Recently I was able to have a conversation with Steve Kendall from Ragnar Brothers games in the UK about their up and coming game Steam Donkey which is currently running a campaign over on Kickstarter. Here’s the interview.
Jonathan: First off, tell us a little bit about Steam Donkey. Summarize the game for us.
Steve: OK – this is not so simple as you might expect, and yet not as complicated as it might read. It’s a card game which starts with players able to build one or two cards from their hand onto their own table space to create their resort. Some cards will be built in the Park, some in the Town and some in the Beach area. There are four types of cards: Attractions, Lodgings, Monuments and Transport. Some cards are extra special in each type. To build, a player must discard a specified number of cards of the same type – effectively some cards are chosen for building and payment is made using others. The cards now built in the resort attract cards from the ‘Railway Station’ – four cards plus the top card of the deck. However, cards in the Railway Station are face down, with the reverse of the card indicating where that card will move to in the resort and the type of card that is featured on the front. Cards may only move to one area where they remain face down. Are you getting this???? The third action (build and move cards being the first two) is to simply collect all face-down cards from the resort to hand. At which point the player is probably (but not necessarily) back into building action. Well there are a few more rules to the basic game, but that gives an over-view.
When it comes to the Advanced Game options, the game really fires up. We call them Advanced Rules, but they are the ‘real deal’ game. It might be better to say that what I have described earlier are Introductory Rules (and maybe we will change the Rule book wording anon). Anyhow, each player starts with a Kick-on card (e.g. ‘The Castle’ – starts with 12 cards instead of 8) giving them a permanent benefit through the game. In addition there are four Characters (Madame Ice-cream, Lord Admiral, Princess Royal and Donkey-boy) who assist in different ways in one of the actions (Donkey-boy in all actions).
Finally, we have part of the game in development still following the determined interest of Kickstarter supporters. Their wish is for each resort to be named (our KS competition providing the eight choices), but being Ragnar Brothers this means some gaming element will have to be attached to each different name e.g. Douglas (Isle of Man) to have a Transport capability from game start.
Jonathan: What inspired you to make Steam Donkey?
Steve: Whilst we were working on Promised Land 1250 – 587 BC, Phil and I and our families were holidaying in the Isle of Man. For those who have never been there (and it’s well worth a visit) the Island has some great features, many of them dating back to the 19th century: a grand theatre, pleasure gardens, steam railway, an electric railway, horse trams and of course hotels and guest houses. Our childhood holidays were invariably spent at similar resorts (Scarborough, Bridlington, Paignton…) and it struck me just how fantastically exciting these places must have been in their heyday. The idea of building / developing such a resort suddenly seemed like a great game theme. The way the game developed after the inspiration is another story.
Jonathan: How did you choose the artist for the project?
Steve: Marco Morte introduced himself to us via the internet some years ago and we asked him to do provisional mock-up illustrations for a game that is still in the Ragnar Brothers pipe-line (A New dawn – DRCongo). Just at the time of considering production, Marco contacted us out of the blue again and we thought ‘Why not?’ That said, we did ask Marco to do a provisional sketch… and then another one … and then another one. It took a while (and though Marco’s English is better than my Portuguese, there is a certain communication fog) but eventually the phrase ‘more refined’ got us to the standard we were looking for. Since then he has been magnificent to work with – we just need to amend (again) the bust and hem-line of Madame Ice-cream.
Jonathan: Why did you decide to use Kickstarter?
Steve: ‘It’s the only game in town’. I don’t think that’s an over-statement as far as we are concerned. In addition to the pre-sale / capitalisation of a game, I think what people don’t always appreciate is that for small companies like ourselves it gives us opportunity to work at publicity over quite a considerable period of time. Pre-Kickstarter, the Kickstarter campaign itself, post-Kickstarter and then at release of the game. Once the spot-light of publicity is passed, selling games becomes a whole lot more difficult.
Jonathan: How did you get started designing/making games?
Steve: We were part of a group that met up for week-end ‘bashes’ maybe three of four times a year and enjoyed Lakeland holidays together. That was in our twenties and early thirties. The name Ragnar Brothers came from a missing counter in Britannia (‘Sons of Ragnar’) and it seemed a good name for the company. At that point there were about eight RBs, but after the first few games we reduced to three as we were the ones doing near enough all the work. We started by working out some rules for table-top and then tried our hand at boardgames. I wrote to Phil to say I didn’t want to ‘just be a teacher’ and then Phil stumbled on an idea that led to the designing of Angola (our first release). From then on we were hooked on the creative buzz of designing and the allure of making profit (generally an illusion!).
Jonathan: Who are the people that make up the Ragnar Brothers?
Steve: Gary Dicken – a social worker, Surrey based.
Myself (Steve Kendall) – a teacher working with autistic children in a Surrey school.
Phil Kendall (my actual brother) – a primary teacher working in Lancashire, but living in Yorkshire.
All three of us are married with almost grown up off-spring.
Jonathan: Where is your company located?
Steve: Epsom Surrey, with a northern base in Yorkshire.
Jonathan: What plans do you have for the future?
Steve: Currently our available time and energy is focussed on trying to reach our KS goal and thereafter it will be all hands to the pump getting the game out to a great standard and on schedule. However, we do have some plans besides, one of which is to produce a literally ‘up-dated’ edition of History of the World, bringing the game to a seventh epoch ending in 2000 AD. This design conundrum has been a long time simmering, but we have finally cracked it. We are also hopeful that the standard of production will be superior to all previous editions of the game (and that will take some doing).
Jonathan: What one thing would you like the game community to know about Steam Donkey?
Steve: That it’s a quality card game, with a great theme that they will enjoy playing over and over again and with increasing satisfaction. (Is that ‘one thing’??)
Jonathan: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.
Steam Donkey is currently running on Kickstarter right now. Please give your support and help fund it by visiting the site below.
Also check out their website for more great games.