Graham Cranfield; hero’s journey home (Interview)

We were given a chance to talk to the developer of Heros Journey Home, Graham Cranfield.

What inspired you to take up game development?

I’ve always loved games, which I guess every designer would say, and I’ve been illustrating and writing for a long time. I’ve always taken up projects, had ideas for things I wanted to do, but never followed through. I’ve abandoned tons of art and programming projects, so last year I decided I would actually start a project and follow through till the end.


What inspired your game?

When I was much younger I used to play Top Secret, never really D&D or any fantasy RPGs, but I always loved reading the fantasy RPG books, and still do. I like the stats, the descriptions, the world that’s being built. I don’t particularly have the time or inclination to play a part in it, but I like to know about it.


When I was a kid I’d see the Immortals Rules set for D&D and think that was just like the most awesome thing ever. Like, you could play that long your character could be immortal; the idea of some secret next level for a character and that the game itself could account for that and still be playable.


Then, later on, I got HeroQuest for Christmas when it came out, when I guess I was about 12-13. That blew me away. From the pieces, the scenery, the quests, the whole thing. It’s still probably the best game I’ve ever played. For a 12 year old at the time it was pretty crazy. And it was the first game I ever owned that came out with expansion packs. That was huge to me.


So from a structural perspective the fantasy setting, the multi-character play, the idea of a base game with expansions, that all came from what drew me in as a kid. The mechanics, why it’s a solitaire-friendly card-and-dice game, that’s mostly down to my desire to work alone and keep everything small.


Your artwork is unique, what’s the history behind it?

I’ve been drawing for, I guess, 25 years or more at this point so if it wasn’t unique by now I should probably give it up. There are a number of illustrators and illustration styles I like, and they don’t all look like mine, but they kind of spur me on by my reaction to them. My style mostly comes from just trying new things and seeing what works, incorporating that into what I do and then letting it evolve.


The artwork for the game has evolved from the first edition to the first expansion, and it looks slightly different still in the second expansion I’m currently drawing. They all still look like my work, but I feel like I have more control the more I do.


Any themes or games scrapped by you?

I have many, many games I’ve scrapped. Glancing at the list there’s about a dozen I started, got however far into, and then dropped. None of them made it past the writing stage. Well, one did, but I ended up turning it into an online game (which I’ve not worked on for over a year).


Among the themes there’s business, religion, government, crime, disaster; all the big ones. They were all either too big or too vague to really do anything with.


Any future project we can expect?

Hero’s Journey Home is planned for three expansions. One is essentially complete, the second is about 20% done, and the third is planned out but I haven’t started any artwork or rules for it.


As for other games, I have an idea for one that’s kind of floating around. The problem is once you’ve made a game and you realize the limitations or, rather, what’s required, it can take the edge off of your creativity. You come up with an idea and then you immediately jump to, “Well where am I going to get the pieces? Who’ll be the printer? There are six counters per sheet so do I need to adjust my rules to make the game cheaper.” There are these known production issues in your head that, while it’s nice to know about them ahead of time, you have to kind of push around and make work with your creative process.


Why did you choose the genre you did for hero’s journey home?

I think it’s fun. It’s probably my favorite genre of game because it’s so flexible. I grew up in the 80s when this kind of magical medieval fantasy was really easy to get a hold of. So maybe it’s out of nostalgia or trying to recreate my youth, which it probably is partly, but it’s the one I feel most comfortable with.


Is the adventures deck back side character inspired by how you look?/ How or why has that become the logo?


Ha! Nah I don’t look like that. It’s actually based on a Klimt work, “The Beethoven Frieze: The Longing for Happiness.” The hair, the armor that comes up right under the chin, I just liked the way it looked. I was looking for something that said “heroic” and that’s what fell to me.


How long did it take for this game to be developed?

I started drawing, without thinking it would seriously be a game, back in early February of 2014. I ran my Indiegogo campaign starting the day after Christmas of that year, so it was roughly 10 months of work that went into the first edition up until the campaign.


Anything that you wish you could have improved on in development?

The Seer card I wish I would have changed his ability before I sent out the first batch. There was a little oversight as to how people would view it in a two-player game, but I’ve since corrected it with the first round of purchasers and all subsequent sets include the proper replacement card. Eventually that change will just be part of the standard set.


Any word of advice for game developers?

Packaging is expensive! It’s very expensive and I was not prepared for that. It was the hardest part of the whole thing, really, sourcing how I was going to package this thing and not have it cost a ton. The game itself, whatever, if you’re developing a game you probably have that part down, or should. It’s the “how do I physically make this happen” – the marketing, the packaging, the (likely) crowdfunding – that’s really difficult.


At the beginning when I started getting serious about publishing, my wife was like, “Just put it in a bag. Bags are cheap and they don’t take up much room.” I really resisted that for a while and kept looking and looking for cheap stock boxes or some way that I could get them in the style I wanted for less than, say,  $3 each without having to place an order in the thousands. Didn’t happen.


So I eventually came back to Uline, which is a great resource for cheap containers/bags/mailers/etc., and they have large burlap bags. They’re cheap, they fit the theme of the game, and most importantly they hold all of the components without any wasted space. So my wife was right about that and the look of that bag really defines the game now.


It’s probably smart to go to conventions and, like, show your game to people in other places in person. I’m not much of a traveler or a salesman so I’ve done neither of those things. Would I have sold more copies if I had? Probably. If I had a box with artwork would I have my game on store shelves? Maybe. But I understand I’m not that type of person and I realize I’m developing within a sphere of limited investment and physical space. You have to be aware of your own limitations and scale your expectations to meet them. If you don’t, you’ll be very unhappy and then what’s the point?


… how about artists?

There’s probably some good advice for illustrators who don’t want to develop games themselves and just want to do the artwork; I don’t know what that advice would be, though. I don’t work well with others so I guess probably be the opposite of that. From a technical perspective, just keep drawing, but that’s no great revelation.


Are there any mechanics you think have become oversaturated in tabletop?

I don’t play enough these days to really speak on that and I’d hate to accidentally slam someone’s work without knowing the full breadth of what’s going on in the tabletop world. Having said that, hopefully not the mechanics I’m employing :O


What are your favorite games?

HeroQuest obviously is probably tops. I used to love Feudal, the old 3M/Avalon Hill game. Carcassonne. Monopoly is fun as a psychological experiment more so than a real estate game. Chess. Backgammon. I sound like someone who doesn’t play many games, which is kind of true. I like playing them, I just don’t have time these days.


Describe Hero’s Journey Home in 5 words. (Difficulty level) these 5 words should provide a first time player an idea of what to expect in the game.


Visually stunning fantasy adventure romp.


Joseph Nicholas

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Indietabletop. Communication major. Favorite mechanics include: Bluffing and Deduction, modular boards, and action point allowance. Favorite video game genres are Rpgs, Puzzles games, and Sim/Tycoons.