The Badass Interview: Corey Konieczka on GEARS OF WAR - THE BOARD GAME

GEARS OF WAR… as a board game? Alex gets the scoop from the designer.

You read that right. This week not only can you play the latest Gears of War installment on your tv, you can also play one on your tabletop. This isn’t some quick cash-in title either, this is being published by Fantasy Flight Games. If you’re not familiar with the company it’s the biggest and arguably best publisher of board, card and roleplaying games, having released all kind of classic games like the incredible Arkham Horror (which I’m currently hopelessly obsessed with), A Game of Thrones (ditto), Descent, and Runebound. Gears of War: The Video Game is one of their latest releases and obviously seeks to replicate the experience of playing the videogame, except with the benefit of actual human interaction and not having to hear racist kids call you names on Xbox Live.

It’s a co-op game for one to four players (that’s right, you can play this solo) that comes packaged with 17 double-sided tiles and nine different scenarios on top of a brutal and random enemy AI system to ensure that no game is exactly the same, or ever too easy. 30 incredibly detailed plastic miniatures are included, just aching to be painted if that’s your thing. Don’t be ashamed… we all did it as kids.

I managed to get in contact with Fantasy Flight Games VP of R&D and board game designer Corey Konieczka (pronounced Koneska) to talk a bit about his upcoming game.

Corey is certainly no stranger to adapting video games, as he’s the man behind one of the more successful board game adaptations, the Origins Award-winning StarCraft. He’s also responsible for some of Fantasy Flight’s greatest titles, including Mansions of Madness, Space Hulk: Death Angel, Tide of Iron, and even the excellent adaptation of Battlestar Galactica. That latter title manages to perfectly capture the tense feeling of the show as you try to struggle to keep your people alive, all the while wondering which of your friends was actually a fracking toaster. It’s a perfect example of how well Corey understands the source material and manged to cram a massive amount of theme into the design, and Gears of War: The Board Game is no exception, offering everything you’d expect to face. A cover system, active reloads, bleeding out, emergence holes, every weapon from gnasher shotguns to bolo grenades- it’s all here. There are even missions ripped straight out of the videogames such as “China Shop”, which sees our heroes trying to play chicken with a massive Berserker.

I talked with Corey right as the game was hitting stores.

The title covers the story from the first two Gears of War, correct?

Yes. The missions in the game cover much of the main story arc from Gears of War and Gears of War 2. It is obviously impossible to show every moment of the video games, but players will definitely recognize some iconic moments.

Were you a fan of the videogames?

Absolutely. I’ve had an XBox for years and am eagerly awaiting the 3rd installment.

What features were you most concerned about adapting?

The real challenge was figuring out how to replicate the complex systems of the video game in a simple way.

For example, how do you track ammo without making players have a pool of hundreds of tokens on each card? How do you actively reload your gun or use your lancer’s chainsaw? The real trick is doing this in a way that makes sense without having hundreds of unique rules for every situation.

Was it tough adapting a game that’s known more for its action to a (necessarily) slower-paced and more strategic format?

It was actually very exciting to translate the action of a video game into a board game. To me, it is all about capturing the essence of the game, and looking at what experience we wanted to create. How do you capture action packed firefights? How do you portray blood thirsty hordes? These are the sorts of challenges that designers crave.

Was there ever any thought of including a miniature of Dom’s wife for some hilarious melodrama?

Haha! That would have been great. The Dom player should start the game with a photograph of his wife. He could spend his turn looking at his photo instead of attacking.

While the videogame works best as a co-op experience (and seeing as how co-op games are increasing in popularity) it seems like smart decision to make the board game co-op as well, but was there any thought of allowing a player to play as the Locust?

Early on in the design process one player controlled the Locust horde. Ultimately, we didn’t feel this design captured the proper feel of the game, so we went back to the drawing board.

Any thoughts of expanded rules for a competitive multiplayer mode, or even a horde mode?

The game actually DOES come with a horde mode. We designed that mission to work on four different maps, each of increasing difficulty levels. When players want a challenge, they should try Horde mode on Insane difficulty.

There are seven missions included which certainly seems to give us a ton of replayability, but will there be any new missions available- either as downloadable scenarios or new expansions?

I’m sorry, but I can’t comment on this. (Alex’s note- I’ll take that as a yes!)

While a Berserker is included, was there any thought of including some of the even larger creatures like Brumaks or Corpsers, or some of the main bosses from the videogames?

Unfortunately, having gigantic creatures, such as a Brumak, caused too many design and component challenges. At the end of the day, we are very happy with the variety in enemies provided in the game. Not only do they each have their own behaviors, but the sculpts are quite possibly the most detailed figures we’ve ever created.

Since this will likely interest fans of the series who have never played a board game before (or at least nothing besides Monopoly and the like), was there an attempt to make it easy enough for new players to jump right in?

Absolutely. One of my goals was to create a game that was easy to get into. The basic rules are simple – on your turn you play a card from your hand, and follow the instructions on it. Then you draw a Locust AI card and follow the instructions for the bad guys. Your turn is now over and the next player performs his turn.

This basic framework is VERY easy to understand, while allowing us to add tons of strategy and depth simply on the card abilities. Lastly, we produced a video overview that should give players a general understanding of the game so they can jump in and play:

I really hope that we’ve succeeded in creating a game that boardgamers, as well as Gears of War fans, will enjoy equally.

Check Fantasy Flight Games’ site for more info on the title, and expect a full review of the game soon.