“Create a project that will change the world.”
One of Zack Edwards’ professors had once told him that. The words resonated, and more than a decade later Edwards’ history-based card game is making an impact; perhaps even on its way to greatness.
At Raven Correspondence School in Juneau, five tables of four players, plus some spectators, gathered to play “Historical Conquest.”
‘Gather’ might be too tame a word — kids of all ages milled and chattered and couldn’t wait to get started. Some laid out mats to play on, others simply set out their decks on the laminated surface of the tables. The tournament was about to start.
The game is a lot like “Magic: The Gathering” or “Pokemon” in concept. “I used to play ‘Magic: The Gathering,’” Edwards said. “My mother made me get rid of it.”
The cards that make up “Historical Conquest” started as a college project and were envisioned as trading cards at first. Then Edwards said he realized nobody wanted a bunch of history trading cards. A game, though — maybe there was a market for that. Edwards said the game version was a hit in college and he got a great grade on the project.
With all that research done and such success with those who had played, Edwards decided to try to get his game to market. He hired artists to illustrate cards and began printing full sets. Edwards used his savings as startup cash to get the game market-ready.
But when the time came to market his game, funds fell short and attempts to sell the “Historical Conquest” didn’t reap reasonable offers. Edwards eventually decided to take on the task of marketing himself.
Over the years, and through a couple moves, Edwards put in the work to make “Historical Conquest” a success, and after landing in Juneau a few years ago, he seems to have the support to conquer the board game market.
While the project started with Edwards, he’s now got a team behind him, including more than a dozen artists, a historian based in South Carolina, his brother and the editor who worked on the 300-page young adult novel he wrote to accompany the game. The game that started with 100 cards is up to 450, with more expansions inevitable.
Edwards said there are five unique 50-card starter decks with cards spanning history and continents, and additional 20-card booster decks covering specific historical events and periods, including WWII, the Civil War, the Wild West and more.
It’s important to note that each deck is unique but fixed.
“It takes the randomness out of it,” Edwards said.
For those familiar with the games “Historical Conquest” is based on, this should come as a pleasant surprise. Games like “Magic: The Gathering” encourage players to buy packs of randomly sorted cards, sometimes requiring a player to purchase many packs to get a single desired card.
His inspiration for the game wasn’t his love of history, but a desire to make learning about history fun. Each card in the game has an illustration and a brief biographical summary of the figure, as well as an action the card can accomplish based on the figure’s life.
“I try to give summaries of people’s lives,” Edwards explained. “Hopefully youth will become more interested in it.”
The burgeoning history club at Raven Correspondence School seems to indicate an interest in history that goes beyond playing the game. On Friday afternoon, the students watched a video on WWII before their tournament.
And when it came time to play, the 20-some kids were full of enthusiasm.
It’s not only this group of Juneau students who have gotten excited about the game. The group in Phoenix, Ariz., has had to split into two groups, and Edwards said there are people across the country and even across the Atlantic.
Leading up to Friday’s tournament, Edwards had a few announcements to make. Among them, the start of virtual games.
“We’re starting to do virtual games. You can play online with other players,” Edwards said. “We just had a few games with somebody in Detroit, people down in Arizona.”
“We could play with my cousins in Texas,” called out one enthusiastic kid.
The game has a marketplace and community online at HistoricalConquest.com, but the games are also available in retail stores in Alaska’s major cities, and even some smaller ones. And after recently attending ToyFest West, a trade show in Las Vegas, “Historical Conquest” could be taking over the world — which is also the goal of the game itself.
Edwards’ attempt to solve the problem of people not having an interest in history may be working — at least that’s the impression one gets when in the midst of a rousing game, as an elementary school student shouts, “And then I play Queen Elizabeth I,” while forcefully laying down a card.