Amanda Milne is a New Zealand based board game designer and publisher. Her company SchilMil has five published titles. She is currently preparing to launch a Kickstarter for AuZtralia in March 2018, and recently had a game she co-designed signed by Kolossal Games.
The following interview is about the board game Manifest, a game she co-designed with Julia Schiller.
Jason (GameGobble): Manifest’s gameplay involves the ability to plan but also deal with unforeseen events. How would you describe the balance you wanted between strategy and luck?
Amanda: We wanted to give people enough flexibility and tools to deal with situations that arise in the game, whilst also allowing players that enjoy having grand plans to be able to focus on them and have a shot at completing them. Hence the variety of different Action Cards in Manifest, many of which you can combo with others to increase the effectiveness of your turns.
The main strategic decision players must make is whether to A) Grab the easy points by fulfilling whatever contract seems achievable at the time or B) planning a longer journey that may end up delivering on two or three contracts more effectively, if you can get the goods you need and your ship safely to its destination.
I think having an element of luck leads to tension and fun, and I prefer games that have that element. So in Manifest the Action card draw, the different contracts coming up, and the outcome of pirate attacks are random, yet there are ways players can protect themselves and mitigate against certain outcomes.
Jason: Manifest’s theme revolves around shipping in the 1920s. Talk about how you integrated elements of that time period into the artwork and game mechanics.
Amanda: We wanted to bring the whole 1920s art deco style into the game, so for the cover, the brief was the classic sun rays emanating from a New York harbour scene. Also, on the back of the box, we created a fake 1920s newspaper, with stories that link into the game, addressing things such as migration, stormy weather, pirate attacks and so on. Franz, our artist, did a great job researching and incorporating ships of the era into the main board and the player’s shipping company boards, as well as the art deco style fonts used on the cards.
I’m not sure the 1920s had a lot of bearing on the mechanics although some of the cards powers directly reference back, such as the Spanish Flu card that can cause the recipient to lose fare-paying passenger meeples. Also, the Stock Market Crash card that may render some of your cargo worthless.
Jason: Manifest can be played with the addition of two variants, plus an expert version which includes deck-building. What were the different dynamics you wanted to achieve with each variation?
Amanda: Firstly, the Company Advantage Card gives you a unique ongoing benefit that may direct how you play your game. For example, if you got the one that lets you double stack your ships, you might load up with sugar when passing near Havana in the hope that it’ll come in handy for a Contract you haven’t yet grabbed from the display. You probably wouldn’t do that if you needed all four storage holds for other Contracts that were in your hand. Adding these few cards was a neat way to help players focus towards different strategies.
The second variant is a Black Pirate ship Meeple that passes between players depending who has been most recently “pirated.” It indicates potential spare storage holds on your ship, and therefore allows you to pick up cargo from other’s ships that may be lost overboard when their ships are pirated. It’s a mini catch-up mechanic that was a fun and easy add.
The expert version of the game is aimed at players who want a more strategic experience and enjoy the deck-building mechanism. Players start with the same set of 6 cards, plus another 6 that you can upgrade to by investing in them and discarding the starter version. All other cards are purchased from a common display, which means the luck of the Action card draw has been removed. The addition of a complete new deck of cards for this version allowed us to also change up the powers, so some of them have direct bearing on the new mechanic. E.g. allowing you to manage your hand or upgrade for less cost.
Jason: Manifest was funded on Kickstarter. Share your thoughts on how the support from that campaign affected the development of your game.
Amanda: The game was 95% developed and tested before we ran the Kickstarter. The pirate ship could’ve been a pirate Meeple but backers voted for the ship option. The biggest change that we hadn’t planned was the double-sided map board. We took the opportunity of placing New Zealand slap bang in the middle of the map on side 2.
Jason: What is one thing you want gamers to know about Manifest?
Amanda: We made several iterations of the game, and tested it widely over a two year period, but ultimately it took a playtest with Martin Wallace to point out that the three decks of cards for money, ship movement and special powers needed to be combined into one deck. This simple tip was a game changer. It gave you both flexibility and hard choices about how to spend each card. You always want to do it all and have to sacrifice two of three possibilities each time you use a card.