Fowl Play – An interview with Chicken Caesar’s Bryan Fischer

Episode 14 of the show saw myself and Chris from Dice Hate Me pick a few of the games that have really grabbed our interest in the new year. One of the choices we both had on our lists was an interesting (if enigmatic) little title from a new start-up called Nevermore Games that went by the name of Chicken Caesar. In a bid to find out more about the game and the guys behind it, I spoke with Bryan Fischer from the company. Here’s what happened when the emails started flying…

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Michael: So Bryan, could you start by telling us a little bit about you guys and a brief history of Nevermore?

Bryan Fischer: Myself and Corey Phillips go way back to 2006 when we met through mutual friends and it wasn’t long before we were talking business. Corey’s passion for small business along with my love for creating games formed the foundations for what would later become Nevermore Games. After hours, days, weeks and months spent dreaming, talking and planning, Nevermore Games became a reality in the Summer of 2010.
Nevermore Games is a small games publisher based out of Richmond, Virginia in the USA. Our short term goals include publishing an original game in 2011 and building up a quality library of print-and-play games for download on our website. We think good games deserved to be played, so if that means releasing them as print-and-play games first and then publishing them later as needed, we’ll do just that. The games we publish are the games we love to play. They are well balanced between mechanics and theme, professionally designed and thoroughly tested. Our rulebooks will be easily to follow because rules shouldn’t be a stumbling block.  Most importantly, our games will bring friends together around a table for enjoyable strategy, laughs and a healthy dose of screwage.

M: Ha, there’s nothing better than screwing people over! I find it makes the social interaction that little bit more… entertaining! Now, you said that one of the factors in starting Nevermore was your love of creating games – have you designed much in the past?

BF: I’ve been designing games (that is: writing down concepts, designing components and testing the results) for a decade now.  Inspired by games like Magic: The Gathering, it started off with small card games that played fast between two people.  These games usually had a very simple central mechanic and grew from there, but even at the time I knew they weren’t the kinds of games lots of people wanted to play.  Soon after, I started designing games that relied more heavily on theme.  I can remember a game where you had to complete scenes on Hollywood sets by collecting sets of actors, music, scenery, etc.  Ideas similar to that one exist now and probably even existed then, but for me it was a fairly original attempt at something quite different than what I was used to.

It wasn’t until I started to play games a little outside of my comfort zone that I started getting inspired to truly create unique mechanics and systems for my games.  Role Playing Games played a big part in this as I tried to marry traditional pen and paper RPGs with card and board games.  In time, my exposure to gateway euro games like Settlers and Carcassonne opened me up to an entirely new world of possibilities.  Since then, I’ve written dozens of games that have seen some level of testing.  I’ve written over another 100 or so games that haven’t seen testing at all.  It’s a passion of mine to constantly create new mechanics, twists, worlds and ideas for games.

M: Nice! So, aside from Magic, are there any other games or designers that have inspired you creatively?

BF: Early on, games like Magic: The Gathering, DungeonQuest, Dungeons and Dragons, various video games and play-by-post text based games fueled my imagination for the kinds of games I wanted to create.  Later on though, the euro style board game really became my central inspiration.  I found myself inspired by other board games like Acquire.  Lately, inspiration for making games has flooded me from almost every direction.  Board games like Arkham Horror, Red Planet, and Android fulfill my need for thematic inspiration while games like Dominion, Bus and Steam serve as inspiration mechanically.  In addition to games, I’m inspired largely by history, art, literature, satire, speculative fiction, and advertising.  I find that the best ideas rarely come from playing another game, but from somewhere all-together unexpected.

M: That sounds like a perfect time to talk about how the concept for Chicken Caesar came to be! On the last episode of The Little Metal Dog Show, Chris K from dicehateme.com and I both reckoned it was the product of a drunken brainstorming session… But how did it actually happen?

BF: A drunken brainstorming session sounds like fun, but alas, that is not where Chicken Caesar came from.  A little while ago I was working fairly seriously on a tile placement/area control game that was going quite well.  I had tested its several stages over and over again, introduced it to dozens of people and even started talking to an artist, but there was something missing.  What was missing was the sex appeal, that second-look (if you will).  The game was solid, fairly addictive and quite good, but it lacked the first impression appeal that would get it picked up off of a shelf and purchased. The name and theme were quite bland, which (as you know) can work fine in this market.  It seems at times that as long as you have a strong mechanic, all you need is the name of a European or Island city, and some illustrations of resources and you’re good to go.  That being said, it wasn’t where I wanted to go, not for the first game Nevermore Games publishes.

During a very frustrated monologue to my wife about this very situation, she laughed and proposed an idea or two.  They were fairly silly ideas as she was just trying to cool my nerves a bit and make me laugh.  It worked and I calmed down.  Then she laughingly said, “You should make a game called Chicken Caesar because it’s like… you know, Caesar, and a food.”  I laughed at first, but then my mind starting going.  There was something there and it stuck with me for some time.  I’m a huge fan of comical and satirical writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Christopher Moore and Douglas Adams, so the idea of a Chicken-version of the Roman senate was right up my alley.  A while later, I told my wife that I was seriously writing a game called Chicken Caesar.  She laughed, called me nuts and that was that.  Now, here we are!
M: Ahhh, so that was how the game came to be! There’s actually not that much information our there about it though – would you care to tell us a bit about the game?
BF: Sure! Imagine, if you will, Ancient Rome in all of its splendour right before the assassination of Julius Caesar.  Rome was still a light republic, soon to make the complete change over to a dictatorship.  Now imagine somewhere on the outskirts of Rome itself, on the farm of a wealthy merchant, a chicken coup made of marble (suspension of disbelief is more than necessary for this game).  And in that coup, toga-wearing chickens campaign for power.  It’s a political battle modelled after Ancient Roman politics that players find themselves immersed in, making deals and breaking alliances all to one up their neighbour in the pecking order.

Players are in control of Ancient Roman chicken families, each with numbers of strapping young roosters ready for their time in political spotlight.  To rise to the top, they must ally themselves favorably, prove themselves trustworthy and most importantly… engage in fowl play.  From breaking promises you swore to keep, to risking exile by usurping positions that don’t belong to you, Chicken Caesar is a Petri dish for screwage.  Bribe each other, marry off your hens, all to rise to the position of Caesar.  Once there you can tax the life out of your lowly subjects, but be sly or you’ll lose your head! In short, it will be a 3-6 player game full of negotiation, intrigue and screwage.
M: So it’s a tale of intrigue, deception, double-dealing and poultry? Delightful! As it’s your first adventure into the world of board game publishing, has it been smooth sailing all the way or have there been any bumps en route?
BF: There will always be bumps, but as of late, the excitement people are expressing in the theme alone has paved over most potholes and made the experience quite nice.  That being said, we have most of our major bumps ahead.  The art is coming along nicely (and easily), but we still have a major hurdle to overcome.  In early 2011, we’ll be launching a kickstarter.com campaign to raise funds for publishing Chicken Caesar.  You’re probably familiar with how kickstarter works by now, as a lot of small publishers are using the site to help get titles out to the masses.  Basically, you’ll be able to pre-order the game, plus there will be plenty of incentives for those willing to pledge a little more.  We’re very excited about the campaign, but we know it will be a sizable “bump” in the road.
M: It seems that a few companies are looking to use Kickstarter as an avenue to get their games published. 2011 looks like it could be the year of crowdsourcing! Will it just be a matter of publishing when the target is reached, then?
BF: We’re planning on having the website fully operational before the game is published so that once the goal is reached, the only thing we’ll have to worry about is publishing and marketing the game.  This will include some distribution discussion and the like, but we hope to have a lot of that ironed out beforehand.  We’ll also be reaching out to the online community a lot before the kickstarter campaign is over, offering some really nice incentives to not only pre-order the game, but also to aide us in building our online presence on Facebook and Twitter. I’m not going to act like we have it all together at this point.  This is our first game publishing venture, so we will likely run into some snags along the way and have to re-evaluate things here and there to make this all happen, but we are determined to make this dream come true in 2011 and get this game into the hands of those ready to dive into chicken politicking.
M: Good to know! So, if people are looking for more information (or at least want to register their interest) how can they go about doing that?
BF: We have a form on our blog for anyone who wants to receive periodic updates.  And no, we aren’t going to spam anyone or sell their email address ;).  The blog is at nevermoregames.com/blog.
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So there you have it! Chicken Caesar is already shaping up to be one of the more intriguing releases on the slate for the new year – only time will tell if it ends up as the Alien Frontiers of 2011! Here’s hoping though, because the idea just really grabbed me. Don’t forget to check out Bryan and Corey’s blog for updates, and you’ll get a review here on LMD as soon as I can get my hands on a copy!
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