lot of time keeping myself entertained – lots of reading. When I was 5 or 6, I read my dad's copy of "A Gamut of Games" by Sid Sackson (https://www.amazon.com/Gamut-Games-Sid-Sackson/dp/0486273474). That inspired me to make up my own game: Abs-Trac-Toe (https://goo.gl/4GJBHZ). When I was 7 I discovered Dungeons & Dragons, and spent a lot of time making and playing adventures. Fast forward to the late 80's – a friend and I made a bundle of games (Most notably: Inevitable (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dystopianholdings/inevitable-dystopian-tabletop-gaming)). In the mid-90's I opened a game store in State College, PA and dabbled a little more in tabletop and LARP design.

It all came to a head in January 2000 when I co-founded Invisible City and challenged myself to make one game a month until I ran out of ideas. I jokingly say the first 7 months were really hard, but it got really easy after that. Thing is: It's true. I'm not saying that anyone can do it, but I do believe that people get better when they practice. And that's what one a game a month was: Practice.

DW: Jonathan, really. We're making dreams come true. He's been designing since he was a kid. When he entered a design challenge, I found myself puzzling over the challenge, and that's when I designed my first game. Now I've designed two, and I love it, but I'm really a story writer. I enjoy when stories intersect with board games. We decided to start publishing games because we see so much creativity in unknown game designers, and we want to support that, and that's the direction we want to go in, in addition to publishing Jonathan's games.

DD: What kind of board games do you prefer to play?

JL: Here's my cheaty-face answer: I like games where it's clear that the designer intentionally ensured that theme and mechanics merged into a seamless play experience.

Desirée and I have been playing a lot of Shadowrift, Aeon's End, Gloomhaven, and Descent. You'll notice they're all co-ops. I have nothing against competitive games, but Desi and I prefer to play co-ops together.

I like games that give players lots of control over their fate and meaningful decisions. I like being able to look back at the end, point at a decision I made and say, "If I did that differently, I would have {won/lost}."

DW: Thematic, cooperative, involved, thinky games. I like adventures and stories. I also like thematic Euros.

DD: What is your favorite solo board game?

JL: Right now it's Friday, though I should note that Desirée and I play it together a lot.

DW: Friday. I stayed up late after Jonathan went to sleep playing it.

DD: So let's recap. Why should the readers go check out The Island of Doctor Necreaux: Second Edition and back it?

JL: I designed The Island of Doctor Necreaux to make you feel like a hero. You start the game with a very capable agent and feeling good. Then you look at what you have to do and think, "What? I can't do that! It's impossible." Later in the game, you realize that you're doing the very thing you said couldn't be done and – whether you realize it consciously or not – you feel amazing. To paraphrase Malcom Reynolds: "You've done the impossible, and that makes you mighty."

DW: It's a fun game! It's a thematic cooperative game that can be played solo or with a group, with family members and people new to board gaming, and it has some replay-ability. I'm really excited about the scenario ideas Jonathan and I have been talking about.

DD: Thanks so much for your time, and good luck with the campaign!

JL: Thank you too! We're just under 75%. I look forward to breaking that threshold and cruising on up to 100%!

DW: Thank you, Dan.

Now go check out the Kickstarter Campaign
Dan Royer Dan Royer Author