I met Sami Laakso, designer and artist of Dale of Merchants as well as founder of the publisher Snowdale, during the fair in Essen back in 2016. After a quick online search I learned that Sami operates his little business just by himself. I was highly impressed with his energy and his creativity. As a result thereof, I decided that Sami had to be interviewed for our series „Making of…“, and here we are…
MUWINS: Dale of Merchants and your forthcoming game Dawn of Peacemakers (Kickstarter-project is presently running till the end of November) take place a world called Daimyria. How did you create this world? Were you influenced by works of the traditional fantasy book scene? Movies? Anything?
Sami Laakso: Daimyria was created around the animalfolks in the original Dale of Merchants-game. Different animalfolk cultures were built to match their deck’s playing style while trying to keep them as believable as possible. The world is supposed to feel real, a place that could really exist, if things had gone a bit differently in our world.
As I’m not the only one responsible for Daimyria, I can only talk for myself. There were several others helping to flesh out the world. The initial idea was pretty simple. Use animals acting like humans. There isn’t any single other media that we used but rather a collection of knowledge drawn from our lifetime of experiences.
MUWINS: The specific type of action for each animalfolk suits the animal and object of the card perfectly. I see a raccoon stealing the apple of my opponent or the chameleon adapting to a new situation on the market. Did you start with the design of the animalfolk, basing their specific action on that design? Or was it the other way around: Starting with the mechanics, opening an encyclopedia, looking for a fitting animal? Also, were there any games that influenced the general mechanics of Dale of Merchants, or how did you come up with them?
Sami Laakso: Dale of Merchants started out as pure mechanisms. I did add theme and animals extremely fast after a play or two. The card effects weren’t bundled together with different themes at first. That came from a realization that the game could suit different players’ preferences and playing styles, if the decks were themed. After finding a suitable animal for each deck, we thought long and hard for each card to find the best possible match to both fit the card and the corresponding animalfolk-card deck item.
You could say that I was inspired by deck building games in general. I hadn’t played too many of them before designing Dale of Merchants, but one thing was clear: Pure deck builders weren’t my cup to tea. That’s why the game breaks so many of the common tropes you find in deck builders today. You could even say that Dale of Merchants is closer to a hand management game than a deck builder.
MUWINS: You continue to publish your games via Kickstarter. How important is this tool for a small company like Snowdale? How do you see future developments? These days, you find games on Kickstarter produced by big labels like Queen Games. Being a small competitor, do you see this development as a problem?
Sami Laakso: Kickstarter has definitely been a huge help for me and countless other small publishers. I would still be making websites for other companies, if it weren’t for Kickstarter. It made it possible to gain funding for the initial print run of Dale of Merchants and Dale of Merchants 2.
As Kickstarter grows, especially in the board game industry, bigger companies have developped their interest in it too. Using Kickstarter purely as a preordering platform isn’t necessarily in the spirit of what the website was originally created for. However, we need to remember that even most of the biggest boardgaming publishers are still relatively small, handled by a few individuals.
MUWINS: Do you see other problems with Kickstarter? Thanks to crowdfunding, we have a much wider range of board games. So the quantity is growing. The quality as well? Do you anticipate the risk that your future products might get overlooked in this huge mass of new games?
Sami Laakso: The quantity of new releases would probably be growing even without Kickstarter as the hobby is getting more and more popular. Kickstarter just makes it possible to bypass the usual gatekeepers. While it does make it possible to release lower quality games, the overall effect Kickstarter has had, and will continue to have on our hobby, is greatly positive in my opinion.
I’m not too scared about my games being lost in the sea of other games. My goal has been to create as fun and exciting games as I can. I believe that exceptional games speak for themselves and will get the attention they deserve. If my new games don’t do that, I can only blame myself, not Kickstarter or other publishers.
MUWINS: We personally met at the Essen Fair 2016 and 2017. How important are conventions and exhibitions for Snowdale in this age of the internet? Do you think that this kind of direct marketing and retail sale are going to disappear soon?
Sami Laakso: Conventions are really important for us. It’s those events that make it possible to see people face to face and make lasting connections with our fans and other companies. It might not be obivious as to why we would need to know other publishers – we publish our games ourselves, right? That is true, but Dale of Merchants is released in multiple foreign languages – thanks to our partners. These opportunities rise from conventions and meeting people in real life.
Also, there’s nothing quite like meeting and getting to talk with people who love our games. It’s something special.
MUWINS: You are both the artist and the designer of Dale of Merchants and Dawn of Peacemakers. Besides that, you are the CEO, the CFO and the COO of Snowdale. Is it still possible to function as a “one-man band” in the board game industry? Would you consider outsourcing your work to other designers or artists? In the past, you cooperated with LudiCreations. How far did this cooperation go?
Sami Laakso: It is possible to be a one man show. It’s just extremely hard and time consuming and I wouldn’t recommend it to almost anyone! Still, I love it. Though I have and will be outsourcing specific tasks including some paper work, voiceovers, and other miscalleneous things. You should concentrate on the things you excel at.
Kickstarter isn’t open for all countries yet. We cooperated with Ludicreations to make it possible to start a crowdfunding project for Dale of Merchants.
MUWINS: Dawn of Peacemakers is your newest co-operative board game. In it, we are playing adventurers, which have to work together to reach a peaceful solution in the hostile word of Daimyria. The game consists of a number of unique SCENARIOS, a lot of secrets and surprises. It sounds a lot like a legacy kind of a game. Am I correct or is that assumption completely wrong?
Sami Laakso: You are half correct and half wrong. I’ve tried my best to incorporate all my favourite elements from different legacy games to Dawn of Peacemakers. These being over-arching story and suprises. What I don’t see as important is modifying the game pieces or throwing them away completely. I designed the game and the campaign with these constraints in mind.
MUWINS: Can you tell us more about the deadly world OF Daimyria and the adventurers like the fennec fox Akezan? Do the adventurers have special powers?
Sami Laakso: As discussed previously, our aim with creating Daimyria was to make it feel real and credible. Unfortunately for the folks that live there, it means that there tend to be conflicts. Especially in the age Dawn of Peacemakers takes place in. It happens many centuries before Dale of Merchants’ peaceful time.
About Akezan, it’s hard to say pretty much anything for certain. She’s known to
Adventurers don’t have special powers. At least not when you start the campaign…
MUWINS: As stated before, Dawn of Peacemakers and Dale of Merchants play in the same world. But apart from the theme, they are totally different. Did you plan from the beginning to design more games with the same background? Is it possible that you will publish more Daimyrian games in the future? Possibly something like an area control game – with tons of minis?
Sami Laakso: At first, no I didn’t plan to set multiple games in the same world. There was not even supposed to be a specific world for Dale of Merchants to be set in. After talking about the flavour texts for the game with a friend, it became apparent that yes, creating a world for the animalfolks to live in would result in best kind of flavour. After creating said world I got so attached to it that I wanted to create more games set in Daimyria and share those stories with others.
Dawn of Peacemakers is a game where you get to be the hero and create your own story in that place.
MUWINS: Dear Sami, we thank you for this interesting interview. It gave us an amazing insight of the creation process of a boardgame and showed us the importance of the crowdfunding for the publishers. We wish you all the best for your ongoing Kickstarter-project and are looking forward to have your awesome good looking game Dawn of Peacemakers on our tables. Furthermore we hope to see you at the Essen fair 2018.