A Chat with Ben Donges – Avast

  • Play (Mechanics)
  • Presentation (Art/Quality)
  • Plan (Rules)

Let’s start off with you telling me about yourself, and the game’s team.

Hi Rob,

My background is mainly in video games.  I spent two decades making video games and working on a large number of titles including, Quake 2, Max Payne, Rune, Age of Empires 2, Age of Mythology, Age of Empires 3, Halo Wars, Borderlands, Borderlands 2, and about 80 other titles.  Spent some time teaching others how to make games and worked with Petersen Games for 2 and a half years on board games like Cthulhu Wars, Orcs Must Die, Gods War, and Planet Apocolypse.  

The team is mainly me.  Gnarly Tree Games right now is a one-man-band.  The artist I hired to do the concept name is Sebastian Luca who is a great and talented artist and I am lucky to have some great friends to playtest with as well, which is always a big help. 

Damn, that list of creds is impressive! I’m sure  I could come up with hundreds of questions about those, but we’re to talk Avast. Tell me a bit about the game. 

Avast is at its heart a game about being a pirate.  You take the role of one of 12 different Captains, explore the map, capture islands, complete events, battle other pirates and the “mainland” in an attempt to be remembered as the most successful pirate of all time.  It is about adapting, interesting choices, combat, and who can build the best pirate based economy.  

Gnarlytreegames.com/Avast has a quick overview.

glory figure
Avast Render

Can you go into a bit about the game’s development? Was it always pirate-themed, or does it have its roots elsewhere? 

Originally it started as a completely different game, a prison economy game.  Players would compete for resources, smuggle those resources, and use those resources to complete events and to stab (or shiv) each other in the back.  It was originally a simple card game with dice, but the prison setting never really set well for me and I had trouble making it fun or funny even with good art.  

I took a vacation with my family and we went out on the sea for 3 days, and it had a good impact on me.  Seeing the ships at night, towns built on pirate settlements, small storms, it all just kind of clicked one night and I sat down and started redesigning the game for pirates, and it ended up becoming larger and more fleshed out quickly.  The pirates re-awoke something inside me from my childhood that really had an impact on me, since I first read Treasure Island and the old National Geographics on pirates.  

The prison game still exists but it has become a game about a cold war between alien civilizations that I will release sometime in the future.  

Can you tell me a bit about how the game plays? What’s a typical turn like? 

A typical turn starts out with the captain feeding the crew that he wants to use this turn.  Making a decision on how much cargo he wants to keep, the more cargo the slower you go and the less turns you can take.   Then moving and claiming islands, fighting other captains to claim the bounty on their heads and their cargo, and completing the random cinematic events to gather reputation points.  At the end of the action phase, players gather resources and crew for the next round, score their reputation points or turn in booty for more points.  

During the course of a turn players will have to make decisions on when to use their captains special abilities, which crew to use in a fight and which crew to feed, how much and what cargo to carry, and what islands offer them the best chances to capture as well as the best resources or unique traits for the next round.  

Avast Render

What made you decided to go the Kickstarter route with Avast? What was the process like to get it all set up?

I have run multiple Kickstarters for other people and companies for a few years now. Really it is a way to leverage the skills I already have to help me make Avast a really great high-quality game.  My process is probably different than most people or companies, but in general, it is just about making sure that the Kickstarter reflects the quality of the product, and doing the leg work ahead of time to know you are not promising something that is impossible.  There is a bunch of grunt work that goes into creating a good Kickstarter, including getting quotes from multiple manufactures, doing lots of product research on materials, working on logistics and creating back up plans. The fun part for me is creating the videos, the page graphics, and all of the general visuals that go into making a Kickstarter look like fun.  Then making the Kickstarter itself a kind of game with a bit of gamification.  

That’s an interesting way to look at it. Speaking of gamification, do you incorporate any of that into your campaigns themselves? Interesting ways to get the community involved, etc…?

I love gamification of Kickstarters, and I try to do it as much as possible.  Some game makers actually do not like it and do not want it in their campaigns, which I find odd but I never try and tell them what they are doing wrong.  It keeps people involved and interacting, plus it just makes it fun for the backers, and for me and that is a win.  Coming up with a puzzle, or leaving hidden messages in the content is half the fun in a campaign.  The other half is interacting with people.  

Any tidbits of what we might expect from the Avast campaign? 

Some of it is a secret, but there will be some puzzles and stretch goals that can be unlocked via the puzzles.  I am working on a bunch of live content and updates, so I will be spending a good amount of time as getting the game on Tabletopia and hopefully tabletop simulator so I can play with backers.  Also right now I am creating something in Adobe Character Animator I hope to use in the campaign that will be fun.  

Avast Front

I can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store for everyone. Would you like to cover anything else before we wrap this up?

I want to thank everyone for taking the time to read and find out about Avast.  I really think it is a fun game, that should bring enjoyment to lots of people. 

Come by and check out Avast, or I will run you through and pin you to the deck where you stand lubber!

You can find Gnarly Tree Games at the below links:


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