Local developer is back with crowd-funded game
By Chris O'Neal 05/23/2013
Several beers ago, on the patio of the long lost Bernadette’s on Main, Stephen DeBaun waxed philosophical on game crafting, producing and marketing. It was 2009 and Electronic Arts was only hated by most people. DeBaun’s game was Smashball, a computer game that never quite found its niche. Far from giving up, DeBaun (aka Reverend Steve-o or, if you’re a trigger-happy autofill, DeBaun-o), has moved away from the electronic medium and into the wild realm of tabletop strategy with Ars Victor. Put your notions and ideas aside: this ain’t Risk.
Ars Victor isn’t a “Point A to point B” kind of game. The object is to win, but winning can come in many forms and at the end of many paths. The board is a randomized collection of pieces of terrain, each piece selected by one of the two players, who also spend points, or Glory, on futuristic units who are your fighting force. Brutes, Cavalry, long-range cannons — there are a multitude of options available, but spending Glory is a choice that deserves scrutiny — Glory is also your health.
“It’s not always easy to find six hours to spend on a single game,” says DeBaun in the video introduction to Ars Victor on the Kickstarter campaign page. As of this writing, Ars Victor had 149 backers, $10,500 dollars and 13 days to go, leaving $4,500 still needed to reach the funding goal.
The game uses cards and dice to move the action toward the goal of capturing and containing three (or more, depending on the board size) central tiles. For each turn spent on the tile, your opponent loses a point of Glory. When his Glory reaches zero, by either losing units or HQ points, the game is over and a winner is you. Ars Victor is purposefully streamlined; games often last no longer than an hour.
DeBaun first introduced the world to Ars Victor at 2012’s Gateway Game Convention in Los Angeles, where the prototype was put through a rigorous competition in which the victor took home $500. DeBaun will once again host a tournament, this time at Gamex, another of L.A.’s staple game conventions.
“I’m doing this full time now,” said DeBaun, who has spent the better part of the past five years as a software developer and now as an entrepreneur. “This time around, it’s a different beast. Instead of chasing investors, I’ve put most of the work in up front and now have a great product that the reviewers are gushing over. If you want to play this game, put a quarter in the bucket and let’s get going!”
At The Armory in Ventura on a Saturday night, DeBaun and Ars Victor graphic designer Alyson Warner host a mock tournament. Sitting at a dimly lit, somewhat Victorian table in the back room are Jackson Sauthoff and Matt Freitas, locked in a tense round of Ars Victor.
“Is that Will Wheaton?” I asked with enthusiasm, pointing to a piece in the middle of the game board with the image of a young, bearded man.
“That’s me,” replied Sauthoff, to whom I apologized. Sauthoff, a veteran of Iraq, placed second in the first Ars Victor tournament and was thus relegated to a unit named “Warlord” with his picture on it.
“It’s a very varied battlefield,” said Sauthoff as he paused to allow Freitas his turn. Drawing a card, Sauthoff chose not to attack this round. “There’s a major correlation to this and a real battlefield. Strategy is key, but at the same time it’s not overly complicated.”
DeBaun is an avid tabletop gamer, and Ars Victor was inspired by a few of his favorites: Command and Colors, and miniature-figure games like Warhammer, a classic of the genre.
With art by comic artist Matt Lieberman (DeBaun himself drew the adorable killing machines on the unit pieces), Ars Victor is a stunningly crafted piece of art being funded and crafted by the players themselves.
“It’s always hard finding games that can bring people into the hobby,” said DeBaun. “A lot of it, historically, is because other hardcore gamers are designing for hardcore gamers. For normal people, that doesn’t work.”
DeBaun took a moment to explain a vague rule to a player. A much larger battlefield had been constructed on a table behind him, perhaps for use at this weekend’s Gamex.
“We’re calling it the one-hour war game,” DeBaun says as his Starfleet Command ringtone alerts him to danger nearby. “A year and a half this has been in development. I’ve just been chopping and chopping. Now it’s at a point where people who have never played a war game can sit down, win and enjoy it. And understand it. That’s a really fun thing.”
To learn more about Ars Victor, visit www.arsvictor.com or watch its progress on Kickstarter at www.arsvictor.com/kickstarter.
Chris O’Neal is not looking forward to the season finale of Game of Thrones. Follow him on Twitter @agentoneal.