HEXplore It

An interview with Jonathan Mariucci

We’ve mentioned how impressed we were when first breaking our HEXplore It box open, and we’ve since played it a few times so we’re just about ready to go live with its review. Whether it’s glowing or not (spoilers: it might just be), you’re going to have to follow us and see for yourselves, but until then we’ve managed to get a hold of the game’s designer, Jonathan Mariucci, and get an overview on his gaming experience, design process, as well as the universe’s future by answering a few questions from our resident community-point-man, Costin (whom you may know as Grizzlyface from our Facebook posts).
We’re very excited to share our first interview with you, and we hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did putting it all together!

Gung-Ho Geeks: Hi Jonathan, thanks for taking the time to talk to us!

Jonathan Mariucci: Hey, of course! Thanks for offering your time as well!

GHG: Let’s start from the very beginning here: what’s your geek/gaming upbringing, when did you come into this hobby and what led to you designing something like HEXplore It?

JM: So HEXplore It started as a simple monthly contest entry over at Cartographers Guild. Each month they have a contest surrounding, you guessed it, making maps! So one month many moons ago I ended up getting psyched up for one of the entries. The category: make a map that could be in a game. So off I went. I created the first iteration of the map that eventually made its way into our game.
I ended up co-winning the contest that month, along with another guild mate. The enthusiasm surrounding the map was pretty cool, and everyone kept saying “hey this could be in a great game!”. So off to work I went in building the system around the map!

The map that Jonathan made for the Cartographers Guild Forum contest.

GHG: I like a system that has a very simple main structure (the game can be distilled to an essential 2 phases each turn: you move, then something happens) that is subsequently built upon to offer an enhanced experience via different modules that work together to create a more complex whole. Was that your thought process with the game (start small, expand) or did you go about it another way?

JM: For sure. When I started building the game I knew I wanted to gradually build functionality into an essential turn sequence. It went through quite a few revisions, but I’m happy where we ended up (with the 5 part sequence). It is simple enough to keep strategy-based decision making key, while keeping it open for a whole host of new ideas that we intend to introduce in future titles.

GHG: To us the game seemed like a very condensed DnD (or fantasy RPG) campaign with players being able to imagine every turn plays out like a full RPG gaming session and the narrative itself playing out like an overarching conflict. Aside from this obvious influence, what other games/genres did you draw inspiration from when putting HEXplore It together?

JM: To be honest, I wasn’t a huge board-gamer before HEXplore It. My background is seeped heavily in Role Play, especially fantasy based. When I sat down to figure through the mechanisms of the game my goal was exactly that - to refine what it was I loved about role playing and distill it into a single experience that can play out over the course of several hours. I loved the thrill of character creation, and the increase of power.
As a dad of 3, you can imagine I don’t have the kind of time nowadays to sit down and Role Play like I used to, let alone create intricate story lines for our players.

GHG: Even as a married dad of 0, I can still relate to that last bit...
There’s a virtually borderless variety that comes with the game, from the map setup and exploration, to the characters and their skill progression, but what can you tell us about the fantasy world, the mythos behind HEXplore It? Is it mostly set or are you still working on building it as the universe grows?

JM: The universe is constantly growing! We have ideas for 5 additional games after Forests of Adrimon. With each one we’re world building. We’re hoping that our community gives us the chance to continue working on the HEXplore It system, because we’re having a blast creating it. Our roles and races list is ever-expanding, and we’ve identified a ton of potential mechanisms to change future games, by augmenting them, or plugging/playing so to speak, different mechanisms into different game boxes.

GHG: Speaking of the growing universe, if the Dead King wasn’t deadly enough, now we’ve got the Forests of Adrimon live on Kickstarter, both a stand-alone experience as well as one fully compatible with the main game. What are some of the most important things it brings to the fold?

JM: We’re really excited about this title and we hope our fans can help us make it a reality (Editor’s Note: we did, the game was funded in record time!). There are so many new mechanisms. I’ll start with one of the more fun ones: our heroes can now sneak into enthralled cities and loot them for gear. You can even break up into groups and go alone for the potential of more loot, or play it safe and go in a (single) group. This mechanism feels like that moment in roleplaying where the DM stops after a battle and tells the group to roll some ten-sided dice: it’s treasure time folks!
Another fun one is the ability to save certain enemies. Some now have a third vital pool called influence, and you can choose to either vanquish them normally, or save them from Adrimon’s terrible clutches. The heroes will gain an ally when they utilize this mechanism. One of our bosses for instance is a giant owl, so if you decide to influence Hathowyr and succeed, well, now you can ride a giant owl all over the game board! Of course there are many more things going on as well. We’re all very excited.

GHG: I’m seriously looking forward to that owl mount... Now all I need is an aerial combat mod for it just so I can go “RAMMING SPEED!” in the thick of it all.
You’re obviously more or less just starting out with HEXplore It, but you surely have some plans or at least ideas for the future. Aside from expansions like the Forests of Adrimon, should we expect this to go into different boardgame styles or even different settings (sci-fi, the various -punks out there)?

JM: We sure hope so yes! I’m a very long-term thinker, and we have ideas to take the game as far and wide as we can. We’ve thought of a sci-fi variation, a steampunk variation, and even as far as attempting to gain approval from other major IPs that could help define their universes further - what if we had a superhero version, or a Harry Potter version?
It really, to me, feels like the sky’s the limit. But I have to be honest with myself and realize that I’m still doing this on the top of my family and full time job. So my future thinking is just that for the time being.

GHG: Touching on the multitude of possibilities down the line, the myriad races and classes already in the game can result in a ton of weird combos to toy around with (not the least of which was my first playthrough as a Leprechaun Berserker), do you have a favourite “traditional” race/class/fantasy trope that you made a point out of having in the Game?

JM: That would have to be the Pixie Tinkersmith. My daughter very early on loved the idea of playing my game, but boy, when I told her she could play as Tinkerbell, it was game over and she was hooked.

GHG: What are some pieces of advice you’d give budding game designers out there and what was it like to have such a successful first contact with KS?

JM: Stick with it! I am by no means an expert on this stuff, and I certainly made mistakes along the way, both before and during our Kickstarter launch.
Just be honest with yourself about your goals, and be sure to take breaks. It sure is hard to do that when you’re working on something you love doing, but it is essential to help you keep perspective. Listen to feedback and try to engage with your backers. You’re investing in a community, it is essential to respect them, because they’re why we’re here.
And I guess most of all, have fun with it!

GHG: Last one (and choose wisely!) The Last Jedi, give it a rating of 1-10...

JM: Quick answer: I really enjoyed the Last Jedi.

GHG: Ah, Jonathan, just when I thought we could be friends...

JM: (laughs) Long answer: That whole scene with Leia out in space really really bothered me. It was NEAR catastrophic to my view of the movie. I remember seeing that and just laughing. It was so absurd in that moment. So yeah, other than that poor decision, I thought it was a pretty good flic. More often we all fall back on this as our go-to statement: I enjoyed the visuals. The storyline was meh, so-so. I give it a solid 6 out of 10.
It certainly wasn’t a perfect 5 out of 7, I’ll say that much.

GHG: Ok, we can be friends again, especially after that reference. We’ll chat again after Episode IX drops, though… Thanks again for everything and we’ll be looking forward to hearing more from you down the line!

JM: Thank you, sir!

And there you have it, folks, HEXplore It and how it came to be, right from the source. We’ll keep purchasing, playing, and covering this series of games down the line (starting with the aforementioned Forests of Adrimon) because we feel like it deserves all the attention it can get, and we’ll go deeper into the whys and hows soon, in our full review of HEXplore It...
As always, spread the word if you like the content and stick around for more interviews, reviews, previews, memes, and opinion pieces from any and all corners of the hobby.

Until next time