Six Questions with Designer Peter Lee

Just as we did with Kevin Tatroe, here is a short interview done with Peter Lee, designer/developer of the game.

1. Tell us a little bit about your history with D&D and miniatures games.

The first time I heard of D&D is when my brother was given a copy of the basic blue box. Being the younger brother, I had to know what this arcane game was. Fortunately, my DM brother needed players and let me play, so I’ve been rolling up characters since I was 7 years old.

I didn’t play a lot until early high school when 2nd edition came out, and I started painting miniatures about the same time. I didn’t get a lot of time to paint once I hit college. I graduated in 1997 with a degree in Computer Science and Chemistry. I returned to D&D a few years later when 3rd edition D&D was released. This rekindled my love of miniature painting with a vengeance, but my dream of painting every monster that could be encountered in a game basically collapsed – I couldn’t paint 60+ minis for each adventure that I wanted to run.

Enter D&D Miniatures – I picked up a few boosters of Harbinger and loved them, but more importantly, I fell in love with the D&D Miniatures game. I lived in Madison, Wisconsin at the time, and I would frequently drive to Milwaukee to play in the tournaments there. The Milwaukee miniature judge, Chris Tulach, invited me as a miniatures judge for GenCon in 2004. I was hired at Wizards to work on Miniatures at the beginning of 2008, and my duties were expanded to include the new board game line a couple of years ago. Recently, I’ve worked on Conquest of Nerath, the upcoming Lords of Waterdeep, and all the Adventure System games starting with Castle Ravenloft.

2. What has your history and passion for miniatures done to affect your design and development work on the game?

I’m extremely fortunate to be in the position I’m in. I’m a huge fan of the D&D Miniatures game, so there is a lot of responsibility to get this game right. Map design has been a big part of the evolution of the skirmish game. For example, the Harbinger version let you create the battlefield by placing tiles, so creating the gameboard with tiles is a callback to that element. The maps introduced by Fane of the Drow and the Wardrums starter look fantastic, so the board creation of the new skirmish game is a little more structured to keep the beautiful looking game board. I love how the victory areas made all parts of the map important, so the Treasure squares mentioned last week show that mechanic.

There have been a lot of great mechanics coming from the vast number of board games being published these days. I love how many board games start small and continually build, so I wanted to make sure this new game ramps up in excitement as you play. One of the great parts about D&D is the creativity of the players, so if someone playing this game wants to customize his warband, he’ll be able to both choose which figures to have in a warband as well as which action cards will be in the action deck. 

3. What has been the most important part of the ongoing design and development of the minis game?

The most fundamental part of design is iteration towards a goal. It doesn’t matter what you’re designing. If you’re writing, you want to get your ideas down on the page as soon as possible. If you’re writing music, you want to get notes down on paper or in a computer. When I design dungeon tiles, I mock up paper copies, cut them out, and try to create interesting environments. It’s all the same design process.

For a board game, the best thing is to play it. Once you have the initial direction for the game, you should get that initial design done as quickly as you can. Mock up components, write prototype cards, find pieces and dice from other games, and just play the game. Most of the time, this first session is not fun, it’s mechanically broken, and it often spirals out of control in a round or two. That’s fine in an iterative process: you determine what works and accentuate that, and you change the elements that aren’t working as well as you’d like.

It’s usually pretty easy to figure out what isn’t working, but it’s not always obvious how to change the game. That’s where clear goals are key. Goals are sign posts that direct your design. I want this skirmish-like game to be a quick tactical experience with growing excitement with a strong D&D feel. If, for example, there is something that makes you not want to fight the opponent, that mechanic would make it feel less like D&D and is a clear thing to change.

4. How do you feel about the playtest feedback that has been gathered so far?

I think it’s great! I love seeing both old and new faces talking about the game. I’ve loved the discussion on hit points, the lack of a die, tile placement rules, and so forth. We’ve been playing the game a lot here in the office, but all the feedback we’re getting from all the playtesters has been fantastic.

5. What has been the best moment during the ongoing development of the game, for you?

The best moment was playing the game and realizing I was thinking tactically against Chris – lining up my minor and immediate actions – when I suddenly realized that I wasn’t thinking about the design of the game, but instead the game itself. Board game design is often like building Frankenstein’s monster. You have a lot of theoretical parts designed to fit together, but at first, the game just sort of sits there. As you iterate, the game suddenly comes alive – that’s a good feeling.

6. What do you want existing minis players to see and get excited about in the game?

From the limited selection of cards and minis put up in the playtest, it’s a bit hard to see all the exciting options of creating your own warband and action deck. The existing players have a lot of experience building warbands, but this game opens up a ton of options. When designing my old warbands, there were a bunch of times I would think, “If only I could change this spellcaster’s spell to something else” – this game makes it a reality. I’m really excited about the potential to customize this game.

Customization will also make old creatures or cards need to be re-examined as the game progresses. Remember how everyone thought the Young Master was a terrible commander, but then the Githzerai Monk brought it back as a key part of a great warband? That’s the feel I want out of warband and action deck building.

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