Dragonvault, a new fantasy adventure card game, has a sprinkle of childhood magic for creator Frederick Blauer. In 2019, the Spokane Valley resident set out to design a game, but he also tapped a few characters he’d created while at University Elementary. A young Blauer had sketched out images for a game to play at recesses.
School leaders had banned the popular Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, Blauer said, so he came up with what he titled Realms of Chaos to play with buddies. “I’ve been making card games since 2002,” Blauer, 28, said. “I remember the reason why was because my school banned trading cards.”
“Apparently, because the cards were worth money, some older kids were trading with younger kids for their good cards and giving them bad cards. They were getting the expensive ones, so the school banned them across the line, and we couldn’t play anything.”
Blauer told his friends he could come up with his own game, folding a piece of paper into eight pieces to draw it out. “Every recess, I was making cards, and the kids would gather around and were giving me ideas, ‘You should make a dragon warrior. Make this cool sword.’ I just made like a new game every year until about 2007.”
Today, Dragonvault runs players through a dungeon to collect treasure – if dragons don’t destroy them first. The game offers newer characters created by Blauer, including champions, to represent the players. A South African artist was hired to do the professional, intricate artwork required for the final product.
It can be played by two to eight players. Instructions also call for dice, which currently don’t come with the game. Blauer recommends Dragonvault for ages 10 and older, and he’s heard feedback from families who enjoy it. Even in 2019, his concept was to build a challenge simple enough that he and current friends could play it without investing tons of time, or money, on “collector” cards.
“That’s when Dragonvault started to take shape,” he said. “You sit down, you learn in five minutes, everyone picks a champion, and you’re running through the deck. I used concepts and characters I’d come up with when I was a kid, actually. One of the characters, Vorix, I probably came up with his character in 2004 – I was 12. Vorix is a character that heals.”
“The premise of the game is essentially you’re running through this dungeon, and you’re trying to collect more treasure than everyone else. Every turn, you pull a card. Say I pulled a treasure card – I’m going to keep that – but if you pull a dragon card, you have to pay some of your treasure to the dragon, or the dragon attacks you.”
Players are out of the game if their character dies. “You have to choose to bribe the dragon or take the damage, and other people at the table are trying to knock you out with cards, too,” Blauer said.
Blauer teamed with business partner and cousin Daniel Hunt to launch the game in January 2020, but then they hit a year of pandemic delays and financial fallouts. Manufactured decks of Dragonvault didn’t arrive until three months ago. However, with enough preorder sales and Blauer’s use of TikTok videos done with homemade cards, the enterprise stayed afloat. When 5,000 copies were delivered, about half went out to those preorders.
Dragonvault also has sold well at Uncle’s Games, Puzzles & More, which this past week still stocked about 40 decks in the Spokane Valley Mall and at the downtown store.
Another sales spike happened online April 11 when a fan posted a TikTok video, and Blauer sold about 200 games – the last in his inventory. He’s back to taking pre-orders until a new printing, which is expected by summer.
“We had a guy on TikTok who posted that he bought the game, loved it, and he has a pretty big following – like 350K,” Blauer said. “All of a sudden, I’m looking at my phone, and sales were just coming in.” At a friend’s urging, he also created TikTok videos. “I’ve accumulated almost 70,000 followers in just five months. TikTok is probably where 90% of our sales come from.”
This past Saturday, the Valley Uncle’s store held a demo to learn Dragonvault. Manager Stephanie Gross met Blauer when he still worked for T-Mobile in the mall and came in to buy Magic: The Gathering cards. He mentioned his game, so she asked to see a prototype.
“He brought us a demo copy, and we all liked it,” Gross said. “I liked the simplicity of it as a good entry-level game, but it has depth to it, too. There is strategy. The artwork is impressive.” So, she got approval to stock Dragonvault from Uncle’s president, Kyle Kemble, who tries to support local game developers, including Smirkle.
Blauer had tinkered with card designs until high school before playing guitar in a band. When he returned to game creation, he picked up his past ideas and added ones to run past friends, family and other game players. By January 2020, he showed Hunt the game with mocked-up Dragonvault cards printed at home.
They’d reconnected at a funeral for Blauer’s grandfather, so they decided to meet later at Krispy Kreme to play it. “I said, ‘Frederick, you have something here,’ ” Hunt, 41, said. “I told him that I don’t know about this fantasy card world, but I’m having fun, and I learned how to play in five minutes. I couldn’t believe how good it was.”
At that time, Hunt said he’d made profits from business ventures, originally printing materials for restaurants, so he offered to invest in the game’s launch. But within weeks with the pandemic, Hunt said he lost “almost everything.” Blauer lost his T-Mobile job, so they tried a Kickstarter campaign, which failed.
“If you don’t make your goal on Kickstarter, you get zero,” Blauer said. “Luckily, enough people saw the game through the Kickstarter campaign to where I set up preorders on the website, and a lot of people moved over. We got enough preorders to keep going.”
Hunt credits Blauer for working so long without a paycheck. New profits now cover his salary, he said. “Back then, we couldn’t afford the minimum-order quantity to order the games from the manufacturer, and our Kickstarter failed, so we were just selling preorders,” Hunt said. “People who were supporting us weren’t even getting a game yet. They just believed in us.”
Blauer had worked closely for several months with artist Kyle Herring, who completed 36 art pieces for the first edition’s 106 cards. Now, the partners are working with Herring again to develop a second edition to play singularly or merge with the first deck.
The first-edition sets were manufactured in China. Blauer and Hunt want the next round printed in the U.S., with bids from a Rathdrum company and another in Texas, to replenish that supply. Other than what remains at Uncle’s and sold for $29.99 a game, website preorders are $24.99 a deck at dragonvault.com.
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