I Backed a Backer: Salem

20 October 2012 | No Comments

Joshua Balvin, the creator of Salem: An Innovative New Strategy Board Game for 3-7 players and backer of Viticulture, was so kind as to answer my gauntlet of questions. If you’re future project creator or you’re interested in a behind-the-scenes look at game design or Kickstarter projects, I think you’ll find this really interesting. Joshua has done a great job with his project so far–as of this posting, his 294 backers have pledged $18,391 out of his $30,000 goal with 12 days to go.

Describe Salem in 2 sentences:

Salem is a dynamic board game that makes players the judge, jury and executioner in a thematic recreation of the witch trials of 1692. The way players interact with each other and the game itself makes each game of Salem a unique and historically immersive experience.

What is your favorite mechanic in Salem?:

My favorite mechanic is the way the deduction works. In typical deduction games it’s an all-or-nothing. If you’re incorrect or if someone gets a key piece of information before you do then you can’t win. Generally players also obtain information secret from other players.

Salem is unique in that every last bit of information is public knowledge–you’re constantly active no matter which player’s turn it is. There’s no secret knowledge among players and you can recover at any moment if you’ve made an incorrect deduction.

The deduction works on many different levels. Every bit of information gives you something valuable, but it’s the way that all these bits of information interact that’s unique. Every game has a unique set-up, and strategies that worked last game won’t work this time. It’s finding those strategies that give the game a rich and rewarding payoff and I love watching players having “aha!” moments.

What was your most brilliant breakthrough when designing and testing Salem?:

The biggest breakthrough was simply that there is no time-frame for creating a great game. It took 6 years from the first play-test until it was finished with over 300 play-tests during that time (and I completed 2 other games and found a publisher for one in the meantime). I threw the game out completely 7 times and started from scratch. I refused to compromise either the game play or creating an accurate historical narrative which was the real challenge of creating this game. In the end, the game that came out of the process was well worth the fight.

What do you consider the best (or most unique) element of your Kickstarter campaign?:

I love interacting with backers. Some of the best ideas for rewards and promotions have come from the backers (the 3D gallows piece that’s being offered was an idea directly from comments on the project). It’s amazing seeing the excitement people have around the project and in many ways it’s no longer my project–there’s now a community who are anxious to provide really stellar ideas, many of which are being incorporated!

What is your favorite Salem reward level and why?:

The pilgrim meeples. Hands down. The game is really beautiful to watch during game play as it becomes a unique collage of colored cards and wooden pieces. Having 140 custom made wood pilgirms would really take that beauty to the next level and I definitely hope that we get there!

If you’re intrigued, go check out Salem here. And if you’re a project creator who backed Viticulture and are interested in doing an interview on this blog, feel free to contact me at jamey.stegmaier@gmail.com.

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