With their newest game now halfway through their KickStarter, Matthew Kizner and Jonathan Teixeira Moffat of Stone Circle Games agreed to an interview. Their newest game “Horrible Hex”, a deceptively simple hex based strategy game, has caught the eye of many backers and is steadily gaining more and more attention. Find more information and their hilariously campy pitch video on their KickStarter page.
BLAST MAGAZINE: What does Horrible Hex do to separate itself from other board games?
JONATHAN TEIXERI MOFFAT: Horrible Hex is an abstract pattern-forming game. There are no dice to roll, no tables to memorize, just goal cards with patterns of colored hexagons and the hexagons themselves. Where many of the more popular board games right now, such as Settlers of Catan or Pandemic, require at least 4 people and will take ten plus minutes to learn and often well over an hour to play, Horrible Hex can be explained in a minute and played out in fifteen minutes to a half hour with as few as 2 people. There are very few rules to learn, but like chess, knowledge of these rules only gets you to the doorstep and it can take many playthroughs to feel like you’re really “good” at the game. Because the hex tiles move and goal pattern cards get switched regularly, the board and game itself are in a constant state of dynamic movement.
For me, it fills the role of a quick game that can be played between longer events but that I’ll never feel like is out of new tricks to see and challenges to overcome.
BLAST MAGAZINE: How much has Horrible Hex evolved since it was first created in 2006?
JTM: Surprisingly to me, not very much. When I began design, I created the tiles and just sort of started moving them around on the table. Very quickly the turn order and movement rules fell into place. It was very organic in that turn order and scoring restrictions just sort of HAD to work that way or the game didn’t work at all. Once it was functional, it spent a lot of time on my shelf collecting dust, coming out only once a year or so to show to a friend. A couple years ago, when Stone Circle Games was formed, I started showing it off again. There were a couple minor tweaks to the jump and push movement rules to make them a little more powerful, and we decided to add the board wipe during playtesting after one particularly entrepreneurial play tester created what we affectionately called “the infinite hex chain” in an attempt to not concede a goal card to his opponent. We implemented the board wipe after scoring to speed things up and prevent perpetual hex chains, but apart from that the game is more or less as it was in 2006.
BLAST MAGAZINE: What were your biggest problems bringing this game to its current state and how did you overcome them?
JTM: As a company of aspiring game designers, the mechanics and rules of the game were created quite organically and quickly once the initial idea was put on a table.The layout, symbols and artwork were our biggest obstacles and taught us a valuable lesson about the technical difficulties associated with digital graphic design. There were many iterations of symbols that we looked at and spent long hours testing. The symbols have to be intuitive and simple or else players cannot quickly visualize how a tile will move. Making sure that people look at a symbol and understand immediately what it is and how it moves is critical to play enjoyment and engagement. We also went through a couple options for artists to do the color and feel of the tiles, arriving finally at what we’ve got. We wanted the tiles to be minimalistic so that nothing would get in the way of the core gameplay: visualizing patterns in unexpected orientations. We also wanted to make sure that the tiles were easily distinguished from one another by the colorblind. It took several prototypes but, I think we finally have a great looking product.
BLAST MAGAZINE: What have play testers been saying about Horrible Hex?
JTM: “Deceptively simple”, “very few rules but lots of strategy”- many comments of that nature which makes me really happy. It’s a true compliment from my perspective to have developed something simultaneously complex in concept, but simple in execution. We did an event at MagFest 13 where we taught the game to people of all ages and backgrounds. Without fail, people picked up the rules right away and had no problem understanding what was going on.
JTM: I’d say surprise is the most common reaction I’ve seen. The game looks too simple when you just read the rules and look at the pieces, but there’s a lot of strategy there. It’s one of those “we challenge you to try it” games where we as a company hope you try it, because once you do, we know we’ll have you once you do. The game will leave you smiling and scratching your head in the same breath, and there just aren’t a lot of games like that. One critic told me something along the lines of “I really didn’t expect much but you really surprised me.” They’ve also praised it for being so compact and easy to teach. Horrible Hex is eminently portable, fitting easily into a pouch (the Crown Royal variety works perfectly if you’re of a legal age to procure one). With its minimal footprint, it’s the perfect game to bring along on a trip or anywhere you might have 10-15 minutes of down time.
BLAST MAGAZINE: With the Hex, Any Way You Want It package buyers are able to customize their game’s color scheme. Do you foresee this being an option for buyers down the road or is this going to be a one time thing for KickStarter?
JTM: I’d have to ask our graphic artist. I’d be happy to sell custom copies but I’m pretty sure he’d murder me in my sleep for saying so. I will say that as of right now, the custom games are a KickStarter exclusive and there are no plans currently to change that.
BLAST MAGAZINE: On your KickStarter page it says you’ve contacted other groups and individuals behind successful KickStarters to pick their brains. Can you go into any of the advice that has helped you push this project in the right direction?
JTM: It might not look like it from the outside, but anyone who has done a KickStarter before will tell you that there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the curtains. As this was our first foray into crowdfunding, we had a lot to learn about how to talk to manufacturers, how to calculate shipping, how to figure out what your goal should be, how to properly lay out and present your KickStarter page, all that stuff. We also learned how depressingly expensive and complicated domestic and international shipping is. From a very early stage we drew on some very helpful people for feedback and advice and all through the design of our campaign we continually solicited comments and applied them to improve and polish the final product.
As an example, the pricing on the tiers, the amount of text vs. images on the page and the number of reviews for the game were all based on feedback from others who have walked the path before us. The choice of whether to back a project or not can be very quick and visceral; a perfect first impression is essential.
BLAST MAGAZINE: Will Stone Circle Games be at any upcoming conventions with Horrible Hex?
JTM: We will, a copy will be at UnPub 5 in Baltimore Feb 7-8!
BLAST MAGAZINE: What other games have members of Stone Circle Games been involved with in the past?
JTM: A few. We have one designer who works with Smart Green Systems. They do mostly educational games but you may have seen his work here and there. Another designer nearly worked for Riot on League of Legends. They flew him out to LA and everything! Finally, I have had some dealings with Steve Jackson Games and sold them some IP in the past.
BLAST MAGAZINE: Do you have any plans regarding your other games “Traders, Raiders & Runners” and “Merchant Marine”?
JTM: For now, we like them being pay what you feel on our website for anyone who wants them. They’re solid games and I think they’re a good way to demonstrate that we can put out a good product. There’s an underlying theme in our initial offerings surrounding accessibility and portability of games that we’re really happy with. We don’t mean to take anything away from the Monopoly’s and Arkham Horror’s of the world, but they are time consuming, and in Arkham’s case, an absolute nightmare to transport or setup. I think our initial games are really aimed at bringing things back to basics, while challenging the classic idea of what “basic” is. We like that our games can be described as simple to learn and easy to play, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t complex in strategy or big on fun. In a world where we’ve had a little more success (and capital) under our belts, I would like to offer full-manufacture versions of these games. Currently, there are no plans for that to happen as we focus our full attention on Horrible Hex’s campaign.
Horrible Hex had raised more than $8,500 of an $18,000 goal as of Feb. 7, with 10 days to go.