Designer Interview Series - Kane Klenko - Part 1

Now that everyone is back from GenCon where the much anticipated game, Fuse, was finally out for demo at the Renegade Game Booth, we take some time to speak with the designer Kane Klenko and get his thoughts on how the game was received and how the game was developed.

First of all, how did the demos for Fuse go at GenCon?

Everything I saw and heard was very positive. This was the first time seeing the game out in the wild, so I was anxious to see how people would react to it. We had people coming to the booth specifically asking to play Fuse, which was great. There were also a lot of people who had never heard of it gathering around to watch the demos. Just about everyone I showed it to asked to buy it, but unfortunately it wasn’t ready for purchase yet. We even had people play the demo, leave, and then come back later with their spouse to play the game again with them. So overall it was a very positive experience, and the game seemed to appeal to a lot of different gamer types…which is exactly what I saw as I was testing and developing the game.

What do you think makes this game so different than other dice games?

I’ve never seen anything like the core mechanic in any other game. It’s a simple concept, and it maybe doesn’t seem like much when you first hear about it, but the way the dice are allocated combined with the overall time pressure of the 10 minute timer creates a very nice tension and a satisfying game experience. The way it works is that each player has 2 Bomb Cards in front of them that need to be defused. Each Bomb Card requires a different combination of dice, and each one is a little puzzle that you must complete. A player rolls dice equal to the number of players and then each player must take exactly one die. The trick is that you can’t just grab what you need, because another player might need that die more than you do. It’s all about balancing your needs and the needs of your entire team, and maximizing the dice allocation every roll. You have 20+ bombs to defuse in 10 minutes, so you really have to work together to get everyone what they need. 

 Where did the original concept of the game come from?

I have a 45 minute drive each way for work, so I spend a lot of that time thinking about game design. Sometimes a new idea is just a picture in my mind of people playing a game and I have to figure out how that game works. Sometimes it’s a theme idea. Sometimes it’s a new mechanic. A lot of the time I’ll just put those ideas aside and maybe write them down somewhere. Fuse was a case of combining two ideas that came probably years apart. A long time ago I had the thought that it would be cool to play a game where players were defusing bombs. In the spring of 2014, while I was driving, I had a picture in my head of dice being rolled into the middle of the table and then players working out who got which dice. I have no idea why, but for some reason my brain immediately connected the two and I thought that mechanic would be a good way to defuse bombs.

Who do you most frequently use to help you playtest your games?

My wife is by far my number one playtester and developer. And talking to other designers, I know I’m lucky to have that. I go to Protospiels and other designer events and test games with people who know games inside and out, but I honestly haven’t found anyone who can pick apart and develop a game like she can. I can usually get my kids involved in playtesting too, but I think the novelty has worn off for them. :)  Other than that I have a few friends that are my core playtest group. Every time they come over we get in at least some playtesting. Depending on the current state of what I’m working on that could mean playing one prototype and a bunch of published stuff, or 12 hours straight playing through prototypes. 

Has the theme always been an exploding space ship or did it evolve from something else?

Fuse has always been about defusing bombs, but the sci-fi theme was added later in development. The original name of the game was Bomb Squad, and had the idea of defusing bombs, but no real specific setting for the game. When Tasty Minstrel announced their Bomb Squad game, I knew I had to change the name of my game. While thinking up a new name, I also decided to put the sci-fi theme on it. Fuse is a family game, and something that can be played with a wide variety of ages and gamer types, so I didn’t want to make the theme too heavy, even though it’s about defusing bombs. Like I said, the theme originally was very generic with no specifics other than you were defusing bombs, but I was afraid that a family wouldn’t want to pull out a game that maybe seemed like a game where terrorists had left bombs around a city or something. When developing games I’m usually thinking about marketing too, so I didn’t want any possible negative connotation associated with the game because of that. The sci-fi spin left the theme intact, but allowed it to feel more family friendly. Plus, we could get some cool artwork in there too.

What was the hardest part of designing Fuse?

Most of the design for Fuse came fairly easy. One thing that did give me trouble for awhile was trying to figure out what to do when players couldn’t take a die. I tried several things, but everything just seemed too complicated for what I wanted the game to be. It turned out that the simplest solution was the best. Simply roll the die and then everyone has to lose a matching die from their Bomb Cards…either matching the color or the number rolled.

How involved were you in the art and art direction for the game?

Scott from Renegade and I both worked on the art direction for Fuse. We used the same illustrator I used for my game Dead Men Tell No Tales to do the cover (Chris Ostrowski), and then Marc Mejia and Luis Francisco took over for the graphic design. We wanted the cover to have a sense of excitement and impending doom, and I think we pulled that off. 

 How long has the development process for Fuse taken you?

 Fuse actually came together pretty quickly.  I just looked back at my notes, and the very first idea (rolling dice to the middle of the table and then players work out who gets what) was on 4/27/14. The game was pretty much done by 5/31/14. Since then I’ve streamlined a few things and tweaked the numbers, but the gameplay is pretty much exactly the same as what it was then. The nice thing is that it’s only a 10 minute game, so playtesting is easy. We would play several times every day at lunch, and any chance we had to get it to the table.

How did the idea of two different Ship Voice modes come up?

From the very beginning of the design I knew that I wanted to have an app for the timer. Sound effects and the ships computer giving you a countdown add a lot to the experience, both in tension and making the game unique. I was afraid that a publisher would push to just include a sand timer in the game because that would be cheaper and easier to do, so I was thrilled when Renegade agreed that the game needed an app. Even better, Scott at Renegade came up with the idea of having two different modes for the timer. So, one mode will just have the computer counting down the time with escalating sound effects to build the tension, and the other mode has a Ship’s Computer Voice that really doesn’t want to die. She will talk to you throughout the game, and as the game goes along she’ll become more and more nervous and agitated. I added a few lines to that script, but that was pretty much all Scott’s idea and he wrote the script. I love working with a publisher who not only wants to get a game out on the shelves, but more importantly wants to make that game the best it can be. Going the extra mile for art and things like the app bring a great game up another level.

What part are you most excited about with the impending mass release of Fuse?

While it’s always a little nerve-racking to release something you created out for people to critique, I’m more excited about Fuse than any game I’ve had come out previously. I think it will appeal to a wide range of people, and it’s always fun to see people’s reactions the first time they play. The first game usually starts out pretty slow with the players shaking up the dice in their hand before rolling them, and then trying to figure out the best possible way to allocate the dice. By the time the timer hits 5 minutes and they realize they have a long way to go in defusing all of the bombs, they immediately start to speed up. They go from shaking up the dice to just grabbing them from the bag and throwing them at the table, and yelling at their teammates to hurry up and make a decision on which dice they need. And then the bombs blow up and they ask to play again. What was the question again? Oh yah… I personally think Fuse is an extremely fun game, and I’m excited to finally let everyone else join in the fun!

Look for Part 2 in November!