The Champion of the Wild creator Tom Clare on how an innocent chat about penguins kickstarted his journey into game design

Tom Clare
Who would come out on top in a 100m race between a chameleon and white rhino? Is the Giant Pacific Octopus a dead cert to triumph in the synchronised swimming? Have we underestimated the black ant’s penchant for paintballing? These are just a few of the conversations you’ll be having when playing Tom Clare’s The Champion of the Wild.

The game sees players step into the shoes of an animal trainer who has the innate ability to communicate with animals of all species. Three events are chosen at random, and players have to pick an animal to compete in all three. Players then have to explain to the group the instructions they’ll give their animals and debate the outcome of each challenge. Players and their animals are awarded 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in each event and those with the highest score after all three events are completed will be crowned The Champion of the Wild.

Inspired by a chat with his brother concerning which animal would fare best against an onslaught of penguins, the game’s creator Tom Clare took his creation to UK Games Expo earlier this year and The Champion of the Wild now finds itself on Kickstarter, where it passed a goal of £4,700 within 24 hours of the project being live.

We spoke with Clare (who as well as designing games is also a GP in-training) to discuss his development process, the appeal of Kickstarter and what it felt like to see an audience of 300 people in stitches listening to Shut Up and Sit Down play his game at the UK Games Expo.

What is your history in the design space?
I have very little previous experience in the design space actually. I did a Maths degree and then went on to Medicine as a graduate.

I have always been a keen gamer, making my own tweaks to games with my kids, but this project somewhat fell in my lap and I have learned as I’ve gone along over the last few years!

All the visual design side is done by my graphic designer Dan Misson and the artist Kevin Chapman.

The Champion of the wild box
Where did the idea for The Champion of the Wild come from?

It started from an innocent conversation with my brother nine years ago when he asked me what animal I would choose to defend me against an army of onrushing penguins… He’s a bit of a character my brother…

I chose a polar bear, to which he responded that he chose an elephant. I watched in my mind’s eye as the polar bear was rapidly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of penguins and my brother was happily sat on the shoulders of his trusty elephant.

After that I started experimenting with the idea and finally decided to self-publish and make it happen a few years ago.

Can talk us through a few of your key design decisions?
The most interesting thing about this particular design – and any social game design – was trying to ‘maximise the experience’ and get the most comedy/fun in the shortest time as full of laughter as possible.

One particular challenge in that area is that in playtesting, we found that, at times, two players became embroiled in a fruitless discussion about which would be objectively better. I remember one particularly heated discussion about whether a peregrine falcon diving would move faster than a hummingbird’s wingtip.

We tried a few things here and there, but using the Ready to Vote cards to enforce moving on to the voting phase when the majority of players are ready to vote worked perfectly for this problem. It also had the effect of ensuring that if an event discussion was particularly hilarious, that discussion could go longer than usual to accommodate it. The Ready to Vote cards almost single-handedly maximise the fun of the experience.

The other (more basic) thing we recognised was that the most enjoyable discussions often revolve around the events where animals are at their weakest, so we needed to ensure that for each animal (and ideally for each of the three events) there would be one or two animals that would not be naturally gifted.

This is where the key decision around choosing one animal for all three events comes in. If you have three events from different categories, it’s just not possible to be good at them all. Which animal is good to joust on, but also good at hiding? And so with one animal for all three events, you guarantee some comical moments and need for creative strategies.

How did you find this year’s UK Games Expo?
It was a fantastic experience. I had one friend helping me on Saturday and Sunday (thanks Spud!) and was on my own on the Friday.

It was just so amazing to be part of such a huge event and it worked out particularly well for me as I met the Shut Up and Sit Down gang at the press preview on Friday morning and they ended up playing my game on their live podcast that night! That feeling of seeing an audience of 300 people in stitches listening to someone play your game was just incredible.

The Champion of the wild cards
Why did you opt to use Kickstarter for the launch?

Kickstarter is perfect for me as a crowdfunding platform. As there is a set goal, there is a very low risk for me as a first time creator because if the project doesn’t fund, no money changes hands and I don’t owe anybody rewards I can’t fulfill! Plus there are so many amazing resources out there about Kickstarter and how to make the most of it as a game designer /publisher.

What sort of games do you enjoy playing and were any a major influence on The Champion of the Wild?
Interestingly, I normally sway towards the strategy ends of the aisle and away from the social games! Roll for the Galaxy, Agricola, Puerto Rico…

I’m looking forward to having a go at Suburbia which a friend bought for my birthday. The difficulty is finding time to get it to the table at the moment to be honest.

I think The Champion of the Wild developed independently of other party game influences actually, coming more through conversation with friends than drawing on other games in its genre.

Is this just the start for Imagination Games? Have you got more game ideas in the pipeline?
Yes, I have a bigger project in mind if this project reaches the funding goal. It’s a little more strategy and a little less jousting, but still lots of player interaction though I hope.

How do you stay creative?
Interestingly it’s the creative work in my life that gives me energy, so I don’t find it too hard to stay creative. Instead, I struggle to focus on other things!

Check out the Kickstarter page for The Champion of the Wild here.



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