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  • Omen: Interview with John Clowdus of Small Box Games

Omen: Interview with John Clowdus of Small Box Games

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omenWhen I reviewed Omen a few weeks ago, I was pretty excited about it. I’m still pretty excited about it. I’ve played a ton of it and I think it’s got legs – I’m going to be playing this for quite a while. I asked John Clowdus, owner and giant hand behind Small Box Games, if he’d be willing to share some thoughts with Men With Dice about Omen specifically and about Small Box in general. Enjoy!

MWD: Let’s start with Omen – I really enjoyed this game. The design feels really tight, with a lot of interaction and decisions, but you’ve managed to keep the rules relatively simple and the cards diverse and varied. How did this game come together for you? Anything that changed along the way to its present form, or design challenges that you had to tackle?

JC: Omen’s been floating around in my head for quite awhile. I’d been wanting to do this sort of game, and had these ideas about a quasi deckbuilder in my head. Something that’d work right out of the box, or where players could choose and build a deck with it. Something along the lines of a Magic Cube Draft. So I started to piece together Omen in my head, but sort of put in on the back burner due to the limitations I face with most of our games – a very tight budget. After I hooked up with Michael, things just sort of took off.

One thing that’s missing from the finished game, that ended up getting cut were the god affiliations. I’d initially designed the units to be aligned with one of the six gods featured on the feats and rewards, and there would be additional things that boosted or hampered units of a certain god. You can still see the affiliations in both art and abilities for example, Seaside Guardian and Keeper of the Tide both have abilities that mess with Wealth affiliated stuff, just like the Poseidon reward and feat. They both have sort of a crustacean appearnace to their armor as well. I never talked to Michael about this, but they’re both very “Monster Hunter” to me in appearance: very carpaceon looking armor. You can find the same similarities throughout the art and abilities of the Units.

The actual in-game affiliation ended up getting cut because it just muddled things too much. That was one of the hurdles with this game, I had so many ideas for it, it was tough trimming out the fat. I think the end result is pretty good, though. There could have been more stuff left in, but I don’t think it would have made the game better. More complicated? Yes. But not necessarily better.

MWD: What was the inspiration for Omen? Are you more of a theme first, then mechanics kind of designer, or do you like to work in the other direction?

JC: It’s sort of a toss up. Sometimes I think about a really rich theme, and then adapt a set of game mechanics to it, other times, I have a set of mechanics in my head that I have to find the perfect setting for. At the end of the day, as long as it doesn’t feel pasted on and the game is enjoyable, I think I’m working in the right direction.

With Omen, I had the idea in my head before I had settled on a correct fantasy setting. Initially, I was way in left field thinking about Goblin Samurai, Gnomish Alchemists, and Djinni Slave Drivers, but I ended up going with something a bit more familiar: Greek Mythology. Once I saw Michael’s first sample piece, I was hooked.

MWD: Obviously the art is a big aspect of this release for you – how did that come about? What made you decide to go in this particular artistic direction?

JC: For Omen, I knew I was going to have to go big, or just not do it. That’s not a knock at all to my other games. I love my other designs, each and every one for different reasons. I just know it couldn’t be another alright looking Pure Card Line release. Plus, I really wanted to push things from the publisher end. I wanted to find out what would happen when I paired one of my designs with top shelf art, and to find out if that would make the difference.

I ended up stumbling onto Michael looking at preview cards for Mirrodon Besieged on a M:TG site. He had done a mock up for a card, changed the art completely, and I really liked the style. I took a shot and sent him a pm. Things ended up working out, and he did the art for Omen.

To not talk about Small Box for a second, Michael is a fantastic artist. He’s also a great professional. If anything ends up coming from Omen being in the buzz, I hope it’s that Michael ends up getting more illustration gigs. He deseres it. He’s got incredible talent.

MWD: What does the future hold for Omen – do you have any expansions planned yet? Any teasers that you can share, if so?

JC: Well, we have an expansion planned, so far. We’ve got a set of 16 additional units planned that we feel will really add the finishing touch on the game. Not that the game isn’t complete right out of the box, but there’s always room for a few more units. With a total of 40 different units, you’ll have a great little set up to do a draft with four people and have a little swiss tournament with you and your buddies. Our end goal and hope is that everyone who enjoys the game will end up buying their very own copy, and be able to construct their own decks to face off against their friends who have done the same. Having a little tournament scene for Omen would be awesome, but if that sort of thing takes off, we’re a ways away from it.

But, then again, the release of the expansion all hinges on the sales of the original game. The way things are going, it looks hopeful.

MWD: Tell us more about Small Box Games – how would you describe your company? What’s behind the unique distribution model?

JC: Small Box Games is basically Britt and myself busting our asses to try and make it in the game world. She’s more behind the scenes than I am, but we’re hoping once convention season kicks off, she’ll be around a lot more. Our business model works for us, I know it’s not a way a lot of other companies do business. It makes it easier for us to try different things. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but we’ve got a pretty good track record. We’re still afloat 3 years later, so I guess something is working.

MWD: What would you say is your favorite part of game design? What’s the most challenging?

JC: Just creating. It’s awesome. I love taking numbers and mechanics and a theme from my head and putting it down and watching it all come together. It’s pretty rewarding, too, when you actually sell them. But, it’s all a challenge, man. Sometimes things click, and other times they don’t. There’s really nothing easy about this thing.Just creating. It’s awesome. I love taking numbers and mechanics and a theme from my head and putting it down and watching it all come together. It’s pretty rewarding, too, when you actually sell them. But, it’s all a challenge, man. Sometimes things click, and other times they don’t. There’s really nothing easy about this thing.

MWD: What’s on your game table at the moment?

JC: Just getting geared up for the new set, New Phyrexia. I’ve got my budget gambles preordered, getting ready for the prereleases this weekend. Magic’s really the only game I’d say I play any more. But then again, I’ve always been a Magic player, it’s what got me into games. Britt and I like a lot of the small box two player stuff that’s out there, too. Then there’s the random spattering of games I get to play when I go game with the Atlanta guys, something I don’t get to do all that often. I get to play a lot of games that I’d otherwise never play. Der Pate was pretty damn enjoyable, I liked that game quite a bit. Hopefully somehow they’ll do a port of that one without the license, but I doubt it.

MWD: What’s next for Small Box? Anything you’re working on that you can share?

JC: Right now, everything is focused on Omen. We’ve got some more Pure Card Line stuff lined up, but nothing set in stone yet. The attention Omen has been getting has really made us reevaluate some of our Pure Card Line games, trying to figure out if giving them the Omen treatment would be worth it or not. Who knows, right?

MWD: John, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, and congrats on a great release – best of luck to you.

JC: Thanks for taking the time to interview me, Scott!

More units for this game would rock. Go pick up Omen from Small Box Games so that I can get the expansion.

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