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Shooting The Shit: Six Gun Saga Interview

When RPS' favourite indie strategy developer announces he's making a new game, our response is somewhat predictable. First, we write about it. Secondly, we hang on Vic Davis' leg mewling like sick children until he gives us an interview, revealing everything that we want to know about the aforementioned game. This is the latter. The game is Six Gun Saga, and on past form and what Vic reveals here, it's sounding very exciting...

RPS: Okay - let's start at the top. This is a spin-off from your Western Rogue game you were working on. What exactly tripped you up and sent you into this? What was the core inspiration?

Vic Davis: Necessity is the mother of invention and all that. I had intended to do a strategy-adventure type game set in the Old West but my core mechanic ended up just not being that interesting. It would be like playing puzzle quest and finding that the match 3 mechanic wasn’t really that fun. The idea was that you would have a “challenge” to overcome be it a gunfight, bank robbery, saloon brawl or whatever and you would play a poker game to resolve it. The novelty that I had added was that you had a skills tree or table that your character progressed in that let you do things like change the suites of the cards, bump the numbers up or down, redraw cards, etc. etc. But like I said it was a failure. Sound familiar? I’ve had this happen to me a bunch of times and I’ve developed the horse sense to just walk away from it and move on to something else. I think this process is called the Sid Meier Dinosaur rule.

RPS: Can you talk a little about the inspirations to the game? You mention Dominion. RPS has been playing a lot of Dominion recently. What sort of aspects interest you?

Vic Davis: So Six Gun Saga is the phoenix from the ashes. I had been playing a bunch of games like Race for the Galaxy and Dominion that are basically boxes with a bunch of cards in them….no boards, no dice, no pawns to move around. And I thought I would take a shot at finding a way to use all the art that I had purchased for my ditched western themed game. I had contracted for it when I was feeling flush from my initial Armageddon Empires success. I thought I would keep a project on the back burner to let me take a break from Solium Infernum every once in a while. That didn’t quite work out as well as I would have liked. SI was pretty all consuming.

Dominion has a novel mechanic in that you build a deck as you play the game. Although I think it’s really clever I didn’t try to go for anything like that. I did like some of the other things it did like the Action cards and the drawing of your cards at the end of your turn. I also admired its relatively simple turn flow.

RPS: And the real basics - how does the core of the game work? I understand you draw a hand of cards of four types, and play whatever you want. Could you explain what they do? Perhaps describe a standard round?

Vic Davis: The core concept of the game is that you have a hand of cards that represent famous old west characters and locations and you have to choose from one of four options for each card. 1) Buy the card with cash in your stockpile and now have that card working for you 2) Cash the card in for its cash value and add that money to your stockpile 3) Play the “Action” that is listed on the card….these would be the equivalent of spells in a fantasy type game. 4) Play the poker value of the card to a posse that you control.

That’s the primary decision space but once you buy the services of a “Dude” as I call them you need to organize them into “Posses” and move them out onto a very simple board to either hunt down and kill your opponents’ dudes or defend against a foray aimed at your “Bunkhouse” which is simply where any dudes you own sit around when they are not in a posse. You win the game by earning either the most Victory Points when some trigger trips (turns or dudes killed) or by being the first to a certain VP threshold. One monkey wrench is that every dude you hire has an upkeep cost in cash so you won’t be able to just keep hiring away. At the beginning of your turn you need to keep your books balanced so you either have to cash in some cards or fire some dudes if you don’t have enough cash to make payroll.

In addition to dudes, you have deeds (places), ambushes (one time attacks when a player moves into a location that you designate) and finally bosses which you choose at the beginning of the game to represent your faction. So you would get dealt a starting hand and then decide which cards to buy, cash in or use as an action. Dudes you buy go to your bunkhouse which then can be assigned to posses that you create on the game board. You fill up a posse and then move it out onto the board. Once you have completed everything that you want to do, you draw cards to fill up your hand up to some max value which is determined by the boss you picked and then you end your turn. Your opponents do the same and then the turn comes back to you.

That’s the game in a nutshell but there are a lot of other fun aspects. For example when you attack an enemy posse you resolve the gunfight via a Texas Hold’em poker game mechanic. Each posse adds up its total gunfight skill attributes and then the side that wins the poker game gets an additional bonus based on it’s winning hand value i.e. Three of a kind might give it +6. The modified numbers are now compared and the side with the lower number receives the difference in wounds. The wounds are distributed by the winning player and any dead dudes get sent to Boot Hill after their VP values are awarded to the player who killed them.

RPS: If I understand from what you told me, the game's variability - bar the random nature of the deck - is to do with the "Boss" you pick. As in, who you're going after. Is this right? Could you explain a bit more about how this will work?

Vic Davis: The boss is basically you standard strategy game starting position incarnated onto the game board. He determines a lot of your starting attributes and in some cases can be a powerful “Dude” in his own right. He’s free in that he requires no upkeep but of course like the King in chess you move him out from his back line at your own peril. If you lose your boss you lose the game no matter what the VP point situation. At this stage I have 7 starting bosses that you can choose from. Each has a unique special bonus that tailors it to certain play styles. For example, there is an outlaw boss that gives your posses a +2 bonus to their gunfight numbers for each lawman in the opposing posse (each dude has a subtype property that lets it interact with the game rules in different ways i.e. bonuses here and penalties there).

So basically the boss adds thematic flavor as well as a way to encourage different play styles.

RPS: After Solium Infernum, this seems to be a return to the single-player-only board-game of Armageddon Empires. With Armageddon Empires, it seemed interesting in that it was a MP-looking game that would only really work in SP due to pacing, etc. Is this similar? As in, it's the sort of Board-game that could only really work as a single-player computer game? Or is this a game which you could abstractly turn into a card-game and play?

Vic Davis: Right now I only intend to have this played single player. I was thinking about games like Weird Worlds and Puzzle Quest and how fun it was to have something on my desktop that I could just fire up when my brain was fried and I could get a micro game experience in a half hour. I could see you turning this into a real physical board game no problem. It might even work online in a browser if you modified some of the design choices slightly. I don’t even know where to start in approaching something outside my tool box so I’m just sticking to what I know and offering this as a downloadable experience like I’ve done before. I’ve said this before but I’m not successful enough at this point to take the time off to learn new technology and I don’t want to be a manager of a software team so my options are a bit limited. I’m not complaining though and I’m quite happy doing my little thing in this niche. I say this because I do get a lot of emails from customers who like my games but wish they were more professional. It’s like asking a black smith to retrain as an auto mechanic.

RPS: On that note... you seem to draw a lot from board-games. There's been quite a few computer devs doing physical games. Ever tempted to follow them?

Vic Davis: It’s one of my possible escape plans if I ever have to pull the plug on the boutique downloadable strategy game business. The problem is that it is even more niche than what I am doing right now. It’s probably got a higher failure rate then opening up a new restaurant. Getting a reliable printer is tough and you need a good chunk of capital to buy in quantities that make the printing reasonable. You also have to manage and warehouse physical goods which is really a bummer. I actually used to do a lot of that when I worked with my brother at TravelBrains and I don’t know if I want my garage filled up with boxes. You also have to be a really good marketer and want to sell your games. For a recluse like me that’s asking a lot. The more I think about this the more I’m realizing I need some other escape plans.

RPS: A little on the technical aspects. Adobe Director again? Considering going to a different format, or are you settled here?

Vic Davis: I’m lying face down in the gutter. I’d like to get a few more games done that have been gnawing away at me (and which I think Director can handle) and then take a sabbatical and learn how to make an online game that is run through your browser.

RPS: What about the theme appeals? You're still working on the Rogue, I understand. A big fan of the old west? What's your specific inspirations?

Vic Davis: It’s an underused theme despite several revival attempts in the last couple of decades. I’ve also always been a sucker for films like The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. Red Dead Redemption came out a while back and I watched my son play that on the console and was wishing I’d had the game ready for release then. The fantasy Old West offers such a rich background to draw on. I say fantasy because real life then was often pretty brutal and miserable. I had some fun reading up on a lot of the historical figures from the period. So it was a little bit of a kick to be able to mix in some of these guys into the game.

I am still working on a rogue-like but it’s got a completely different theme. It’s not your typical rogue –like in that it’s more like Weird Worlds or Puzzle Quest than it is Angband or Stone Soup.

RPS: To touch on other material - you mention you're still doing a micro-expansion for Solium Infernum. Any more news/details?

Vic Davis: It’s coming along slowly. Once I finished the 1.06 update version over the summer I started a new separate build for implementing some of the new rules changes so that I could experiment a bit. For cash flow reasons I have to finish Six Gun Saga first before I can release the free mini expansion pack for SI. But I will get it done eventually.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Six Gun Saga will be out "in a couple of months". You can follow its development on Cryptic Comet's blog.

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