Exclusive Interview with Valor & Villainy designer James Van Niekerk

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Hello James, and thank you for taking the time for this interview with Board Game Dungeon!

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Background and introduction


BGD
: Would you like to tell a little bit about yourself to the readers?

James: I have been a passionate board gamer my whole life! Ever since my brother and I picked up some old used Warhammer models from a garage sale, we've been into tinkering with board games and playing them all the time.

James said:
It is definitely challenging and a lot of work to write a campaign. But you also get a very unique opportunity to tell a cool story, which I enjoyed immensely. I worked with writers and friends: Ryan Biddulph and Kevin Houle to write the main storyline and the character stories and archs for Lludwik's Labyrinth. I wrote a ton of the in-game events and many people at Skybound Tabletop helped all over as well. The result of all our collaboration is a really neat story that you can even get involved in. It is so very silly at first, but it lands in some really fun and creative and hilarious, and sad and even creepy places at times. The main setting of being in the belly of a labyrinth which can transform at will to produce any horror you could imagine at any time is kind of a great breeding ground for fun ideas.

BGD: What are your favourite board games? (Other than Valor & Villainy of course!) Could be old classics or maybe you’ve come across a new game that was splendid?

James: I do adore tabletop wargaming with games like Warhammer 40K and the skirmish game Mordheim from Games Workshop. But I also love a good many board games, with a few of my favourites right now being: Scythe, Gloomhaven, Brass, Khemet, Nemesis (among many others I also love).

BGD: Those are some proper solid game choices, can't fault any of those!

Valor & Villainy: Minions of Mordak inspiration, production and potential changes to the game

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Valor & Villainy: Minions of Mordak.

James said:
The main thing I regret with Minions of Mordak is not working more on reducing the game length, and also I have seen from its reception that many people find Mordak too powerful. For me this never came about in testing, but I have come to learn that difficulty is something that can swing greatly from one group to another. Anyways Antagonists Arsenal (and also Lludwik's Labyrinth) gave me an opportunity to address all of these things. AA provides a new way to play on the Hawkemoor Map from Minions of Mordak. It has a shortened game mode which still maintains the fun of the original game.

BGD: Were there any games or media (films/books etc) in particular that gave lots of inspiration when designing Valor & Villainy: Minions of Mordak?

James: I was reading through a ton of terry pratchet audio books while I created Valor and Villainy, and his world definitely inspired me a lot. Two of my good friends have done a lot of writing and world building for V&V, and they both adore pratchet too. In terms of films and art inspiration, I was kind of shooting for a style of pixar meets blizzard to summarize it, and so you could say that I love and follow the work of both of those studios. I also just love the right paintings in D&D books and enjoy looking at those books whenever I get the chance.

BGD: I think you hit that art style pretty head on, I love how the art turned out. It’s colorful and fun, which fits perfectly to this game.

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BGD: Did you come across any major issues/set-backs during the Valor & Villainy: Minions of Mordak design period? Seeing as this was the first board game you have designed; it must have been a hectic period!

James: I designed Minions of Mordalk while I held another full time job. I had no idea it was gonna take off, but I was stubbornly set on seeing it become at least a finished game. There were tons of moments along the way when I thought about just calling it a day, and putting the project away, and also a period where life got too busy and I fully stopped development for months at a time. Actually when I wound up partnering with Skybound to publish V&V, i was at Gencon preparing to self publish and fates and luck and random happenstance put me in the right place at the right time with Skybound, but if things hadn't connected us, V&V could have looked way different.

BGD: That's impressive dedication. A stroke of fate indeed that you ended up finding Skybound when you did! And because of that, we now have a excellent game out, and one more on the way.

A new gamemode for Valor & Villainy: Minions of Mordak revealed!

James said:
AA provides a new way to play on the Hawkemoor Map from Minions of Mordak. It has a shortened game mode which still maintains the fun of the original game.

BGD: With Valor & Villainy: Minions of Mordak now being out for a couple of years, is there anything you’d change or adjust? Can we expect any errata or changes for Minions of Mordak during/after the release of Lludwik’s Labyrinth?

James: The main thing I regret with Minions of Mordak is not working more on reducing the game length, and also I have seen from its reception that many people find Mordak too powerful. For me this never came about in testing, but I have come to learn that difficulty is something that can swing greatly from one group to another. Anyways Antagonists Arsenal (and also Lludwik's Labyrinth) gave me an opportunity to address all of these things. AA provides a new way to play on the Hawkemoor Map from Minions of Mordak. It has a shortened game mode which still maintains the fun of the original game.

Lludwik's Labyrinth also plays faster. I opted to cut a few turns out of the early part of the game, and spend a bit more time on the final battle (on average). In LL Players can essentially carry some XP forward into future battles, which means you can get right into the gameplay faster. Both these new games also feature variable difficulty settings. So you can fine tune this until you find a point that is right for your game group.

BGD: I do agree that we were surprised that the game lasted as long as it did, and some did get some mild fatigue during the final part because of it. But as we got used to the game (and rounds go much faster), I have to say the length feels perfect now. Both the «prep phase» and the «final Battle». But I can understand why at least having an alternative (faster) mode could be good to have, for those who do want a shorter game. As for the difficulty, that’s very hard to balance as each group will be, as you mentioned, be very different. So some form of easy to adjust difficulty setting is a good suggestion.

James: Yes, that's what I thought during original Minions of Mordak testing. I knew it ran a little bit long but I also wanted to give players enough time to grow an attachment to the character they were building.

BGD: Could you elaborate on the "AA provides a new way to play on the Hawkemoor Map from Minions of Mordak. It has a shortened game mode which still maintains the fun of the original game.”?
Anything you can reveal about this shortened game mode?

James: The shortened game mode does a few things.

1) The procession of horrors track goes from 6 turns to 4. Which means the final battle happens sooner.

2) To compensate for the slightly reduced opportunity for progression, there are some additional treasures strewn about (giving you also an opportunity to cash in more for XP).

3) The heroes and villains begin the game with a talent card (if you own LL) which just ensures nobody has a dud first turn and they can all hit the ground running with a particular card they need.

4) The Map layout is smaller by 4 tiles.

5) The final battle now begins immediately once the last shrine is revealed, and players can immediately start hitting the villain. The villain's health is scaled a bit to compensate. This just reduces what had previously sometimes amounted to a turn of waiting for the boss to arrive after the final shrine was found.

BGD: This sounds great! For me personally, this will mean that V&V will be able to hit the table more often as it will more easily fit within time constraints given on each game night. Sometimes we have less time at hand to play games, which I'm sure others will also relate, for example parents with kids that needs to be put to sleep before they can play. Can't wait to test out this mode to see how it works.

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Valor & Villainy: Lludwik's Labyrinth.

BGD: Just want to chime in that our group has had a lot of fun with the first game. It’s challenging trying to beat Mordak, which it should be! Can’t wait to see what’s in store with Lludwik’s Labyrinth. Seeing as the first game was already a sizable game, this next stand-alone iteration is huge! So much content, as well as getting into new exciting areas for the franchise (multi-game campaign with story, coop play, secret components etc.).
What are you most satisfied with/excited about in Lludwik’s Labyrinth?

James: I love that you are enjoying MoM. I cannot wait for people to get Lludwik's Labyrinth. I love Minions of Mordak, but I really believe we have created something even better with Lludwik's Labyrinth. The coop aspect is a ton of fun. There is way more interactive story that is quite funny. There are tons of unique bosses and unlockable items, spells, characters etc. One thing I find particularly satisfying (as the designer) is when the boss AI cards line up just right and we get our buts kicked for a turn or two. Sometimes they can pull off moves that feel pretty smart and its fun and scary to watch the giant beasts move around to give you a thrashing!

BGD: That sounds thrilling, though I hope the bosses won't crush us too often! :D I think the Coop and campaign/story part in LL is a perfect addition to the franchise.


BGD: I believe I’ve read that you are an avid mini painter. I assume you have painted your Lludwik’s Labyrinth heroes?😊 We would love to see them if you want to share! I’ve just started getting into painting, I’m trying to get better, so I can do the painting on the Valor & Villainy game minis justice. If you have any tips for beginners looking to get into painting, that would also we very welcome!

James: I have painted all my MoM minis, and many of my LL ones (haha I had a backlog of minis I was working through, but I am now painting LL ones). I'd love to share some photos (let me dig them up). Regarding tips, I recently came across Army Painter Speed Paints, and those are a heck of a product. Nowadays I tend to either use speed paints, or another technique where I base coat all the main colors, and then apply a nuln oil (matte) games workshop wash over the whole mini, then do highlights after (or not). The speed paints are another technique, where you just need to paint one layer per color and it comes out looking gorgeous!

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BGD: Those look pretty badass, way above my skill level! Thank you for the tips on the speed paint, I will get back to training (looks like I have lots of training to do!).

Melee and ranged feat cards coming, preview of Lludwik’s Labyrinth cards!

BGD
: One of the few things from the first game we weren’t as big of a fan of, was that those primary melee/range users (where it made sense to focus on for example melee as primary and ranged as secondary, for us as a group composition), were to a much lesser degree able to “participate” with drawing and using those cool spell cards. So, with that I was very happy to see the introduction of melee and range feat cards in Lludwik’s Labyrinth! Was this decision based on feedback or did you just want to expand the capabilities of those treats for the next game?

James: During MoM testing, I did have players asking for cards as melee /ranged users. I always liked this idea, but I did also think that it wasn't a bad thing that some characters were a little simpler to play than others (this fact really helps make the game accessible to all ages and experience levels) and it also wasn't as though its no fun playing a bruiser. Anyways, an expansion like LL seemed like the perfect place to introduce this add on, and the melee / ranged decks have been met with overwhelmingly positive response from the testers who have gotten to try the melee / ranged decks. There are also a number of new systems in place that make it backwards compatible, so now Scrutt for example (from MM) can also use extra actions to draw melee feats and pull off cool classic moves, like whirlwinds, cleaves, smashing heads together, hurling minions and so on.

BGD: I’m glad to hear about the melee/range feat Cards coming (and being backwards compatible). I do agree that having «simpler» characters is a good way to get new players introduced to the game more easily, though I still personally would have liked to see them in MoM as well.

Production copy. The box is HUGE:
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BGD: Was it challenging designing and writing the campaign/story segment of the game? It vastly changes the game in terms of it now suddenly being a multi-game campaign with all players fighting an AI, which should be both challenging but not too challenging. Also, trying to keep the readers interested in an engaging story. Did you receive help from anyone with experience in this area for Lludwik’s Labyrinth?

James: It is definitely challenging and a lot of work to write a campaign. But you also get a very unique opportunity to tell a cool story, which I enjoyed immensely. I worked with writers and friends: Ryan Biddulph and Kevin Houle to write the main storyline and the character stories and archs for Lludwik's Labyrinth. I wrote a ton of the in-game events and many people at Skybound Tabletop helped all over as well. The result of all our collaboration is a really neat story that you can even get involved in. It is so very silly at first, but it lands in some really fun and creative and hilarious, and sad and even creepy places at times. The main setting of being in the belly of a labyrinth which can transform at will to produce any horror you could imagine at any time is kind of a great breeding ground for fun ideas.


BGD: Without revealing too much, what can we expect in those secret envelopes? Is each one very different from the next one?

James: So, unfortunately because of the nature of Kickstarter, we had to spoil a chunk of what (or who) you'll be finding in these envelopes, so that we could actually show people what they'd be buying. But the envelopes still contain a lot of hype between each mission, and all of what they include are very specific to the storyline as well! The Envelopes are a way of unlocking new bosses, new heroes, and they also unveil new game mechanics as you play. A big crowning achievement for LL in my opinion is that you technically don't ever have to read the rulebook to know how to play, because of how these envelopes tutorializes everything as you go.

BGD: And finally, are there any cool images from Lludwik’s Labyrinth you could share with us to keep us on our toes (until the game arrives sometime later in 2023 and we can start playing it non-stop!)? Maybe a sneak peek into the new talent cards? 😊

James: I will try to get you some teasers of my favourite spells and feats and talents! EDIT: And here they are!
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Once again, thank you James for a wonderful interview!
This interview cannot be redistributed without permission and source citation.

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Valor and Villainy painted miniatures

Miniatures  Valor and Villainy painted miniatures

James Van Niekerk shares his incredible V&V painted miniatures in the latest exclusive interview with BGD! Check it out here!
 
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I am so incredibly excited for LL to come to my home! I helped with the playtesting, having never experienced it's predecessor (MoM) and fell in love with it so much that I bought MoM Kickstarter Edition from a friend of mine. Can't wait for my wife to get started on painting all the minis!
 
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  • #3
I am so incredibly excited for LL to come to my home! I helped with the playtesting, having never experienced it's predecessor (MoM) and fell in love with it so much that I bought MoM Kickstarter Edition from a friend of mine. Can't wait for my wife to get started on painting all the minis!

I agree, can't wait for this game, which is why it was at the top of my HYPE list for 2023 ^^

Cool to hear that you were part of the LL playtesting! Actually good you got introduced there without having played MoM, because then you could go ahead and buy M&M and have fun with that game until LL arrives :D

Also, welcome to BGD and thank you for signing up @Rick M 🤗
 
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