Game designer launches creation

People who love board games often dream of creating one of their own — that board game that incorporates all the things you’ve liked in other games, leave out the flaws, and mix in a few new ideas of their own.

But most never get past the idea being a dream.

Some have though, like Rob Gosselin of Churchbridge.

Gosselin is the designer of the recently unveiled Friend or Foe, and a lifetime board game fan.

“I absolutely love playing board games,” he told Yorkton This Week. “The first real game I ever got into was chess, and what a wonderful game, introducing me to rich and deep strategy—chess taught me about positional advantages, tactical planning, and glorious turns when all seems lost.

“The next main game I fell in love with was Star Wars CCG by Decipher Inc. It was first of all to me highly imaginative, making the Star Wars universe more accessible, but also allowing players to bring to it their own creativity. I could, for example, arm Chewie with his bowcaster, fly him through space in the Millennium Falcon and then attempt to hunt down Vader with him. Star Wars CCG was also a highly strategic game, which I loved because it made me feel responsible for my choices. I felt rewarded if I won, and always learned something new whenever I lost. It involved a lot of in-game text, which I got very comfortable with. Being a customizable card game, it also allowed me to design my own deck according to my own playing style. My game still has many resonances with Star Wars CCG in that it involves quite a bit of in-game text, and focuses on strategic gameplay leaving very little room for chance.”

And Gosselin’s exploration of games just continued to evolve.

“The next major game I got into was Shogun, re-branded as Samurai Swords and then more recently to Ikusa,” he continued. “What an amazing board game!! Here is a game that takes quite a bit longer to play (some of our games lasted more than four hours), but it had everything I could love in a game. Beautiful strategy, so much flexibility, intrigue, cunning, and rich tactical planning. A war game set in feudal Japan, the game has players competing to become Japan’s next Shogun. Will you out master your opponents? Perhaps by hiring mercenary Ronin, or by gaining the services of the one Ninja in the game? Shogun has everything for strategy board game lovers.”

And that brings us to Friend or Foe.

“While my game has many flavours, it has many resonances with some of the games above, which I grew up with and loved,” said Gosselin.

Friend or Foe is a game of risk and cunning tactics as players set out into the perilous Karrowlands with their band of adventurers. In this game, you compete against each other, taking on the role of a rescue party attempting to save a member of your clan that was captured by the enemy.

So where did the idea come from for Gosselin.

“I originally imagined a game that could be played by my friends and family, a game that could see them on professional looking cards, sometimes competing against each other, other times working together,” he said.

“The goal of the game has always been to “rescue the captive,” a character that you lose at the beginning of the game, who is captured by your foe, held at their Base. You must rescue your captive by returning it to your Base, while still guarding the captive that you also stole from your opponent at the beginning of the game.

“In the early stages of the game, captives were friends or family members you were trying to rescue home, now they are lost members of your tribe in the fictional realm of the Karrowlands, a fantasy-themed land where four warring tribes compete against each other, separated by an ominous mountain where the dragon Gwythral, or the Giant Maneeri, or the Lizard-Wolf Ragnash have been known to inhabit.”

But the game evolved as Gosselin, a teacher by trade, worked on it over the years - eight years to be exact.

“In the winter of 2007, while I was studying for my final exams at university I thought, ‘I should make a card game!,” he said. “So after one long night, Friend or Foe was born.

“Originally dubbed, ‘The Card Game o’ Life’, the game started first on cue-cards but went latent for some time with only intermittent trial plays among friends.

“In the fall of 2011, I did a major update of the game, getting nicely printed cards shipped to me from printerstudio.com. When one of my students at the time, Jacob Reetz, saw these he said, ‘So, when are we going to play?’ This generous gesture sparked the beginning of many after-school games together between friends and foes alike.

“Years of playtesting followed, with incredibly timely input from family and friends along the way.

“Then, with the help of several wonderful artists, and the support of my dear wife, Friend or Foe got a complete facelift in 2014-2015 to prepare for its official debut. Thanks to The Game Crafter, Friend or Foe is now available worldwide. The rest, they say, is history.”

The development took years because there are always challenges in game design.

So what was most difficult with Friend or Foe?

“Not infringing on copyright,” said Gosselin. “Originally I never imagined taking this game to a professional level where I would be able to sell it. But when I was looking to do that I really didn’t know how to produce it without totally breaking the bank.

“For years I collected creative commons illustrations that I could rebrand and use in my game, but to be able to market my game I wanted to be absolutely sure that I had the rights to use those works. Sometimes it was very clear to me that I could use such work, other times it was hazy.

“Finally, I decided that if I wanted to do it right, I had to get professional artists involved who would transfer the rights of their work over to me so I could be confident using it. My main artists I found by searching online forums for artists looking for freelance work. But this could have really broken the bank. I knew that I wanted to pay these artists well but I also knew that I had to reduce the number of illustrations and therefore unique cards if I wanted to do this on a smaller budget. These constraints meant changing my game to make it more simple in some ways, and in many cases much easier to play and learn, but it also took away some of the complexity that many of us who played the game in its earlier iterations really enjoyed.”

So now that the game is being put out there for players to try, what aspect of the game does Gosselin see as most innovative, or unique?

“First is its flexibility: Friend or Foe has both free-for-all and cooperative modes,” he said. “So you can compete against everyone else or play in partners. There is even a two-versus-one option for an experienced player to try and beat two others.

“Then there are additional game variations, like the capture the flag variation, or ones with monsters like Ragnash or Gwythral on the mountain summit in the middle of the board.

“Second is its use of cards as units which deploy to the game-board. These units deploy, battle and move as players set up tactical positions on the game-board’s locations.

“Finally, while the four playable decks in Friend or Foe have many of the same cards, each deck is unique in that it celebrates different phases of the game and caters to different personality styles. Its versatile gameplay and deck mechanics make every game unique.”

And with the innovations, and eight years of effort, Gosselin is satisfied with the result.

“While I’ve seen the game change drastically over time with each new iteration, each change really did make the game more accessible,” he offered. “If I had a bigger budget I would have felt less constrained at many stages of its development but I guess that is a reality that all designers face when they are developing a game on their own and don’t have experienced partners.”

And the people who have sat down and given Friend or Foe a play through also seem generally satisfied, said its designer.

“While many of my students and friends have really liked the game, I think the best way to answer this question is to cite Father Geek’s official review of Friend or Foe, he is a professional game reviewer, who plays any game he reviews several times with different categories of players and then shares each group’s response to the game.”

Gosselin said the review noted; “… As mundane as some of the game is and as difficult as it sometimes appears, the game mats and the different game modes lift it out of any perceived mediocrity. Here is a game that kept surprising me. It continued to demonstrate more depth of play than I thought it capable of, required a lot of critical strategic thinking, and offered players the ability to quickly shift tactics to respond to a constantly changing game mat. The final result was a game that entertained and challenged. Do play Friend or Foe when the opportunity presents itself. This is not a game you should make enemies with.”

The game can be found by going to friendorfoethecardgame.com and click on ‘Get it!’”

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