On the Table: Interview with Ortus designer, Joost Das

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Now, I’m not one to play a lot of tactical games but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy them when a good one comes along. A good one is coming along, folks. Ortus is a two-player tactical game from designer Joost Das that’s raising funding on Kickstarter until October 20th. The game is available as both an iOS/Android app, or as a physical board game. This is the first time (to my knowledge) that a digital and analog version of a board game has been funded through Kickstarter. Days of Wonder used the crowd-funding site for their Small World 2 app and offered physical copies of the game, but the campaign wasn’t made to sell both.

In Ortus, both players command eight elite warriors, two from each of the four primary elements and battle against each other for domination of the arena. Each element type grants its warrior a unique ability and it’s the balance of how well a player uses these abilities to out-wit their opponent that makes Ortus such a challenge. Games of Ortus can take a fraction of the time that it takes to play some of the more involved tactical games out there, but will provide just as much strategic planning.

Joost was kind enough answer some questions I had after playing Ortus, and then kindly agreed to an interview:

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Ortus is a unique 2-player experience with such a solid and clean design. The use of the four elements with the warriors is so elegantly executed – What inspired you to make Ortus, and how did you come up the design?

This whole project started a really long time ago. I used to collect and paint miniatures as a hobby. I’d spend hours on one model, painting it until it was perfect in my eyes. These minis though, never got any gaming action because I had too few to build an army and no friends willing to spends hours on war-gaming anyway. I thought that was such a shame. So I started working on Ortus to be able to play short skirmish battles that required only a handful of minis and could be done in under an hour.

It took an enormous amount of writing and playtesting to get Ortus to that ‘solid and clean’ design. What I wanted was a game that is accessible to a lot of people, but has enough tactical depth to be interesting for heavy gamers. Which I think worked out, because a player can, in each turn, move each of his or her eight warriors to any space of the arena, players are provided with a lot of tactical options. Planning and executing a sensible attack is what makes the game so cool in my opinion.

For the theme, I wanted to give Ortus an Asian flavor. The feeling I get when playing the game is that it could have been played centuries ago in ancient China or feudal Japan. The theme needed to reflect that. It was the movie Hero by Zhang Yimou that solidified my choice for going in this direction. Of course many will be reminded of Avatar: the Last Airbender and the like. Love that stuff and you don’t see much of it in other games.

Have you thought of how to expand the game to support more players? Is that something that you see for Ortus down the line?

Ortus has been designed as a pure two player game. That is not to say that a multiplayer game would not be awesome, but it should play well of course. The main mechanisms of the game function like a balancing act – both players are trying to upset the balance in their favor. Introducing a third or fourth player is hard to implement, but maybe not impossible.

I’m brewing on some solutions, but I cannot promise anything. What I can promise though is that it will only happen if the 3 or 4 player game works really well.

You’re releasing a mobile version of the game as well as printed. This is somewhat unique in the realm of Kickstarters. What made you decide to build both a physical and digital game?

Yes, releasing a game in both physical form and digital is quite unique. Most board game apps only come out once their fan base is big enough. But it is such a logical step for this particular game to also be played on mobile devices, that we took the risk and started development already. They are both up on Kickstarter now because we want to present Ortus in all its forms and hopefully get some overlap between digital and traditional gamer crowd.

Because Ortus works with complete open information, has a board that fits perfectly on a tablet and is quick to play we think it can do very well on the app market. And it allows players of the physical game to keep practicing whenever they find themselves with 20 minutes to spare.

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The art and animations for both the digital and physical versions of the game is beautiful. Who are the artists?

The box cover and game board were done mostly by Marlies Barends, who you can find at worksofheart.nl. I did some of the elements myself, like the core at the center of the arena and the title design. All the weapons on the side of the box are mine, as well as the logos of the two Houses (Serpent and Tiger).

Alexander Kappelhof is the animator of the digital version and we are collaborating on the character art there.

Massimiliano Gallo designed the characters for the miniature line and I am doing the paint jobs, of which the Water warrior has been revealed.

I’m very happy you like it!

It’s really great that you seem to be putting the UK and the US on equal ground when it comes to the physical rewards and shipping costs. Not a lot of Kickstarters can pull that off – what’s your secret?

I don’t know if there is a secret to this. I see Kickstarter as a way to realize your dream project in order to try and make money in the wake of the campaign, not during. My goal for the Kickstarter is to get as many people playing Ortus as possible and as a result and spreading the love from there. It first needs to exist in the world, then it can start to make money.

By the way, thinking about box size and weight is also a good way to make sure shipping cost don’t go through the roof.

This isn’t your first time putting Ortus on Kickstarter, but you’ve already met your goals for the campaign with the relaunch. What lessons did you learn from the first Kickstarter campaign that you feel helped you make this one a success so early on?

Visibility is everything when you are doing a Kickstarter. Many of the first backers got excited when they saw the art and gameplay, but still word didn’t get around much. So most of the focus went to getting the word out for the second time around. We are working the social networks harder and better this time, contacting more blogs and video reviewers etc.

Also the campaign is now more clearly structured. I heard that some got confused browsing through the original KS page, I think it’s a lot clearer now. In any case, feedback from the KS community is golden when you are learning to do this well.

The addition of the miniature line also works like magic. I think that gamers are excited that Ortus offers cool minis while the game only requires you to have one friend close by and half an hour of free time for those minis to see some action!

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Backers of the game receive a free Print-and-Play within a day of pledging for the project, even if you only back at the $1 level. There’s no excuse to not back today and try this game out for yourself.

Tiffany is the writer for Board Stiff,  GrE’s regular foray into the deep, dark, cardboard-smelling realms of analog gaming. Boards, cards or dice, it doesn’t matter, our writer Tiffany will play them all. If you’ve got a game you’d be interested in having Tiffany review, contact her on Twitter or via Gmail at TheOneTAR.

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