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“The idea was to kill players with cuteness”: Flamecraft designer Manny Vega on making 2022's best board game

And their love of Root!

A promo image for Flamecraft.
Image credit: Cardboard Alchemy

The adorable dragon-themed board game Flamecraft won the hearts and minds of this year’s Dicebreaker Tabletop Awards jury, netting it the Best Board Game award. Dicebreaker caught up with Flamecraft’s designer Manny Vega at PAX Unplugged 2022 to chat about the game, how important artwork is to its success and the future of the series.

Congratulations on Flamecraft winning Best Board Game of the year at the Tabletop Awards!

Thank you so much! That was a surprise.

Apparently, you were in the audience.

I was there!

How did you react?

Well, I was trying not to overreact. But it was super exciting. Yeah. Amazing. And I loved the little dragon bit. That was great. [Liv pulled out a Flamecraft dragon plushie.]

Liv and Maddie are huge fans of Flamecraft and they wanted to do a bit with it.

I thought I knew what was in there and I got excited before they announced it. That was cool!

I try to make a relationship with artists so that we can make games together instead of finding the artists after I've made the game.

How many games have been made in total?

I've made Sparkle Kitty and Sparkle Kitty Nights and Shadow Kitty and then Flamecraft. So, four games, although one of them is, you know, sequels of Sparkle Kitty and such.

I'm aware of Sparkle Kitty and I like Sparkle Kitty Nights very much. How do you transition from a pretty lightweight party game like Sparkle Kitty Knights to something like Flamecraft?

I make video games. So, Sparkle Kitty was my attempt to get into the board game industry with something a little bit lighter, a little bit easier to produce. And Flamecraft is just what I've kind of wanted to do for a long time, that kind of game. I was just trying to dip my toes in the water with Sparkle Kitty. Where do we go from there? It was pretty wild. I think there was a lot of luck involved and COVID actually helped because you know, you're not having to go anywhere. Everyone's meeting you where you are. So that helped me meet a lot of people that I probably wouldn't have met up-front.

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So, how did you build this relationship with Lucky Duck? [The co-publisher behind Flamecraft]

Peter Vaughn worked at Breaking Games where I made Sparkle Kitty and then they formed Cardboard Alchemy. [The co-publisher of Flamecraft.] We had spoken about game ideas, but we weren't going make a game together for a while. But then certain things fell into place and it worked. Peter has a great relationship with Lucky Duck, so I got brought in through cardboard alchemy.

Did Flamecraft begin as this crafting game about dragons or did that come after the initial concept?

My initial concept was pretty much just an engine-building game. That was my initial idea. I had originally thought it would be based around some kind of ship because you all have to work together to run a ship. But when I saw Sandara’s art, especially the crème Brule dragon she had done. I called her up because she also did some of the dragons in Sparkle Kitty Nights. I called her up and I said that we're making this game and pitched it to her. When she gave me concept art, we pitched it to Cardboard Alchemy, and it just hit the ground running from there.

It was very hard to keep adding enough so that people were kept interested, but we're not getting overwhelmed.

That relationship with Sandara helped Flamecraft to happen?

A lot of things came into play at the same time, which was awesome. I have a lot of contacts with artists, It's a lot of what I enjoy. I try to make a relationship with artists so that we can make games together instead of finding the artists after I've made the game.

How important do you think the artwork of Flamecraft is to its appeal?

I’ve said that the idea was to kill players with cuteness so that they’re drawn in but keep them there with the gameplay. I think it's very important because you can't help stopping, looking and wanting to know more – that's is just inherent in the art that she brings. At PAX Unplugged, specifically, I've been hearing a lot of people saying that they played it at a friend's house and they thought that it was going to be a light game. However, when players really get into it, they then came to PAX specifically to buy it. That's been awesome because normally when your friend has it, you don't need it. But people keep buying it because they love it that much.

Flamecraft artwork 2
Sandara's artwork is a huge part of the appeal of Flamecraft, with the artist set to work on future Flamecraft projects.

Engine-building games can appeal to newer players thanks to their accessibility, do you think that’s true of Flamecraft?

It's a big thing we've worked on. Flamecraft is a very simple game when you first start but then new elements get added. It was very hard to keep adding enough so that people were kept interested, but we're not getting overwhelmed. From what I've heard from play-testers that is the key, because they're playing with a lot of less experienced gamers. That's why I designed Sparkle Kitty, the idea is to get everyone to come to the table to play and then you can play other games once they're there.

Because I think that has this sort of general understanding among certain members of the community that the best games out there are really heavy and would be quite intimidating to most people who don't spend their days playing board games all the time. But, you know, the fact that Flamecraft is doing so well is a testament against that.

There's a lot of cool things coming for Flamecraft as well. There is more Flamecraft coming.

I think it will remain true that the best board games are probably the crunchy ones that make you think a lot. But the games where you'll get more people to play and more people involved are great. That's why Flamecraft is doing so well because if there's only four gamers in your friendship group everyone can play.

Did you have a chance to look at any of the other nominees from the Best Board Game category?

I didn't really get a chance. I was actually kind of surprised that we got nominated. It all kind of came at once. I did back Avatar and Coyote and Crow, so I did dip into the RPG side. I'm pretty good friends with Banana, who won best designer - I actually took pictures and sent them to her as well.

Do you have anything else coming up?

I am speaking to another publisher about another. But I can't really talk about it because I don't have a contract or anything yet. So there's a lot of cool things coming for Flamecraft as well. There is more Flamecraft coming. We’re keeping it a little bit tight right now, just to make sure that we got the right thing. There's a lot of expectations so we're trying to manage that. We don't want to get people too excited and not deliver or over deliver until have we everything ready to go.

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Do you think you'll work with Sandara again?

Yes, for sure.

Do you think that they're going to become a hot commodity in the industry now?

100% already have. She's had a busy year. But luckily, you know, we're still working on gameplay on the new stuff so she's set aside all of next year to just start drawing.

What are you playing at the moment?

We played Basketball Bosses last night and a bunch of Everdell and a bunch of the West Kingdom games.

What's your favourite game featured here at PAX?

I'm a big fan of the Root series. Ahoy looks really cool but I haven't gotten to play it yet, but I pretty much have all their stuff. So I know I'm gonna like it. Everything by Leder Games has been awesome. They have the same kind of ideas as me where you get an artist that are really good, have that as the focus of what everyone's looking at. And then you make an awesome game.

Who is your favourite artist? Is it Kyle Ferrin?

I do love Kyle's work is in the gaming industry. Kyle is the one where I have the most saved pieces of his just as reference. He also does like some random D&D sketches every once in a while, and I use them as NPCs. He's amazing. I love him. He was a fan of Sparkle Kitty. That's how I met him.

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Alex Meehan avatar
Alex Meehan: After writing for Kotaku UK, Waypoint and Official Xbox Magazine, Alex became a member of the Dicebreaker editorial family. Having been producing news, features, previews and opinion pieces for Dicebreaker for the past three years, Alex has had plenty of opportunity to indulge in her love of meaty strategy board games and gothic RPGS. Besides writing, Alex appears in Dicebreaker’s D&D actual play series Storybreakers and haunts the occasional stream on the Dicebreaker YouTube channel.
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