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It all started with… well, Fleet. I mean, this designer diary is about Fleet: Arctic Bounty the expansion to Fleet so where else would it have started?

Matt Riddle
United States
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Hi, my name is Matt Riddle. I’m Ben Pinchback. You may know us from such games as Fleet, Fleet: Inuit Fisherman, Fleet: Wharfside Casino, and errr other Fleet related stuff like “It all started with Emperor Palpatine: The Fleet Designer Diary” and prolly random forum posts. Also, hopefully at some point several-to-many non-Fleet related games. But not yet. If, by the slim chance you are reading this and have no idea who the crap we are or what Fleet is… check it out here. And here. And here. It is awesome. Trust us. We even won some Best Card Game of the Year awards... well a few of the ones that Android: Netrunner didn't win... Suck it Garfield! (I kid, Android:Netrunner is FREAKING SWEET)

This is not about Fleet though. This is about Fleet: Arctic Bounty, the brand spanking new full expansion to Fleet coming soon to kickstarter and Eagle-Gryphon Games.

A quick note on tone and structure of this write up. “I” is Matt Riddle. The red text is Ben. “We” is both of us but me writing it or, occasionally, it is the imperial we. Now that that is clear…

Really quickly, thanks a ton for once again going on this ride with us. You all mean more than you will ever know. On to the show!

So, creating an expansion should be easy right?
Ben and I had planned all along to bring more cards and gameplay into the “Fleet universe” if we were ever given the opportunity to do so. We played Fleet 70 bajillion times, so adding a bunch of new cards and powers and such will be a cake walk since no one understands the Fleet game system better than us. Brainstorm a few ideas, toss em in, playtest, iterate a bit and BAM.
Ya, not so much.

There was also the thing where all of our remaining viable, good, tested extra ideas were already pulled ahead into stretch goals because we were so fortunate with the last campaign. A very nice problem to have mind you. Here’s a couple tidbits for anyone that cares. Fleet: Salty Captains is the combination of two cards. Super Captains and Deep Wells. Super was double catching and Deep Wells was double capacity. These were both part of an original pack of ideas we had that included things coming off a pile including Hurricanes and Mutinies and general craziness. We had kind of dismissed most of these long ago but then staring at the list one day realized that we really had something if we combined Super and Deep. Salty Captains was the result. Where were we?

Here is the thing… Ben and I LOVE Fleet. We love Fleet exactly the way it is right now. It is our first design, our baby, our Magnus Opus, our DiceHateMe Game of the Year 2012 winning game! Changing it was hard. It hurt a little.

But we had to… we WANTED to. The idea of more Fleet was exciting! Getting a game published was exciting. Watching it be well received was REALLY exciting. Realizing that it was popular enough to warrant an expansion! REALLY, REALLY exciting.

We began by looking at the ideas that were left on the cutting room floor from Fleet and seeing if any of them were good enough to dust off and re-tool. There were a few good jumping off points, but we decided to start from scratch and generate some ideas.

Like I said, because anything with real merit was already used last go round.

We tried and abandoned so many ideas that prolly were pretty good, but, damn it, they were not good ENOUGH. We did not just want more, we wanted more better. We wanted to make sure Fleet 2: Fleet and Fleeter was as good as Fleet.

Exactly. This was definitely not a George Lucas money grab. We wanted to bring real content to the table or just be done completely. Taking a steaming dump on the greatest professional achievement of my life was not something I was interested in. Not even for the dozens of dollars in waiting.

Totally. No Jar Jar Binks and none of that no talent @ss clown Hayden Christensen. You know, I always wonder why no Stefan Feldhave expansions. Dude has like six top 150 games and NOT ONE has an expansion. The Castles of Burgundy? Nope. Macao? Nope. Trajan? Nope. I mean, like I wouldn’t buy a Trajan expansion RIGHT now. I wonder if the problem is that if a Feld was expanded you might actually finish what you wanted to get done...

Side note
The entire Fleet experience has been awesome. Gryphon Games took a chance on us back in 2011 because even though the original Fleet proto was poker cards, paper, and tape they could tell there was a game in there. That led to a very successful Kickstarter and even better post-KS success. Fleet not only sold very well (it is sold out on the way to reprint) but started getting a bunch of positive buzz and reviews. It was the impetus for Ben and me to go to our first (and second) Cons and start meeting so many awesome people. We met other gamers, other designers, and industry people… and, you know what? We were becoming PART of the industry. It was, and is, awesome. As Fleet launched and became popular, we continued to meet great people, learn a ton, and have a great time doing it.

Ok, sidebar here to follow up on Matt’s thoughts. Origins 2012 was my/our first Con of any type ever. The first Thursday we were there we spent all day in the Gryphon/Eagle booth meeting awesome people and showing off our Fleet proto at a little table to anyone that would listen. It was overwhelming and amazing and even better than I could ever imagine. After the dealer hall shut down for the night, Matt was off talking to his family on the phone and I was just hanging out on the second floor leaning on the balcony watching stragglers shuffle out the doors, up the escalator, etc. After such a loud and fast day, the quiet was surreal and I distinctly remember feeling something that is one of the most defining moments of my life. Kind of like the end of Ocean’s 11 where they’re all just standing there watching the fountains not saying a word. But nothing needs to be said because they all know “We did it.” Standing there thinking about our journey and soaking it all in with my own fountains, the stragglers and escalators, I was mesmerized. We freaking did this thing. And THIS is what I want to do all the time. That moment changed me forever.

Back to Fleet and Fleeter
As Ben and I began to design cards and powers that we liked we started discussing the overall direction of FAB. We knew what we did NOT want to do. We did not want to drastically change the core gameplay of Fleet. As a matter of fact, here are a few expansion ideas we rejected:
(editor’s note: A few of these are recycled from a Fleet KS update, but I am allowed to borrow from myself!)

ZFleet - Zombie Captains! - A virus has hit Ridback Bay and zombies have taken over your Fleet! Fight back and destroy the zombie hoard! (people LOVE zombies)

Fleet - Cthulu Calling - The Elder Gods have stormed the bay! You and your fellow captains must work together to repel Cthulu and take back the bay! (people LOVE Cthulu)

Fleetopoly - Like Fleet but much longer and worse (people LOVE Monopoly - American people anyway)

Knizia Fleet - A whole new Fleet. You move your ships around a hex board collecting fish tokens and at the end you take your 2nd and 3rd highest token totals, divide by 7, add your age and determine the winner! (I LOVE Knizia)

Feldian Fleet – Players fish in six different bays, each one generating separate but vaguely related VP through the use of complex combinatorial mathematics and absolutely no thematic continuity. But it rules. (I LOVE Feld)

Fleet: The Fishing Game: The Dice Game - you know, cause we NEED more dice games. (people LOVE dice)

Fleet: The iOS App – This would rule, but by round 8 or so the screen would be so full of tiny little cards that you would need a magnifying glass to read them. (people LOVE Ipads)

Fleet: The Deadliest Catch – It is basically Fleet but with way more cussing and bleeps. (people LOVE The Deadliest Catch)

Alright, none of those are real. ZFleet would make like 2 million bucks on kickstarter though if it had sweet zombie crab minis.

We wanted to add to Fleet without adding to Fleet. We wanted more choices, more strategic paths, more engine, but wanted it without adding new complexity or game length. We wanted modularity. If modularity is not a term that means much to you, think Dominion + Dominion: Seaside as a gaming example. But no Dominion: Alchemy. That one su... well.. moving on.

This is where Matt tells some funnies and then throws it over to me to finish off the details like in Elf when the crack team of writers is brainstorming ideas for a book and the best they have is a family of Asparagus who are a little self-conscience about the smell of their pee…. *looks around…. Anybody? Ben? ….*

The real challenge of adding content that fans of Fleet will love is to bring enough new content to the table without messing up what is good about the game. The efficient system, the almost simultaneous play sequence you fall into. The tightness. The engine building. Anything new had to be a compliment to what in all honesty is a very tight system with not much wiggle room. That’s when we decided upon modularity as the answer right away. Taking a 30 minute game and making it 80 wouldn’t make anyone happy. Taking a 30 minute game and making it a similar but completely fresh 30 minute experience in the same system would in our opinion be something people would love. So that’s what it became, and after this no two games of Fleet will ever feel the same. Swordfish, a new card generator with some great tactical situations. Pacific Oyster, a heavy fishing strategy’s best friend. Crewman Cards, a new flare you can throw at the auction. Char, the swiss army knife of the Fleet universe. Etc etc.

So, Fleet: Arctic Bounty was completed and it worked and it was fun…and it is bigger than Fleet. Luckily, the guys at Gryphon are awesome and took that one like champs. Ben and I could not be happier with how it turned out and Eric J. Carter stepped up BIG time and killed every card. If you are a Fleet veteran or new to the whole thing, check out the ks here here! Thanks for reading!
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