'Leigh Jones and Peter Norton are game designers in Seattle publishing their debut board game, a tile-placement adventure called Favor: Gods of Oethera (favorthegame.com). The interview, recorded May 28, 2023, has been condensed and edited for clarity. Jump to the end of the page for the full audio interview, which has more discussion about Favor's gameplay, manufacturing, Kickstarter advice, and general merriment.
'Leigh and Peter of Lichenwood Games
What games did you play with family or friends growing up?
'Leigh: One that is actually my brother's favorite but we still play sometimes to this day is a game called Wadjet. It's probably very niche, but it's a game where you're Egyptologists trying to collect Egyptian artifacts. That was definitely a favorite of mine because the art style was really, really nice.
Peter: I played a lot of Yu-gi-oh growing up. And then in high school I can think of two games that were really defining for me: Settlers of Catan—that was the one I played with a lot of friends that really got me into the hobby—and BANG!, the Western card game. That one is still one of my favorites to play to this day. I think it has a couple of really interesting mechanics in it that stick through.
Pick two desert-island games!
'Leigh: That's really hard to narrow it down... I think for the simplicity of the game I'm a big fan of Othello.
Peter: For my first, I would say chess—fallback to another very influential game—and then for my second I'll go for something more fun. Not that chess isn't fun, but I want something more new and thematic.
'Leigh: Something that's got some nice artwork and unique mechanics.
Peter: Something to look at while you're on the desert island (both laugh). I'd probably go for Lords of Waterdeep. Really well put together and has a couple of mechanics that stick out to me as my favorite worker-placement mechanics.
'Leigh: Oh, can I just bring a bunch of dice and D&D minis? I'm going to do make-believe with my friends.
What is your favorite genre of games right now?
'Leigh: I like things with roleplay elements. Obviously, by my [desert-island] answer with D&D (laughs). A while ago I got my hands on the Horizon board game. Peter gave me one of the expansions as a gift and I have still yet to actually play it because (whispers) it's very dense. But I just look at the minis and can't wait to have time to sit and go through the rulebook. I love when you can get immersed in a world playing as a character. So I'm just a sucker for any roleplay elements of gameplay.
The Sapling from Favor: Gods of Oethera
How did you get started in game design?
'Leigh: For me it just kinda happened. (both laugh) It just happened.
Peter: My journey into game design probably started when I was five or six. My mom sent me a picture a few months ago of a card that she found that was a Pokémon card hybrid that had things crossed out, like I was designing my own cards and misspelling everything because I was like five or whatever. But I designed my own tabletop RPG when I was younger, I designed my own trampoline wrestling—gods again (Leigh laughs)—war of the gods, Greek gods kinda stuff.
Peter: So I've definitely been into games and into game designing casually since I was young, but I didn't decide to move into something that I wanted to create a small game design company until about four years ago. That's when I decided to look for some education. [My partner and I] did some digging, we moved out here to Seattle, and I got accepted into the game design certificate program at UW. It was midway through that program that I was invited to the Bellevue college Global Game Jam of 2020, and that's where 'Leigh and I met.
'Leigh: That's where we met!
Peter: And that's how Favor started, that's how Lichenwood Games started, and that's how our relationship started. That was really the first time, when we had put together Favor in about 48 hours, at least the concept of it—
'Leigh: A very early construction-paper-and-marker version.
Peter: —it was the first game I designed that was fun. I probably made like six games before that—(whispers) they weren't fun. Friends and family were very nice, but they weren't actually anything.
'Leigh: It's funny that he brought up the handmade card, because I did the same thing when I was in third or fourth grade. There were copies of Pokémon cards and I didn't even know how to play, but I was into it more because of the art. I made a bunch of printer-paper drawn cards, but they were all dragons; I was a sucker for dragons as a kid. I still love dragons—(laughs)—but I was obsessed at that point.
'Leigh: My whole thing has always been art. I went to Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I did four years there, got a degree in storyboarding for animation and then promptly did not do that with my life and instead made a webcomic, AstralSounds. And then because I have some friends and acquaintances at Bellevue College in the staff—my dad used to teach there—I was invited to the Global Game Jam there a few years before [Peter and I] met. And then I made a habit of doing that. There are a lot of people who want to design games that want to do the coding or the 3D modeling, but the textures and the 2D art, not so much.
'Leigh: The year Peter and I met, we had a couple of mutual acquaintances and we're just hanging out in a group and then once everyone started talking about ideas I just kinda turned to Peter and said "I really don't feel like doing a videogame this year; I kind of want to do a card game or board game," and he goes "Yeah, me too." And that was it, that's how it happened. That's how I got into game making.
Favor: Gods of Oethera
Peter: Favor: Gods of Oethera is an action-adventure tile-placement board game for 3 to 6 players where you play as a unique character and battle against your fellow players in a contest for the favor of the gods. The first player to reach ten points of favor from the gods wins the game. The primary way that you're going to do that is tile placement.
Everyone begins in the center map on the altar, and there's four regions, one on each of the sides: the forest, the mountains, the marshlands, and the wastelands. On your turn you have action points, which we call energy, to move around the board. So you move into one of the regions, placing tiles as you go, running into different events and different unique terrain tiles and all sorts of other effects until you eventually find ruined tiles.
When you find a ruin, you delve into it for relics. And the relics are the powerful items that kind of change the way that you play the game. That's a really fun, sought-after part of the game. Eventually, though, you'll go back to the altar in the center of the board and you'll turn in the relics for points of favor. Every one that you turn in, you get a victory point towards winning the game.
We really wanted to have an open-world experience. It's like an open-world-type, not a tabletop RPG, but a roleplaying game in the sense that you can go a passive route, you can go a combat route; [there are] several paths to victory. There's even an additional win condition. If you capture all four banners (there's a banner in each region)—if you hold on to all of them at the same time, you immediately win the game.
'Leigh: It's not really an RPG, but it does, in some of the elements, feel like a baby's first RPG. So if you don't want to like dive into, you know, full on role-playing, then it's like you can just kind of dip your toe into that a little bit with this because you can get a feel for your character, but it's not about being the character. It's more about figuring out your strategy to get the god's favor.
The Abutian exploring the tiles of Favor.
How did you go about playtesting the game?
Peter: The goal at first was to was to paper prototype, paper playtest with friends and family, and I think that's generally a good place to start. Start with friends and family. They're not going to give you the best advice, they're not going to give the worst advice, they are going to be encouraging. They're going to give you an ability to see, "does this game have a beginning, a middle and an end?," and just get some basic data points until you're comfortable enough to put it out in front of strangers. And that's where you're going to get your best feedback and your best advice. I will say it took us a little bit longer to get the game in front of strangers that we would have liked because of the global pandemic.
'Leigh: But thankfully, tabletop simulator was a thing that we could take advantage of. So we put all of our assets into tabletop simulator and were able to get together some long distance friends to playtest. So it gave us a wider pool of people to playtest with, which was really nice. So yeah, it was great that I could introduce a friend from Texas, a friend from Ohio, a friend from California to the game and give them a chance to try it out and give us some feedback. It was still in that realm of friends and acquaintances, but it definitely helped that we weren't just getting the same five people telling us the game is great, it's fun, and I've played it ten times already.
Peter: I don't think we'll ever make a game again without putting it into tabletop simulator first in the early stages of prototyping because it's so easy and so cheap. I want six versions of an action card. I just go "control C, control V," and I don't actually have to grab paper and cut it and write it out with pencil.
'Leigh: It gives us that idea of how the design of everything is looking with the UI, so we can tell "does this look good?" before we put that time, effort, and money into getting things printed out.
When you started doing in-person playtests did you notice anything different in the way people interact with the game?
Peter: I'd say the biggest difference was the time it took to play the game. One of the things that I did take down every single playtest—and we've had over 120 playtests over the life of Favor—was game time. And that was one of the first things I would develop [to change]. I think the longest game of Favor we ever had was close to five hours. Right now we're at a clean 60 minutes. And really nothing has gone above an hour and a half at this point, even with six players. So [the game times] used to be a lot longer and they were longer in tabletop simulator than they were when I when we moved into in-person playtest. So that was an interesting thing for me to change. I think a lot of that just comes down to the UI. Everyone knows how to draw a tile and flip it over, whereas you play with tabletop simulator, people are like, "How do I do that? How do I flip it?"
'Leigh: "Which key do I press to look at this?"
Peter: Another big one that popped up was in earlier stages of Favor: we had far more tokens and pieces on the board which became a little unruly and unmanageable. Some of the feedback that we would get with people in public playtesting straight up being like, "there's too many things to flip over, move around and keep track of." Well, that's fair because in Tabletop Simulator they all stayed in one place and you could just hover over and push a button. So I think in terms of playing in the real world versus Tabletop Simulator, some of the user interface was definitely improved upon.
The Seridian is one of six distinct fantasy races in Favor: Gods of Oethera.
How did the collaboration of building the story and art go into the game design over time?
'Leigh: We were brainstorming "What is the game? What are we doing? Why are we doing it? What is the lore?" and so we had decided early on that it was this concept of racial ambassadors who were going out and trying to earn the gods favor for their people. One of those key elements at the very beginning was we wanted six very distinct fantasy races. That was something that, as an artist, I wanted six distinct silhouettes that as soon as you see your character on the board, you're not confused and going like, Oh no, that's not my character—oh, here, there they are. I want immediately that your character is distinct because that shape is distinct, the color is distinct. You know exactly who you're playing.
That really was an integrating point between the art and the lore. So we were thinking, "How do we make these people different from each other?" So we have the Humans, their brains in jars on spidery legs, a distinct shape from the Seridian, who's this bipedal salamander character, which is distinct from the Sapling—a short squat, little leafy guy.
As soon as you see them, you know what you're looking at. And then we just kind of built out from there because we're thinking, "What kind of environments would these people live in?" So our little forest spritey Sapling made of leaves is going to be in the forest and the Seridian is going to be in the swamp.
It sounds like pitching this to a publisher and having them develop it was never on the table for you?
'Leigh: Absolutely not (laughs).
Peter: Not once.
'Leigh: We knew early on that this is kind of going to be our baby. It was going to be different. It was going to be a little bit more what we wanted to see in a game and what we wanted to do. So we weren't even talking about...
Peter: No. ('Leigh laughs) In terms of our project, we had three really big pillars that we talked about early on and those were, first off, to learn a lot, just learn as much as we can about the entire project. So that was another big reason why we didn't want to move to publishing—not only because we wanted to have full creative control, but also wanted to start our own LLC and learn the business side of things as well as the design, the development, the shipping and the publishing, the manufacturing, the crowdfunding. We wanted to do it all so we could learn it all. And that was a really big reason why we want to go through all of this. The second is: we want to make something we're proud of. Let's not push anything out there that we're not proud of. And then the third one was: don't lose money.
How did you go about your Kickstarter?
Peter: Lots of reading—
'Leigh: And asking people (laughs).
Peter: And that's probably the biggest thing. If you're making a game, go to conventions. Not only will you get testing and you'll get feedback from the public and hopefully get some people to follow your newsletter or your social media sites, but all of that aside, probably the most beneficial thing that we've gotten from every convention we've gone to is talking to the other designers, to the left and to the right of you at different booths.
'Leigh: It's great networking because you spend a weekend sitting next to someone else who's also a game designer and you end up chatting. We get to play each other's games and then you have an awesome contact when they're like, "Oh yeah, I'm doing my Kickstarter next month" and you say "Oh, what are you doing?"
Tell the people about your Kickstarter!
Peter: Our Kickstarter launches on August 15th! Our Kickstarter pre-launch page is up and available. That was a really good bit of advice we got from someone at a convention: as quick as you can get that up and running, do so. That way you can point people to that link.
'Leigh: Then they get that heads up when the Kickstarter does go live. They get an email that says "Hey, it's happening!' and they can immediately go check it out and back it. That helps a lot.
Peter: We'll do a 30-day Kickstarter. We're launching on a Tuesday, which is what all of the research says. Just launch on a Tuesday, because Monday people are getting back to the work week and Tuesday is when everyone opens up their emails.
What are your games of the week?
Peter: Tears of the Kingdom
What is your favorite pie?
'Leigh: Pumpkin. Or, sweet potato? Because it's like pumpkin on steroids.
Peter: I'll take any fruit pie really. Strawberry rhubarb. I'll go with a strawberry rhubarb.
Do y'all have further projects on the horizon?
'Leigh: Absolutely. We want to build out the Oethera expanded universe. We would like to do some spinoff games that are related to each of the fantasy races. You don't have to know anything about Favor, you don't have to have Favor. They standalone, but fill out the world a little bit more.
The Geodyte is a good boy who deserves a spinoff.