Laruna: Age of Kingdoms - "What We Wanted"
Using source material to create a new game is a very interesting concept. Ultimately I think it drives you to do justice to the original source while using completely new methods of expression for the player. In the case of our last board game The Shared Dream, we have a modern setting tabletop RPG with lots of story driven concepts to bring to life. The end result was a board game that offered people a chance to taste the themes and feelings present in the RPG but capitalized on the mechanics of the board game medium to allow for people to get this experience with little to no prep work.
In retrospect, I’d have to say that if there was a single mission for The Shared Dream, it was to create a game that allowed people to sit down and experience the feeling of a story much like you do in an role-playing game but with the ease, representation and tactics only a board game can provide. Dream identities as cool miniatures, character boards to track progression, a story that unfolds during play via cards rather than a player’s narrative. Even building a team and working together without the management of character sheets and typical RPG crunch. You get the idea. All in all I think it was a job well done and players both familiar with the source material and those who are not have reported having a blast with it. In the end that is the most important thing - they are having fun.
For Laruna: Age of Kingdoms, I was recently asked about what we hoped to create when we decided to make the game. Like before, we would be drawing upon source material, this time the Dreamscape: Laruna RPG we had published in the prior year. This gave us a very specific, rich world to draw on but it also posed an interesting design question. What did we want from this that only a board game could provide?
Well for the role-playing game, Dreamscape: Laruna is very much about players with incredible magic power having strong influence over the world around them, willingly or otherwise. Here is the heart of what I felt could make a great board game. Players influencing a world. I was always fascinated with the concept of kings and queens ruling over their kingdoms and the imagery of war being shown to them via hand drawn maps and figures was - oddly evocative.
The idea of Laruna: Age of Kingdoms being a 4x game where players adopted the role of mighty magic users and then plied their talents in an effort to manage a kingdom, spawned completely from this imagery. I wanted a player to feel and experience surveying simple representations that would be symbolizing hundreds of troops bleeding the ground red, or carts full of food being distributed to the masses. They could step into the role of a leader that had no choice but to look at a kingdom through a god’s eye view and make broad strokes from their throne room - the kind that would build an empire, see rival farms torched or march hordes of monsters across borders.
One by one certain concepts started leaping out as opportunities to give players intriguing decisions in a game where they would be struggling to survive the end of time. Before they even started the game, they would choose one of the ruler archetypes giving them access to a host of different magic spells and with that, different gameplay options. Would they summon mystic units to help them rule? Would they use sorcery to burn fields or destroy units from afar? Once this choice was made, they still had to choose which kingdom they would rule. The combination offered a surreal number of possibilities once you considered the different capacities of each kingdom. They would have varied resource yields, different Agendas to put into motion and alter the state of the game. Each would have access to unique units and once you started combining all of this with their ruler’s magic potential - well lets just say we liked where this was going.
Eventually came unit designs and before you know it, we would be laughing thinking of how excited we were to see a particular unit put to use in battle. It expanded from there as units from the many territories across Laruna started offering all sorts of bizarre options not exclusive to combat. “Should I control Moolsheel so I can get a Gromit and use him to undermine Highland’s stability? Maybe I would be better off clinging to Windborne for griffins, their high mobility might be crucial if Epilesis betrays me.”
These thoughts became the spine of every decision we made going forward. How would it feel to be that king or queen, sitting in that throne room, knowing that countless lives were banking on you making the right decisions? The sweet agony of choice was the centerpiece of LAOK and we made sure it was present wherever appropriate. Want to put your citizens to task and build a golden empire full of trade routes and riches that other kingdoms would fight to protect - go for it. Hoping to slowly prove to the young gods your peoples devotion by consistently worshipping in glorious temples you had built? Do it! Dreaming of the greatest war machine the land has ever known, comprised of giants, dragons and warriors of all kinds? Have at it. This was LAOK where your choices where nearly limitless, as was the glee of making good ones, and the pain of making poor ones.
Then came Favor. This was not to be a game of simple wars or brief dominance. It was to be an ode to the final times of Laruna, where huge monsters threatened with annihilation and kingdoms reached for greatness they’d never dared for, all in the hope of proving worthy. The gods would keep count of deeds, both coin and blood would be weighed and measured. Every player would struggle from start to bitter finish and hope they had done enough. That they had earned the favor of the young gods so they could be declared the victor.
When it was all said and done, we had created the basics of an extremely satisfying board game that made Laruna feel alive and begged players to learn more and become a part of it. We’d get up from the game table and each of us would groan about the dozens of alternative strategies or plans we would have, could have, should have implemented. We’d each retire to our respective homes, minds filled with possibilities, “Next time I’ll play as a Lightbringer” or “I wonder what would have happened if I spent less gold on Command and built better temples instead”. The game was staying with us long after it was over. We were reliving our choices, both those we made and those we did not.
I can’t imagine it being much different for those kings and queens in the throne room. Dreaming of what could have been long after they stepped away from the map filled with toy soldiers.