Big thanks to Shawn Marshall for another kick ass article! Follow him on twitter as @the_con_influence.
2010 and 2011 have been dominated by Robert Kirkman and his minion of The Walking Dead. All of the pieces for a pop-culture kingdom are coming together. A dominating, on-going comic that is only getting better with age? Check (did you read issue #83?). Blockbuster television adaptation? Check (Who would you rather have overseeing it than Kirkman himself?). Action figure line? Check (Can you think of a company better than McFarlane to handle this license?). So, what’s left? A ROLE-PLAYING GAME!
Recently I was fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down for an interview with the creators of the board game that’s about to bring Rick Grimes and his crew to your living room in a whole new way. Brian David-Marshall and Keith Tralins, the hearts and minds of this adaptation agreed to give me some exclusive spoilers for the game that is about to help us all get a lot closer to Lori, Andrea, Carl, Glenn and the rest of The Walking Dead crew.
SM: First off, thank you for your time. With the release of this game coming up so quickly, this must be a hectic time. Could you take us through the process of what it has taken to make this game a reality? What was the process of getting the license and then taking it to production?
KT: It’s been a long process! We started with this game because we were fans of the comic book; the TV show wasn’t on our radar yet. The process began by asking the same question that probably everyone who reads the comic asks themselves: if I was in Rick’s shoes, what would I do to survive and protect my family? That central question really drove the overall game design concept. At that point, it was a matter of sitting down with the folks at Skybound and showing them the game, letting them see that our passion for creating a little slice of that world as a game was faithful to everything Mssrs. Kirkman and Adlard had created. Once they approved the gameplay, production became a truly wonderful back-and-forth experience, designing the game to look and feel like you really were inNorth Georgiaafter the zombiepocalypse. And a lot of great images directly from the comics.
BDM: Everyone involved with the project are fans of the comic going all the way back to the single digit issues of the floppies. Our goal right from the outset was not to create a zombie game; rather to create a game experience that was faithful to the world Robert Kirkman had dreamt up. A great example of this was how we approached gunfire in the game — firing a gun should be a last resort that can have extremely dire consequences when you are trying to bring your friends and family to safety without attracting any undue undead attention.
SM: Obviously, The Walking Dead has been an incredible success. That being said, what is it that you think it is that makes it of such interest to popular culture today? What elements of this success do you think best translate to your game?
KT: To us, The Walking Dead really is a story of a tiny community having to find a way to survive in an ultra harsh world, and I think that really resonates with people these days. Robert Kirkman’s characters are so fully realized, their truths and perspectives so accessible and identifiable, I think it’s very easy for readers to jump in and identify with a character and their situation. That was what we set out to really recreate in the game: it’s the player vs. the world, and when they’re not running from the zombie hordes, they’re going to run into other players…can they trust them to survive? I think the game really captures that fight-or-flight, can-I-trust-my-neighbor mentality.
BDM: Like Keith said earlier, everyone who has read the comic has no doubt imagined what they would do if they found themselves in Rick’s shoes — or any of the characters’ footwear for that matter. We wanted to give players as many opportunities as possible to make as many of those decisions as we could squeeze in there. Would you trust another group of survivors if you crossed paths with them? Would they trust you?
SM: Although the comic has been an unrivaled success for the zombie genre, many new fans have come aboard in the last year with the notoriety of AMC’s television version. How do you think the gaming experience is different for fans that follow the comic versus those that only watch the show?
KT: We were focused on the comic book, but I think the story still remains the same at its core. Hopefully new fans have also accessed the comic books, and if they haven’t, maybe this will help get them to do so. The gaming experience will be different for those who haven’t read the comic book only in that we are really exploring the first 12 issues (so far), which goes further than the TV show has gone. There are going to be new characters for them to discover, new events. New details…it will make the whole Walking Dead experience that much richer.
SM: The trends in the board game industry seem to share a prevailing sense that they are making a comeback in popularity. Why do you think this is the case? Furthermore, what is it about this particular game that embodies this trend?
BDM: Games are a great social experience that allows people a unique glimpse into how players react in situations that you would not normally get to witness. That’s what so special about this game experience — seeing how your friends will interact in this dangerous new world. Players can choose to be cooperative, combative, downright deceptive or even trigger-happy. Players can choose to play this as a winner-take-all scenario or can make it easier on — or even just team-up — the other players in their quest for safety.
KT: Board games are just better today. Thanks to board game innovators and an unbelievable community, especially inGermanyspecifically andEuropeas a whole, the entire experience of playing a board game has shifted from this winner-take-all attitude to a shared, common experience. We’ve all been in that Monopoly experience where you’re sitting around for an hour while your brother and sister fight over who should be able to buy Baltic Avenue, and those experiences just aren’t as fulfilling as what’s out there today. There are so many games where you don’t know who is going to win until the last turn, and everyone’s still fully engaged and having a blast. Designers like Matt Leacock have definitely had an influence on this game; it’s about the dual communal experience of playing a game and working together to survive.
I also think that as more and more of our lives are spent isolated in front of a video monitor, emailing and texting and Tweeting, we hunger for that true, face-to-face group interaction. Games today provide that experience, and we were very aware that this was an important element in our game. It’s a big deal when people who have been wandering around alone finally land in the same space.
SM: Okay, now that we’ve covered some of the more philosophical components of the game and the industry, let’s get to some of the mechanics. How would you best describe the game playing experience for our readers? What are the goals of the game? What choices does the player make? How much of the game is based on luck and how much is skill? What other board game will this most remind people of? Who do you picture as the typical player of this game?
BDM: To me the typical player of this game is someone who has devoured the comic books — and I see people on the subway, airplanes, and just about everywhere reading the floppies and the collections — and wants to immerse themselves in world and find out what they would do in the shoes of the survivors they have read about for all these years.
KT: The game playing experience is all about surviving. It’s not about just blasting away at zombies and seeing how many you can kill; that’s a lot of fun, but there are plenty of great games out there that already do that, both on boards and on consoles. The goal of this game is to scout locations until you find a safe one to survive within and try to survive. Readers of the comic books will recognize this ongoing goal. Players will begin as one of six main characters, and will randomly be assigned a fellow survivor as a companion. The players will have limited information about where possible safe havens are, and what it takes to scout them successfully. Players will decide where they want to go; what resources they want to try to collect to help them on their way; when to fight zombies and when to run; and if it makes sense to try to strengthen their numbers with other players. There’s a good blend of skill and luck, as players have lots of decision points but events are drawn randomly from a deck, and how those events are resolved with our custom dice. Fans of The Walking Dead, fans of zombie anything, fans of strategy games, fans of cooperative games and fans of role-playing games will all have a blast with this. And the game can even be played solo!
SM: Having covered the particulars of the game, it seems lie we should focus on the future. So, where do you go from here in the distribution and promotion of the game? Will it have a presence at San Diego Comic-Con or any other media events? Where and when should we look for the game?
KT: We’ll be announcing the game’s availability next week, along with our plans for San Diego Comic Con and GenCon. We’ll be doing in-store events where we can, so we may be at a game store near you…
SM: In closing, are there any other specific items you’d like to discuss related to the game?
KT: Just that you can find out more about the game at www.WalkingDeadBoardGame.com, I’ll be tweeting about the game @WalkingDeadBG, and our Facebook page is facebook.com/TheWalkingDeadBoardGame. Come check us out!
In addition to the interview, Brian and Keith also allowed us a first look at three of their game cards.
Don’t these look amazing?!?! They have managed to get someone who hasn’t bought a game in years (me!) to get really excited about gaming again. The passion of these individuals to see The Walking Dead done right is infectious and, in short, I can’t wait to get my hands on this! Make sure to take some time to follow these guys and support their endeavor to make Kirkman’s world an immersive experience that we can all share in.