Gather 'round, fellow knights!
Greetings everyone, Alexio Schneeberger and Andrea Chiarvesio here, game designers of Mordred, and this is a short design diary in the form of an interview to provide you with a sneak peek of the making of the game.
Where did the idea for Mordred come from?
Adrian Smith! Adrian did a series of incredible illustrations creating his own vision of the Arthurian myth. A dark and gloomy version in which King Arthur had disappeared, the knights of the round table were either dead or dispersed, and the world overrun with magical creatures, some of them truly terrifying. It was all begging to be translated into a board game!
What was the challenge in working on CMON’s next entry into the big box strategy game genre?
We’ve both worked together with Eric [Lang] for years, including a game in the same "dudes on a map" genre together (Cyberpunk 2077), so not only were we familiar with Eric's style and philosophy, but we were also able to express our own personal design style and apply it to a structure, that of our big box strategy games based on mythology, monsters, area control with miniatures, magic, and gods.
And what is the unique approach to the genre?
What we felt was missing in these games that simulate large-scale conflicts was the idea of how much time, not just how many resources, it takes to mobilize and move troops. Add in the fact that Alexio is a big fan of games like Wallace's A Few Acres of Snow, while Andrea loves the mechanics where there are no fixed turns but it is the player who has spent the least amount of time being able to play their turn, and that's how perhaps Mordred's main mechanic, the track on the Chaos Dial, came about.
The idea of having two game boards to shift the focus of battles to the middle of the game and not allow players to entrench themselves in some impregnable territories is entirely Alexio's, as is the general theme of "duality" (all cards in the game have two effects depending on whether they occur before or after the Lost Lands board opens or depending on which unit uses that card in combat). Getting a special action when you’re the last player to leave a sector of the Chaos Dial was also from Alexio’s vision since the beginning, shaping the game mechanics. Andrea's greatest contribution was his constant pursuit of an extremely simple and straightforward game structure, with few clear actions and a very clear turn structure. A seeming simplicity that hides considerable strategic complexity and depth, which is somewhat the stylistic hallmark of his previous titles, from Kingsburg to Hyperborea, ending with Marvel United.
Why is it that players cannot directly control monsters in Mordred?
In part, it is a question of lore. The monsters created by Adrian were too terrifying to make it reasonable in our eyes that they ended up "serving" this or that faction.
On the other hand, at the design level, it seemed to us that allowing players to control monsters always oscillates between the risk of making them an element that can irretrievably break the balance of a game, and of the game in general, and the risk of making them mere "special units" that are not particularly relevant or different from those already in a player’s control.
Thirdly, we had from the lore by Adrian the survivor knights errant, previously of the round table. They could perfectly fill the role of independent but player-recruitable units, which instinctively offered a more interesting route to take.
Finally, putting all these together, we had a new angle to explore the terrifying creatures that assail mankind, which proved a novel venue to pursue. With Mordred, we made a special effort to offer a game that is brings a new perspective to the genre, still respecting the cornerstones of the style, such as the importance of controlling certain areas or the need (and incentive) to pick and choose your battles.
Does the asymmetry of factions factor into this?
Yes! We wanted strongly asymmetrical factions, but ones that were not defined "at the outset" by that faction's special power. 12 combat cards and 3 (out of 5) spell cards are unique to each faction and give each faction a completely unique and customizable play style, because you will hardly be able to cast all 3 of your faction's defining spells in a single game. At the same time, all factions have the same basic actions to perform and the same type and distribution of units. This, among other things, helps to preserve the balance of the game, while maintaining an even stronger asymmetry between factions than in other, similar titles. You mentioned custom battle cards.
Would you like to elaborate on how the battles work?
As in the case of faction asymmetry, we wanted to mark a difference here in the vein of continuity. The battles are there, even numerous, but unlike other games in the genre, it is not so easy to wipe out many of your opponent’s units or to be eliminated yourself. Losing units is always bad, but most of the time, it happens because of your strategic error or overconfidence, and not because your opponent randomly drew a card whose effect is exaggeratedly impactful.
It is very important to decide when and how to play your best cards, when it’s better to suffer a partial loss to come back stronger in the next fight, or to use your special abilities to encircle your opponent, gain future advantages, strategically relocate your troops, and much more.
You can catch your opponent by complete surprise, but that will be mostly because of your clever planning!
We wanted players to feel responsible for the fate of their army, made up of sentient beings at their command, and for every loss to be felt as their own responsibility, and every win as the reflection of their cunning.
This is perhaps an overstatement, but we wanted the game to convey the idea that all life is precious and that although sometimes troops must be sacrificed in battle, it is not a decision that should be taken lightly or even end up favouring those who take it.
Here too, we believe this style of design fits well specifically with the setting in a world where people's lives are not commodities.
How long have you been working on this game and how far along is the development?
Do you still expect to make many major changes? Mordred took more than a year to design and has been in development since the last months of last year. The development work is largely finished, and we do not expect to make any large change to the core rules, except for the purpose of better clarifying points and perhaps streamlining some procedures.
Ultimately, what do you feel like telling the players?
Thank you for your support and encouragement! We’ve worked hard to bring you a game worthy of its roots, with unique personality and original structure. We’re thrilled to bring you this lovingly crafted game and we’re sure when you try the game you will certainly be impressed and, we hope, satisfied!
Check out the campaign on Kickstarter here - 1 week to go!
Farewell! Camelot awaits!