Khairul Hamdan talks Reign

Posted by Matthew on December 1st, 2016


At PAXAus 2016 Khairul Hamdan, game designer from Garage Games, was giving attendees a taste of Reign at the TGDA booth. Part combat card game, part political negotiation simulator, Reign gives players the chance to use all their wiles to claim the Kingdom for themselves. I talked with Khairul about the game, his forays into Kickstarter, and being part of the TGDA.

Can you briefly explain what Reign is about? 

In Reign, players take the role of a noble lord or lady of Kazath. Your King has tragically died and has left no heir. It is up to you to stabilise the realm and set yourself up as the new ruler. Sadly, others around you have the same idea and do not yet recognise your claim as legitimate. To win you must claim the Onyx Crown for yourself in combat and hold it for long enough that the people will recognise you as their rightful ruler.

You first have to secretly bid for the support of one of the great houses, without a house’s backing taking the Onyx Crown for yourself is an exercise in futility. You must be careful to not bit too high as the cards used are discarded but also not to bid too low as to have another player outbid you.

Once you have the support of a house, you begin to muster your army. You build up your army with the cards in your hand but to win you may need to convince those around you to back your claim this round. While it is already beneficial for them to do so as they build their legitimacy by doing so, others may sway them from your influence with promises of spoils (cards you gain for winning a round) and future support. You must be ever vigilant if you wish to succeed as most cards are played face down and the person you may think is trying to help you may instead wish to cause you harm with betrayal cards.

Once the battlelines have been drawn the armies are revealed and the player with the most powerful army wins the round and becomes Regent, gaining the Onyx Crown, the spoils of war and building their legitimacy. You may choose to be a benevolent ruler and reward those who helped you handsomely… or not. But remember, people have a tendency to remember when you mess them over.

Finally, you draw cards from the centre and replenish your hand, ready for another round. Once you have the Onyx Crown and 9 legitimacy points, you can take your rightful place and Reign.

Reign in action

One of the main mechanics of Reign centres on negotiations or alliances. How have you handled this aspect so that it integrates into the game as a whole?

Reign is all about working with others to push yourself ahead. There is no second place in Reign and only one person will have the glory for being named the next King or Queen. Mechanically, you are going to be playing a lot of secret cards and promising a lot of spoils to those that you wish to back you. But there is one golden rule in Reign. Promises can be broken.

Betrayal is a constant threat as a card that another player played into your army may be a beneficial military unit such as the mighty bear cavalry, or it may be an assassin lying in wait to kill off your strongest card. You will not know until the end of the round when combat begins. Even then, if two players backed you this round, you won’t know who gave you what as the cards are shuffled before revealing.

Helping others win the Onyx Crown and become Regent for the round is also beneficial for you as you will share in the spoils and it will give you legitimacy points which are required to win the game. I have seen a lot of strategies when it comes to Reign but by far my favourite is playing the “Littlefinger” strategy: changing your allegiances and backing whoever is going to win right up until the very last round. Then, your careful planning and cunning negotiation allows you to suddenly take the Onyx Crown and win the game.

You demoed Reign a number of times at the TGDA booth during PAXAus 2016. What is the TGDA, and why did you demo the game here rather than out in the tabletop freeplay area?

Demoing at PAX was great and it was amazing to be able to demo Reign at the TGDA booth. Tabletop Game Designers Australia (TGDA) is a community of Australian based game designers and industry experts that work together to advocate and facilitate Australian tabletop game design, development and commercialisation. We exist to lend promotion and assistance to those in the Australian game design community and to help Aussie game designer to succeed. Everyone there is extremely helpful and if you are an Australian game designer I would encourage you to join our Facebook group.

The main reason for demoing Reign at the TGDA booth instead of the free play area was to help promote the TGDA and let people know that Australian tabletop game design is booming. The booth also provided a platform to show off Reign without the clutter of the free play area. I got to meet a lot of people and really loved seeing them enjoying Reign. Even had a sand person cosplayer join in at one point. Had I known better I would have scared him off, so he would be back later and in greater numbers.

Card artwork in Reign

The copy of Reign you were using to demo looked quite finished. At what point are you at in the creation of a final product?

The current version of Reign is near completion, however it is a print on demand prototype. Not all the components are completely representative of the final version but they are as close as I can get them. I believe that part of prototyping a tabletop game is making sure that everything feels right in your hands. I am currently waiting on the “white box prototype” (a blank version of the game used to test components) from the manufacturer but having a look as some of their other games they have done, I am very happy with the quality. The only non-component thing left to do is to have my editor spell check and quality check the hell out of the current version, can’t have any spelling mistakes or inconsistencies in the final product.

There was a Kickstarter for Reign held in June of 2015, but this was cancelled part of the way through. What was the reason for the cancellation?

Reign’s first Kickstarter was a bit of a learning experience, I am at heart a game designer and at the time I was not a marketing or manufacturing guy. While Reign was a great game at the time, its Kickstarter was a bit rough around the edges and it didn’t have a lot of online presence. Even so, there was still enormous support for the game and it would have met its goal in the final few days but there were two things that lead me to cancel the project.

Firstly, manufacturing Reign was going to be expensive at low quantities and the price point I was asking for in the first Kickstarter was around USD$22 (about AUD$29 in 2015). This price was not ideal for my Australian backers and I felt like it was a real barrier to entry. Secondly, shipping Reign was also going to be expensive and backers had to pay for shipping anywhere outside of the US, up to another AUD$9.

I felt like it would be unfair to Reign’s backers if I could not give them the absolute best price and value for their support. So I cancelled the project with the goal to relaunch after learning as much as I could from the experts in the Kickstarter board gaming community. The TGDA has gone a long way to helping with that as there is so many talented people willing to share their knowledge but the person who has helped most is Kim Brebach of Monstrous fame, he has given me a lot of advice about keeping my shipping costs down.

A game of Reign in progress

How has Reign been changed or improved since the Kickstarter?

Game design at its heart is an iterative process and there has been a variety of small changes over the last year that has worked towards taking Reign from being a great game to an amazing game. Graphically, I have worked with various graphics designers to make sure that the information that needs to be known is presented as efficiently as possible. Mechanically, I have changed the rules slightly with the goal of letting players make more interesting choices more often. Efficiency wise, I have added tokens that allow players to track their score more easily than using dice or pen and paper and I have also added a few player aids that make the game run smoother for new players.

A lot of blood (mostly paper cuts), sweat and tears have been poured into Reign and the near-final product is something I am very proud of.

Will Reign be reappearing on Kickstarter at any point? What can those interested in the game expect to see in the campaign, and what will you do differently this time around?

Definitely, I will be relaunching Reign’s Kickstarter in mid-January. The biggest thing this time around is that the main pledge level will be AUD$25 (around USD$19) including shipping worldwide! I will also be having an early bird shipping tier for the first 200 backers who will receive Reign around two weeks before everyone else, this is really a thanks for those initial supporters that will be vital for Reign’s Kickstarter success.

The highest tier is going to make those more invested in Reign make their mark on the game as they each work with me to create a special promo event card that will be added to each copy as Kickstarter exclusive. These backers will also get the satisfaction of knowing that they benefit everyone with their pledge. Stretch goals are going to mainly focus on component quality upgrades but there are a few really cool things that I have in the works that will be revealed a bit closer to the launch date.

Finally, I have a video in the works that I think people are really going to enjoy, it brings a dramatic flair to the campaign while giving people an idea on how to play.

You can keep up to date with what is happening on Reign at the Garage Games website.

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