An Interview with Ian Stone!
I got to speak with Ian Stone, the writer who's been working with designer Justin Blaske to flesh out the world of Area 1851. We had a bit of back and forth to get his thoughts on the game and give us a little more insight into Area 1851's universe.
Michael: What direction did Justin Blaske give you for developing the universe of Area 1851?
Ian: He wanted it set in the Old West, because he loved the Old West, and he wanted aliens, because he thought it would be hilarious. He and I compared notes and discovered that we were both tired of aliens being portrayed as either all-knowing or all-sinister, so it was fun to concept aliens which are neither: they're just lovable screw-ups trying to get rich quick by trading with the primitive humans and later selling those artifacts on the alien equivalent of the black market.
Michael: So, could you describe the world of Area 1851 for me? Obviously aliens are now on earth, so how has this changed the Old West?
Ian: The presence of the aliens will certainly change the Old West, but for now the story is highly focused on one wagon train which was heading along the Oregon Trail towards...well, Oregon...in the spring of 1850 when a flying saucer lands in front of them and three aliens emerge. The aliens offer to trade advanced gadgets for the settlers' household goods. The settlers decide this is too good of an opportunity to pass up, so they settle right on the Oregon Trail in the middle of the unbroken prairie. Almost immediately a tribe of Native Americans camps nearby and also begins trading with the aliens. A year passes and nobody else travels to or through their town, which begins to really worry the settlers. It is now the spring of 1851 and this is the point where the game is set.
Michael: Without revealing too much, do we know why there's been no outside contact from anyone? With the focus on this new settlement, surely there are people out there wondering where these guys are?
Ian: The reason there has not been any contact with the outside world has not yet been revealed. Maybe in a future...expansion? Dare I say it? ;-)
Michael: Well, we should get this campaign over and done with first! Let's shift our focus to the game world itself - in the world of 1851, tolerance wasn't exactly at high levels; why do you think the three groups in the game get along with each other?
Ian: I agree, in 1851 tolerance was a challenge (and still is today!). The three factions start out not getting along so well. They are willing to trade but are wary of each other. Events conspire to encourage them to work closer with one another.
Michael: Can I ask how you got involved in the project? And do you reckon that the Area 1851 game represents your vision of the world well?
Ian: Well, Justin and I are friends and sometimes get together to play board games, so I was a play tester for Area 1851 from the beginning. Justin also knows that I love writing Scifi, so he asked me to create the universe that the game is set in, the card names, and the flavor text for each card.
As for your second question, I say yes, Area 1851 does represent my vision of the world. When Gene Roddenberry created the original Star Trek in the 1960s, the world was at the height of the Cold War. In 50 years humanity had gone from the horrors of World War I, to the greater horrors of World War II, and then spending years on the brink of global annihilation. I can't imagine what it was like to live during that time! Roddenberry wanted to create a story set in the future, where things had actually turned out pretty well. A Russian was even on the crew of the ship!
I've always admired that unwavering optimism in the future of humanity. In all of my writing, including Area 1851, you'll find at the core a sense of optimism about the future of humanity. Yes, we have our issues and yes we humans have dark, violent parts to our nature, but the story of civilization is a story of us constantly overcoming those darker parts of our nature. 50 years ago the U.S. was dominated by extreme racism and segregation and women were heavily marginalized. Decades before that you have the holocaust. Go back another hundred years and we have full-blown slavery in much of the world. Even further back we have the countless atrocities committed by invading armies throughout antiquity.
Although we have setbacks, in general I believe the human race is trending towards less violence, more toleration, and more compassion and I believe in bringing that idea through in my writing.
That's why, at its core, the Area 1851 story is about very diverse factions learning to work together. They are not creating weapons to destroy each other. Instead they are working together to create useful household gadgets that are a mix of Settler, Alien, and Native attributes.
Michael: Deep, Ian! But it's great to see someone who has really considered the backstory of a game that they're involved in. Now, final question - if you could create anything in Area 1851 that you could bring back to 2014, what would you make and why?
Ian: A Bioluminescent Voice-activated Flying Saucer with Tribal Markings. Because why wouldn't you want that?! ;-)
Thanks to Ian for taking the time to talk with me about the world of Area 1851!