Community Connection: Nathan Meunier and the Mindburners/Doom Machine Interview
JF: I found out about your work on Kickstarter with Mindburners. Could you tell us a little bit about that game?
NM: Sure! Mindburners is a cyber-occult dungeon runner for 1-4 players that incorporates a mix of push your luck, take that, and resource management mechanics. Players arm themselves with abilities and run the void in an attempt to gather points and survive, all while trying to mess with each other to see who can nudge ahead and claim victory across numerous runs. Managing health and resources to survive the void deck encounters is only half the challenge, since the mix of offensive, defensive, and utility abilities add a fun (and punchy) unpredictability to each run.
I recently wrapped up a successful Kickstarter for the game, and I plan to eventually make it available for wider purchase online now that backers are receiving their copies.
JF: You’re also working on a game called Doom Machine, can you tell us where you are at with that project?
NM: Doom Machine is a solo-only game project I’m working on for the ProtoATL 2020 competition being run through The Game Crafter. I love entering design competitions, because it nudges me to start and finish a project in a very condensed time frame, and the creative constraints that often come along with that tend to yield really interesting ideas. I also like really challenging and unique solo games that fit in your pocket and can be pulled out at a bar or wherever when you’re bored and want to geek out.
For this comp, I asked myself “what components, besides cards, could fit inside a 54 poker card tuck box AND fill out the box enough that nothing is rattling around (or bending the cards).” That was the self constraint I set on the project, to make a game within that constraint. I settled on 18 cards, an 8 page rule booklet, 20 (12mm) dice, and 3 (12mm) tracking cubes. I wanted to design a challenging, thinky, highly re-playable solo game that fits in your pocket.
In Doom Machine, you face off against an ever-growing diabolical automaton that has enslaved humanity. You have one last chance to mount a resistance and destroy the machine’s core, before it annihilates your species. Mechanics-wise, it’s an intense and strategic dice-chucker, where you have to roll and carefully play dice resources each turn to try to damage or destroy machine parts. You gain more dice with each part you destroy, but fulfilling the roll conditions can be a tricky game of decision making, since you also have to contend with blocking incoming damage and using your utilities to modify rolls as the machine grows by 1 card each turn until you uncover the core.
With Doom Machine, I also really liked the idea of each card having its own unique AI. The machine part cards use a yellow die to track their current health, but each turn that dice is also moved one pip along a “cycle” track on the card, triggering each part’s abilities and effects based on the symbols it lands on. Between the unpredictable nature of which cards will appear in the lineup at any given time, and how the cards potentially synergize and interact with one another, it can make for some pretty intense pressure-cooker moments, which feels essential for a solo game.
JF: Mindburners has a distinct look, and I really was drawn to the way you integrated the limited color palette with the game’s components. From what I saw with Doom Machine, you are doing something similar. What inspired you to play with coordinating your components to your art direction.
NM: Thanks! One thing that I aim for with all of my games is to have a very bold, distinct look for each project. It helps to make them stand out on Kickstarter when I eventually release them, and it’s a ton of fun to experiment with different color palettes and looks.
Creatively, I tend to gravitate towards darker, weirder themes and visual styles. Mindburners was actually my first attempt ever at hand-drawing the art for a game. It was a struggle at times, but I’m happy with the way it came out, and the super positive response I’ve been getting from the game’s look has definitely inspired me to keep improving my art skills and develop more of that style.
Honestly, I’m discovering that this is sort of just the way I draw things. It was really heart-warming, recently, when I had someone reach out to me to tell me they saw the art for Doom Machine and immediately recognized my art style from Mindburners, even though the color palettes are pretty different. It never really occurred to me that I’m developing a “look” to the things I’m making, besides having some common dark and weird themes to them, but that was really cool.
And when it comes to components, I see a lot of games that tend to use just the standard harsh red, yellow, blue, green, etc. colors for components. Whenever possible, I really try to steer clear from that and also coordinate components with the look of each game.
JF: The theming of Mindburners and Doom Machine is really refreshing, where do you get your inspiration from?
NM: I struggle with depression and anxiety, and I talk about that pretty openly, so that plays a big part in what kind of themes I’m drawn to. Horror, the macabre, dark fantasy, grim sci-fi, survival — all of those themes tend to resonate with me deeply, and I try to weave many of the darker ideas and thoughts I struggle with in my head into the projects I’m creating. It feels cathartic and creatively fulfilling to channel that stuff into something unique that other people can enjoy.
Typically, I tend to lean hard on the visual style of each theme for the games I make, but I leave a lot of the specific world building and explanations of what is happening out of the game. This lets players sort of soak up the vibe, get a taste of the general gist, and then imagine more of what these dark worlds are like inside their own heads.
In Mindburners, the loose themes of occult magic and dark technology combine, as players sort of “jack in” to this nebulous grim void world and try to gather resources to close the void. That’s a very abstract and pared-down version of where this concept originally came from. The original idea was much much darker, but I kept it abstracted to not make it too heavy.
Doom Machine is similarly dark. My other games often involve demons, grim technology, and things of that nature. It’s a vibe I plan to keep exploring, in-part, because I’ve discovered I really enjoy drawing creepy technology and H.R. Giger inspired organic machines.
JF: What was the most enjoyable moment you had in developing Mindburners?
NM: To be honest, when the game design finally worked. The original prototype was complete garbage: it was basically a much more limited version of the core game loop, but with less player interaction and less ability options. Adding in more of the take that cards, adding random roll events, and settling on the ever-changing (yet also semi predictable) cycle of the void deck really locked the design down.
Once playtests started getting punchier and more dynamic, I knew it was in much better shape.
Beyond that, however, finally figuring out the games visual style and getting that crafted was probably my favorite part. It definitely took MUCH longer than the actual game development and testing, but it was super rewarding to finish up the art and get that in front of players.
JF: As an independent publisher, you wear many hats. What is your favorite hat to wear when you’re developing a game?
NM: That’s a tough one. Designing each game is a lot of fun, as it feels like a mix of puzzle solving and creative troubleshooting. I think once the core of each game is working and feels good and I know I have something solid there, the part I get most excited for is putting together the visual layout and artwork.
Seeing the ugly “bare bones scribbles and shapes” playtest versions replaced with full art prototypes is extremely exciting and fulfilling. I love the visual design process and seeing the difference between the concept I had in my head originally vs the actual artwork that I wind up producing for each game.
JF: The art for these games is great, and the graphic design is very clean. Do you have a background in professional design, or did you fall into it?
NM: mix of both, really. I’ve always felt that I completely sucked at drawing, so it’s something I never really stuck with past doodling robots and wizards as a kid. I do have a lot of graphic design experience, from working at a newspaper doing layout, making punk zines in college, designing posters and album art for bands I’ve been in, and stuff like that.
I only very recently got back into drawing in the last year or two, specifically because I wanted to save money and be able to make my own art for the games projects I was starting. As a player, I’m really drawn to games that look pretty, have a very strong and cohesive visual design, and that have striking colors and artwork. That’s what I’m aiming for with each of my own projects, so I’ve been pushing myself to think outside of the box and also try to improve my own limited artistic abilities with each game.
It wasn’t until I got an Apple Pencil, and iPad, and Procreate that I started to really figure out this art stuff again. I do all of my layout in Affinity Designer, too, which pairs well and makes for a pretty intuitive and fast-moving workflow. I tend to take my games from concept to prototype in a matter of days, and from concept to completion in a month or less, each (granted, I make additional time for playtesting and tuning beyond that).
JF: What advice would you give to aspiring designers looking to self-publish a game on Kickstarter?
NM: Make sure your game has some kind of WOW factor, and make it as unique and authentic to your game design vision as possible. One of the big things with Kickstarter, or any game marketing really, is to have a game that looks exciting and visually draws the eye. It’s important to present something that looks bold, unique, and polished enough to stand out from the hundreds and thousands of other games you’re going to be competing with.
Over time, it can be really useful to develop a brand, too. I’m sort of doing that naturally based-on the types of themes I gravitate towards and the visual style and mechanics I often work with. Aside from a few left field projects, most of my games so far are dark, weird, and creepy. I’m finding that people who like one game, tend to be inclined to check out the next one, so that’s a huge help in building momentum over time.
The other big thing is to spend time building your audience before-hand. Start a mailing list, make it a point to share images of what you’re working on, post on social media, get involved in board game design communities online, etc. If you just dump your game on Kickstarter and tell a handful of personal friends after it’s live, it’s going to be much harder to succeed. Put in the time to get out there and build some interest for what you’re making BEFORE you launch your Kickstarter.
JF: I definitely want to check back in when Doom Machine is gearing up for release, but until then, how can we learn more about your company and your games?
NM: I’ve got 3-4 games on deck at any given moment (there are only so many Kickstarters I can launch in a year), and Doom Machine is definitely one I’m aiming to release later this year. I have a sporadically updated blog and website at www.nathanmeunier.com.
Also, in addition to the games I design and release under my own name, I recently formed a secondary company (Immolation Rite) with my younger brother to release games we’re co-developing together. If anyone digs the stuff I’m working on, they’ll DEFINITELY enjoy what we’re planning for Immolation Rite.
Usurper, our first game under that label, is coming to Kickstarter soon. You can check out the coming soon link here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1051573872/usurper-a-game-of-dark-factions
JF: Thank you so much for your time Nathan, I'm excited to see what you and Immolation Rite have planned for gamers in the near future.