I’m Graham Cranfield, and I’m an illustrator and game designer from Richmond, Virginia, USA. Game design is something I can only do on the side for now, and I think I prefer it not ever becoming a job. I always feel the need to create something, be it a drawing or a set of rules, and it’s much easier to do both of those things when it’s entirely for fun.
I began working on what would become Hero’s Journey Home back in early 2014. I initially had wanted to create a modified Rock-Paper-Scissors, basically a themed version of the game with some additional modifiers to downplay the luck factor and give some variation. There were various fantasy/RPG character types you could choose from and they had different attack strengths. Additionally, the combat would take place at various locations which would affect the gameplay as well.
The more locations and characters I added, I realized that instead of having it just be a game of player vs player combat, it could instead be an actual adventure. This led into trying to figure out the overarching goal which would remain constant while the internals of the game were variable.
Having a definite end at a Home card solved the issue, for me, in a novel way. Starting at the end of the Quest I liked because it didn’t rely on a final boss fight. Once you beat the final boss, there’s not much incentive to play again; having enemies of varying strength shuffled throughout the deck means you never have the same path to victory. Mix in the locations, items, and (in two player games) player v player combat, and you have a robust mechanism for inviting replay.
The rest of the actual game mechanics and rules fell into place during playtesting. The combat system, the character actions, sort of the core mechanics of the game, changed considerably due to testing.
In combat, where originally the combat order was determined prior to battle, handing the player the choice of who is targeted by an enemy with every attack I felt added a nice psychological aspect to the game and it also eliminates luck as a deciding factor. There’s a lot of dice rolling in the combat portion of the game (which is mitigated by new rules in the first expansion), and I really wanted to confine that to hits, not who gets hit.
Character actions, too, were very limited or non-existent early on. It should have been obvious, but it wasn’t, that weak characters are the first to get the (literal) axe. So you’ll notice that even physically weak characters have powerful actions, and this has the knock-on effect of causing the player to funnel enemy attacks towards more powerful characters, which has a much more natural feel. You protect your wizards, and even your fools, because they can’t do it themselves.
Visually, the original prototype game I created was vastly simpler than the final product. I really like the idea of a game where the cards just have a simple picture, or a picture with a word, like Tarot cards, and there’s this deep meaning and functionality behind them that the players already know.
My illustrations, especially for the prototype, went in this direction. I drew the cards at full size and used little wooden stamps to add the name of the character/place/item along the bottom. I really wanted just that to be the final card. But, after testing, it was clear that wasn’t going to work. I still tried to minimize the text and make the rulebook an all-in-one reference, but you can’t just throw essentially blank cards at people and expect them to pick it up.
At the same time all of this is going on, since the entire game is a one-person operation, I’m trying to figure out the cheapest and most effective way to get all the parts and package the whole thing up.
My wife, at the beginning, suggested using a bag of some sort. I really resisted that and thought surely a box would be easy to come by and not very expensive. I found out quickly that packaging is not cheap. It is incredibly expensive. Quality, custom game boxes especially are prohibitively expensive unless you’re ordering them in the thousands. So, on to a bag.
The burlap bag ended up being a great way to set the game apart and, nicely, it ties into the whole theme of the game. On the down side, it’s a huge pain to fill and it turns out it can be difficult to get the rulebook out, so, for future editions, I’m going smaller and boxier.
This being my first game, along with the fact that I’m not good with self-promotion (my wife drove most people to the Indiegogo campaign), meant the initial print didn’t go out to but 50 people. However, thanks to word of mouth, and good ratings and some nice reviews, I sold another 50 last year which sold me out completely.
I’m planning a Kickstarter which I’d like to launch later this year to get the game out to all the people who’ve been asking me for a copy, so we’ll see how that goes. In the meantime I’m working on some other things which, also, will take a while for me to get out there. But as long as I’m creating, I figure it’ll all work out.