Cthulhu: Death May Die - Design and Development

The design path of games rarely takes a straight route. There are a number of twists and turns, and sometimes a complete scrapping of the plans is necessary, with starting from scratch as the best option. For years, Eric M. Lang and Rob Daviau have been friends and admired each other’s work. They even started to design a project together that had many elements working on a lot of different levels, but they eventually hit a wall, stalled, and the game had to be shelved. It could’ve spelled the end of an incredible combination of talent, until the spark of a new idea came to them.

“I’m a big fan of the works of Lovecraft,” explained Lang. “I’ve designed two Cthulhu games, and I’ve read almost every story. I’ve played the role-playing game. I’ve played lots of ancillary products. I’m a fan of both the actual works and a lot of the derivative works. Even the comical ones.”

It was Lang’s love of the Lovecraftian mythos that led to the idea for Cthulhu: Death May Die. The next step was recruiting Daviau. 

“I’m a more casual H.P. Lovecraft fan,” admits Daviau. “I’ve played the role-playing game. I’ve read a couple of the stories. I did a game that was a little bit different, but it was fun to hear Eric get excited about a particular monster or myth or story. But I’m very familiar with the world, and I actually enjoy that sort of the 1920’s horror noir world and that sandbox to play in.”

Both designers came to the game with different knowledge bases and a different relationship to the source material. Whenever there is a game designed on an existing mythos, there is a concern for getting the translation of the ideas into board game form just right. You want to please the fans, while still producing a new experience. 

“Translating stuff from the written word is very organic. It’s something I do in a lot of games. Sometimes, you’ll put a quote in, but most of the time, you just try to get the feel of the world right,” said Daviau. “What are the characters? How do they act? What are the rooms? What are the situations they’re in? You just sort of translate that instead of reading passively about an Investigator. You put yourself in that place.”

One thing that was key to both designers was creating an experience that left players wanting to come back time and again. Making the game fresh every time it was played was achieved through the customizable aspect of each Episode. 

“We really love the idea of replayability within this game and we sort of tackle it a few different ways,” said Daviau. “There’s a lot that will make it feel different even if you play the exact same game.”

“I remember, at the beginning of this particular project, we were on one of our early calls and I was like ‘Rob, you’re known for a certain type of game, and what if we did a game that explored the idea of replayability and discoverability, where every time you played a new episode, you have to sort of relearn a big chunk of the game’,” said Lang.

Some of the most important elements in capturing the feel of an established world are the art and components. Daviau and Lang wanted to go with a team they knew that could help create the atmosphere they envisioned for the game. For the miniatures, they had to balance a prevailing notion in Lovecraft literature, that the very sight of these horrors would drive the viewer insane, with the tangible and physical nature of a miniatures board game. 

“Lovecraft is often described as indescribable, and we were pretty much, like, nah, let’s describe it,” explained Lang “This game is a power fantasy, rather than the existential horror that you’ll find in many fine Lovecraft games. We’re gonna define it. We’re gonna describe it. And you’re gonna kill it.”

For the look of the monsters, there was no other choice than Adrian Smith. He had teamed with Lang in the past on projects like Blood Rage, Rising Sun, and The Others, and his monster designs are without equal. Karl Kopinski is a master at creating character art full of drama and emotion. He was the natural choice to design the Investigators.  

“One of the things that I love in particular is that all the monsters in this game are drawn by Adrian Smith and all of the investigators are drawn by Karl Kopinski, so you really have that heroic, pulp 20s look on the investigator side, and this completely twisted, only Adrian Smith could do it, look at the mythos on the other side. So, they match by mismatching,” said Lang.

Studio McVey was tasked with giving a physical form to their designs. Under the supervision of legendary sculptor Mike McVey, the team brought these heroes and monstrosities to life. 

“You get the CMON minis, then the art on the character boards, and all of them are just these different ways to get you from saying ‘I’m in my dining room’ to ‘I’m in this world’,’” said Daviau. “You add in some writings, and some story, and all of these are just the different components, which is what makes me love tabletop so much. It’s not any one thing, it’s the combination of them to make the experience.”

Experience is really what all CMON games, and especially Cthulhu: Death May Die, are all about. It transports players to a different setting and a different mindset every time it’s played. Investigators will have to assess the new challenges that each Episode presents, prepare themselves for the minions and Elder Ones they’ll face, and learn how to embrace their insanities. The fight against evil is about to begin, and there couldn’t be a more appropriate creative team to lead the charge.`

Cthulhu: Death May Die will launch on Kickstarter on July 10 at 3 PM EST. Stay tuned for more updates as the countdown continues.

Read our Cthulhu: Death May Die Overview article here.

Read our Cthulhu: Death May Die New Take on an Old Mythos article here.

Cthulhu: Death May Die - Design and Development

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