Aethermon Studios – A Player2 Interview
With just under a week left to go, the crowdfunding campaign for Aethermon: Collect has become a roaring success after a rocky start, sitting at well in excess of 25 times its initial funding goal. Following their Indie Showcase win at PAX AUS 2022 for Aethermon Ascent, I wanted to speak to Aethermon Studios’ design team, Sarah and Chris, to find out more about their reasons for launching a second Aethermon game before releasing the first, what the leap to crowdfunding has entailed and what heights they think the Aethermon franchise can reach in the future
Player 2: Great to speak to you again, Sarah and Chris! When first discovering you were about to put out Aethermon: Collect, I had to double-take and make sure I hadn’t missed Aethermon Ascent, which is fortunately still on the way. What pushed you to create Aethermon Collect while still toiling away at Ascent?
Chris: Somewhere along the line we realised Aethermon: Ascent was uncommonly ambitious for a studio’s first outing. The full vision of Ascent is a JRPG-inspired tabletop game that includes hundreds of cards, dozens of acrylic standees, custom 3d structures… It is a lot from a production point-of-view, even before considering global logistics or international tax.
Sarah: We want to make sure that we are entirely ready for that challenge: things like finding a manufacturing partner for our paper components, finding additional manufacturers for other component types (acrylics, enamels, etc), knowing how different manufacturing techniques affect the quality of the final product, and so on. Collect is a much smaller game than Ascent, but uses the same types of components, and has allowed us to make those connections and learn what we need to on a more manageable scale.
Chris: Regarding how we landed on Aethermon: Collect – we set ourselves the goal of creating a game that could function as a creature codex. Collect has two distinct features that allow it to seamlessly double as a monster manual: (1) it is rules light, meaning we could highlight the creature art with minimal game information; and (2) it is an open-information game, which leaves the back of each card available for creature lore.
P2: At over 2800% funded, how have you felt about the campaign so far? Do you have any more surprises in store for backers?
S: I’m feeling really good about it. Our launch was chaotic, with tech problems on the Gamefound site, followed by a series of prank pledges. It was awful, the two together almost tanked our campaign on day one! Since then we’ve been really fortunate not only to find support from our backers, friends and the Aethermon community, but even the gaming community beyond that. It’s been so very much appreciated.
C: Crowdfunding is such a privilege. It is hard to explain the joy of sharing years of work with an audience. Crowdfunders are such a generous group; by definition they are people who go out of their way to find projects they want to succeed. They not only back projects with their purchases, but join creators on their journey. Not everything has been smooth sailing, but we’ve been able to share all the ups and downs with our audience.
S: We always approached this as a huge learning experience, and it’s definitely been that, but we also wanted to make it a really fun campaign to be part of – regardless of whether you decide to back. To that end, we’ve been running a community create-an-Aethermon event, which has been awesome. We got 21 initial suggestions from the community, which has since been narrowed down to one, and now we’re passing that over to our insanely talented creature artist Fabio to live-stream his sketching process, before the community gets to vote again on the outcome!
C: Working with Fabio has been such a pleasure, I’m really excited to be able to give our supporters the experience of seeing their own ideas slowly take form. You can watch Fabio stream most days at twitch.tv/theartofnemo .
S: It’s interesting to approach the creation process from this angle. We’re giving up a lot of control, and it should be scary, but I feel a lot of trust in our community to make these decisions here.
C: Absolutely, we didn’t really know what decisions were going to be made, part of me was concerned it would come down to a cats vs dogs argument. Instead we saw people making really well reasoned arguments for how potential creatures fit our various mechanics or had synergistic relationships with the element.
S: I feel like this process has allowed for surprises to be a two-way experience. Although we do have some more stretch goals we’re excited to unlock…
C: My favourite stretch goal has already been unlocked, a Campaign Mode for 1-2 players; but I’m also really excited for the upcoming stretch-goal that will let 3-4 player groups to play through the same campaign. We might even have a hidden final day unlock planned!
P2: I have a few games of Collect under my belt, and it’s a very versatile game in terms of player count. What is both of your preferred player counts for Aethermon Collect and why?
C: This one hurts. I’ve worked really hard to make sure it doesn’t feel like any one game mode is preferred over any other. But forced to choose, I’m probably most proud of the 2-player competitive game. Because every choice directly affects the options available to your only competitor, the game becomes kind of zero-sum. Denying your opponent a point is just as valuable as scoring a point yourself. For the right players, this can create a very cut-throat game, with a kind of chess-like appeal with each player trying to model as many turns ahead as possible.
S: I really love the co-operative mode, although I’m not sure which player count is my preference (it can be played from one to four players). I like playing with people, so let’s say four-player is my preference – although we’ve had very favourable responses to the solo mode too, which is wonderful.
P2: What process did you have to go through to find your audience? Has there been a significant upswing since PAX AUS 2022 and how many of those people are coming over to Collect from Ascent?
S: Finding an audience is tough. I think we’re still very much in the early stages of this.
C: We’ve definitely grown our footprint since PAX AUS 2022. Attending conventions like Supanova Sydney and Smash!Con has helped board gamers discover Aethermon (with PAX and Powerhouse: Late still to come in 2023).
S: We’re lucky that our gorgeous art does a lot of the talking for us, because it can be tricky to break through that barrier of uncertainty from convention attendees, where there is so much demand on their time.
C: At PAX we discovered that there is a real hunger to find a game that captures that 90’s JRPG adventure in the tabletop medium.
S: Yeah, the enthusiasm is really infectious, I love it! Interestingly, the audience for Collect and Ascent are actually two different audiences – Ascent (that we showcased at PAX) is really immersive and very much feels like what people expect to get based on our visuals, whereas Collect is almost abstract, and so the people looking forward to Ascent don’t know (yet!) whether Collect is the game for them.
C: Even if people don’t know it yet, we really believe Collect stands on its own and is worthy of a place in people’s game collections. Behind its simple rules is a surprisingly deep experience, and I can’t wait for people to start discovering that themselves.
S: Yes! It’s a wonderful small game!
P2: Are you planning any expansions for Collect down the road just yet? It’s not really a crowdfunding campaign without extras!
C: Yes!!! No… Kind of?
S: It wasn’t supposed to be an ‘expansionable’ game, the philosophy behind the game design had much more focus on a streamlined experience – ‘do more with less’. But our stretch goals have almost by accident turned into a sort of mini expansion pack.
C: We’ve already mentioned the Campaign Mode which adds extra challenges and replayability. The stretch-goal pack will also include up to five new artefacts, the community designed Aethermon, and a couple of optional nuances for co-operative mode. It’s been lovely talking to reviewers and fans who are already home-brewing their own variations of Collect. The possibility space for expansions is there, but nothing is currently in the works.
S: I like that people are finding their own ways to enjoy our game, it feels like it captures the spirit which we intended.
P2: Are there any limits to the kinds of games you feel you can create in the world of Aethermon? Any mechanics you’d be interested in trying out? Personally, I love dice drafting, multi-use cards, route building and economic elements so if you can mash those together (somehow) I’ll be on board for sure!
C: Just a few days ago Sarah and I were discussing this exact question! I have a space themed, reverse-bidding style game that stalled at the art phase; I wasn’t sure if it could translate into the World of Aethermon – but it took Sarah just 10 seconds to find its perfect potential place in this world. It really seems any tabletop game could belong in this world.
S: The World of Aethermon is like a sandbox for us to play in. We could kind of do anything in this space. We’re not even particularly limited to the tabletop medium. I think it’d be exciting to turn some of what we currently have into a videogame experience, and we’re already working on a short story. The other day some of our backers suggested they would love a TTRPG at some point.
C: Honestly, I would love to see what other people can create in this world too. We already have plans to include a “scenario editor” allowing players to create their own scenarios for Aethermon: Ascent – it would feel so special to see that happen.
S: Let’s see, a dice-drafting, card-reusing, route-building, economy-tracking Aethermon game…
C: Sounds like it would be an awesome mish-mash of genres. I’d love to hear a pitch for… 2026?
If you’d like to check out Aethermon: Collect, we have a regular link available to the campaign, or a sponsored link that will provide 10% of your pledge funds back to Player 2 so we can increase our coverage of tabletop titles like this one. On the Campaign page, you’ll find plenty to get excited about, including stretch goals and a free PnP to get a taste of the game before committing.