Interview: Sky Thieves Designer Bill Clark

Sky Thieves
A few weeks back our local gaming group got to try out a brand new Steampunk-themed card game called Sky Thieves, created by Seattle local Lieutenant Randolph AKA Bill Clark.

In Sky Thieves each player gets to be the captain of an airship. The goal of the game is to take out targets and gain treasures. The player that gets five treasures wins. Sounds simple right? To be able to take out these targets, you need to pimp out your ship with crew, weapons and badass upgrades like the semiautonomous exosuit. Once you have your upgrades you are ready to take on a target and claim your treasure. That is, unless rival captains aren’t sabotaging your efforts.

We really enjoyed this game. It played quickly and it was simple to learn. If you’re a fan of Steampunk and enjoy Munchkin, Sky Thieves is well worth checking out. In the meantime, we got to chat with Bill about designing the game and about what some of his favourite games are.

sky thieves

What was your inspiration for Sky Thieves?
When I first started working on Sky Thieves, I had been playing a lot of the card game Dominion with friends, and had been listening to the Seattle-area steampunk band Abney Park. When I was out on a walk, I started thinking about what a steampunk-inspired deck-building game would be like, and came up with the idea of each player having a Captain in front of them the entire game, giving them different abilities. The whole deck-building mechanic quickly got replaced, but the seed of the game was there.

What’s your favourite game?
My favorite board game is Mage Knight by Vlaada Chvatil, but it’s definitely one that’s hard to get people to commit to, since it’s so complicated. When I’m being less of a huge nerd, I like playing Seven Wonders with big groups of people.

What game would you like to try that you haven’t had a chance to play yet?
Since I enjoy Mage Knight so much, I’m interested in trying one of Vlaada’s earlier games, Galaxy Trucker. You’re supposed to build a spaceship to help construct sewer systems throughout the galaxy, and it sounds like some pretty goofy fun.

Sky Thieves Bill Clark

Tell us about the process you went through designing Sky Thieves.
The first thing I did to prototype Sky Thieves was write a little program that could automatically read in data files and generate an image file of the cards, so I could easily tweak numbers, change text, etc. and then print the cards on paper. I then cut them out and stuck them in sleeves in front of Magic cards, to help the game feel fairly polished, even early on. I would put together a set of cards and do a playtest or two with them, taking notes on what the players said and did, then go back home and tweak the cards. I’d say I averaged a new playtest with a modified set of cards every 2-3 weeks over the course of development.

Did you work on the mechanics for Sky Thieves first or develop the theme and fit it to the
mechanics?

The theme of the game was always the most important thing. There were some mechanics that interested me (notably deck building), that didn’t fit with the whole scrapyard feel of a steampunk universe. On the flip side, there were a number of really cool mechanics that came about simply because the name of a card popped into my head and gave me an interesting idea, like the Discombobulatron. I would sometimes make changes to simplify mechanics, or add strategic depth, but always with an eye on how to make those changes fit the theme.

How long was the process from coming up with the idea to actually holding the finished product
in your hand?

I worked on Sky Thieves for almost exactly 3 years, although since it was a spare-time project, my efforts on it were definitely sporadic across that time.

Sky Thieves

The artwork in Sky Thieves is really cool. How did artist Kevin Ellis get involved with the project?
When I decided the game was interesting enough to justify hiring an artist, I asked all my friends if any of them knew any artists looking for contract work, and my friend Sharri introduced me to her old housemate Kevin. He very rapidly proved to be a good choice, as each image he drew added more and more personality and style to the world he was building.

What kind of feedback have you had so far about the game?
Pretty much everyone I’ve played the game with seems to have a good time. I’ve gotten some comparisons that make sense to me: “plays a lot like Munchkin”, as well as some that really surprise me: “This reminds me of FTL” (a 2012 space-sim computer game). I’ve particularly enjoyed playing the game at local stores, and would love to demo it more.

Any plans for an expansion?
I would love to make an expansion if I manage to sell enough copies of the base game. I’m still mulling over possibilities, but I’m leaning towards adding powerful new artifacts to buy with your hard-earned treasure, and a set of First Mates to augment your Captain’s abilities.

Visit the Sky Thieves website to find out more and get your own copy of the game.