I would like to first thank Tommaso Mandadori and Alberto Parisi for taking the time in their busy schedule to do this interview. Also, Laura Valdinoci on behalf of the Reggie Game team, for contacting me and setting this up. They are extremely busy trying to get their Kickstarter ready for ELO Darkness and could not have been more generous with their time and efforts.
I first want to share just briefly what ELO Darkness is, for those who are not familiar with it. There is a very popular style of video game out there called MOBA. There are many video games that use this style of gaming but not very many board games. MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena and has a fantasy setting. Players are divided into two teams of five and try to out play each other to take each others bases. There are only 3 paths to get to the other base and you play as Heroes to take down towers along the way.
The first time I was introduced to these style of games was in 2002 while playing Warcraft III, Reign of Chaos. There have been earlier games that resembled this style of gaming but this is the first for me. Since then there have been plenty of games to replicate MOBA including DOTA, DOTA 2, League of Legends and Paragon most recently, which turns the overhead camera to a third person shooter view. These games are intense and very time consuming, needing to play multiple times to get the right combo of items, Heroes and skills.
I will be honest in saying I was a bit skeptical about how Tommaso and Alberto would be able to turn this fast paced video game into a board game so I had some questions for them on the process…..
TPA: First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves and Reggie Games. How did you guys get into designing games?
Tommaso: Alberto, Laura and I are the founders of Reggie Games. Reggie starts as a company active in the software and mobile development sector in 2015. The following year we have opened a Games department for the design and the development of ELO Darkness, our first board game project.
I am a graduated theoretical physicist, Alberto is an iOS and Android developer, while Laura is the artistic and literary soul of the group. Board gaming is our passion since we met many years ago. Alberto and I, the lead designers, have always been a demanding type of gamers: since we’ve started playing games (long time ago) we constantly had the feeling and the urge to modify rules and create something new, something more in order to completely exploit and explore the game mechanics.
After years of passionate research about game design (with dozensof prototypes realized on our spare time) we felt ready to develop a truly ambitious and solid project.
We have put so much effort in designing the game as well as in dealing with the overwhelming work that hides behind the launch of a KS campaign. For over a year now, together with many collaborators who contributes to the ELO Darkness project (professionals such as artists, video makers, translators, informatics, commercial and marketing experts), we’ve been dedicating almost full time to the analysis and the study of all the critical points linked to the Kickstarter world.
In fact, kickstarting your own project requires much more than just having a good (or even great) product to sell. Kickstarter, and crowdfunding in general, is all about people.
It’s all about investing yourself.
TPA: What are some of your favorite games to personally play?
Tommaso: The games we loved most in the recent years are Hyperborea and A Game of Thrones, the board game. This is not due to a specific design aspect, but rather to the atmosphere, the adrenaline and the great game nights that they have given us.
In our ideal ranking, we should mention Pandemic Legacy and T.I.M.E. stories among the cooperatives, Dominion and various deck-building games for the innovation that they’ve brought to the card games world, and finally aGoT LCG which is the game that most influenced us during the development of ELO (yes, we love Game of Thrones!).
Focusing on what we are playing in the last period, we’re really enjoying Scythe (such a clever design) as well as Gloomhaven, which is really a huge and excellent game.
Finally, Alberto is also a passionate video-gamer and he loves and plays the MOBAs since the time of the first DOTA.
TPA: What designers have you looked to for inspiration in designing games?
Tommaso: There are many designers we admire for their work; if given the choice, I’d personally mention Ignacy Trzewiczek, Pierluca Zizzi and Jamey Stegmaier. About the latter, in particular, we really appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to communicate and manage the crowd in such a smart and honest way. Jamey’s work has strongly inspired us since the beginning of our project.
TPA: MOBA style of a video game is hugely popular. What made you want to design a board game based on this system?
Tommaso: MOBA style, as well as the “arena” concept, always sounded perfect to us for a board game. Its dynamics are complex, fascinating and extremely engaging.
After playing the few MOBA inspired tabletop games that are on the market, we personally felt like they did not really give us the experience we were looking for. The main reason was the dice-based combat system. It’s a matter of taste, obviously, but we really felt the desire to create something different. ELO stems from this purpose to give a new tabletop perspective on the MOBA genre.
TPA: ELO Darkness feels like a 2 player only game but there are variations for more players, what helped you make a decision of making it multiplayer instead of just focusing on a 2 player game?
Tommaso: First of all, the possibility to include more players at the table is a significant feature for a board game. The feeling we had about playing ELO together with a teammate with which you can coordinate and plan to farm resources and gank the opponent was amazing. We realized we had to work on a 4 player mode.
ELO is essentially a player vs player duel; this is the heart of the game experience. However, we have to say we are really satisfied with the team vs team variant, which has turned out to run very well.
For this reason we are also planning to design a dedicated gameboard to support this variant. It will be among the stretch goals of the KS campaign and, if unlocked, will be included in all the Core Set copies of the game.
TPA: There are many things that make MOBA games very addicting. Fast pace, variable player powers, key combinations with items, expansive Heroes and Items, what has been the hardest part to keep true to the MOBA style?
Tommaso: The main challenge/goal was to recreate the pace of a MOBA game: the tension, the step by step approach to the enemy base, the interaction between Heroes and the exciting late game feeling that losing a fight can completely twist the match. We think that the latter aspect, in particular,
has been well implemented by the fact that towers get destroyed and removed from the board making the distances on the map shorter. Players feel the challenge until the last fight.
TPA: During MOBA video games, Heroes can go to any lane they desire to make their presence stronger in a specific area, ELO Darkness does it in a bit of a different way, where Heroes are associated with a specific lane but trough choices can then go to other lanes for support. What was the process in determining this mechanism?
Tommaso: Hero cloaked movement has been the most interesting dynamic to developin the game. The Gank cards, which can be played all of the sudden from the hand, well reflect the sensation of an ambush occurring on the Lane. However, what we really wanted to bring out in ELO, was also the need to plan a gank or a support action on a Lane in advance while at the same time to give the feeling about the consequences and the price to pay for such an action.
The Laner Heroes, despite they are associated to a specific lane, can be played as a Gank card on a different battlefront, but only if you accept to lose a position on its Lane. This Roaming mechanic creates a tight bond between the hand management and the control of the 3 different fronts on the board. The goal is to enlarge the player’s options as well as to put more emphasis on the player’s decisions.
Moreover, the choice to link the Laner Heroes to a specific lane aims to give the players more control over the game, to characterize the Heroes role, and to generate predefined couplings among the characters of the same class. This gives the players the chance to know and predict the opponent’s choice and abilities on a specific lane, not only during combat, but even during the draft and deck-building phase.
TPA: There seems to be a balancing act with how many cards you play and want to keep. Since you only get 2 extra cards at the end of each turn, if you use up cards quickly you will struggle for a round or two trying to get more cards. This feels like the video game in the sense of an ebb and flow where sometime you have to back off a bit to get your magic and health back up. What was your thoughts on the timing aspect to keep it in line with the video game feel?
Tommaso: Finding a balance with the cards to play and the ones to keep, as well as choosing the right moment for triggering a powerful combo, is definitely a key aspect of the game.
You really get the point. Our goal was exactly to reproduce the “trade” mechanism you find during the fight on a MOBA arena.
The timing is fundamental in ELO Darkness. You can play a certain card whenever you wish and support the Lane you want (planning it in advance): it’s all about the right moment making the difference between a good play and a devastating play.
TPA: I can’t imagine the balancing that needs to go into a game like ELO Darkness with all the Heroes needing to feel different yet equal along with the Item combinations. Some Heroes seem to get money easier while others are more powerful, what was the process like when balancing the game and what abilities came to mind throughout the process?
Tommaso: There has been a lot of work in balancing the game both theoretically and practically with a lot of playtest. We have designed and followed some guidelines in order to create the cards ability effects, taking into account that the ‘economic engine’ and the ‘hand size’ are the main element around which one should rotate and balance the abilities.
Some cards and Heroes considered individually, may seem less effective than others, but in effect they may turn out as very useful in creating synergies with the various characters and items during the game.
For sure, the structural possibility to build your deck through the initial draft and the lack of fixed faction in the game are both important aspects that help in the balance for a competitive experience.
TPA: One of the keys in MOBA games are the plebs that just clog up the lanes, this is really well implemented in ELO with Gank Heroes that can support every lane, how hard was it to find a way to make that aspect a part of the game?
Tommaso: We had many goals to be achieved about combat: we really focused on giving the feeling of the sudden crowded Lane where a team-fight fires up, as well as of the speed with which the traffic fades once the fight has been resolved. We also put the attention on reproducing the thin margin moving the balance from one side to another: every single +1 Influence bonus can make the difference.
Since the beginning of the design process, our aim (due to our interest in the MOBA dynamics from a strategic, rather than tactical, point of view) has been to move away from the inflated miniatures grid combat-system. It was not a simple task: we wanted ELO to be elegant, fluid and especially innovative.
The true difficulty was to find a system capable to integrate all the MOBA aspects we wanted to reproduce in the game, not only the combat related ones. Furthermore, we needed it to be complex but not complicated.
TPA: There seems to be limitless opportunity for expansions, with Heroes and Items, are there any plans to make future content to increase the replayability even more?
Tommaso: Yes, we have big plans for the evolution of the game in the future. We are not going to follow the LCG-style (too expensive for the player side), but we look forward to add new expansion sets as soon as the game will be hitting the players’ table around the world.
For now, the MonsterKill Expansion is already available on Kickstarter! First of all, it enhances every aspect of the game, including new Heroes (focusing on the Threat&Kill mechanic), new Action card to expand the deck building possibilities and new item cards to create further options to equip your own team.
Moreover the Expansion introduces 2 new gameplay features: the Spell (powers you can use once in the game) and the Boss cards, which expand the mechanic of the Dragon Objectives.
TPA: The Dragon Objectives are an interesting addition, where players earn extra Exp. during a bidding mechanism, what does this add to the game that it was missing in the past?
Tommaso: Dragon Objectives have been part of the game since the very beginning. We wanted to recreate (in an abstract and coherent way) the event of a Big Boss spawn. In the Dragon Objective, the cards represent an investment in terms of team resources that the player is willing to lose in order to gain Experience bonus for his Heroes. This option gives a further different way to use the cards in your hand. It forces the players to make a difficult choice concerning the hand management and gives them the opportunity to reduce the gap between the opponent in terms of Exp or hand size as well as to increase the dominance accelerating towards the end of the game just as in the MOBA video games.
Besides, the MonsterKill Expansion broadens the experience by introducing Boss cards, which become a direct reward for the bidding. There will be 10 different Boss cards with unique abilities and game effects which are randomly selected during each game to substitute the Dragon events.
The player who wins the Dragon bidding adds the Boss card to his hand and can play it during combat. This makes the Boss events even more engaging and relevant for the game.
TPA: What is the timeline for the release of ELO Darkness?
Tommaso: KS campaign will be live from May 16 to June 13. After the end of the campaign we will finalize the artwork and the playtest of the new unlocked components. This process will take us time and we estimate that the game will be ready to undergo the production at Whatz Games factory within the end of September. Shipping will hopefully start before the end of 2017. We are working hard to optimize and accelerate all the operations concerning production and fulfillment. Of course, we will keep our backers informed about every aspect of the process.
Thanks again to the entire team at Reggie Games for this opportunity to get the word out about ELO Darkness. You can read more about ELO Darkness and my thoughts in the Preview.