You may have seen yesterday that Seb over on Pins of War had a chat with Tyrian, one of the brains behind the awesome and very sexy looking THON. Well I too got to have a chat with one of the…er…Thonsters?
I spoke to JR Vosovic, Owner and Creative Director of the entire endeavour. The mad fool.
TSC: JR thanks for taking the time to speak with me. For the uninitiated what is Thon all about?
JR: The Thonians run the Acquiry. With it they control all virtual and digital goods, as well as monitor and maintain all Inter-Starlight communications. Imagine if the all banks and internet providers merged into a single massive conglomerate, you would have the Thonian Acquiry.
The Ordhren are the miners and blue-collar workers. They provide the raw materials needed to construct and build anything and everything tangible, from coin currency called Char to massive Armada capital ships.
When the Thonians declare that the Ordhren are now part of the Alliance, their Leader (called a Lar) Slodan Ord rebels in a Trojan Horse strike by decapitating ten of the most powerful systems in the West, creating the Warfront Worlds. War ensues. This is precisely where the game begins. You are playing out the first engagements of a galaxy-spanning War. This is not post-apocalypse, this is the apocalypse.
All factions hail from their namesake world called Starlight. It is a massive artificial planet with a network of sentient AI at its heart, called a Soul Core. Each core acts as a record and network of everything on the planet from its creation.
TSC: Sounds ace. You seem to have put a lot of emphasis and importance into the background. Was that always the intention?
JR: I’ve been developing and revising different aspects for decades, but the core game mechanics were developed and tested within the last year. It is important to me to have a rich back-story with plenty of breadth and depth of characters and locations. It is especially important for Narrative play where players are traversing the different Empires and dealing with the unique Factions.
TSC: The narrative play certainly has piqued the interest of more than a few gamers. And what can people expect from the gaming experience?
JR: Versus is interactive, tactical, fast paced and brutal. Players engage each other moment to moment and timing matters. Players are fighting the epic encounters on the Warfront that decide the fates of worlds. Your units will die and heroes will fall. Games can be played in about 40 minutes with each move and shot being meaningful and relevant. Even though it is a pretty simple system, there is a lot of design depth to it with plenty of variety and variance. It’s a game played with dice after all.
With Narrative play players have an opportunity to get steeped in the lore, factions and worlds. Players build characters and level up over time, with training and on missions earning them a breadth of wealth and weapons not available in standard head to head play.
TSC: Pretty immersive experience then. What features in Thon set it apart from other science fiction wargames?
JR: This one is a bit lengthy since I think there are some really unique mechanics, but anyone that already plays tabletop games can pick up the game quickly because ultimately you are comparing stats and slinging dice. I’ve even played with my five-year old. She likes it when the Havok’s arms get blown off [TSC: Who wouldn’t?]. Anyway:
Commanders and Overlords are vitally important. They charge up or expend Flash and Fury each turn for immediate in-game results, or store up for typically game-winning effects. For example, a Fireborn is shooting at some Manakin. War Keeper Caurus can increase the Armor Value of the Manakin to make them more resilient. He simply increases his Flash Pool and the controlling player declares he is using the ability.
The basic turn sequence is interactive starting with Orbital Support. At the start of each turn, each player chooses what type of Orbital Support Asset they want to use and resolve its effects. Examples range from Scanner Sweeps used to reveal Covert units or straight up Orbital Strikes used to soften cover or wipe out units in the open. Few units survive a strike from an orbiting capital ship. Players then alternate moving, moving and shooting, shooting. You really have to think about where you are going and what you want to do.
TSC: It’s sounding nice and tactical and involving lots of dice.
JR: Resources are the key to the Thon Universe. Everything revolves around who controls the raw materials and resources. Resources and Resource Nodes need to be controlled and accrue each turn. Some larger units have a Resource Cost so you can’t always immediately jump in with your heavy hitters.
Lastly, there is no save system. Units have a number of hit points equal to their Armor Stat. It feels more RPG-ish to me and I like the cinematic vibe of individuals being whittled down during the battle or getting injured but not out of the fight.
TSC: Thon rather sounds like Chess, a skirmish RTS and an RPG got together and made a test tube baby. Which is absolutely a good thing. What were some of the challenges you faced in developing the project?
JR: I’ve designed video games for over a decade but moving into the physical/miniatures realm was uncharted territory. Specifically the pipeline I chose – going entirely digital over traditional sculpting – is still in its relative infancy. I am pretty comfortable with digital and 3D and know a lot of insanely talented artists from the games industry so it seemed like the obvious way to go. I was also fortunate to meet a lot of great people who helped out with different steps along the way.
TSC: The models and artwork do look absolutely spectacular. There are currently two distinct factions; the Thonians and the Ordhren. Do you have plans to expand the universe after launch?
JR: We’ve recently teased a third, The Highborn, and have another currently unannounced faction in the works, though I have a dozen total that I would like to do in the future. That’s entirely dependent on backers and interest and have been tossing the idea around of letting backers decide where in the universe we expand first.
TSC: A dozen? Crickey! So how did Thon come about?
JR: I’ve worked on it for decades but with Kickstarter, people like me now have the opportunity to be funded by and release directly to our target audience. Early 2012 I decided I would give it a go and started contracting out different artists to begin to establish the look and feel. The real motivation came when I was telling my daughter that she could be anything she wanted and to follow her dreams and realized it was insanely hypocritical of me to say one thing and do another. That night I drafted the first edition of Thon and have been working on it every night since.
TSC: That’s awesome and very wise words indeed. One of my resolutions is to get on with my game/s. Did you always have the distinctive looks for the two factions in mind or is it something that evolved over time?
JR: The Ord have always been a monstrous and very utilitarian group, whereas the Thonians were an Alliance, so they had a mix of styles from different worlds and survivors retreating from the Warfront. As different concepts come together I’m able to further develop the look of each and tune details.
TSC: And what’s the difference in-game play between the two?
JR: The Thonians live in a high-tech utopian society, but are relatively fragile. They have range and speed on their side and if they get into close combat they will normally have one shot at taking out their attackers or else its lights out. The Thonians use high-tech energy weapons and energy shields and use anti-grav tech on their vehicles, exo-armor and drones.
The Ord are lumbering, heavily armoured behemoths. Their armour equipment and tracked vehicles are mostly repurposed from mining gear. Their weapons use physical rounds, blunt force trauma and they are protected by the highest quality armour plating in the galaxy crafted by their Forgemasters. The Ord have also intentionally cut most of the tech out of their Empire to prevent the Alliance from using it to track them.
TSC: I can’t wait to see the contrasts with the other factions as they come out. And finally, when will Thon be released and what will be available to buy at launch?
JR: We are working out the last details currently and are shooting for a 2013 launch. The current plan is to have a skirmish sized boxed set ready to go and I have drafted some stretch goals to offer like additional special characters, vehicles, new units and additional quantities of existing units. I am totally open to suggestions and there is a short thread in the forum currently if anyone wants to chat. There will also be low-end rewards like shirts, stickers and individual models and higher-end rewards like create a character or create a weapon, where the backer will receive a one of a kind model and be written into the THON history, a truly once in a lifetime opportunity.
TSC: It all sounds awesome and I, for one, can’t wait to get my grubby little hands on a copy. Good luck with the project and thanks for taking the time.