Brass Empire from Prototype to Kickstarter

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The Idea

The idea for Brass Empire came from my addiction to deckbuilding games over the past few years. I first discovered deckbuilding with Ascension (I have 3 sets/expansions and the app) and played the game heavily. When I played larger games, I was frustrated with the lack of player interaction and felt like I was playing a big game of solitaire. I grabbed Star Realms and liked the damage and increase in player interaction but it doesn’t scale well. The idea for Brass Empire started with the simple concept of two separate center rows. Each row would contain different types of cards and depend more heavily on one of the two resources in the game. I knew that I wanted to introduce real battle mechanics like Magic or Hearthstone so one row was going to be filled with permanent cards while the other was filled with temporary or resource generating cards.  With my sound idea, I moved over to prototyping.

The Prototype

My prototyping process always starts very boring in an Excel spreadsheet.  I jot down card ideas and counts before anything else then I take it to note cards.

I’ve found that you discover problems with the game very quickly in this early stage.  Here are some of the many things that naturally evolved and we figured out during this phase:

  • Decided on a Steampunk Theme
  • Simplified combat by having the attacker choose their target.
  • Decided that units & buildings were discarded rather than permanently destroyed
  • Wanted each corporation to have it’s own flavor which led to the creation of the reserve decks
  • Corrected and changed a ton of cards!

After we got the game to the point where the game worked I started saving steampunk artwork that I liked to my computer.  I was also working on the lore and starting laying out cards.  I ordered some cheap cards from PrinterStudio so that we could play more efficiently (note cards are hard to shuffle) and eventually used my concept images as placeholder art.

Moving to real card really helped us play the game more and led to a lot of discoveries and changes:

  • Found that construction was overly wasted and started with the a simple 2 to 1 brass conversion, but then created the mining platform
  • Changed buildings to be played face down so that you got a chance to use them and could create traps.
  • Gave more units resource generation when played actions so that building an army didn’t hurt your buying power.
  • Started tracking every factions win / loss score in a spreadsheet for balancing.
  • Focused on a lot of balancing changes – main mechanics were working
Art Creation

We used these cards a lot, but at this point I was having a lot of fun with the game and started looking for an artist.  I found Declan on  I have found that the best way to judge an artist is not by their portfolio because during a project time and communication are just as important so I always commision artists to make a quick sketch or piece based on my specifications before awarding the contract.  I learned this the hard way many years ago.  I had Declan do a corporate faction at a time and starting spending on the artwork.  Art takes a long time, so there was plenty of time to work on the game. After about 6 months, we had 3 corporations complete and I applied to the IndieMegaBooth with concept images, card mockups, a rulesheet and a really bad video.  I hoped that we could have all the artwork done by August, but I wasn’t hopeful so I started working on a two player version of the game with the 3 completed factions that I had. This led to the early Alpha version from theGameCrafter that I took to PAX Prime.

The now incredibly rare and "valuable" PAX Alpha
The now incredibly rare and “valuable” PAX Alpha

Pax Prime Playtesting

The best thing about PAX Prime was the sheer amount of games that I got to watch.   I think because we played so much during the art creation process that the game was surprisingly balanced and clear.  Everyone who had played a deckbuilder grasped it very quickly and I got a ton of positive feedback which was great.  I was surprised with how few notes and changes that I needed to implement at this point. I had started working on my Kickstarter page right before PAX but after a few days, I knew that I could have it ready in a few months.

So that was the adventure of Brass Empire to get to Kickstarter.  The last thing I will leave you with is a pic of my current prototype for Maximum Apocalypse:

Maximum Apocalypse is coming... when it's ready aka no time soon
Maximum Apocalypse is coming… when it’s ready aka no time soon

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