Welcome to Creator Spotlight, a series of interviews where we talk to creators who have launched Kickstarter campaigns. Today, we are thrilled to have with us Dustin Dade, the creator of Scourge of the High Seas, a pirate-themed board game that has garnered a lot of attention from the gaming community. In this interview, we will dive into the development process of Scourge of the High Seas, the challenges Dustin faced during its creation, and his plans for the future of the game.

What inspired you to create Scourge of the High Seas, a pirate-themed board game, and how did the concept evolve during its development? 

Scourge of the High Seas started out as a historical naval battle game. I read a book that I can no longer remember the name of and wanted to learn more about the age of sail. I researched ship types, how they moved, the number of cannons, etc. I had a huge map with easily hundreds of hexes. I bought a couple dozen mini 6-sided dice for the combat. I laid this all out, set up the first broadside fight, rolled 25 dice… and packed it up because no one wants to count that many dice to decide combat. At that point, I decided that I wanted to try a different tack for the game. I threw out all of the historical parts and decided to just see what sort of fun can be had at the table. 

The one thing that chased me throughout the development of the game is to simplify and distill the game down to its core fun. I cut out maybe 80% of the hexes. I cut out losing ships because I got rid of ship health. I removed all but one die from the game. That one D6 simply randomizes the direction of the wind each round. This both sped up the game and made it more enjoyable for players. 

How does the unique combat system in the game, which relies on drawing crew tokens from a bag, enhance the overall gameplay experience? 

Simply enough, getting rid of dice and moving to a bag system makes combat fast and engages players that are not directly involved in the outcome. Players become dramatic when pulling from the bag. They draw one at a time and gloat when it’s their token. But the rest of the table cheers gleefully when the attacking player draws 2 of the opponents’ pieces. There is this tension when players draw slowly from the bag. Or its like ripping off a band-aid when you draw three at the same time. It’s a rush of emotions as you see them appear. 

But then the option to push your crew comes in when the attacker is losing. Then the other players start to egg the attacker on to draw more from the bag. They know there is the cost of losing those extra crew tokens for a round and they want to convince the attacker to commit those crew. There is not a perfect answer to these situations. 

This is what I call the “squirm” and I love the emotional decisions players have to make in a game. It is that moment where the player’s face contorts and they look like they have to make a difficult decision. It creates stories and table talk about the game after it ends.What if they had made that decision differently? Would the outcome of the game have been different? 

Can you describe the various paths to victory in Scourge of the High Seas, and how do they cater to different playstyles? 

There are three main ways to win with various combinations between them. First, if you are not interested in player-vs-player combat, avoid them and simply attack the islands and merchant ships for resources and sell them at the markets. This is the pick-up-and-deliver mechanism that describes the game the best. You are playing the properties of the game and tangentially, other players trying to also sell at the market. That will be the most interaction you might have in the game. 

The second way to victory is fighting the navy ships. They provide money so you don’t have to sell anything. You know what you are getting immediately. They are tougher to win against, but the math is simple. This typically is the type of player who likes to roleplay more in their games. It’s the honorable thing to fight the navy. 

Finally, you can go full pirate and buccaneer by fighting other players. When you win, you steal half of what is on their ship and their bounty. Again, those who like to tell a story generally gravitate towards this method. Also, those who are playing against close friends generally follow this path. 

But each of these depend on the other players sitting at your table and most people do a mix of each of these throughout the game. Situations change quickly and staying agile in your strategy can be key to victory. 

How does the presence of the navy and the bounty hunter in the game add to the challenge and strategy for players? 

The navy and bounty hunter are two types of obstacles in the game. The navy patrols the trade routes and in doing so, sail by islands and merchants. They often stop in the same spots and essentially blockade those locations. This limits the number of options players have each round and since the navy move each round, what is blockaded changes as well. They are more of a nuisance than a direct threat for players. 

However, the bounty hunter is quite different. At the end of the turn, the bounty hunter sails 5 spaces directly towards the player with the most bounty. It is more of an anchor around the player generally felt to be doing the best in the game. Rarely is the player in the best position to mitigate the bounty hunter immediately. So that player has to juggle their plans with how the bounty hunter moves. It acts as a bit of an ability for those feeling less successful with the chance to be more productive for a round or two. 

Players can attack and defeat both the navy and the bounty hunter. However, they have higher counts of defending tokens during combat, so players need to be better prepared to fight them. Or feel really lucky. 

What steps have you taken to make the game accessible to players with color blindness or limited mobility, and why is this important to you? 

Color is mostly an aesthetic in the game than a requirement to play. Player ships are uniquely shaped, the navy and bounty hunter are bigger pieces and all NPC tokens have a white border and darker printed shapes while the player tokens are negatives of those pieces. Player pieces are a color background and white printed shapes. If something has color, it also has a symbol or icon to tell you what it is. 

As for limited mobility, the pieces are chunky wooden pieces to make it easier to pick up and withstand an errant movement better than cardboard which can crease or tear. In addition, the player boards will have cutouts designed to allow a player to push down on one side of the resource tokens which will in turn pop the other side up to more easily pick up the pieces.

I want the game to be played. I don’t want people turned away because of the game. I want people to have fun when they sit down, not be reminded of the world not thinking of them. We all have things that stop us from enjoying something we want to do. My games should never be one of those. 

Can you share more about the diverse representation of the crew members in the game and how this contributes to a more inclusive gaming experience? 

The mindset is the same as above. No one should be told they cannot be a pirate because most pirates were white men with scraggly beards. I don’t want to make this game for only white men with scraggly beards, despite me being one. I want everyone who sits down at the table to play the game to see something, somewhere in the game they feel can represent them. With that in mind, each of the 10 crew tokens are unique designs. I am hoping each player finds someone that they feel is similar to them. Whether that be men, women, trans, non-binary, etc. I worked with the artist, Shannon, to hopefully make it so everyone can feel comfortable at the table. The only time there should be a barrier, it’s when the players are making decisions about the situation in the game, not about who is sitting at the table. 

How have playtesting and feedback from players shaped the development of Scourge of the High Seas? 

Combat not being dice-centric was a play test and feedback change. I never would have thought of that without hearing people say they hated the dice and offering up different solutions. The combat bag and token pulling was developed over probably 8 months of testing. Also, the number of hexes on map. I would bring the game to the Kansas City Game Designers meetups and they would say, “this is fun, but reduce the number of hexes”. And they told that to me repeatedly. I would cut the number in half and they would respond with the same statement. It drilled “keep it simple” into my head over the years and helped me see other areas I could improve by simplifying the mechanism. 

What are the key components and features of the game that set it apart from other pirate-themed board games in the market? 

There is no player elimination or loss of turns. Combat is not dice based nor does it take a long time to resolve. Wind affects movement in the game. You physically assign your crew to actions at the beginning of each round and have to work within those limitations when things do not go 

according to plan. There is a trail in the game. But as a pirate, you will not follow it and staying on it for long is risky. I tried really hard to make every action and mechanism in the game theme related. It is not a historical recreation or simulation! 

In simplifying the game, you are a pirate and will be doing piratey actions. You will attack and plunder, you will find ways to “cheat” your way out of difficult situations. You will cheer successful attacks and groan when your luck runs out. This game is not for you if you need to have perfect knowledge in the game or do not like being in the dark as to who is winning.

How does the game scale in terms of complexity and strategy for different numbers of players? 

The game plays 3-6 players. A three player game will be a bit quieter in direct confrontation between players unless they specifically plan to fight. A four player game will have a balanced offering of options to play with. If you wish to avoid conflict, you can stay away from other players. 

If you are playing 5-6 players, the game board is very tight and you will very likely be bumping into other players throughout the game. The more players, the more chaotic the game will be. I really enjoy a 5 or 6 player game because the choices available become difficult once the navy 

begins filling the board. Suddenly if you are not first, someone may go where you planned to move. But if you are first, you have to worry someone might go where you sail. These decisions are not as impactful in a 3 player game due to the space on the game board. 

What is the typical playtime for a game of Scourge of the High Seas, and how does it cater to different gaming sessions or groups? 

Play time will vary between 90 and 120 minutes on your first play through. I have played 4 player games in 60 minutes, but I don’t want to skew people’s view of the game by undercutting that initial playtime. So, 90-120 minutes is on the box. Higher player count will usually take 90 minutes or more. 

Game groups that really enjoy bumping into each other and having game conflict between players will really enjoy this game. It is heavy themed game and because of that, perfect knowledge is not going to be possible. Players can bury their gold to hide it from their opponents. Treasure cards are kept secret so no one know their value until the end of the game. There is luck in the combat. You can stack your odds by putting in overwhelming odds, but you can still be unlucky when drawing and have to exhaust your crew in order to win. 

How have you designed the game to ensure replayability, and what aspects of the game keep players engaged and coming back for more? 

The setup of the islands can be randomized. This means locations of resources and the markets will change for each game. There is a recommended setup for the first playthrough in the rulebook. However, after that, you can completely randomize the locations for some interesting scenarios. 

I have had multiple people demo the game, try a strategy and not win the game. They then return the next day or the same weekend at a convention to try the strategy that won the first game only to lose again because that strategy did not work. The game really changes with the people you play with. The winning strategy depends on the play style of all of the players at the table. One player that only goes after the navy means the bounty hunter never appears. Going after other players means you have to think like them and time your attack. Otherwise, they can run away from you if they choose. You are not solving a puzzle in the game, you are solving the puzzle of the other players at the table.

Can you describe the process of designing the game’s artwork and components, and how they contribute to the overall theme and atmosphere? 

This is where I turned designing a game into learning new skills. At the same time as I first started making prototypes, I was introduced to a local makerspace at my city’s library. Within the makerspace, they had laser cutters. So I started teaching myself how to use the machines and cut out chipboard and wood, the pieces I needed for my prototypes. Since I had this resource it really helped me shape my game’s design into something I liked and other people enjoyed. I will warn people that I am addicted to laser cutting machines. Do not approach one unless you are willing to fall down the same rabbit hole that I did. You have been warned. As for the artwork, I did the best I could with simple designs and bright colors. Color at the early stage was important as pieces were mostly the same shapes. This is where I started running across people who were colorblind and I talked with them about the struggles they had to play the game. This helped me realize I needed to design with iconography instead of color. As I neared the end, I finally began working with an artist, Shannon Potratz, to design the actual artwork in the game. His card art is lightyears beyond what I could have done. He showed me one thumbnail where someone was literally being stabbed with some blood. I requested to be lighter in the style and his next set of sketches nailed how I felt about the game. There is some whimsy and fun in many of the faces. There are no serious personal attacks in the artwork. There was one kid who’s feedback was “your game is fun, but it needs turtles.” He was very stoic in his opinion, so I asked Shannon to put a turtle in the map board. The artwork is bright, fun and helps convey rules or what something does in the game. I could not ask for better artwork for the game. 

What challenges did you face during the development of Scourge of the High Seas, and how did you overcome them? 

Aside from 2020 and the pandemic where I did not touch the game for at least 12 months, learning to accept critical feedback. Some of the early play tests were rough. Something broke that ground the game to a halt. Some players are not good at feedback and will trash your game if they lose. 

I would put the game away for a month or two sometimes when I first encountered these situations. But I realized at some point that I have to weigh the feedback and decide what I am going to use. Some critical feedback is incredibly important and needs to be heard. Other feedback is not. Take notes on all feedback regardless of any emotional response that the time. For me, I would let it sit for a day or a week before going back to the feedback to analyze, especially emotional feedback. Time dulled those emotions and allowed me to see things more clearly. 

I learned that feedback that aligns with my goals (and you need goals when designing games) helped me the most. I wanted a game that played no longer than 60-90 minutes, had no player elimination and kept players engaged with minimal downtime. I failed the timeframe, but I think I met those other goals. I also learned that sometimes the goals don’t make a game fun. Cutting

parts of the game to meet a goal can cut the fun from the game. Feedback that guides you to fun and enjoyment in your game overrides your goals sometimes. 

How have you utilized social media, particularly your Facebook group, to engage with your audience and gather feedback during the game’s development? 

Not really. I have been very lucky to have a local game designer meetup. So in-person testing has been the majority of how I have ran the game. We did some online testing during the pandemic over Discord. But for the most part, my social media has been talking about the progress and sharing photos of prototypes throughout the process. Not very interactive, which I wish I was better at doing. 

What are your expectations for the Kickstarter campaign, and how do you plan to use the funds raised for the game’s production and distribution? 

I am hoping to raise $35,000 dollars to fund the production of 1,000 copies. However many people back the game, we would send them their copy. I am working with Outland Entertainment who will help distribute the remaining copies through their contacts to local game stores or sell online. So not a huge print run, but something we feel is achievable within a reasonable budget. 

Can you share some details about the reward tiers and stretch goals for the Kickstarter campaign, and how they add value for backers? 

We have two main tiers, the base game and the Kickstarter edition. The base game will have a standard game board and side board with wood tokens and coins. There will be a deck of cards, double layered player board and everything you need to play the game. This is everything that my prototypes have when I am demoing the game. 

The Kickstarter edition will have metal coins, neoprene game boards, a custom box cover and a wooden first player marker that I will be laser cutting and finishing. We will be selling the metal coins and neoprene game mats after the campaign as add ons, but it will cost you more than the Kickstarter edition. Plus you will not get the limited edition box cover or the wooden first player marker as I am only making a limited number. 

We are not doing stretch goals as those complicate the production and slow down manufacturing. We want to get this game into backer’s hands as fast as possible. 

What advice would you give to aspiring board game designers who want to create an accessible and inclusive gaming experience? 

Get your idea onto a table and play it with strangers or other designers as quickly as possible. Friends and family will not be honest with you like complete strangers. Other game designers have an eye for where improvements can be made. You don’t want to exclusively use designers to play test, but they can be a great catalyst for new ideas or helping solve problems.

If you can, take your game to a Protospiel. You will spend a weekend play testing other designer’s games as well as getting feedback on your game. Its like 3 months of testing in 3 days. 

Are there any expansions or additional content planned for Scourge of the High Seas in the future, and if so, can you give us a sneak peek? 

Yes, there are ideas for additional content. I have been playing around with a solo variant, but would be releasing that down the road. I also want to explore an expansion that allows players to play as merchants or the navy. Change the game to be more asynchronous in the play style. Maybe call the expansion “Revenge of the Scourge”. Still workshopping that title. 

How do you envision the future of Scourge of the High Seas, and do you have any long-term plans or goals for the game? 

I think it would be nice to do an expansion down the road. Outland Entertainment is also exploring the idea of an anthology of stories centered around the pirate world of Scourge. There is a bunch of potential, but time will tell how this goes. 

Lastly, what message or experience do you hope players take away from playing Scourge of the High Seas, and how does it align with your vision for the game? 

I love games that tell me a story. Whether its Above and Below and the situations that take you on a journey and story that you link together, or its 7 Wonders and I tell the story in my mind about my civilization. I want players to play Scourge and build a story of their captain sailing the high seas stealing from the king and evading the navy. I want players to have fun and enjoy themselves while playing the game. Any conflict they experience is game related and causes no real stress for them once they leave the table. 

After hundreds of games of Scourge, I still love sitting down with friends or strangers and seeing where my crew takes me in the next adventure. Its not about winning or losing. Its about the moments at the table that make me laugh, groan, and cheer an unexpected result. And I want to share that with everyone that shares a table with me.

Thank you so much, Dustin, for taking the time to share your experience and insights with us. It’s been a pleasure learning about Scourge of the High Seas and the thought and care that went into creating an inclusive and accessible game that everyone can enjoy. We wish you all the best with your Kickstarter campaign and can’t wait to see what the future holds for Scourge of the High Seas. And to all our readers, thank you for tuning in to Creator Spotlight, where we highlight the best and brightest creators in the gaming industry.