Board Gaming · Solo Gaming · Solo Month · Uncategorized

Interview with Artem Safarov from Altema Games

If you missed it, yesterday I posted my review of Unbroken. This game is a solo-only game that completely shattered every stretch goal imaginable on Kickstarter and has caught the attention of the solitaire gaming community. Be sure to check out the Kickstarter page to learn more about it, which will be linked at the bottom of this post.

But, more importantly, I was able to convince Artem to answer some questions regarding his newest game, along with a few other things.

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1. I love the story behind your newest game, Unbroken, where you’re the lone survivor and exacting revenge on the monsters. What inspired that game concept?
Unbroken is inspired by an actual expedition in the computer game Darkest Dungeon that went terribly wrong. It’s a game that prides itself on being punishing – perma-death and all that. You get to take four adventurers into each expedition. I had three of mine die a horrible death at the hands of foul pig-monsters. The only one who was left had to make their way back to safety with very little health and supplies – it was one of the more memorable gaming experiences for me.
Aside from that particular story – Unbroken is a game that centers around perseverance in the face of adversity. Standing up after being knocked down. Lemonade when life gives you lemons. I love an underdog story and am always inspired of what people achieve in spite of obstacles on their way. Unbroken is a game about not giving up no matter how bad the circumstances.

2. What was the most challenging part of designing Unbroken? How did you overcome that obstacle?

 

Getting different monsters of the same level to provide comparable yet unique challenges. This is a big defining feature of Unbroken – it offers a flexible challenge that can come in different ways – is it a monster with impenetrable armor? Is it an enemy whom you have to overcome through cunning? A hungry beast that chows through all your food? Creating these different subsystems and balancing these to put up equal-difficulty obstacles on the player’s way was not easy. I wish I could tell you that there was an epiphany that led to a solution but instead (like with everything else in life) the solution was a lot of hard work to take all the details into account and to carefully craft all the different pathways in which the game can challenge you.

3. Unbroken is a solo-only game. What motivated you to create a game that could only be played by one player? 

 
Marketing, children and laziness. Let me explain 🙂
Marketing-wise it was my desire to not compete in highly contended markets of .. well, pretty much any other market in boardgaming that I can think of is highly contested. I mean – if you make a 2-4 player game that plays in about an hour – good luck standing out versus the beloved juggernauts that are out there. The same is true for games made for a two-player experience, or a 6-8 player party/social game. Solo-focused games to me was a market that did not have that many major players (Friday? Hostage Negotiator?) and one that was rising in popularity.
Children – because as a dad of two young boys getting out of the house is tough to arrange – for games or anything else. So oftentimes I am left all by my lonesome looking at my wall of games and knowing I want to play something. I had this inkling that I was not the only person with a wall of games and noone to play them with. So I decided to give my fellow parent nerds out there something they can enjoy by themselves in a compact timeframe.

Laziness – because development and playtesting of a solo game is ridiculously efficient. You know how fast is it to run a playtest of a 30-minute solo game? You just sit down and do it. Finding blind testers was so much easier than for my past multi-player efforts. It’s just easy, so it appeals to my natural desire to achieve my goals with minimum effort :).

4. You mention on your Kickstarter that Unbroken spent a year in public playtesting. How did that playtesting transform the game? Looking back on the process, would you do that again?

 

Oh wow, yes, absolutely I’d do it again. I can’t wait to release the Unbroken expansion to public testing first so that people can pick it apart and help me cut all the things that are not awesome. In fact there were so many small tweaks to Unbroken over that year that I can’t put my finger on any single one – their collective value of making the game balanced and fair is hard to overestimate. For once the time tracker started going backwards to 0 as opposed to going up from 0 to some level-specific number. That was such a neat fix. Another cool change is that the monster cards initially had to be pre-shuffled and put in order before play could start. A tester suggested players just roll to randomize which monster they face – this cut the setup time considerably and removed necessity to awkwardly shuffle awkward cards.

5. You included one of my favorite stretch goals in the history of Kickstarters: exclusive backstories for the monsters in the game. What inspired this stretch goal? How many did you have prepared before the launch of your Kickstarter? What has been your favorite one to write?

 

Great question! I think it came from the fact that I wanted each monster in Unbroken to have a unique identity to them – something that would set them aside as more than just a set of stats. I mean yes, they all should feel different mechanically and pose different challenges, but I also wanted to make sure that they exist as more than just obstacles to be overcome. Thinking about it was a fun way to get inside the heads of the monsters who are such staples of fantasy RPGs – I think I was inspired in this with the way that webcomics like Order of the Stick and Goblins deal with this material, taking these perspectives seriously. To me it adds to the tense, dangerous atmosphere of Unbroken – this personalization of enemies, evil and cruel as they are, adds weight to the battles and their outcomes. My favourite so far was the Wererat – a story of a scorned love and unexpected vindication.

6. If you had to sum up in one sentence the experience a player will get when playing Unbroken, what would it be?

 

“Die Hard in a dungeon”. Rahdo said it and I’m not even going to try to beat the concise precision of that.

7. How can someone who missed the Kickstarter campaign get a copy of Unbroken? 

 

Head over to the Kickstarter page – there should be a late-pledge option for some time after the campaign itself closes.

8. Where can someone go to keep up with you, the progress of Unbroken’s fulfillment, and the design of your next game?

 
Unbroken fulfillment will be mostly communicated through Kickstarter updates. For all the other stuff and to chat about anything and everything – the social media channels await! I do tend to talk a lot about gaming with kids and Lord of the Rings, fair warning :).
Thanks for this opportunity. Had fun with this interview and am grateful for all who are backing or considering to back Unbroken.
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Artem Safarov, Founder of Altema Games and Game Designer

Artem has a powerful passion for games, numbers and the creative process. He cherishes opportunities to combine mathematical models with a well-applied theme to create unique and memorable gaming moments. In his experience as a Game Master for RPGs, Artem learned that setting the stage and mood of any game will have a dramatic effect on players’ enjoyment. His professional experience as a project manager helps keep all Altema work on track. Artem’s current main role is as a father to a rapidly growing 3-year old Alan.

Favourite games: Lords of Waterdeep, Eldritch Horror, Middle Earth Quest, Robinson Crusoe, Space Hulk: Death Angel.

Be sure to check the game’s Kickstarter page out, as it isn’t too late to snag a copy of this game!
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