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Manic Mages Creator Interview

Manic Mages - Creator Interview

An interview with an indie boardgame maker from Grand Rapids, Michigan

Manic Mages is a dungeon-crawler RPG where 2-6 people compete to “prove that you alone are the world’s true master of magic and mayhem” by using spells and equipment to defeat ever-stronger monsters while building the dungeon around you. Until very recently, I was unaware the game even existed – despite being created in a town very close to my own. However, after meeting creator Daniel VanDyke at a recent convention, it was obvious he had a strong passion for his game. I bought a box, and we exchanged information with a promise to commit to an interview at a later date. A transcription of that interview is below, along with more thoughts concerning the game.

Q: What inspired you to make Manic Mages? Were there any specific books/games/etc that made you want to make your own game?

A: Manic Mages was born during the first summer of the Covid pandemic. I had unexpectedly lost my job, leaving me with both a lot of mental stress and a lot of free time to wander through parks in West Michigan and sit in the shade at neighborhood playgrounds. Each week I was also DMing Curse of Strahd in DND 5e and hunting monsters in Hunt Showdown on PC with friends, both of which may have contributed to the game that appeared to me in a flash of creativity one afternoon.

I also borrowed some concepts and mechanics from Ethnos, Unmatched, Dominion, and Betrayal at House on the Hill at various stages of the process. 

Q: How difficult was the process of making and funding the game?

A: I found that creating the game was challenging rather than difficult, and I learned a lot as the project developed. The game design, testing, and graphic design were especially enjoyable, while the financials, funding, production, freight, and managing contract work for the art assets were, for me, the most difficult and stressful aspects.  

If I had had a full-time 9-5 job at the time, I think this process would have been exceedingly difficult. Game design is a time-intensive process at every stage, but it also gave me a necessary and much-needed escape and creative outlet while I was working on it. 
I should also mention that my first attempt to fund the game, in October 2021, failed. And it failed for specific reasons:
  1. I was completely unknown with no fanbase
  2. I asked for way too much money for a first-time project (21K)
  3. The project didn’t fund, or hit at least 50% funding, in the first day, causing it to be de-emphasized by the Kickstarter algorithm 
  4. My photography and marketing assets needed work
After this I reset, fine-tuned my production estimates, and lined everything up with precise figures at different quantities (except for freight costs, which are very difficult to get a handle on), improved my marketing materials, did some pre-marketing, and relaunched in July one year later with a much lower goal (1K) that, with my small audience carried over from the first campaign and local outreach, was able to fund within a few hours. This boosted the project higher up in Kickstarter’s referral algorithms and helped me pull in more pledges organically. I also pulled in more pledges on Gamefound after the Kickstarter ended, and have continued to see a small trickle of sales afterward.

Q: Do you have any plans to expand your work (i.e. Manic Mages expansions or other board games)?

A: I had 2 expansions planned as stretch goals (custom starting cards and the Perilous Pets expansion), but these did not fund during the campaign, and I am ok with that. I am, however, sketching out a much more involved game with some similar mechanics but a darker theme, more aggressive PVP gameplay, and dice-rolling mechanics.

Q: What effects (If any) did COVID have on your production of the game?

A: Covid gave me the time to put the game together, working almost entirely independently. But it also made it harder to playtest the game with other people (especially first timers), so I had to work very hard and take copious notes to make those playtests worth it whenever I had an opportunity.

Covid also tremendously disrupted global supply chains and multiplied freight costs, which was a real bummer.

Q: Which Manic Mages character is your personal favorite?

A: Morielle, the Naive Necromancer, is absolutely my favorite character from the game. The concept of a sheltered, unsuspecting heroine somehow harnessing dark magic to compete with wizards far more experienced than her is fun, and she is also an homage to Sabriel by Garth Nix. In game, her ability to raise a slain monster into an undead companion in your first few turns never fails to catch the interest of first-time players.

Q: If you could say any one thing to your fans and potential fans, what would that be?

A: Board games bring people together, and it means the world to me that Manic Mages can be there for families and friends to explore on game night. Thank you all!


After talking with VanDyke, I can promise I’ll be looking out for his next creation. There can never be a shortage of fun Player-vs-Player board games, and his emphasis on a darker theme sounds like a unique twist on the genre. While it’s disappointing we’ll never see the expansions planned in the Kickstarter, Manic Mages is a wonderful start for VanDyke’s game creation career.

If this game piques your interest at all, you can pick it up at their official website here

About the Author
A resident of southwestern Michigan and casual game hobbyist, they've been engulfed in the fantasy landscape since childhood. While currently delving into the worlds of D&D, MTG, and other social games, they strive to explore and create stories of their own.

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