Sometimes, years of hard work can spectacularly pay off over the course of mere hours. Factions of Sol, a sci-fi board game by Mark IV Games, launched on crowdfunding website Kickstarter September 13, 2022, and met its $18,000 funding goal with an entire month to spare. For NU grads Emma Sollenberger, Weinberg ‘22, Joe Blanchard, School of Communication ‘22 and the rest of the team at Mark IV, though, the story begins much earlier.
During their sophomore years, members of the Mark IV team were living in Willard Hall and made a pact, bound by – if not blood – probably Fran’s milkshakes: they were going to make a board game. What started as a design competition eventually resulted in the conception of what would eventually be called Factions of Sol, a sci-fi strategy game about different factions maneuvering literally and figuratively throughout the solar system in order to seize control of a tech magnate’s inheritance and ultimately win the game. Central to the game’s mechanics are the unique player powers of each faction, the different abilities of the solar system’s planets and a movement system that encourages careful management of scarce fuel resources, which reviewer Hungry Gamer called “masterfully done.”
“Elam [the CEO] is in grad school for physics now,” Blanchard said.
The game went through a tumultuous development period. An entire system by which players could attack others was scrapped because it made players “miserable,” said Blanchard. The concept went through many iterations, and the team had to start from scratch several times.
“Every board game that you’ve ever played, the first time it was ever played, was terrible,” Sollenberger said.
It became clear they weren’t going to get it right the first time. The team needed more resources and more playtests, and it was all within their fingertips at Northwestern.
Using campus resources like the Garage’s workspaces and 3D printers, the team was able to cut costs and run hundreds of playtests. Both team members said they felt as though the Northwestern experience fundamentally shaped how the game developed and owe the board game's success to their diverse backgrounds.
“The variety of majors and expertise we have in the company is just kinda ridiculous,” said Blanchard. “Half of us are theater majors … all of us are crazy.”
Eventually the game was in a state where the team felt it was ready for a full commercial release. Both Sollenberger and Blanchard said it was like they had discovered the game having eventually arrived at the essence of Factions of Sol. It seems as though their intuition was correct: their Kickstarter campaign blew past its initial funding goal, unlocking “stretch goals” that include merchandise and future game content.
The Kickstarter campaign had its own hurdles to leap: Blanchard described how another team member, Harry Echtman, spent “a hundred hours” learning to use complex animation software so the campaign could have an animated promotional video.
“I am so confident in our team in how smart and effective and hard-working we all are,” Blanchard said.
Factions of Sol is set to be the first and last game released by the Mark IV team. While the game will feature an expansion and extra content unlocked by the successful Kickstarter campaign, no further game plans are currently being pursued.
What might perhaps come as a surprise, Sollenberger suggested, is that she and the rest of the team will never tire of their game.
“We truly believe that this is a great game and a great product and we think that people will enjoy having fun with it,” Sollenberger said.