I was recently turned on to a relatively new card game called Summoner Wars produced by an equally new company, Plaid Hat Games. I’m not usually one for card games, preferring miniatures games by far, but Summoner Wars is a fast and fantastic game with loads of options yet not tons of rules to bog things down. I had the opportunity recently to chat with the Head Hat of Plaid Hat Games, Colby Dauch about his experiences starting up his own game company and bringing products to market.
AFi: Colby, could you give us your gamer origin, so to speak? How did you get into the hobby?
CD: I’ve always been into games of all types, but Heroscape is the game that I fell so in love with that I got involved with online communities and went to a convention for. It was those experiences connecting with other gamers and especially checking out GenCon that caused me to discover the wider world of hobby gaming.
AFi: What were your thoughts when you found out Wizards of the Coast was pulling the plug on Heroscape?
CD: This is a tricky question. I worked with WotC on the line and am under contract as such. So talking too openly about my experiences and my feelings toward how they handled the line seems ill advised. I will say that I always did my best to make sure that the game mechanics for Heroscape continued to be innovative and exciting. That was my part of the project while it was at WotC (shared with Chris Dupuis and Jerry Hawthorne) and I took it seriously.
AFi: When did you come up with the concept of Summoner Wars?
CD:Back when Heroscape was still at Hasbro and Hasbro was sending me other various game design jobs I started to feel the call to design something that was all my own. One of the designs that came out of that calling was Summoner Wars.
AFi: You tried to shop Summoner Wars around to other game companies, correct?
CD: The main one I knew I wanted to shop it to was Hasbro. I kind of knew that it wasn’t going to be right for them, but I had to try. I also submitted it to Fantasy Flight Games, but I’m still waiting for their submissions department to return my email asking them if I can send them a prototype.
AFi: How did you come to the decision to start up your own company?
CD: I told myself pretty early in my efforts on Summoner Wars that I was going to shop it to Hasbro, the biggest mass market company where I had the best connections, and Fantasy Flight Games one of the biggest and my favorite hobby game company. I felt like those were the big dogs whose names and resources would do the most for the game. I felt like anything smaller than that meant Plan B, which was start a company of my own. Something I felt like I wanted to do and something I felt like Summoner Wars would be a great backbone start up product for.
AFi: What’s the story behind the name “Plaid Hat Games”?
CD: I sometimes sport a plaid hat. I had an illustration of me done in that hat which I used in a blog I kept for awhile and still use as my avatar on various sites. My good friend John Clowdus of Small Box Games suggested the name Plaid Hat Games and most of the rest of my friends thought it was an excellent name.
AFi: Summoner Wars has gotten great reviews, and developed quite a strong following, yet doesn’t have a real presence in game stores. What are some plans to change that and give Summoner Wars a stronger presence at retail?
CD: I wish I had all the answers here. It is tough for a small company. I still maintain a day job which means I can’t travel to things like GAMA (Game Manufactures Association) and distributors conventions to reach out to game retailers. I also only have so much time and money to devote to marketing and I choose to, right now, use that to market directly to players. Players can help get Summoner Wars in their local game store by requesting it. The longer Plaid Hat Games is around the more the stores will have heard of us and be willing to give our products a try. The more success we get the more chances we can take on larger marketing campaigns directed at retailers. (Like masses of demo copies and posters)
My plan is to keep producing great games and great customer service. I believe that success breeds success, so I’m going to keep paying my dues and keep looking for opportunities to get the word out about us.
AFi: The next project that’s been announced is a boardgame, Dungeon Run. How’d that come about?
CD: Mr. Bistro is the designer on this. He and I met one another through the Heroscape community. When I started Plaid Hat Games he helped out with playtesting, general advice, and other areas. I knew that he was fairly prolific in designing games as a hobby and I was actively looking for the opportunity to publish one of his games. He put up Dungeon Run as a print and play project and I saw some great potential there. He and I brainstormed and came up with ideas for new directions to take some of the concepts behind the print and play version. That was the birth of the project.
Dungeon Run (mock-up) demo game in action.
AFi: What challenges have you faced developing a board game as opposed to a card game?
CD: Many of the challenges are the same. Dungeon Run did require we bring another freelancer in on the project in the way of a sculptor. We called on another contact we made through Heroscape fandom in Chad Hoverter. This guy was a part of our close knit community of gamer friends and he also just happens to be a super talented sculptor. It is amazing how much of Plaid Hat Games is built around a community of friends that met through Heroscape and happen to have a variety of game related talents.
There is myself, Jerry Hawthorne – Game Designer/Creative Genius, Mr. Bistro – Game Designer/Writer, Chris Dupuis - Rules Guru/Editor, James Sitz – Lead Playtester/Gamer Savant/Aspiring Designer, Dave Richards – Graphic Designer, Michael Faciane – Game Designer, Chad Hoverter – Sculptor
Literally all of these guys met by doing their thing as a fan with Heroscape and now I have worked with each one of these guys in connection to Plaid Hat Games. There is even a top notch illustrator among us. If I knew how to light a fire under him I would be using him too. I think this speaks to one of your earlier questions as well. How did I come to the decision to start a game company? How could I not with a support structure like that?
AFi: What can you tell us about what’s coming from Plaid Hat Games beyond Dungeon Run?
CD: More Summoner Wars and more Board Games. Jerry Hawthorne has a story-centric adventure game that we are putting the polish on and I’ve got a sci-fi game that came from an unsuspected source that I’m helping develop and plan to publish. It’s a crazy mix of inspirations that come together to make a great game.
Thanks to Colby for taking the time to talk to us. It was great seeing the Plaid Hat Games booth at the recent Origins Game Fair being constantly busy, and the giant stack of Summoner Wars Master Sets that was present in the booth on Thursday morning was gone on Saturday afternoon.
Congratulations to Plaid Hat Games on their success thus far, and here’s to even greater successes in the future.
Look for Dungeon Run to be released around Gen Con (August 2011).