An Hour (and a half) with Eric Lang
It’s time for the final panel here at the CMON Expo. We’ve had our look at Wrath of Kings and Dark Age. We’ve had our look at Massive Darkness. Now we sit down for a nice, quiet, fireside chat with game developer Eric Lang (he’s Canadian).
This panel’s a bit more calm than others. There’s not as much of a structure, but just an open Q&A about what’s been going on with his work. It’s going to be a bit more of a “behind the scenes” look, if people want.
Question: How do you handle getting so many games made?
Answer: He’s gotten better at saying, “no.” When things get too hectic, he’ll simply step back. He’s been making fewer games recently, but he’s spending a lot longer on each game. Each designer has its own voice, and trying to just “teach someone to make games” because each designer should design games their way.
Question: When making a non-license game, do you start with mechanics or theme?
Answer: He’s never made a game where he goes, “this is a clever mechanic, I need to make a game around it.” He’s, instead, looking for the “soul” of the game. It’s usually based off a type of player interaction. Not every time, but early-on, he’ll visualize people playing the game at a convention and think about what sort of arguments are going on during the game. What are people doing during the game? He’s looking for that “perfect experience.” From there, he’ll map out mechanics to get to that point. After a framework is made, he’ll fill in around it, making the game actually work.
Eric saw that CMON had made Zombicide, and when the chance to make a sports game with all those great minis, he jumped at the chance. From that came Kaosball. There are custom League rules that let you play a whole season’s worth of games in an entire night.
He’s really excited about the expansion sets coming out for Arcadia Quest. There’s Inferno and Pets, both of which he was practically giddy working on. The sets were co-designed with the Brazilian CMON team.
Small bonus: Eric will give a special item to people who give Michael Shinall a hug. True story.
Blood Rage is everything Eric loves in a board game. Area control. Drafting. Deep strategy. Lots going on there.
The Others is a nightmarish horror-game for 2-5 players. There’s “a million expansions for it” which are all cross-compatible. It’s Call of Cthulhu meets Vampire: The Masquerade, meets X-Men. It’s “The classic battle between bad and worse.” Defending the last city from the encroaching 7 Sins. The game was designed to be “as horrific as possible.” But it has the most replay-ability of any game he’s done. There’s 7 sins, each story has different, branching maps, there’s different heroes you can take… all sorts of things you can do to change up the game.
This is licensed off of the Bloodborne video game. 30-45min card game. It’s designed to be absolutely brutal. It’s supposed to be very hard. It has a gothic-art style which he loves. He’s been working on it for around a year at this point.
Question: What was your thought process, since this could have potentially been a minis board game?
Answer: The video game is one of those super-niche games. The thing that really attracted Eric to the project was that he could create a cross-over project. He was concerned that making something like Blood Rage would turn those video gamers off to the game. But a smaller, more-accessible card game would be easier to draw those people in. He just as much wanted to have people play the card game and then make their way over to the video game.
The game distills a dungeon run (particularly something like the Chalice Dungeon). Monsters are attacking all players at the table. You start out with small, wimpy weapons. But as you continue on, you get better gear. Players simultaneously declare their attacks, but they’re resolved in order from the Lead Hunter on down. If you die, you lose all the blood you’ve collected. However, you can run back and bank the blood you have. It’s “a death-management game.” You’re going to die X-number of times, but you have to manage that with trying to get the most blood.
There’ve been times where the first monster off the deck kills everyone. When that happens, Eric just says, “Welcome to Bloodborne.”
The game will be out hopefully this year. Design elements need to be approved by Sony, but that will hopefully happen quickly.
The game is to be released coinciding with the 40th anniversary of The Godfather movie. It is one of his favorite movies, ever. This will not be a Kickstarter.
All the art is done by Karl Kopinski. He’s one of Eric’s favorite artists. “Big, Italian guys in suspenders looking really badass and cool.” There are demos available here at CMON Expo. It’s 60-90min, with 2-5 players. It’s a “thug placement game.” It’s got Mafia-style player interactions. You can order drive-bys, car bombs, all sorts of intrigue. “You can always get new thugs.”
“This is the type of game you expect from me.” You play through the storyline of Godfather 1. So you live through Don Corleone’s life. You play as other mob bosses, all looking to get the most money. That’s because when (spoiler alert) the Godfather dies, the one with the most money becomes the new mob boss.
You place thugs in order to extort money from businesses. But the money you get directly isn’t useful at all. That money has to be laundered to become something you can use. You then use that money to bid on new followers. At the end of each round, the Godfather asks for a tribute, causing you to discard your hand size down. The game puts you in the head of a mafia boss. It’s resource management and area control. You’ve got an heir, so even if your Don gets shot, you can get another Don.
Question: How much are you involved in Dice Masters?
Answer: Very. The designs are about a year ahead of where the current releases are. They work on several sets at a time because they get really, really inspired. They get their marching orders from Marvel, for example. They know what’s coming out, so they tell Eric and the other designers what sort of things to work on. The sets are based on the comics, and not so much the movie.
Question: When you have time to play games, what do you play?
Answer: He’s a fan first. He’s been a gamer since 1988, when he played D&D for the first time. Cosmic Encounter, Hearthstone, and games like that are among his favorites. He loves Poker as well. Richard Garfield is a favorite designer. Sid Saon as well is one he loves to play the games of. Distilled, disciplined, and focused on player-interaction. He also loves playing Zombicide: Black Plague as well as Rum & Bones. In terms of video games, he’s a huge Blizzard fan, since they make serious games with an undercutting sense of humor. In terms of non-game influences, he loves movies from Pixar.
Question: Is there a theme or genre you haven’t done yet that you want to?
Answer: I’m sure the answer is yes. But in the past, he’s worked on Marvel, DC, Star Wars, and other such things, as well as Bloodborne and The Godfather, so he’s had a lot of chances to do that sort of thing. He’d still love to do a hard sci-fi game that focuses more on the “human condition” side of things. He’s also working on a pure-humor Munchkin trading card game. He’d love to do more in the realm of party games, too.
Question: Did you always think you’d work on gaming?
Answer: “The way I remember it…” He had wanted to be a TV writer, doing the next Buffy or Angel or something like that. He also really wanted to be a rock star. But the opportunities never really came around. But when he was exposed to 2nd edition D&D, with a box set called Spelljammer. From the first session of that, he was designing RPGs. So he designed 8-9 different RPGs (that’ve never been published), and he realized that it was, at least, going to be his hobby. When Magic: The Gathering hit in ’93, sometime between then and ’95, he knew he was going to start designing games for a living.
And there we have it. Our thanks to Eric Lang for talking with us and answering our questions.