Key Earthborne Rangers staff:
Andrew Navaro – Creative Direction/Designer/Founder
Adam and Bradly Sadler – Lead Designers
Andrew Fischer – Designer
Brooks Flugaur-Leavitt – Designer
Evan Simonet – Lead Artist
Joe Banner – Artist/Concept Artist
Sam Gregor-Stewart – Fiction and Content
“We’re trying to hit something similar to what you might see in an animated film: simply colored and shaded characters set against painterly backdrops. We’re very much inspired by the work of Studio Ghibli and of Moebius, though the list of artists and creators that have influenced and inspired us throughout our lives is a mile long.” – Navaro
“I feel that a lot of companies are stuck in that same rut, continually trying to keep PPU [price per unit] costs as low as possible, and it’s the most significant factor in their perceived inability to adopt more sustainable practices. It simply costs more money right now to manufacture games sustainably than to not. Plain and simple. I feel like they don’t believe that customers care, or think about, where their products come from or how they’re made. As a result, regardless of how they may feel personally about the environment or sustainability, they’re terrified of raising prices to compensate.” – Navaro
“If a stiff challenge is something that you enjoy, there will be an ‘insane level’ weather card (or cards) that will make the game far more difficult. Beyond that, since the game utilizes modular sets of cards, those sets can be combined in all sorts of ways to provide additional challenges to players who want it. Alternatively (or additionally), players can tune their decks and their stats in such a way as to make the game more difficult even without tinkering with the path deck or playing with a punishing weather card.
I will say, however, that if old school punch-the-player-in-the-face co-op mechanics are what you’re looking for, this game probably isn’t for you. There are plenty of other games out there that provide that experience. With Earthborne Rangers, I’m hoping to do something different. When you play it, I hope you’ll discover that there’s more to this genre than what you may have thought possible, and that there’s a lot of fun to be had outside of constant conflict and desperate struggle.” – Navaro
“It was a gradual transition [Christian Petersen leaving FFG], that year leading up…he was like a counselor if you needed him. I was feeling good. I was really excited to take FFG into the future, really. I felt like I had support from the ANA side. I was pumped, and super excited, and incredibly honored that he’d leave FFG in my care. You know that means a lot. Knowing him as well as I do and how much that company means to him.
And I was feeling really positive…until a couple months into 2019, reality set in, just how much influence [Petersen] had. FFG, we had our fair share of flops, it wasn’t all amazing, but it started because people were passionate about an idea, and then [Petersen] was passionate about it. When he left I had a fair level of sway at ANA, but at Asmodee proper, not so much.” – Navaro
“[Me leaving FFG] was a gradual thing. I cared a lot about the people and the company. I felt like it as my job to protect the studio from whatever nonsense that was happening at Asmodee. I wasn’t sleeping well. My wife was like ‘is it worth it?’ Of course I was going to take the opportunity [to run FFG]. Going from that, to it dawning on me that it was unsustainable for me to stay there took a lot.
A lot of corporate nonsense [that happened]…that’s ancient history. But it got to a point where it was just too much. I wasn’t doing the things I enjoyed at FFG. I worked on Descent, third edition, we were pretty much done with the physical components. It was…an hour, every two weeks. Then it was on to defend FFG from Asmodee bigwig guys, on why FFG was the way it is, and is as big as it is…” – Navaro
August, 2021 (Kickstarter month):
“It’s similar in a lot of ways to the LCGs you might be familiar with. But it’s also different…our game is primarily focused on exploration. When you sit down to play you really have the opportunity to go anywhere [on the map]. You do have missions…but you can choose to ignore those missions. We’re taking that medium, that customizable co-op card game medium, and taking it to new places.” – Navaro
“I kind of came on..[so the Sadlers] originally designed the game…I came on to bring everything together.” – Fischer
“No one’s name will be on the box. But everyone will be in the book. It’ll be a more collaborative approach to crediting, than what you’re used to. Designers get a lot of credit and they should, but designers also need their team around them.” – Navaro
“This game is built to be expanded upon. But the way we expand it is very much undecided at this point. We’re in the middle of the Kickstarter right now and a lot is going to be decided by that.” – Navaro
“When I say there’s no bad guy, there’s no Sauron…there’s no Thanos, there’s nothing like that, but there are consequences, and dealing with why the world it is the way it is. Part of setting up the fun sci-fi-ness of the setting…is that the ancestors of these people [who are us] made a lot of these decisions…and continue to grow and evolve and change. If there’s any bad guy it’s more the choices the ancestors have made…there’s plenty of danger. Monsters are called Biomelds, which are like these…creatures who have evolved.” – Navaro
“The challenge is there. The bad guy doesn’t need to be there. The presence you’re describing, the very narrow, from my perspective, thoroughly boring approach…I want to try to offer something different and new…it takes an adventure game…and wraps it around something unexpected. There’s plenty of room for adventure and danger without building up this artifice…of conflict.
I’ve seen people say ‘well if it doesn’t have a loss condition then it’s not a game,’ and that’s an absurd notion because the game is built around narrative. And that doesn’t mean there isn’t a narrative outcome that you don’t want. In our game there might be a very specific narrative outcome that you want…and hopefully we created a story where you care…and if you get an outcome you don’t want, that’s going to feel just like losing.
To me conceptually, the idea of winning and losing in a co-op game…it’s what every game does…I think a lot of people just aren’t very creative, and they’re just like ‘okay this is what works, we’re going to keep doing it.’ [We’re] trying to do something differently and move the needle. If I was going to create something cooperative like Arkham or Lord of the Rings I just wouldn’t bother, you can just play those games.” – Navaro
At the end of the day people will have to trust us that we’ll have something cool in this campaign that you’re going to discover and uncover as you explore the valley and do your job as a Ranger. And it’s going to raise some of these questions like ‘what does it mean to take care of the environment…’ how do you make these big decisions that could have ramifications on our environment, and what is the quote/unquote ‘right thing to do?’ And you can be sure that even if there’s no villain, that people in this setting aren’t going to agree.” – Fischer
“I never learned what the actual [Kickstarter launch issue] problem was. I spent all this time gearing up for the launch, you know ’10AM Central,’ we were building to that moment, I was working 12-15 hour days, my family was incredibly supportive, I was totally ready to go, I had everything queued up, I had the mailing list ready to go out, the website was going to switch over to everything was live. My youngest son and wife were in the room with me…I wonder if it’s because I pushed it one minute early, I wanted to make sure it was live at 10.
At 9:59 I pushed the button and it just sat there, and it says ‘drumroll.’ And my wife said ‘is it supposed to do that?’ and I thought maybe it just takes a while. So I refreshed it, and it took me back to where I had to push the button again. So that sent me down a nightmare couple hours where I tried to figure out what to do…I tried to contact Kickstarter support, you can’t reach a human there, you put in an email, and get ‘we’ll get back to you in 1-2 business days’ and I was like ‘I can’t do that!’ Eventually I was able to get people on Discord saying I know people who work at Discord, here’s their email! And [for the first one] I get his out of office response, he’s on vacation!
So I was like oh geeze what am I now going to do. But God bless him he responds, and he said ‘hey I’m on vacation but I’ll get this done.’ Then I get my response from the help desk and it was like this totally bland ‘we are sorry for your problem,’ and that made me a little aggravated. But eventually I was told it would be expedited through the team…and eventually maybe the 20th, 23rd time I pushed the button, it just launched. It was a pretty harrowing four hours.” – Navaro
“[After being asked why not put in more gameplay at the start of the Kickstarter] Really…it was…you know we’ve done a really good job, at least through a lot of the feedback I’ve received, like Earthborne is this major entity than it really is, maybe with more resources than we really have. So I think people have come to expect that from Kickstarters these days…leading up to the Kickstarter it’s months and months…it’s information overload…at the end of the day I’m going to be looking at the Kickstarter page, and thinking if it’s cool, and I’ll back it regardless. I think I just come from a different uh type of person where like I’m interested in the idea of the thing, and if I’m interested in it, I’ll just buy it. I’ll make my own decisions whether or not it’s good, and I’m not really worried about knowing all the mechanisms before I need to make a decision. I’ll buy most…on impulse and feel.
Because of where I came from, which is a retail focused company that’s where my mind is when it comes to how to present a game. That’s the world I come from, that’s where my mind is at. It’s a matter of practicality, there aren’t a lot of us. We honestly have this gameplay in a spot where we’re happy with it and showing the game at its best, ready by the time it was ready. I felt that I was comfortable going into the Kickstarter with showing the concepts, the basics of the rules, all that foundational stuff where if you believe in the project, you have enough information to make a decision. It just doesn’t have that prototypical gameplay at launch. Chip Theory does that too…they have their gameplay during the Kickstarter. I learned that that is okay, and good. We were hoping to maybe have that first gameplay video hit the day before.
But in reality…we had to do the work on making the demo look nice and get that all nice and playtested, and it just took the time that it did. In the end it’s coming out on the day I originally planned, which is the first Monday after the launch of the Kickstarter, and we’ll be doing gameplay live streams every Monday after that, at least. So you’ll look forward to three very nice big beefy gameplay demos by the end of the Kickstarter. If you know Team Covenant they’re going to be fun, engaging, and hours long.” – Navaro
“Character creation, you’re going to be making several big decisions…aspects, which are kind of your stats in the game. There’s four different aspects, represented by a card in the game. We have cards that represent every possible aspect spread. So you choose your stats and how they’re distributed. Then you make a few decisions on what card pools you’re going to be choosing from. Your background…your history of your character, that determine which cards you’re choosing. Then your specialization, of what you’re doing now in the Rangers. Finally you get to choose your personality…which is a more general pool of cards. With personality, everyone gets to pick…but some personalities might be locked off depending on how high your aspects are.
[Is there going to be an MMO archetype system?] There is…so the backgrounds, there’s four in the core set, and each of these specializes…the backgrounds as a whole are your enabler cards. These set up your combos. Whereas your specialization cards are the execution cards, they execute on the setup. We’ve kind of divided it into how you set yourself up and how you execute. Ideally all of the different backgrounds compare with the different specializations, and can be set up in four different ways.” – Fischer
“Building a deck for solo play…you’re going to have to make some choices in your deck, angled around certain decisions around solo play. Having a one in certain aspects in solo play might make your journey in the valley more challenging, so I think people will make decks centered around solo play…some of our backgrounds and specializations might shine in solo, based on the deckbuilds we’ve made ourselves. We are going to give some recommendations for people in our rulebook, for people who want good combos and choices, for people who want to get a character together and start playing. But overall the character experience, a lot of players will really get in there, roll up their sleeves, make a deck, and find the combos themselves.” – Fischer
“Manufacturing locally (especially in countries with strict regulations or government incentives for green manufacturing) is far better for the environment than manufacturing in China, where environmental restrictions are lax, and shipping products all over the world. While most of the discussion around “buying local” surrounds produce, the same truths apply. The closer the thing you purchased is to where it was made, the less it needs to travel, which cuts down on carbon emissions. Ideally, the materials for the production will be sourced regionally as well. So far, that’s only a challenge for U.S. manufacturing, though I’m confident we can get there. Right now, the U.K. quote is the most sustainable, with every component sourced in the U.K. from a great set of suppliers.” – Navaro
“It’s expensive! The PPUs (price per units) of Earthborne Rangers card-based products are magnitudes higher than what I was used to at FFG, even at higher quantities. Unsurprisingly, the most expensive material is the card stock. It’s about half of the total cost for the core set in all of the quotes that I have. The labor cost is also higher, as it should be. I’m happy to spend that money! I don’t want to speculate too much on the final price of the core set because so much depends on the size of the run, but I will say that at anything less than a print run of 5,000 copies, my margins are exceptionally lean. Definitely not the standard 5x – 6x multiplier, even selling direct.” – Navaro
“I’ll be setting those at 2,000 backers per region. It will absolutely eat into my volume savings by doing that, but I feel that the mission is more important than the short-term revenue we’d earn. With at least 2,000 backers assigned to each of the three factories, I feel like I’ll be able to get all of those numbers up by the time we print, so while my volume discount won’t be as good as it would be at 6K (or more) if all the product was being made at one facility, I think I should be able to assume at least a run of 3K at each facility, given the interest that’s been expressed in the game by people who simply don’t Kickstart games on principle. The margins aren’t great at those quantities, but I’m reasonably sure that I can live with them.” – Navaro
“That’s a great question. If we can’t manufacture in three separate facilities, we can absolutely stay true to the mission. Earthborne Games products will be manufactured in Europe, the U.K., or the U.S., and I can foresee no circumstance that would change that, outside of some great calamity or natural disaster.” – Navaro
“I’m definitely interested in exploring wooden components. But what I’ve seen is that wood doesn’t really compare very well to vegetable-based plastic when it comes to sustainability, even if it’s FSC wood. I wasn’t ready when we launched the Kickstarter to…make wood sustainable. We’re going to continue to investigate that…if wooden tokens becomes something we can do, I’ll offer them. I’m really interesting in exploring the possibilities of vegetable-based plastic, because I’d like to cast miniatures in that plastic. They’re not quite there yet…when trying to match the quality [of other plastics]…but I’d like to do some, essentially, experimentation and learning about the material.” – Navaro
“My job never really went away from that world. I was looking at quotes, approving quotes, budgets, margins…even before that, before we ended up separating more and more, being a part of production discussions was something that happened all the time. I was on the decision-making, quality control committee, for years and years, before I became head of studio [at FFG]…for over a decade. So I’ve learned a lot about that process, and the costs involved. I’m taking that knowledge…and applying it to what I’m doing now.” – Navaro
“[When asked about South American shipping] so…not now. One of the reasons I went with reduced shipping…trying to do the reduced emissions thing…but I added Australia in there, and know there’s a lot of interest there. Part of it is also simplifying fulfillment. This is our first Kickstarter, if I were to offer shipping all over the world it drastically complicates the issue of fulfillment. It’s caused a lot of anxiety, not only for the backers, but for the creators. I really wanted to try to mitigate that…there are some people who will be disappointed that they can’t get the game from the Kickstarter, but I think people backing will be able to count on fulfillment a lot more easily if it were manufactured in China and shipped all over the place.” – Navaro
“So there’s no exclusive content because I wanted to make as genuine a campaign as possible. It’s the same reason there’s no component stretch goals for the game. No amount of money is going to change that, there’s nothing I’m going to hold back through a stretch goal. I want everyone, once these products hopefully become all available, that they can get all these things. And hopefully have even more things after the Kickstarter.
If all you’re interested in is just having a copy of the game, then you don’t need to back it right now, that’s totally fair. If you’re interested in supporting the mission…helping me build my company…so I can do even bigger and better things, that is the best reason to support the Kickstarter. My resources are my personal and professional connections…beyond that I don’t have a lot. Every dollar…goes to helping me get my feet under…the best thing you can do to support that is to back the Kickstarter” – Navaro
[How much of the rules might change in the next year?] “So we’ve been developing this game for over a year and a half, so the rule systems have been undergoing a lot of changes over that time…we tested the game this past winter. Then we made another significant round of revisions.
At this point we feel really good about the core rules…if we didn’t feel good about that the Kickstarter wouldn’t be running. Things always change…there might be some core rules that might be revised. Especially what you see on livestreams…that’s pretty set. The bulk of playtesting, the player cards, is what we’ll see in the fall [this year]. What we really need is people in there with the card pool, making decks, trying to break the game…creating infinite combos. External playtesters are the only ones that can provide that. As developers we don’t have the time and creativity…it’s not how I would play,
I know how all the pieces would fit, I have foreknowledge of everything, I have an unfair advantage when it comes to playtesting…I’m building a list, once we start doing that again we’ll be doing it on Tabletop Simulator [TTS]. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and just say ‘I’m interesting playtesting,’ and we’ll add you to the list and reach out when the time comes.” – Navaro
[Will there be more pet-able animals?] “So the sheepdog was something that came to me when I was in the Rockies. Someone was there with their dog and I was like ‘how have we not made the sheepdog yet for the Shepard?!’ That seems like a really smart thing to do [laughs]. I know if the only cool animal we have is the sheepdog everyone is going to be fighting [over it]. We’ll have…a cool device robot thing…that will appeal to the different people in your group. If you’re all dog lovers you might have to fight over the sheepdog.” – Andrew
“That idea [to make the flavor text entwined in the abilities] came to me last summer. There were interacts that were….cold, mechanical…I experimented and had this idea to format the actions that way, and it worked, and I was like this is cool. I had the exact same thought, like whoa this is cool, why hasn’t anyone done this before.” – Navaro
“My original idea was to have you write your name, and use a blank piece of artwork for your character. So I’ve been thinking, kind of in the back of my mind, maybe in the back of the role card…you could fill in information on your own character. But I think at the very least we’ll do something like in the campaign tracking sheet. You’ll want to track your campaign decklist…and maybe name your character. I have my eyes open for that…in that tabletop roleplaying sense…down the road.” Navaro
“We have the campaign expansion offered by the Kickstarter, but it doesn’t need to stop there. The reason why we’re having…leaving out details…in the campaign…I think it’s caused a lot of confusion, like ‘why isn’t there one [a card doubler] for the campaign set?’ Originally I thought I’d do a doubler on the expansion but I was like ‘enh I’ll leave that out.’
Because we’re going that route that allows us to…in future expansions, maybe add Ranger cards, maybe ones that add a whole new specialization and background…we have ideas for more of them, I have an idea I really want to do that will probably be the first expansion, but will probably be a year and a half or two years down the road at this point. Obviously we’ll finish all the Kickstarter first before we dive into that.” – Navaro
[How in-depth is the Kickstarter book] “I want it to be very in-depth, we have tens of thousands of words written in our lore documents. Trying to bring it all to the surface in our campaign is going to be very difficult. What you should expect is…very similar to a tabletop campaign book…descriptions of the areas in the valley, what the characters are up to, a lot of fun in-world fiction, Sam and I really love writing that stuff. Big pieces of art, some that won’t be in the game, some exclusive pieces. Some pieces are really big, but the card art frame is only so [large], so.” – Navaro
“The vision I have for the future, a lot of the questions we have around anxiety and inclusivity, it’s not really an issue in the future, everyone accepts everyone for who they are. It will be present, it’s not really a game that’s focused on romantic relationships or anything like that, so it might not come to the surface in ways that are very satisfying, if that’s what you’re looking for.
You can embody whoever you want, it doesn’t limit you in any shape or form…and I’ve had thoughts about…romance threads you can follow, I’m tempted to have some sort of romance option in the game, but it’s not really the focus, it would probably be cut if I found it’s not really working. But my hope is that you’ll form connections with the people in the valley. We’re not trying to beat you over the head with narrative
When we eventually do the straight-up Earthborne RPG, the tabletop RPG, all of that [romance] will be present I’m sure. But the card game it was too cumbersome.” – Navaro
“I’m a lover of all sorts of games, but I really love card games and the co-operative card game format. And I felt like we could do something cool and different that hadn’t been done yet. Creatively…I think it’s a lot of fun and I was talking about the development process of card games before, it’s very different from development of a board game…hammering at the same things over and over again.
It’s a lot more subjective, with moving pieces, and it’s more about the feel than the math…though math still plays into it, of course. If this is my one shot to make one thing, let me put everything I like into it. The other part was making it sustainably, in my mind, a card game, was going to be much easier to do. I love, and I plan to do big board games down the road that’s 100% in my mind as something Earthborne Games will do. ” – Navaro
“Android Netrunner, is my favorite card game of all time. I’ve been on record saying that many many times. I worked at FFG for like a decade and a half, that was the only game that ever hooked me in ways that games hook fans. When you work on games, you’re like, you’re done with them…it feels like work. But I never felt that way about Netrunner. We had really awesome tournaments and things we did with the staff. I was hooked on that game for years…it only started to fall apart on me when the card pool got so big…all the facedown things.
There’s definitely space for [another Android board game]. The development schedule is very crowded. So trying to find…especially after you have a lot of licenses that need to be satisfied…it’s really really hard to find space…so I have a very close affinity to the Android board game, I think it was my last week at the studio, we did a livestream playing the Android board game. And that was the first game, that when it came out, I asked my wife to take a picture of me with it…I was really proud of my work on that game. It was such a massive thing…it’s beautiful, it was a really cool design, and you can really feel Kevin’s love for the design…it’s so his vision.” – Navaro
“The campaign has a day limit, right now it’s 30.” – Navaro
“[Sustainability] To me that comes down to where the game is manufactured, how and whom…and this is the most meaningful…regional manufacturing. What I’ve wanted to do for over a decade…ship items from the US and not from China.
We can print it here. It’s just more expensive, you make less money. Companies, especially large companies, with shareholders…make your cost of goods as low as possible, pay your employees as little as possible. If I sound irritated by that, I am…that’s just how business has been done for many many years. Part of what I wanted to do forming my own business is to not make decisions like that.
There’s this push to manufacture things domestically…but there’s no vision…it’s years late, it’s not like you couldn’t see the problems shipping from China coming a mile away. At FFG I beat that drum for years…but the answer is always the same, the margins are too bad.” – Navaro
“Labor is a portion of it…capacity not so much. Like, there are game manufacturers in the states. Card manufactures especially the largest one in the world is located here, Cartamundi…and they you know they print Magic, I think a lot of that is printed domestically. But they have such a ridiculously high volume, and because of that their margins are so insanely good, and they have such a culture around collectability and chase, they’re able to charge $25 for a pack of [cards].
People, instead of being angry, they’re like ‘can I get more please?’ So when it comes to board game manufacturing, capacity is not really an issue, especially for a card game. I mean, Magic looks great…the quality can absolutely be there.” – Navaro
“Casting a wide net over ‘oh there’s this expertise over in China that’s like magical that we can’t achieve here’ is absurd. Only because the people here make a living wage, and are more cared for, than the workers in China that work very long hours, and live on campuses…it’s a completely different culture.
If you want to get into the social issues of the thing, from my perspective, growing up…there’s this stigma attached to manufacturing in the United States, where if you work a manufacturing job you aren’t achieving…or are lesser. But working at factories…and helping to build things, is incredibly important.
Treating people well, and giving them good jobs and manufacturing, it’s incredibly important. We can do it. It’s a question of ‘do I want to spend more price per unit [PPU]?’ And nine times out of ten the answer is no. I am talking to established game manufacturers, but there is also an opportunity potentially to coach up really qualified printers, who maybe haven’t been given the opportunity. We can do it. We can do it all over the place.” – Navaro
“So most card components…have some level of plastic on it. Magic cards are a good example…you’ll note that the cards are not something you can recycle. One, they’re coated in plastic. Two, anytime you have a lot of adhesive on a card…it also ruins a lot of the recyclability.
So the Magic cards in addition to having the plastic on them, there’s the black core cards, the high quality playing cards, the core is an adhesive that holds two thin sheets of paper, and it’s squashed, and that creates your card. So you’d imagine…if your adhesive goes top to bottom on every inch of that card, it’s not recyclable. They feel good. So that’s one of the bigger challenges…what to do with the card stock, and what concessions I’m willing to make to have a high quality product that’s as environmentally sustainable as possible. The words as possible are very important to everything we’re doing. Our goal is to make everything 100% sustainable…will grandchildren…want [those cards?].
They’ll probably end up in the dirt eventually. So that’s the view I’m taking which is a crazy long view to take, but I think is important. That’s the goal for our products, to eventually get to that point. But I’m fully aware we might not be there yet…for this production, we might not be able to go as far as we want to go.
I can definitely get you a fully biodegradable product. But is the card stock going to feel right? If I can’t achieve all that, there’s going to have to be some concessions made. Part of what I’m doing after the conclusion of the Kickstarter…is try to bring everyone along for that journey and share the story of getting the game made, and talking, very explicitly, about the decisions I’m making along the way. So if we can’t hit it 100% this time, we will next time, or will continuously try and raise the bar.” – Navaro
“That’s what I need to figure out. What is the toxicity level on black core cards. Could that be made less toxic and still powerful as an adhesive. Can that be made in a way that can biodegrade. Getting rid of that plastic coating isn’t a problem. But if that adhesive that holds black core cards together, if that can break down in a way that’s not detrimental to the environment, I feel like I can live with that. Yeah it’s not recyclable but you can put it in your compost heap.” – Navaro
“The games that are set in this core Earthborne world will have Earthborne in the title. I already have plans for other things…so we’ll do things not strictly in the universe.” – Navaro
“[So for the core staff] there’s four staff…the three of us [on the podcast]…plus Cory Devore, and 18 contractors so far, and 11-12 artists, and some designers. A pretty small group I’d say for a project as vastly scoped as this one.” -Navaro