An Interview with Sami Laakso

Ocelots_preview

This week saw the launch of the much-anticipated Dawn of Peacemakers by Sami Laakso of Snowdale Design. Dale of Merchants was a huge hit amongst tabletop fans that were taken with the unique deckbuilding mehanic and the array of adorable animalfolk within the game. Set in the same universe as Dale, Dawn of Peacemakers is a very different type of game, and one that’s been a couple of years in the making. I sat down to have a chat with Sami prior to the launch to talk about his previous Kickstarter success, evolving campaign games, Finnish board game culture and animals!

Hi Sami, so what were you first- an artist, storyteller or game designer?

Depends, if you’re asking generally or regarding my own board game designs. If speaking outside board gaming, I’ve done art in multiple different forms the longest from those three. That’s why it’s natural for me to do my own art when I create and design board games.

Storyteller last for sure. Dawn of Peacemakers kinda required a story to really shine. So it was needed so I had to do it. That’s also my weakest part of those three too in my opinion which is precisely why I have friends helping with story writing. It’s important to be aware of own strengths and weaknesses.

I’ll ask you more about Dawn in a minute but just wanted to go back for a moment to Dale…were you surprised by its success?

I was hoping of course for the first game to fund when I launched it on Kickstarter. It was a mild success with meeting its funding goal during the last week or so. No, that didn’t surprise me. For Dale of Merchants 2 funding and exceeding the first game’s funding in around 10 hours, yes was I surprised!

So how long has Dawn been in the works? Did you always plan to take this direction?

I didn’t have a grand plan. First, it wasn’t as much that I didn’t want to create a grandiose game like Dawn of Peacemakers from the start. I just knew that big game like that needs credibility from the creator, credibility that no first time creator doesn’t have. That’s why I went small with Dale of Merchants. With the success of the series, I believed that now it would be great time to expand the universe of Dale of Merchants and do something way different! ‪It’s also good to spice up the games so people know I can do designs outside deck building.

‪Yeah I think that was a wise choice! Because this is a BIG game, but it’s more accessible now that fans have been introduced to the world and your work. So that actually leads me on to my next question- what challenges do you face when designing a game like this with an evolving story?

 What challenges don’t I face? Haha. There are just so many that we don’t have time to talk about all of them. Let’s pick an example. How to make the game’s story interesting and coherent while making the players feel like they can influence it? If they can’t influence it at all, you become just a spectator. I want the player to feel part of the story.

Was play testing a much longer process as a result?

My aim was that players could tell stories during the game. Why their character does what they do? In order for players to immerse in the story is to give them enough background information about the world and setting. If you feel familiar with it, you can delve in and start telling your own stories. We give background story before each game and let players tell their own story during it. Then we close things off by telling what happens afterwards based on player actions. This way players feel like they’re really part of the story while we still have some control over where it leads. Incorporating story didn’t make play testing that much longer. Having dozens of unique scenarios with varied mechanisms did.

Yes! I can imagine! I haven’t played many games with campaigns so this is different for me. This does sound like a huge challenge in and of itself. So how long did the play testing last? 

For me play testing is a part of the game design that ends only when the game is sent to the printers. That being said there were multiple game groups that actively played the game during roughly a 6 month period.

The challenging thing about play testing a game like Dawn of Peacemakers with surprises is that everyone can truly play test it just once. Yes, the game can be played over and over again even after completing the campaign the first time, but I can play test that with the same people and play it by myself too. I can only get genuine reactions from the surprises when players don’t know what to expect! And by play testing once, I mean playing through the campaign once. That’s why it was really important to constantly get it in front of new people after adjusting things.

Can you tell me at this point about any stretch goals or any other spoilers or is it all top secret? 

I had tough time with the stretch goals as I always want offer a fully complete product, if the game funds. Not, if it overfunds. That’s why most stretch goals are mainly about small enhancements here and there. That being said we have a few bigger ones that I really hope we meet. One of them involves more things for players to open when they play the campaign…

The first thing I wanted to do with the proto was open the containers! But of course I…didn’t. Can you tell me a little about the board game culture in Finland? Is there a big ‘scene’ or many other publishers or designers?

Of course! Board game scene is well and alive in Finland. Not too big yet but growing all the time. We just got our first board game cafe last year. We have a more publishers who mostly create family games and a few that publish hobby games too. Pretty much all Finnish hobby gamers have no problems playing games in English which is great.

Awesome, that’s great to hear. Isn’t Dale in a museum exhibit?

How did you know? It was quite a surprise when I got contacted about having a game which is barely a year old to be placed in a museum! They wanted to create an exhibition with games from different times. Dale of Merchants was the newest in their collection at the time, if I remember correctly. It’s a huge museum with different sections. They created a whole section just for games, both video and cardboard form.

Lastly, everyone seems to have their favourite decks of characters from Dale. Which has been your personal favourite to illustrate and which character type do you relate to the most?

I still have to give a shout-out to the chameleons from Dale. They’re my favourites from those games. As for Dawn of Peacemakers, I gotta love the ocelots. It’s funny to make some goofy looking cats while trying my hardest to make them look believable. Sometimes they’re crazy cute and sometimes terrifying. You wouldn’t want to meet some of them on a dark alley!

And so it was menacing Ocelots concluded my chat with Sami, and I’ll be discussing the game in detail within the next couple of days! Until then please do pay the Kickstarter page a visit to find out a little more about the game, rules and all the lovely bits and pieces that are on offer!

Box-3D-Dawn-of-Peacemakers_preview

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