You know Dungeons & Dragons. You probably encountered it first in school. Perhaps you played. Perhaps a boyfriend/girlfriend played. My first exposure to was in the fall of 1980. Attending a new school and knowing no one, a classmate and I became fast friends over classic dungeon crawls and the occasional wild west shootout. Roleplaying games are still a geeky passion.
Luther and I were recently approached to design a boardgame to enhance an existing RPG product line. We are not currently free to discuss this specific project. However, it got me started thinking about cross-platform gaming.
We’ve seen a few board game tie-ins to RPGs like Dungeon! and card game ties-ins like Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. We’ve seen tabletop tie-ins to Minis Games like Chaos in the Old World. We’ve even got a fair number of RPG tie-ins to minis games like Mechwarrior or GURPS Autoduel. Making these conversions must have been challenging. Changing game platform tends to hit you with a shift of pace or tone. Fans of the original game are likely to judge every element–how well does your design measure up to their precious? You can be certain that they’ll tell you.
Why go to the trouble? Why work on a conversion when you know your work will be judged as much by its faithfulness to the original game as by your own work? Why work so hard when you know you’ll be scrutinized for your efforts?
The biggest and best reason to cross platforms is brand recognition. Would the same number of people look at Chaos in the Old World without its tie-in to 40K? Would we be playing 1977’s Dungeon! were it not tied to the biggest Fantasy RPG of all time? It was certainly a big part of the plan that Sentinel Tactics bring fans of the original SotM card game to our table.
Another good reason reason to cross platforms is to expand player experience. Autoduel enabled Car Wars players to expand their relationship with SJG’s setting. Chaos in the Old World shows players the world of Warhammer from the perspective of a god. Sentinel Tactics let Sentinels of the Multiverse fans see their battles play out across the spires of Megalopolis.
Considering Player Types
To make a cross-platform successful, it helps to think about what brought players to the original game. Most gamer folk have experimented with board, minis, and roleplaying games. Many gamer folk define themselves by their favorite category. This is interesting when we consider that the mechanical distance between them is pretty small. Each allows players to choose from a set of available actions and include rules for interpreting the results of those actions. Want to build a University in Puerto Rico? Want to lob a grenade at those MERCS? Want to trick the super villain into monologuing in Mutants & Masterminds? Each game has rules to cover its actions.
What separates players? Why does one gamer identify as wargamer, another as boardgamer, and another as roleplayer? As with many areas of design, it all comes down to core experience. Roleplaying games are best at providing engaging social experiences and engaging settings. Minis games are best at offering engaging tactics and engaging strategy. Boardgames can expediently show off engaging mechanisms.
Preference in core experience motivates choice of game type. Does this make writing a cross-platform game a fool’s errand? Not so! Plenty of minis games have an engaging setting. Roleplaying games often draw on engaging knowledge. Cross-platform boardgames simply require cross-platform engagement.
Earning player engagement requires that the game highlight elements common to its counterpart.
Order of the Stick is a webcomic about a meta-aware D&D party. Most of its humor comes from references to its genre conventions. When Kevin Brusky developed the OotS board game, he mirrored the first story arc–an extended dungeon crawl–and included lots of original humorous art from the comic’s creator.
Sentinels of the Multiverse is a game of collaboration. When we developed the board game, we made sure that characters were complementary. Each character had particular strengths and weaknesses. Success in the SotM game would then require players to collaborate and cover each other.
Star Wars Epic Duels proclaims its appeal on the the box. “Did You Ever Wonder…” Yes I did, Mr. Daviau. Yes I did, Mr. Van Ness. And thank you for helping us all find out.
In future columns, I will take on the main traits of conversions between board, minis, and roleplaying games. Until then, keep the main points in mind.
Taking a property across platforms can be difficult. Changes of tone and player expectations are both traps any designer could slip into. But if you identify our target players and we find opportunities to give players a new experience, you will write a great cross-platform games, perhaps even exceeding its parent.
What genre or setting would you try in any game type? How would you write any such a game? What did you learn from the experience? Share with your fellow readers in the comments below. And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog. If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.