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Music student brings players to the battlefield

By Adela Talbot, Western News

Eric Sheppard

Board game enthusiasts and history buffs alike can redetermine the fate of North America as they play out 16 different battles from the War of 1812 in a new strategy game developed by a Western student.

Eric Sheppard, entering his second year of a Music degree, conceived Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812 last summer, while working part-time and playing games with his father.

“I had been interested in history and games since I was a kid, and I played games with my family and with my dad. Since I had time (last summer), he said, ‘Why don’t you make one?’ I wanted to do something different, to pick a war that wasn’t really covered in other board games. There are a lot of board games about Napoleon, or the American Revolution, or the Second World War, but not a lot about the War of 1812. I could fill a niche,” Sheppard explained.

Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812Sabres and Smoke is a two-player, turn-based board game that allows players to strategize outcomes based on historically accurate models of 16 battles during the War of 1812. From Trenton in the Michigan Territory, to Fort George and Queenston Heights in Upper Canada, to the shores of Baltimore, Md., players can pit British and Canadian infantry, militia, artillery, Native warriors and naval units against their American counterparts.

Unlike other conflict-based strategy games, like Risk, gameplay is scenario specific, allowing players to set up the board based on the battle at hand. Before each play, determined by the roll of dice and movement on a hexagonal board, the gamebook provides historical details of the battle at hand.

Sheppard’s father, who works in advertising, designed the board game. Sheppard worked out the logistics, looking to strike a balance between historical accuracy and the fun and chance of gameplay.
“I had to do the research before getting started. You have to make sure you get the history right because the people who care about that in a game, they really care about it,” he said.

Sheppard’s startup, Hand 2 Hand Entertainment, is one of 11 companies operating out of the Propel Summer Incubator, part of the Western Entrepreneurship ecosystem, a cross-campus network dedicated to developing and supporting an entrepreneurial mindset.

The game was ready as a prototype by Christmas, Sheppard added, noting he made a point to check in with Propel during development stages for advice on how to market the final product. He started by promoting the game on social media but the suggestion to take it to Kickstarter came from Propel.

“I found out about (Propel) at the beginning of the school year. Entrepreneurship was something I was interested in a lot in high school, so I went in to see what they were about. I met with them every few weeks in the year to get advice, and keep them updated with what I was doing. I had no business experience coming into this; I’ve never taken a courses on it,” Sheppard explained.

This regular check-in process has proven valuable, he added, and he is happy with the support and learning experience he is getting with Propel now that he is part of its incubator program.

Working on a specific topic in developing a board game was a good strategy for Sheppard who found it easier to focus his design ideas and marketing plans. He saw it as an effective way to break into a market he plans to stick with, he explained. To help promote the game and appeal to a wider audience, he reached out to history and board game bloggers who review games.

“I’m starting to think about the next game I want to design. I’d like to do other ones, maybe next time do a more marketable, generic game that will be interesting to a wide variety of people,” he said.

“I want to go into business as a career and this is good practice and good experience. I learned a lot doing this.”

Sabres and Smoke is intended for players ages 10 and up. Sheppard plans to reach out to school boards who may wish to purchase the game as an educational tool to complement Ontario’s Grade 7 history curriculum.