May 08

Interview with Brent Critchfield of Studio Woe

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Studio Woe is a contract art house and creative studio, whose second Kickstarter has found success on Kickstarter! Their first game, Gruff, is seeing a follow-up by the name Clash of the Battle Goats. Studio Woe was founded by Brent and Virginia Critchfield, and is located in my home of Austin, TX. After meeting Brent at the SXSW Gaming Expo this year, I had to ask him some questions.

Travis Blair: What got you involved in making card games?

Brent Critchfield: I have always been really into card games ever since i was a little kid. I played Crazy 8’s, Rummy, Skip-Bo, and Rook. Eventually I discovered more tactical CCG’s and fell in love. About a decade ago some fiends and I tried to create a “Real-Time” miniatures combat game that used a card game as it’s engine. We never quite got the mini’s game working how we wanted, but I have been designing card games ever since.

Travis: Who is responsible for this awesome artwork, and how did they come up with these twisted creatures?

Brent: Virginia Critchfield is the creative genius behind the artwork for Gruff. She is a veteran concept artist that has worked on over a dozen games including League of Legends and Warhammer 40k (Dark Millenium Online.) Several years ago she started sketching monster goats as a way of training as a concept artist. I was working on my card game at the same time and the 2 ideas seemed like a perfect fit for each other.

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Travis: When developing your games, does story affect the game mechanics in any way?

Brent: Character design and personality are really the driving forces behind the game mechanics of Gruff. I will look at one of Virginia’s designs and wonder how that goat behaves, what he likes, and what he hates. Those questions drive the creation of the cards and motifs that become the final product in a game like “Clash of the Battle Goats.”

Brent: For example, if you look at a gruff like Toof, he is basically a gigantic wall of meat. Not the brightest goat in the herd. I wanted that feeling to translate into his play-style. Cards like “Toof’s Apathy”, Illiterate”, and “Dyscalculia” give you the impression that he is this gigantic invulnerable thing that does not care at all about what is happening in the world around him.

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Travis: What hurdles to game creation did you encounter when designing Clash of the Battle Goats?

Brent: The main challenge with Clash was trying to create a game that would be very friendly to new players while still allowing them to experience the crazy, over-the-top tactical experience that is Gruff. To do this I was really choosy about which goats made it into the roster for Clash. I wanted goats that had a really simple core mechanical hook that people could understand on their first play-through but would open up a ton of flexibility and deck-building options when you take a closer look at them. For example there is a goat called Gripjaw that on the surface seems like a really solid late-game attacker, but he also brings cards like “Nitrocelerate” and “Bad Science” that, when combined with the right other cards, could allow you an almost limitless amount of draw power and resources!

Travis: How has the creation experience been different from developing Gruff and Clash of the Battle Goats?

Brent: Generally Gruff was a problem of systems design while Clash is a problem of refining that system. Gruff was trying to set up a style of card based combat that I had never seen before. When I was testing Gruff I would try some really outlandish stuff, it would be a disaster, and I would rebuild it from scratch for the next playtest. In Clash I was able to make a much more polished experience because my time was not spent trying to find the core experience of the game.

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Travis: Studio Woe has been at some great conventions. What has your experience like been as a tabletop studio hosting a booth?

Brent: I have been really fortunate to have been invited to participate in Indie Megabooth, IndieCade, SXSW and several other groups that have given Gruff pretty broad access to conventions this year. The main advantage of the conventions is the ability to get visibility on your project from a lot of different perspectives. It really helps to see your project from the perspective of your player. The visibility is also really great! Our next convention is GenCon where we are going to be holding this year’s Gruff Championship tournament.

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Travis: What has been the most fun you’ve had so far designing card games?

Brent: I love the really early stage where I am just beginning to discover who a new gruff is. I like figuring out what the play-style of that gruff is, then trying to find ways for them to combo off of the other goats in the game. That little golden phase really only lasts a week or so then you get back into the process of iteration and refinement.

Travis: Clash of the Battle Goats plays independently and with your previous game, Gruff. Was this a challenge accomplishing this task?

Brent: It was a challenge in the beginning stages of Gruff to think far enough ahead to plan for a system that would allow for modular, self-contained expansion. After that it was mostly just a challenge not to screw over “Future Me” in order to come up with an easy short term solution to a game-play problem.

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Travis: What is one of your favorite tabletop games you’re currently playing, and what is one of your all-time favorites?

Brent: I just started getting into “Above and Below” and am really enjoying that game. It is a combination of storytelling, worker placement and city building with a really rad adventuring twist. There is something in that experience for every type of gamer, and has a really nice aesthetic. I am a little late to the game on Star Realms, but I am really enjoying that game as well. It is a faster, more direct, and more bloodthirsty take on the Ascension or Dominion deck-builder, but it also has a mobile version which means I can play while I poop which is exciting! As far as an all time favorite I keep coming back to Castles of Mad King Ludwig. The game is solid and really consistently fun. It is one of those games that you need to bring your own narrative to enjoy it, but if you do it can be a blast.

Travis: How awesome is all the positive reception for Clash of the Battle Goats? Congratulations on the Kickstarter campaign!

Brent: The reception of Clash has been really awesome! The critical response to this game has been overwhelmingly positive and the Kickstarter community has been fantastic! It is always a nerve racking process to put your game out in the public eye, but Kickstarter has made that difficult process really fun!

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Thanks to Brent Critchfield and Studio Woe for the interview! Take a look at their Kickstarter campaign – in its final days – for Clash of the Battle Goats!
Image credit: Studio Woe