Interview: Tina Engström (Myling Spel)

Tina is a slightly eccentric artist and geek – painter, writer, programmer, and game designer. She has worked on many of the products published by Myling Games, including Privateers!, which is on Kickstarter right now.

Tell me about your experience in the Gaming Industry?
I have been a gamer for the last 30 years and started fiddling with my own games very early on. However, it wasn’t until about nine years ago me and a couple of friends decided it would be fun to actually release an indie production game. Said and done, they started a company called Mindless Gaming. I and the company acquired a license for the old Swedish games En Garde! and Skuggornas mästare (Master of Shadows) from the 1980s and made an updated version of En Garde! in about six months. Granted, the result was a bit lacklustre, partly because we weren’t allowed to change the ageing system as much as we wanted and partly because we simply were too many involved in writing the book and making the rules.

Both En Garde! and Skuggornas mästare was originally made by Mikael Petersen and Gunilla Olsson, the original makers of Kult and Mutant (the very first version of today’s Mutant: Year Zero).

The indie development continued with us producing and releasing a supplement to En Garde! called I skuggan av La Fronde (In the Shadow of the Frond) Robert Jonsson’s horror RPG Bortom: Lögnens slöja (Beyond: The Veil of Lies), a game which won the Fenix Best RPG of the Year award. I was involved on different levels on both products, mostly as layout artist, proofreader and illustrator.

The last thing I helped the company with before going my own way was a small game called Action. I made the cover for it, one of the first real colour image I ever made. It’s not that bad, but it kind of shows.

Since I wanted the chance to make my own game and get the published I stopped helping Mindless Gaming and started working on En Garde! III, a version of En Garde! I would be happy with myself with seriously updated rules, looks and feel. The owner of Mindless Gaming and a few others went their way and started SagaGames together with the RPG veteran Tomas Arfert, the same SagaGames we now have started merging with.

I put at least 4,000 hours into En Garde! III before it was finished, painted the cover and illustrated large parts of it. I’m still very happy with the En Garde! III cover actually and I have gotten lots of “Isn’t that a photo? Wow!”. To be able to print this 300+ page monster of a game we, my then boyfriend and now husband, started MylingSpel (registered as Myling Games for international projects like Privateers!). The game was released in 2010 and won the Fenix Best RPG of the Year a few months later, as well as got some really nice reviews. The fun part is that the game is still a very good game, and we still love playing it. I personally haven’t found any other rather rules heavy game that simulates action as well as En Garde! III, without suffering from slow conflict resolutions.

Soon after, we got Robert Jonsson to join us in return for us helping him publish some supplements for Bortom. We also promised Niklas Gerholm to publish Starchallenge, a space opera game he had been working on for 30 years, John Jonsson to publish a couple of small indie productions, and David Bergkvist and Terje Nordin to publish Legend, an urban fantasy RPG, when it’s finished. During this time I began making Privateers! and created an offshoot of En Garde! III called Pirater! (Pirates!). Pirater! in English will actually be a high potential stretch goal for the Privateers! campaign. Finally I made a 25 year Anniversary version of Skuggornas mästare almost two years ago. It got a completely new rules system that I created, new layout and a lot of new setting information. The game was also connected to and expanded En Garde! III, Pirater! and Privateers!, making all of the games take place in the same setting.

All this means I have written three complete roleplaying games, one board game and a few supplements. I have also made a few supplements for them, and more are planned as soon as we can get illustrators to help with them.

Concerning my experience with the gaming industry people, it has been mixed. There are lots of really great people making games in Sweden, from Tove and Anders Gillbring (makers of the English language Best of Fenix, a brilliantly painted Swedish version of Lone Wolf RPG and the Swedish western RPG simply called Western) to Robert Jonsson (the RPG:s Bortom and Leviathan), Tomas Arfert (Fantasy! – Old School Gaming, and Saga), Åsa Roos, Daniel Letho, Krister Sundelin, Mikael Bergström and many more.

It hasn’t always been good though, and it often feels like I don’t really fit in. Especially in certain communities where many have a hard or macho attitude to newcomers or in some cases even to women. I have been called thief by some guy on a forum (“You stole that name, it’s illegal!”, “No, I have the license to use it”, “No, you stole it! Thief!”), heard I made a boring game from someone who then went on and said he was working on a game that was almost exactly the same, told I don’t know what I’m doing and need to listen to this chauvinist who though he knew everything about making games and getting them published (I especially loved that he said I can’t use Chinese manufacturers and that they were all rubbish, when he himself used a Chinese company), and have often been subjected to the silent treatment and been completely ignored when saying anything. Anyway, I would say many game developers have similar things to report, and most RPG developers are after all very nice. So I shouldn’t complain.

What made you want to transition from RPG’s to board games?
I have always wanted to make a board game and started experimenting with it at about the age of 8 or 9. That interest has since gone in waves, never really resulting in anything worthwhile. Since we started playing more and more board games a few years ago, that experimenting suddenly resulted in me wanting to actually make a real board game. Combine that with my fingers getting harder to control due to my health problems, forcing me to concentrate more on painting and design work than on writing, and we have the basis for what became Privateers! (as well as a couple of other game ideas with almost completed rules).

Privateers! seems like a very immersive and theme heavy board game; how much of your RPG influence translated into this board game?
I would say a lot. It is, after all, based on my roleplaying games. Events are made to simulate adventure and immerse the players into the game and the setting. They give the players a chance to explore strange places and old ruins, get in trouble in the ports of the New World, get kidnapped by slavers, make moral decisions (like plunder an innocent village to get a relic and pay for it by losing valuable Influence, or just talk to them to collect intelligence) and much more.
The game also plays so called influence cards making the world around the players come to life by bringing politics, big disasters, was, piracy and other nice things into the picture.

You already seem to have boosters, or expansions built into the Kickstarter, do you have many plans to continue releasing Boosters or expansions?
Yes! We have designed close to 30 different expansions of various sizes, from small booster packs containing cards to the two large full size expansions Pirates and Brigands, and Old Powers. We also have ship packs with a detailed ship or monster miniature in scale 1::1200 and captain packs containing a captain with both male and female miniatures. A nice side effect of the modularity of the game is that it can be seamlessly expanded in infinity.

The booster packs include Caribs (focusing on indigenous peoples of the Caribbean), Traitors and Scoundrels (bringing traitor mechanics to the table), Ships of the East (how about having your very own turtle ship?), and others.

Pirates and Brigands is the first full sized expansion. It adds over 260 cards, over 120 markers, new map tiles, an Influence add-on board for Brethren of the Coast, 6 new captains, and 8 new miniatures, including pirate strongholds, new slum colony markers, a Duel/Raid battle deck, and common items anyone can buy in certain places. The Brethren of the Coast is added as a new nation, making it possible for players to play as real pirates. Cards and components primarily deal with pirates and piracy and adds 20 new adventure sites, special pirate bases anyone can visit or attack, and lots more.

Old Powers is a full size expansion with over 260 cards, over 110 markers, new map tiles, an Influence add-on board for Portugal, 8 new captains, and 8 new miniatures. It focuses on cults, alien interventions, demonic invasions and more. Old Powers also adds map tiles with large mountain areas and volcanoes plus special mountain encounters. Portugal is added as a fifth nation, with both the needed markers and the components needed for playing as Portugal. The demonic presence will also increase in Old Powers, adding demon infestations to selected colony markers and dark pacts for the players to join. The expansion will simply bring lots of extras to the game, making it an even richer experience.

The ship packs include both mythical beasts and ships like the Kraken and the Lusca, the ghost ship Palatine, Nagelfar, Moby Dick, and an avatar of Lust, as well as famous real ships like Victory, Mayflower (including cards for pilgrims and turkeys), Kronan, Santisima Trinidad, Adler Von Lübeck, Adventure Galley, Vasa (will sink in just about any weather or dangerous situation), De Zeven Provincien, Queen Anne’s Revenge, Royal Louis and others.

We even have plans to make bags of metal coins, a soundtrack with pirate songs by an singer songwriter we have an agreement with, a translation of our RPG Pirater!, and pirate dice that are already designed and just waiting to be funded.

Hopefully we will be able to make some or even a lot of them as stretch goal add-ons or freebies, otherwise we’ll probably keep on making them one at a time at a later date.

With all those expansions, both mythical and historical, how historically accurate is the game? Do you have someone on board making sure the game fits into the era?
You would say it varies. Most of the pirates have actually existed. All the normal ship types and ships are historically accurate and I have been sitting for weeks tracking down numbers, appearance, construction, armament, speed, cargo capacity and things like that for every ship in the game. The supernatural stuff is a mix between actual myths and legends and the mythos in my roleplaying games. The lusca is for example an old myth about a gigantic sea monster that looks like a cross between a shark and an octopus (sharktopus!). Equipment and clothes are also historically correct and fit the period following the War of the Spanish Succession (unless it is a pirate or person “borrowed” from another decade). However, we have cheated a bit to fit as many interesting pirates and ships as possible in the game, grabbing them from the period 1600 to about 1770.

And yes, I’m that person making sure everything fits together historically. I have, after all, written two historical roleplaying games and a lot of campaign material for them. So I know a lot (relatively, since a lot isn’t that much when you speak of history) about the period, and what I don’t know is easy enough to track down.

What has been your biggest challenge for Privateers! up to this point?
Getting the score system to work, and maybe making enough happen on the game board to see to it that the players always have something to do.

The score for each nation was tracked using one single token at first, which in reality meant a game could keep on going forever if the score kept on going up and down and up and down … It wasn’t until about 15 months ago that we tried the current model with two score tokens, one negative and one positive. And that worked much better. As an added bonus it also meant we suddenly got a hidden timer in the game, forcing the players to actually act.

The design and layout of the components have also been a bit of a challenge. They have constantly evolved as we playtested the game and we have tried a countless number of looks and designs for different things over the years. If someone suggests a layout change, chances are very high we have already tried it. The good part is that we’re now at a point where I’m very happy with it, and everything is as functional as it should be.

Where do you see yourself (Myling Games) after this Kickstarter funds? How much of your time will be spent on new projects versus the continuing support of Privateers!?
Myling Games as a company has a few different development teams working on different things, and that will continue. Plus, we have a few crowdfunding projects that still need to be finished. So, first of all, we’ll make sure everything to those projects and Privateers! are released. We also have an almost finished edition two of Pirater! just waiting for a few pictures. After all this we can start thinking on new projects. From my side that will most likely be supplements for the new Pirater!, and maybe a translation of the game. We also have two board games we can try to get made, one simple puzzle game and a more complex miniature heavy zombie game where the players play the zombies.
Of course, we will also support Privateers! as long as possible. We actually love this game, and it is still a lot of fun even though we have played more than a 100 games. Not many games survive that long.

I want more!

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