Board game tie-ins used to be lousy and mindless things - slap your license on a Monopoly or Risk board and boom, there’s your tie-in. It’s rare that someone cares about their film or gaming property enough to get something of quality done, but Irrational Games isn’t like other companies. When they wanted a board game of Bioshock Infinite they got Plaid Hat Games to do it. If you’re unfamiliar with Plaid Hat, it’s time to get acquainted. They’re the guys behind Summoner Wars, one of the best card games (and iOS apps!) around. Subsequent releases of Dungeon Run, Mice and Mystics and City of Remnants (which we will be reviewing here soon) have only continued to prove how serious they are about their work, as they consistently put out distinctive quality games.
Irrational Games took note from the very beginning, and were actually the ones to approach Plaid Hat about the project about a year and a half ago, bringing them up to a meeting in Boston. “The meeting couldn't have gone smoother,” Colby Dauch, founder and senior designer of Plaid Hat told me. “From the beginning it seemed that Irrational was on board with our ideas for where we wanted to take the game. Irrational was still deep in development of the video game when we started working together on the board game. To my knowledge that is the first time that has been done. It definitely presented some challenges, but I feel like Irrational and Plaid Hat did a good job of working through those challenges together.”
They got Irrational's interest thanks to their most popular title, but also because they knew the company was able to do much more than card games. "They had played Summoner Wars," said Colby, "but they also knew we had Mice and Mystics in the works and that Mice and Mystics was a large scale production game so we were prepared to handle that.”
Mice and Mystics, for the uninitiated, is a massive game. It comes bundled with 22 beautiful plastic miniatures detailing the mice heroes and their rat and arachnid foes, custom dice, dozens of cards, tons of tiles and chits, and most importantly, a story book that makes the game more of a narrative than you'd ever expect. It’s as close to an RPG as you can get with a board game without tipping over into character sheets.
Bioshock: The Siege of Columbia will be even bigger, even if you just look at the 52 included plastic miniatures, which are formed from with 11 different sculpts. We’ve seen pictures of only a few of them but Colby assures us that we will see the Songbird, an Airship, Daisy, Comstock, Elizabeth, Booker and more.
To play, you pick one of two competing factions and prepare for war. If you’ve played the game the factions will be familiar to you- The Founders, who run the floating city of Columbia, or the Vox Populi, the rebels who are rising up against them to fight for equal rights. But do the sides play differently? “Both are vying for control of Columbia,” says Colby. “The different goals of the factions come out by way of World Event Cards where players spend influence to try to sway a vote in their direction.”
“The game is primarily a strategy game but we've found ways to work the rich story setting the game comes out of into this game. Through the aforementioned World Event Cards, but also through Elizabeth Timeline cards that track Elizabeth's actions and their effect on the state of Columbia.”
One of the clever things about the game is that these warring factions have a common enemy in the protagonists of the game. Booker and Elizabeth, the main characters of Bioshock Infinite, will travel around Columbia changing things and making it harder or easier for you. The Elizabeth Timeline has a big influence on the strategy of the game, as her tears into time and space can bring about changes to the world at hand. “That is one way they influence things, but they also have figures that are physically moving around Columbia and affect the battle. Sometimes players will have an objective come up that makes them want to control Elizabeth and so have to hunt down and then fend off Booker and the other faction who also want control of her for as long as possible.”
The game can be played either one on one or with two teams of two. The four player game is a team version of the two player game that will run longer than the two player version, but they are very similar.
For the game’s original art they tapped Paul Guzenko, an artist who’s worked on a number of tabletop games in the past, like Pathfinder. He’s behind some amazing stuff, so what can we expect out of him? “Lots of original art!” promises Colby. ” I saw the creation of this game as an opportunity to not only create a great board game, but a cool art filled artifact for fans.”
It looks and sounds great but knowing this will be the kind of board game that entices video gamers who haven’t played a hardcore board game before, was there anything they planned to make for an easier transition? “Going in we knew we needed to be careful not to go overboard with rules complexity,” says Colby. ”I think Summoner Wars is a previous game of ours that shows you can have depth without a complex ruleset. On top of that all of our new games (starting with Mice and Mystics) have little stop signs on the front cover of their rulebooks directing players to plaidhatgames.com where they can find a video demonstration of the rules to the game.”
What about possible expansions? After all, even Irrational has DLC planned for Bioshock Infinite. “This is probably the first game we've built that doesn't have expansions in mind,” says Colby. “That said we would love to work further with Irrational!”
Bioshock: Infinite: The Siege of Columbia will hit sometime this summer. If you picked up the premium or limited editions of Bioshock Infinite you will have an awesome resin miniature of the Handyman to play with until then, when you can plop it in the game. You can preorder the board game direct from Plaid Hat Games here.