Metaphor Come to Life: evolution on display in Apex Theropod

Written by Russ Dobler

I recently wrote about how a tabletop card game can be a lot like evolution through selection. First-time game designer Herschel Hoffmeyer has taken the next logical step and created a hotly-anticipated deck builder that puts you in the role of a ferocious dinosaur that literally evolves and gets stronger as the game goes on.

Apex Theropod lets you control one of seven carnivorous beasts as you try to eat, grow, and dominate the landscape. The solo or multiplayer game was more than 1000% funded on Kickstarter earlier this year and features 600 cards with over 100 different computer-rendered images.

I caught up with Hoffmeyer to get the lowdown on Apex and to see what’s next for the man who says he’s “obsessed with creating and designing.”

Dobler: What kind of a game is Apex? How would you define it?

Hoffmeyer: Straightforward—it’s a deck-building game, but the whole time you’re trying to adapt…the game’s pretty much trying to kill you throughout the entire game. And it’s trying to limit you from growing your dinosaur, so all you’re doing is countering that and trying to react to the game trying to kill you, at the same time [you’re] trying to build up your species.

If you’re playing with other friends, they’re trying to do the same but, at the same time, now you’re working against the game itself and the other player. I tried to create the actual world like it is. It’s not like you’re strictly after any specific dinosaur—all you’re doing is trying to become the apex predator.

Dobler: Why dinosaurs in particular? What made you think that would be suited for this kind of game?

Hoffmeyer: Well, I knew I had the capability to go my own way, do my own thing with games, but I wanted to start with something that would really grab people’s attention, something that hasn’t really existed. I always wanted a dinosaur game as a kid, and there really wasn’t any that I wanted, or thought there could be. As much effort as people put into all types of games, I felt like the dinosaur genre hasn’t been taken that far. It’s always been too playful, not really complex. I just felt like [Apex Theropod] would grab a lot of people’s attention. I mean, there’s just not a dinosaur game out there like it.

Dobler: It’s obvious you really did your research for this. There are a lot of different species, a lot of different animals, right?

Hoffmeyer: I studied a lot of dinosaurs as a kid, but that was 15 years ago or so. A lot has changed since then, so I had to do a lot of research, but I also listened to a lot of my [Kickstarter] backers and people that were interested in the game that knew even more about dinosaurs than I did. So I applied changes. They always let me know if something didn’t look right. I just wanted to make sure it’s as up-to-date as possible.

Check out those feathers!

Dobler: You said that you always wanted something like this when you were a kid. Do you think this is suitable for children, or is it aimed at more of an older audience?

Hoffmeyer: I aimed it more at an audience for people—say, if I go back to my childhood, I wanted a dinosaur game. But I’m grown up now, so I aimed it more at the grown-ups now, who wanted that game when they were a child. But I would say a young teenager, or maybe a little bit younger could play it, but it’s just really complex. Like I said, I wanted to get out of the playful dinosaur game genre and into a more complex, adult-oriented dinosaur game.

Dobler: Tell me a little bit of the details of the gameplay. What are you trying to do throughout the game?

Hoffmeyer: Well, the first thing you’re trying to do is [that] you start with very basic babies—hatchlings [and] juveniles—and you’re trying to grow your species throughout the entire game. So the first thing you’ll do is try to hatch some eggs, to where you bring those up to actual dinosaurs, but you have to hunt the entire way. Starting out, you’re only going to be able to hunt small prey, but that’s your primary resource…food. So you’ve got to hunt what you can but, as you grow bigger and stronger, you can hunt bigger and better prey.

But the whole time, other predators are trying to hinder you while you’re going up against other players, as well as bosses that are trying to pretty much eliminate you, so [that] you’re no longer competition to their supply line. And, at the same time, you have the environment, the harsh environments, trying to kill everybody.

Dobler: The Kickstarter was a big success, it seems like. The name of the game is “Apex Theropod.” Do you feel like you might have boxed yourself in a little bit? Do you think there’s a constraint on possible expansions now?

Hoffmeyer: I’m debating on if I want to do an expansion or if I want to completely revamp the game. This game was not supposed to take off as big as it did. I set a $4,000 goal hoping to get funded, but that was the initial plan, that the game was really small. I wanted to start off small, get some experience in, and then pursue a bigger project. This blew up really big, so I had to adapt quickly and make it that big. I don’t know if I’m going to do an expansion or revamp it and rebuild it entirely with miniatures and take what I have from the deck building and make it into something even bigger and more fun. It just depends on how the community reacts to what I’ve built so far.

Dobler: Is there anything else you’re working on?

Hoffmeyer: Yes, “Inferno.” What would you like to know about that?

Dobler: What can you tell us?

Hoffmeyer: The thing with Apex was [that it was] a childhood dream of a dinosaur game, where Inferno is more of an adult’s dream of a game. It’s like a no-holds-barred, shoot-‘em-up, hack and slash [game]. It’s going to feature a little bit of graphic content, but not over the top. It’s basically everything you’d want from a hack and slash, into a board game, which I really haven’t seen done. I’ve seen some stuff approach it like that, but nothing like where it feels like you’re actually there, being able to see all the moves happen, as you play it out. You’re going to be going up against waves and waves of enemies.

Promotional image from “Inferno,” which starts on the sea floor and then goes deeper.

Dobler: What is the setting?

Hoffmeyer: I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but they do find something under the ocean. The Earth has been manufactured and the center [of the Earth] is not what we thought. There’s still magma down there, but there’s something else that exists down there. We find out the entire history of humanity, the universe, and what we thought of Hell was not really Hell, but [that] there are higher beings that created the universe. We’re just drones in their path.

Dobler: Now that’s ambitious.

Hoffmeyer: And if it does well, we plan on expanding it to a comic book.

You can pre-order Apex Theropod until December 1, at which point it will only be available in very limited quantities in retail outlets. Another print run is possible if demand is high enough. Pre-orders will also include two bonus non-theropod predators, the ancient crocodile Sarcosuchus, and the giant, flying reptile Quetzalcoatlus.


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