A Reddit AMA Leder Games, cretor of games such as Root and upcoming Fort, interview took place on August 3rd, 2020. Leder Games is a spunky indie board game publisher located in Saint Paul, MN. Published titles include Vast: The Crystal Caverns, Root, and Vast: The Mysterious Manor. For those unaware, AMAs are a very popular “Ask Me Anything” feature mainstay on Reddit that often attracts big names. You can see the original conversation here or you can see the recap below.
They recently launched pre-orders for their first direct to retail game Fort! (Which you can find here: https://ledergames.com/products/fort)
Fort is a clever deck building game where you are gathering resources like pizza and toys to build the best fort! Unlike most deck builders, whatever cards you don’t use on your turn will go out into a pool others can draft from!
A couple quick bios for the folks answering questions:
Patrick Leder (u/PatrickLeder) is the owner of Leder Games, known for designing Vast: The Crystal Caverns, Vast: The Mysterious Manor, and Root: The Underworld Expansion.
Nick Brachmann ( u/NickBrachmann) graphic designer and developer, known for working on Vast: The Mysterious Manor, Root, and lead developer for Fort.
SEE ALSO: Reddit AMA Founder of Dice Tower | Reddit AMA Designer of Gloomhaven | Reddit AMA Director of GameMaster Doc
REDDIT AMA LEDER INTERVIEW TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Is Root done or is there more to come?
- How is the decision made to call the design of a game ‘finished’?
- How many OATH ideas did you feel you could not fit into the base game and you hope to explore in the future?
- Did you deliberately design Root to have a significant negotiation aspect between players?
- Do you have any advice for teaching Root and/or Oath to people in an easily-digestible way?
- What was the most memorable play(s) in Root that you’ve had?
- Where are you currently with the history/journal for Oath?
- How did you (Cole) end up working at your company now? What are your thoughts on the cons and networking in general?
- Any update on a Root video game or fan factions?
- In Root, have you thought about releasing some sort of alternative objs for the factions?
- You get free money to upgrade any component from a previous game you released, what piece do you upgrade?
- What is your favorite faction in Root?
- After putting Fort up for pre-order, do you see Leder Games continuing to use Kickstarter for future games?
- Patrick, is your last name pronounced like ‘leader’ or is it more like lay-der?
- What was it like getting a digital version of your game (Root by Direwolf) made? Any plans on doing other games as well?
- What’s the best advice you can give to up and coming Indie Devs?
- Do you think Void Lich will be the next big project after Oath?
- How do you feel about the Root: RPG?
- Do you have any tips on teaching Root to others?
- Will Leder Games take the plunge into sci-fi or sci-fantasy settings? What are some of your favorite sci-fi, sci-fantasy or cyberpunk board games?
- Patrick, Can you offer any updates on them and when we might hear more news about any of your games in the works?
- Nick, are there any new projects/games your hoping to look at for 2021-2022?
- Who is the best Crokinole player at the studio?
- When you were just starting out, how did you get enough people interested in trying out your designs?
- Is there a chance that Leder Games will bring back Chaos in the Old World re-skinned with Kyle Ferrin art?
- What’s your advice for people who would like to invent their first Boardgame?
- What was special about SPQF to warrant a remake of it into Fort? Also, why not keep the animal theme from the original instead of making it kids who are hanging out?
- Can you let us know more about your plans after Oath and the rumored expansion to Root?
- Do you think the next Root expansion Kickstarter will happen before the end of the year?
- What is your perspective on online reviews/critiques of your games? How do you/your team react to them?
- Do you guys have any plans for developing potential co-op games in the future?
- What is Leder Games doing to prevent past experiences where changes were made after the game was released to avoid frustration?
- Are there any plans to expand Vast mysterious manor anymore aside from the shadow paladin and the Knight?
- Would you be up for a digital version of Root on boardgamearena?
- What’s your favorite game (that isn’t one of yours)?
- Nick, when it comes to graphic design in board games what were your major inspirations and lessons you’ve learned?
- What are your favorite scrapped ideas from Root/Vast?
- What’s your favorite part about having your own studio?
- Is there a license you would like to make board games for? If so, which ones?
- Are there any considerations for expansion content for Fort?
- How do you feel about the crowd funding format in general?
- Fort appears to stray from the Leder style of asymmetrical titles, was that a one-off or the plan for the future?
- Any recommendations of board games you guys have gotten into recently?
- What video games do you all enjoy and take inspiration from?
- How did you guys get acquainted with Kyle Ferrin?
- Why is it so hard to bring your games to non-English speaking countries?
1. At this point. 8 factions, 4 boards, 2 decks…do you consider root complete or are you guys still coming up with new ideas?
Patrick: Cole has been working on a few new factions and I feel like he has 4 in him for the next release. I think he will focus on that. I will probably not have any content in the next expansion but we are talking about another down the road. We still have to meet and develop the outline for the expansion.
Cole: For Root, I’ve got an insurgent faction, a conquering army, and a nation in civil war right now. They are all pretty different and fit the world nicely. I’m excited to draw them up properly and get them into testing.
2. With Oath seeing so many major mechanical changes leading up to production, how is the decision made to call the design ‘finished’ instead of continuing to test and solicit feedback (at the risk of potential delays)?
Patrick: It’s always a hard call. I find that I often do my best design work late in the process. Thankfully, the success of the Kickstarter let’s us be quite flexible when it comes to the really important date: factory submission. If a game needs more work, I never worry about asking for additional time. Oath is feeling pretty well cooked at the moment. Outside of the smallest edits, the game has been stable for weeks. I could probably tinker on the design forever, but I think it’s ready, and I’d much rather you all play it than I tinker forever!
3. How many OATH ideas did you feel you could not fit into the base game and you hope to explore in the future?
Cole: For Oath, I’d like to cover a foreign invasion in a future product and I wouldn’t mind building out the game’s magic/divinity system.
4. Did you deliberately design Root to have a significant negotiation aspect between players?
Cole: Yes! And I think the game is much better for it. Much like Volko’s brilliant COIN games, a little tabletalk really amps up the general experience.
5. Do you have any advice for teaching Root and/or Oath to people in an easily-digestible way?
Cole: For Root there are lots of resources. I really like the walkthrough we included in the fourth printing. There are lots of good video guides as well.
For Oath, I rely on a living walkthrough where I help players take their first few turns and then we get rolling together. We’ve actually adapted this strategy to the game’s built in tutorial mode which is incredible and goes a long way in making the game approachable. It’s still no walk in the park but Josh Yearsley (our editor) has done marvels with it!
6. What was the most memorable play(s) in Root that you’ve had?
Cole: My favorite game of Root was the last game we played in office before shipping the first printing. We played on the winter map with the scoundrel and a key clearing was destroyed, leaving the map a funny U shape. By the 8th turn there were almost no pieces on the map and everyone had around 23 VPs but had no way to earn any more. The next few turns were so tense and interesting. It felt almost post-apocalyptic.
7. Where are you currently with the history/journal for Oath that you discussed on twitter?
Cole: We’re doing drafts this week. Hopefully I’ll have more to share on that soon.
8. How did you (Cole) end up working at your company now? Did you know Patrick Leder personally? If so how did you meet? And would you say going to things like Gencon is important to network and stuff like that?
Cole: As for how I got a job with Patrick, I applied for a job posting. I had talked to him before but didn’t know him in any serious way. In my opinion, the kind of networking you can do at an event like Gen Con is overrated. It’s much more important to focus on your craft and look for places to hone it. If you like design, playtest for others and build a network around projects and things you’ve done. When I first talked to Patrick, I had been published 3 or 4 times and had a small following around my work. That mattered a lot more than who I knew.
9. Any updates for when we might hear about root the video game or the fan factions?
Cole: No clue re: the video game. I know as much as is publicly known.
10. I love Root but one complaint I’ve always had was that the point system always seems unrewarding. Have you thought about releasing some sort of alternative objs for the factions?
Cole: Not for Root, but I should say that Oath is designed entirely around addressing this space. No victory points and the only wins are seized and held.
11. You get free money to upgrade any component from a previous game you released, what piece do you upgrade?
Patrick: I’d really like to explore 3D space. A 3D Cave, a root board with cross overs or a 3D board for Void Lich. On the other hand I enjoy my ownership stake in Leder Games too much.
Nick: I’ve always admired the metal pieces in Dragoon. I think a metal set of Root meeples would be stunning!
12. What is your favorite faction in Root?
Cole: Cats remain my fav though lately I’ve been playing a lot of Eyrie. I also really like the Corvid Conspiracy.
Patrick: I really enjoy playing the Vagabond when there are three players that are tightly wound up.
Nick: Corvid or Marquise specifically with the Exiles and Partisans deck. Initial thought on a Fort expansion would be a box containing 3-4 “modules” that can be added/removed. Possibilities could be Pets, a change in the Seasons, Summer camp, New Kids, etc
13. After putting Fort up for pre-order, do you see Leder Games continuing to use Kickstarter for future games?
Patrick: Our not using Kickstarter this time is by no means the end of Kickstarter. We chose not to use KS for Fort as:
- It was a cheaper project to print and presented less risk to us. This gave us a chance to see how strong our consumer and retail channels are.
- We already have Oath in the Kickstarter fire and knowing our up coming schedule we are trying to keep that much liability off the books.
- Shipping TMM and Root produced a few challenges for us. We wanted a chance to work on getting our logistical chain working more smoothly before we ship Oath. We have learned a great deal in the last 6 months and I hope to improve the system greatly (also don’t ship from a country in the midst of massive political upheaval).
We will get back to KS when we consider it practical or necessary to cover massive capital costs.
14. Patrick, is your last name pronounced like ‘leader’ or is it more like lay-der?
It should be lay-der but from Ellis Island on, we have said leader.
15. I’ve seen Direwolf posting quite a bit about the digital version of Root. What was it like getting a digital version of your game made? Any plans on doing other games as well?
Patrick: Its already on Steam for wishlists! It was pretty seamless for us. They contacted us, we talked about how to do it. After settling on terms, they went back and worked on the project. For the most part all we did was look at versions of the game and made sure the game played correctly. I probably don’t even have 40 hours into the project and Cole might have another 40.
I am really happy with how the game plays and they have been very receptive to suggestions we make.
16. What’s the best advice you can give to up and coming Indie Devs?
Nick: Iterate quickly and often, be comfortable making prototypes that you dont have all the answers too. I try to keep this Kurt Vonnegut quote in my head when I find myself stuck… “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
Patrick: Completely agree. Gosh sometimes I don’t even have things done when I’m playing and just band aid things in while we test.
17. Do you think Void Lich will be the next big project after Oath?
Patrick: Probably a Root expansion and then Void Lich, Covid has been really hard on my design time and I will admit I’m a bit behind where I wanted to be.
18. How do you feel about the Root: RPG?
Patrick: I find the RPG delightful. My playtime for RPGs is usually spent with horror games or dungeon crawling presented as horror, so its a bit out of my wheelhouse right now, but I like playing it.
19. What tips do you have for teaching Root?
Patrick: I teach the core concepts, victory points, ruling, movement, and combat. I tell people to skip Domination cards their first few games. I tell people I will tech crafting after the first round. Then I guide people through their turns.
20. Will Leder Games take the plunge into sci-fi or sci-fantasy settings? What are some of your favorite sci-fi, sci-fantasy or cyberpunk board games?
Patrick: I have released a great deal of authority inside of the company so I can return to the studio. I am juggling a few projects right now.
One of them will be my contribution to the 4X, a sci-fi fantasy epic called Void Lich. It will be less asymmetric than Root but more variable player power than say Twilight Imperium or Eclipse. The players will each play a new nation, in the remains of the Void Lich’s empire, fighting for control in the new galaxy. In addition to military wins the players will advancing their nation through economic development and political intrigue.
Each game will feature the conflict in one war between the nations, between games the players will rebuild and then play again in a series of connected scenarios. Events will unfold between games. I hope to ship the game with 3 such campaigns and include rules to draft player position for one off play.
21. Patrick, Can you offer any updates on them and when we might hear more news about any of your games in the works?
Patrick: Tentatively our plan is to produce the following:
Root 4 – Cole and I still need to meet to outline the project. It will probably be our next KS.
My next project will be our KS after and that will probably be Void Lich.
Castle Blood has a huge boost last couple of weeks. Its a really full market so I might just keep the game in my portfolio, but it is what is getting me out of bed right now (besides you know making a living and keeping the kids alive. I am currently playing a campaign of it during my lunch hour.
Vast – I answered this elsewhere in this thread but I feel like Vast is done.
Nick will be working on smaller projects throughout as time provides (he does our layout too). He has a few prototypes on his desk as well as a potential Fort expansion.
22. Nick, are there any new projects/games your hoping to look at for 2021-2022?
Nick: I’ve had a few smaller games on my desk for the past couple months. Can’t speak to any of those yet but we’re taking them through various stages of development and team approval as we plan our schedule.
I’ve also been noodling with some potential Fort expansion concepts and revisiting my unpublished Root factions!
23. Who is the best Crokinole player at the studio?
24. When you were just starting out, how did you get enough people interested in trying out your designs?
Patrick: I game with people I gamed with since high school and college. They’ve had a lot of faith in my over the years and let me test things with them all the time. It’s very easy to find testers now. I recommend protospiels if you are able to travel and when we are able to travel again.
25. Is there a chance that Leder Games will bring back Chaos in the Old World re-skinned with Kyle Ferrin art?
Patrick: That would be a coup. I don’t think COW is really right for us though, FFG uses content creation to make their games work (no dis on this style, I play plenty of FFG cooperative games for the story), it isn’t what we really do. I liked COW, though I could never pull together the clutch play require to win as Tzeentch. I loved playing Nurgle and steadily despoiling the world.
26. What’s your advice for people who would like to invent their first Boardgame?
Nick: Start today! You don’t need much (index cards, spare change) to start putting pieces on a table.
Once you think you know the rules for your game show it to someone else! This can be uncomfortable, so do it with someone you trust and respect. You’ll often be shocked how differently a fresh set of eyes think about your game and play it!
Finally, be comfortable throwing away/shelving ideas. Often the thing preventing you from moving forward is how much you’ve “commited” to the work in front of you. Feel free to abandon it or change it you can always come back 🙂
27. What was special about SPQF to warrant a remake of it into Fort? Also, why not keep the animal theme from the original instead of making it kids who are hanging out?
Nick: Both of these topics I’ve actually discussed in Development Diaries! #2 and #4 are the ones you’d be interested in! – LINK
28. Can you let us know more about your plans after Oath and the rumored expansion to Root?
Patrick: Cole has expressed a desire to work on an Oath expansion based on ideas he had to set aside during the design. We will have to see how sales go of course, but after this Gen Con, I suspect he will be making an Oath expansion down the road.
We haven’t outlined the Root expansion yet, but I suspect based on the performance of Underworld we will see 2 to 4 new factions and the possibility of a new map board.
29. Do you think the next Root expansion Kickstarter will happen before the end of the year?
Patrick: I’m keeping an eye on the economy and possible recovery in the US. I think our goal is to be playing it heavily and writing about it before the end of the year and KSing it early next year.
30. What is your perspective on online reviews/critiques of your games? How do you/your team react to them?
Patrick: Most of the staff is really charged up by them and we watch them all. I personally have to be careful with them as I worry about my own being too influenced. It might be a stumbling block as a designer for me, but I have to really isolate what media I am consuming and what games I am playing when I am designing or I am too easily influenced by outside sources.
Nick: Coming from graphic design i see critique as important and inevitable. I’m genuinely more excited about a review with good critique than a review telling people whether they should buy. IMO a good review has both!
31. Do you guys have any plans for developing potential co-op games in the future?
Patrick: I will explore cooperative with all of my future titles as a game mode, Castle Blood is solidly cooperative. I am finding cooperative game design to be a different skill set. That difference is not to be underestimated.
Last summer I hit a fully asymmetric cooperative game and it was dryer than we wanted so I shelved it.
Cole prefers competitive design and I respect his reasons. I would not ask him to work on a cooperative game.
32. What is Leder Games doing to prevent past experiences where changes were made after the game was released to avoid frustration?
Hi there! This is Josh, Leder Games’ usability developer and rules writer/editor. Many of the changes to the Lizard Cult you’ve mentioned were design tweaks, which we decided to make after receiving far more play data from the general release than we could have collected during pre-release playtesting. Cole, the designer, has posted about why we made these tweaks here.
Beyond that, I can speak to the development QC side. A few months ago, because of the QC issues you’ve mentioned, we had a full-company post-mortem meeting where we discussed what has gone wrong and how to make consistent improvements. We found that almost all of the major issues have stemmed from changes made very close to the print date, so we are formalizing the final weeks of development to improve our QC by doing the following…
Having a meeting about two weeks out from the “send to printer” date to discuss concerns about workload, deadlines, and QC and dev issues that people are still concerned about. This gives us a chance to pull the “delay development” lever or modify team members’ responsibilities to make sure no one is overwhelmed, which leads to errors.
After having the meeting and approving the pre-production timeline, consciously switching from “agile” development to “gated” pre-production, where proposed changes, once approved and implemented, are cross-checked in writing by a different development team member, or even two depending on the size of the change.
Promoting even more public transparency in pre-production. We’ve had a good track record of showing our work throughout development, but in a few projects we haven’t shown near-final assets, so we’d like to do this more.
Promoting healthy specialization of QC roles. (See below!)
Because Leder Games makes games that are intricate and require lots of work in creating walkthroughs, player boards, aid materials, playbooks, references, etc., I have worn more and more hats over the years as a Leder Games contractor—rules writer, developer, graphic designer, etc. As any good editor will tell you, this means I started developing more blind spots, which certainly led to some of the errors you are alluding to. So, Leder Games is hiring me as a full-time employee! By transitioning fully in-house, I will be able to spend all of my time on Leder Games titles, better advocate for QC as a full-company effort that everyone can contribute to, and coordinate contractors for proofreading and copy-editing to provide even more QC checks. (And just generally be less of a frazzled freelancer!)
We believe these structural changes will ensure that our QC continues to improve going forward.
33. Are there any plans to expand Vast mysterious manor anymore aside from the shadow paladin and the Knight?
Patrick: TMM sales are a little more tepid than we expected despite it being in my opinion and many reviewers opinion solidly better. At this point I am accepting Vast was the booster rocket my career needed and letting it fall back to Earth. I will probably release my notes for a streamlined Crystal Caverns, getting the Ghost into the Manor, and the Frozen Fear and then call the series done. If another designer wants to pitch a streamlined Crystal Caverns from the notes at at that point, I’ll at least read the proposal.
34. Because of the pandemic, a lot of players are going online. Would you be up for a digital version of Root on boardgamearena?
Patrick: Due to our contract with Direwolf I don’t think such a thing would work. Sorry.
35. What’s your favorite game (that isn’t one of yours)?
Patrick: Cosmic Encounter. Players hundreds of games of it in high school and it still influences my design space.
Nick: Netrunner, the few years i spent playing and exploring that game are very dear to me
36. Nick, when it comes to graphic design in board games what were your major inspirations and lessons you’ve learned?
Nick: In college, I majored in graphic design with a product design minor, with the goal being to either work in games or toys. At that time I was really inspired by people like Aaron Draplin, Joe Ledbetter, Olly Moss (specifically his Garfield collection) and The Sucklord. I particularly enjoyed how they’re aesthetic tastes could prioritize comedy/cleverness over being traditionally “good looking”. While my personal tastes still strongly align with that, I learned quickly with games the cost “clever” graphics often had (lack of mass clarity)
As I worked on board games more I started to appreciate those same people for different reasons (command of focus, clarity, etc.) I’d also be remiss to not mention Nick Nazzaro it was a passing conversation with him at Gen Con that made me realize this was something I could maybe do professionally!
37. What are your favorite scrapped ideas from Root/Vast?
Patrick: Vast – I have a document with 6 different Knights in it. The Armored Knight is one of them. I would love to finish and test that sometime. I also had a mode where the players were working together to defeat one new threat I could turn over to Kyle W sometime. Root – I miss the black cards from the early Corvids going into other player’s hand to muck with their plans.
38. What’s your favorite part about having your own studio?
Patrick: No one gets mad at me if I take a nap on the couch in my office. 🙂
Nah. I tell you in my previous life as a programmer, I found it frustrating to see the things I had built thrown out sometimes a year after of them being used, while things I had done quickly being uses year after year.
The studio lets me live in a place where I can excel and release something on my own schedule. Perfectionism has become a feature of my life, instead of a hindrance.
I take a great deal of pride in what I do now and I love it when my daughter gets excited about what I do and make time for.
39. Is there a license you would like to make board games for? If so, which ones?
Patrick: I would love to work on the old Avalon Hill game, Titan. Honestly I would release it with the 80s art if I had the rights and maybe with expansions the original team had worked on.
I would love to work on Borderlands or Venture Bros. for licenses. I have notes for a game set in the Foundation universe but now that there is a TV series it would be too expensive for me.
40. Are there any considerations for expansion content for Fort?
Nick: Definitely considerations! We have to see how the full release goes but as a huge fan of the design I’d love to work on more content! Grant and I have tossed around some ideas for a few small modules that could be potentially packaged together as an expansion.
41. How do you feel about the crowd funding format in general?
Patrick: Hard to say. I like the rush of KS, but the amount of work it now creates, I question the costs. There is a ton of customer support with this many direct consumers. That being said its fun to engage the community.
42. Fort appears to stray from the Leder style of asymmetrical titles, was that a one-off or the plan for the future?
Patrick: Yes we are stepping away from Asymmetric as a priority. For the larger boxes my priority is whether it provides for emergent narrative. The asymmetry was a tool for that but I feel like Vast, Root, and Oath all allow for that and I will push Void Lich that way. Fort is still a huge experiment outside of my wheelhouse, but here we are making it up as we go.
43. Any recommendations of board games you guys have gotten into recently?
Patrick: My family has been playing Pictures frequently. My wife and I play Codenames Duet. With 4 games in the studio right now I play very light things or my own designs right now.
Nick: Quarantine has been alot of 2 player, recent faves have been Watergate, Unmatched and Shobu.
44. What video games do you all enjoy and take inspiration from?
Patrick: I am over 1000 hours into Stellaris and probably 300 into Endless Legend so I better list those. Mostly I use them as a way to quiet the parts of my brain the need to do executive function, while the creative part of my mind wanders off and comes up with things to work on or solutions to problems. I actually stepped away from them a month or so ago and I think I have suffered a little stress wise for it.
Nick: My video gaming either directly imitates board games but has a digital twist (Nowhere Prophet on switch now #notsponsored, Legends of Runeterra, Invisible Inc). Or is something that strictly cant be done in tabletop (Mario Odyssey, Celeste, DK Tropical Freeze). In either case i find the core thing i like is often strict to the digital space! So i don’t find many take aways for tabletop but I got plenty of thoughts on digital card games!
45. How did you guys get acquainted with Kyle Ferrin?
Patrick: Its a fun story. When I was working on Vast with David (the creator), I asked him who he wanted to work with. We had a discussion about style and contacted a few people from each style. He had seen a piece Mr. Ferrin had done for Dungeon World so we contacted him. Of the three we had contacted he was the one that had a price we could work with and was ready to work. He was also very professional in his negotiation which I liked.
46. Why is it so hard to bring your games to non-English speaking countries?
Patrick: We have to wait for the second print run for a variety of reasons, mostly to help the smaller producers produce inside of a large print. At the quantities we are working, going from 1,000 to 10,000 to 50,000 the prices start dropping really fast. This involves a great deal of coordination.