Recently, I had the pleasure to interview Adam and Brady Sadler, formerly of Fantasy Flight Games, and now lead designers at Blacklist games. They were kind enough to trade several emails with me during the middle of their current Kickstarter for Altar Quest. The Sadler brothers spent several years as designers at Fantasy Flight Games where they worked on such seminal IP’s as Descent: Journeys in the Dark (one of the games I sold to make room for Street Masters), Star Wars: X-Wing, as well as Warhammer Quest: Adventure Card Game, Heroes of Terrinoth, The Walking Dead, and Brook City, among others.
My own introduction to their work was when I stumbled on the second Street Masters KS, which I late pledged for after watching a few playthroughs. I love games with unique decks for each character (two of my favorites are Red Dragon Inn, and Sentinels of the Multiverse), and my favorite genre of game is co-op, so this was an easy, and crushing attack on my wallet.
However, what really attracted me to their designs, Altar Quest, as well, is the wonderful elegance to them. There is a lot going on when you play one of their larger co-op games. At first glance it seems like they would be incredibly fiddly, but once you stop and dig into it, they are really clean and simple, not to mention chocked full of thematic deliciousness
Can you share a little bit about your background as gamers?
(Brady): My path to hobby gaming was a little odd—as a teenager I was super into heavy metal, playing drums in various Metallica/Megadeth style bands. But when I started getting into more melodic fantasy-themed European power metal, my interest in music took a super geeky turn. From there I got this urge to write—I was already a lyricist, but I started getting into fantasy novels and stuff. This naturally led me to board games and RPGs. Since getting back into the hobby, now my interest is mostly geared toward co-op card games, as well as thematic games with a lot of interesting choices. I’ll play just about anything, but my personal collection games is mostly good co-op/solo games with a few Euros (Orleans, Viticulture, etc.).
(Adam): Brady and I played games like HeroQuest when we were very young, and it opened the door for us into the hobby. However, it wasn’t until I got into Warhammer around the age of 16 that I got really deep into the gaming hobby. Warhammer led to D&D which led to many other thematic board and card games. I’ve been a gamer ever since.
Author’s note: Sadly we were not able to wrangle a high shool gamer picture of Adam.
How did you get into designing?
(Brady): After Adam and I toured with bands throughout our late teens/early 20s, we both started going back to school and got even more into gaming during that time. After graduating, I got a job freelance writing for Warhammer Fantasy RPG books with Fantasy Flight Games. That eventually led to a full-time job as a marketing copywriter. I only spent a year in marketing, because after Adam got a job as a producer, I got more involved in the R&D side, and was transferred over there as a creative content developer. I left FFG to try my hand at corporate writing for a few years, but still kept doing game design stuff with Adam on a freelance basis. It wasn’t until we saw some success with Blacklist that we were able to try going full-time again. So here we are!
(Adam): During college, I was working at a puzzle and game studio called Mega Brands. While there, the company was trying to make a board game for the Avatar movie license. Since I had a lot of experience playing games, I offered to design the game with my co-worker Tom Mason (a talented miniature sculptor). After we designed that game, I learned that I enjoyed designing and that it came rather easy to me. This led me to apply to Fantasy Flight Games, which I ended up working at after graduating college.
Authors note: That game is the simply titled Avatar: The Board Game.
Was the plan always for you to work together?
(Brady): As twins, we spent a lot of time as kids doing the same things and having very similar interest. As we got older, those interests just stayed aligned, and we ended up doing a lot of creative stuff together. It’s kind of just natural that we ended up doing the same type of work.
(Adam): Definitely not planned, but we tend to have the same interests and hobbies, so it was bound to happen. We’ve worked together on countless creative projects throughout our lives.
Your first attempt at Kickstarting, Martial Arts the Card Game 2, was not successful. Why do you think it failed? What lessons did you learn? Why did you never take another crack at it?
(Brady): So that was something that Blacklist Games attempted to launch before they had approached us. I think they saw the need for using an established designer (or 2, in our case) and go a little more out on a limb with a theme. That’s how Street Masters came to be, and how Adam and I ended up working with Blacklist.
(Adam): Brady and I were not involved with Blacklist Games at that time. Our contract for Street Masters was our first experience working with Blacklist.
Author’s note: And this is why research is a good thing. /facepalm
You mention that Street Masters did come out of that first Blacklist KS. Can you share a bit about how that happened? Did y’all look at that and then decide to build on it? Was Street Masters already percolating and this was the perfect opportunity? Something else entirely?
(Brady): Blacklist originally approached me and Adam to design a fighting themed board game, since they already had some assets of characters from a project they wanted to do but fell through. Initially, Adam and I didn’t have any ideas for a fighting themed game, but we loved beat-em-up video games as kids, so we were eager to take on the project. Our first few designs were too complex, but when we settled on the final system for Street Masters, we knew we had something special.
I think it is fairly safe to say that you found your stride with Street Masters, finding your niche (perhaps) as designers of modular deck games. What other game mechanics interest you the most?
(Brady): Personally, one of my favorite concepts in games is card play—which is probably obvious. I was never a big Magic: The Gathering player (or any other CCG for that matter), but it always appealed to me. When more cooperative card games started coming out, I really found my niche. We combine a lot of things I love about cooperative card games and add in the tactical element, with plenty of modularity. But we remove the aspect of card games that I personally have no taste for: deck building or deck construction.
(Adam): I don’t think I typically look at game mechanics first when we approach a game design. We usually focus on the theme and the experience we are trying to create and then just figure out the best mechanics we can use to create that experience. That being said, we always love using dice in our games.
One of your other recent games, Heroes of Terrinoth, was quite successful and often asked about, though it seems to have been left behind a bit. Are there plans for expanding it? If so, will you still be involved?
(Brady): That’s unfortunately something we cannot answer, as it’s entirely up to FFG. And if we knew anything, we are bound by NDA not to say anything about any unannounced plans. All that being said, We all know Fantasy Flight tends to love doing expansions…
(Adam): As Brady mentioned, this is all up to Fantasy Flight Games. They contracted us to design the game, but we have no control over what happens with the game after we submit the final design.
Author’s note: Sorry HoT fans, I gave it the good ole college try!
What would you consider your greatest moment as a designer? Yes I am asking you to try to pick one.
(Brady): For me, I think it was getting the final copy of Street Masters in. Fortunately we caught that experience on camera when we did a live stream of unboxing it.But that was probably the most proud I had ever been, and the most impressed with how a project turned out.
(Adam): I think the greatest moment as a designer was when Brady and I got to design the Warhammer Quest: Adventure Card Game. Not only do I love the Warhammer IP, but it was the first game Brady and I got to design together as freelance game designers. It basically paved the way for our career.
Currently you have an active Kickstarter with Altar Quest, if there is someone who is reading this who is on the fence, what is your elevator pitch to get them to pledge?
(Brady): A fantasy adventure game that combines the charm of old dungeon crawls and the versatility of the modular deck system to create an epic game experience.
(Adam): A cooperative adventure board game for 1-4 players that uses our critically acclaimed Modular Deck System and evokes the feeling of those classic dungeon crawl board games of the past.
Author’s note: You can still pledge for the Altar Quest Kickstarter here.
Any other games in the cooker?
(Brady): Always! We have another game that should be announced soon, as well as some exciting developments to announce about Street Masters. We’re always working to keep a steady supply of Blacklist Games coming!
(Adam): Quite a bit of games in the works! Some of them are very hard not to talk about yet.
Author’s Note: Sorry folks, I tried. Though read to the bottom and you will see the clues that might just have been left…
Blacklist Games has found quite a bit of success over the past couple of years with the large success of Street Masters, Street Masters: Aftershock, and now Altar Quest. What does the future hold for Blacklist? What is the goal? (ie do you want to stay small-a la Chip Theory Games, or take over the gaming world as a Fantasy Flight sized company?)
(Brady): While I won’t speak to the exact business plans, I know that I would personally want Blacklist to continue focusing on developing a loyal fan base that can depend on us to deliver the games they want. If that means we keep growing, fantastic! If that means we remain small and keep doing what we love, I can live with that too 🙂
(Adam): As long as Brady and I can focus all of our time during the day designing great games, we’ll be happy!
At G33k-HQ, the label “geek” is a source of pride, though it means different things to different folks. Do you consider yourself a geek? What does geek mean to you?
(Brady): I’d definitely consider myself a geek, which to me is just a term for someone who “geeks” out on stuff on a regular basis—whether it’s games, books, sports, or lawn-care, being a geek is having an interest and embracing it fully, despite some people not fully understanding your excitement
(Adam): If being a geek means spending the majority of your time designing, playing, talking about, or thinking about games, then I would consider myself a geek.
Author’s note: I think it is safe to say that the next Sadler Bros. Kickstarter will be a modular deck Lawn-care game.
You can check out everything that Blacklist games has to offer here (https://www.blacklistgamesllc.com) Though I am sad to say that currently Street Masters is completely sold out, and Brook City is not yet available, but it should be at some point. The Sadlers were kind enough to sit down with me for a live chat and brief demo of Altar Quest at Origins. You can check it out below. Once my copy of Street Masters and Altar Quest arrive, I will be sure to get an Unboxing up on the Hungry Gamer channel.