Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Interviews with Ameri-Titans, Volume 2: Roberto Di Meglio and Francesco Nepitello

For many of us, Roberto Di Meglio and Francesco Nepitello probably need no introduction--they're two of the three designers for Nexus' and Fantasy Flight's massively popular War of the Ring, a game unabashedly old school in its complexity as well as featuring some of the most drop-dead gorgeous components imaginable, rivaling and surpassing the Gamemaster line of the 80s that all of our young eyes glazed over in our youth.



War of the Ring has been a massive success, and currently stands ranked at #14 on Boardgamegeek.com. It was one of the first games I picked up after getting back into the hobby in early 2005, and I was thrilled that Roberto and Francesco agreed to do an interview for us.

So, without further ado...


____________________________________________________



F:AT: First off, thank you Roberto and Francesco for agreeing to do the interview. As is our standard, could you each give us some info on your gaming backgrounds?

Roberto:
Since I was a kid, I had a knack for crafting un-necessary complex rules to play with toy soldiers together with my elder brother, Ugo. So we were in for being easily converted when, after the usual fare of Risk and Monopoly, we were introduced by a friend to our first wargame, AH's "Cesar's Legions", back in 1979 (I was 13 then).



More AH's and SPI's titles followed, then our gaming group was stormed by the arrival of D&D in Italy. Over the year, I mantained my taste for games which are strongly themed and simulation-oriented. Getting older and dumber, I can't manage the monster rulebooks I could when I was young, so I am now drifting towards simpler games, and unavoidably euro/family games - I also have two kids, 9 and 6, to play with!


Francesco:
My gaming background is pretty similar to Roberto's. I also started as many others by playing with my elder brother, Giuliano, who was in charge of running every game we did together, and who compiled notebooks with detailed rules for everything, from toy soldier games to games using lego, and so on (thinking about it, I shall try to dig up those
notebooks, sooner or later...).

With such an approach to games, it was completely natural for us to get involved in simulation games when we first spotted them. So, our parent's house still has shelves full of AH, SPI, GDW and similar brand's titles. Eventually, we got in touch with role-playing games, about when I started to cement my friendship with my current designing partner, Marco Maggi. I think that the love for simulation and rpgs has left a strong interest in blending rules and theme strongly together.



F:AT: How did you come into the world of game design?


Roberto:
From a professional point of view, I started writing "Crom!", one of the earliest gaming fanzines in Italy, in 1987.

I soon "graduated" to founding the first widely circulated gaming magazine in Italy, "Kaos", in 1991. In 1993, Nexus Editrice was founded, initially most to publish our magazine (which we bought from the original publisher) and role-playing games. Working on the magazines, I started creating some small games which were published with the magazine, but I was too deeply involved in being the publisher to properly develop an activity as a designer in the proper sense. Until I got involved with "War of the Ring"...


Francesco:
After a very brief attempt to write (for cinema and novels), me and Marco decided that we could try to apply our love for games to create something. It was probably in the late eighties that the interest in D&D fortuitously put us in touch with Leo Colovini and the studio soon to be known as 'Venice Connection'.

This way, we spent a few years learning about Euro games by masters like Alex Randolph and Dario De Toffoli, discovering a new world made of elegant and concise mechanics. Together with Leo Colovini and Dario De Toffoli we finally debuted in '93 with our first title, 'Lex Arcana', a fantasy rpg set in a fictional Roman Empire that learned to use magic...



F:AT: In a time where many European designers were striving towards cleaner and more simplistic rulesets, you guys obviously came at theme and complex mechanisms with gusto. Was this due to a love for more complex gaming, or a feeling that the games you were working on deserved it? Sort of a "chicken or the egg" type question.


Roberto:
First of all, I approach game design trying to create games which I'd personally like to play. For me, theme and rules must go together, and sometime a little bit of additional complexity may be necessary to recreate the proper atmosphere. I like simple games, but I think you can only go so far in creating a game which is very simple AND thematic.

So the point is trying to get the right balance, without being scared of one rule too much. On top of that, we got to work on licenses, such as Lord of the Rings and Marvel, which had seen lot of simple, "cut-and-paste your mechanic here", games. We wanted to create games which could provide a good experience to fans of these settings, not another mass-market product or euro-style mildly-flavored product.


Francesco:
In general, we start to design a game because we are attracted by a theme, or subject, and we try to portray it in the game as faithfully as possible. If this is compatible with simplicity, the better, but if it's not...



F:AT: In 2004, War of the Ring took the gaming world by storm, becoming a smash success and a favorite of a lot of gamers. How did you guys become involved with that project?


Roberto:
Well, the story has been told a few times. For years, we were just waiting someone to publish a game like War of the Ring, to play it. What was around at the time was not exactly to our taste! Then we waited, and waited, and it did not appear.

So we started thinking how it should be, drafting some rules, and before we knew it, we were designing it. Halfway through, we realized that after all we WERE a games publisher, why don't
try to get the license? And we did, and found out that several other companies were exactly at the same time trying to get the same license...

And in the end the licensee (Sophisticated Games, which holds the master license for LotR board games) decided that our project was the best one.




Francesco:
I remember a trip to Nurnberg when Roberto was showing me and Marco a very first draft of the map for the game, to discuss the set-up of forces. We were very tired, for driving late in the evening, but Roberto was relentless (as he usually is), so we ended up laying the map on a bed
and talked into the night. What is funny that me and Marco were doing it mostly simply to keep Roberto happy, as we were certain that he was delusional in thinking that we could really get the license!





F:AT: It's obvious by your attention to detail that either you're huge Tolkien fans or did a lot of research in the development of the game. Did you have a complexity level in mind when designing it, or did the evolution of the game itself come more naturally?


Roberto:
I think both statements are true for me - I am a huge Tolkien fan (even if I forfeited the History of Middle Earth halfway through the first volume!) but we also did a lot of research and re-read many things.

We can say that the game "evolved" to its current complexity level during the early design stages, then remained more or less stable after that. Initially it was simpler, but gradually we realized that certain things could not be simplified too much or we would lose "realism".

A small example is the "Stop in a Shadow Stronghold rule" when the Fellowship is revealed. This rule is a small additional rule which at one point we added to the design because it was just not right that you could get through Moria without caring too much...


Francesco:
I think that the complexity level of War of the Ring was mostly set by the subject from the very beginning. We knew what we, as fans, would have liked to find opening that box, and we didn't spare ourselves. When we disclosed the design to playtesters, the general consensus told us that we were right, so we only needed to make everything work together.

Sometimes this meant to add new rules, sometimes we were able to simplify, but only when we felt that the 'unity of effect' we sought was being lost in the minutiae.



F:AT: One of the most intriguing mechanisms in the game is the action dice system. How early did this concept enter into the main game?



Roberto:
Since the very beginning. We wanted to limit the choice of players' actions just like many other modern strategy games do, and wanted an original mechanic to create this limitation. The funny thing is that initially I thought of using this system, then I immediately realized that Francesco and Marco were already using an action-dice mechanic in another game we published a few years before: X-Bugs! (X-Bugs is going to be released in a new and improved format this year, under the name originally used in France, "Micro Mutants". )


Francesco:
It's one of the many things we immediately agreed upon, as it was exactly what we were looking for.




F:AT: One thing that was shocking to me was opening that box for the first time and seeing such a lavish production, especially for a game that retailed for $60. What was the secret in getting all those bits in there at a relatively affordable cost?


Roberto:
Two answers: I am very bad in trying to make a profit from our games, and we had a very large initial print run!

Francesco:
Roberto said it best...



F:AT: One of the criticisms of the game was a perceived lack of balance between the sides; this of course makes sense given the story of Tolkien's novels. Did you intentionally set out to portray this imbalance? How did you feel about those criticisms of the game?


Roberto:
A certain level of imbalance was deliberate. The Free Peoples player must suffer and struggle to win, that's just as it should be. And I am still not convinced that the game is imbalanced as some people think...


But I always play to have fun, while clearly some people are really obsessed with finding the "perfect strategy"... Still, apparently they must have fun if they continue to play despite how
imbalanced the game is, isn't it?


In the end, I think that minimal changes may be done by players with house rules if they find that they have a little more imbalance than they are comfortable with. I don't see War of the Ring as a tournament game, but I think that the choice of sides with a bid on corruption is perfectly ok as a balancing system for tournaments, without changing any rules.


Francesco:
The game is asymmetrical, as the conflict in the stories was portrayed as such. Then, when we were balancing the game, making changes that alternately favored the Shadow or the Free People, we felt that we could afford a slight imbalance in favor of the Shadow, as it makes
sense, storywise, while an edge in favor for the Free People would have been less accepted. So, when we found the right mix, we froze it, hoping that the larger number of games played would not uncover weaknesses in the design (something you do for every game you design - you can't
playtest forever). As Roberto said, I think the jury is still out regarding balance, so we don't think the game needs any fixing.



F:AT: The expansion Battles of the Third Age was equally well-received; I had my first chance to try it several weeks ago and was really impressed with how the tweaks to the main game really enhanced it. How did the development of this expansion come about? Did you guys have the idea for the more detailed battle games, and took the opportunity to tweak the base game a bit?


Roberto:
When we first created "War of the Ring", we did not deliberately left anything out for the expansion... So when we decided that doing an expansion was a good idea, given the success of the game, adding a separate game looked like a good idea to make sure that the expansion was interesting. And of course we very much looked forward to re-telling the epic battles for Rohan and Gondor in a game format.





In the end, there was a LOT of work in adding the new "Twilight of the Third Age" rules, and probably they were interesting enough to be an expansion on their own. So, once again... I think that there is enough in Battles of Third Age that other companies would have done 3 products out of it!


Francesco:
With the expansion we had the time to play with new stuff, without the production limits imposed by the basic box (very few, but of course there were limits). So, we could add things we thought could be interesting and fun. Additional miniatures are always fun, and the new
characters and units add simply something more to what we already had. \


I look at the basic game plus expansion as the 'extended edition' of the game. It is a product aimed to the basic game enthusiast, something that you can do without, but that is very fun to add. Moreover, I like very much the operational games, and I look forward expanding that game system to other battles.



F:AT: Marvel Heroes had the unenviable task of being the follow-up to War of the Ring.
How did you guys become involved with the development of that? Are you guys comic fans?



Roberto:
Personally, I took a back seat in this project because I am not a big fan of superhero stories. I've read a few, seen all the movies... But my personal collections of Marvel comics are all non-superhero stories, like Conan and Punisher!


It was very funny how we got the license, because the meeting with Bruno Maglione, at the time president of Marvel International in London, at the Nuremberg Toy fair, really happened at the right moment, and was completely by chance. But when the president of Marvel says, "Well,
you should really do something in this style (pointing at the War of the Ring prototype) for our characters" - you can't really say "I am not interested"!


Francesco:
I have been a comic fan for all my life, switching my interest from character to character, from genre to genre. Currently for example I am a very big Mike Mignola fan, and I really would like to make a good horror Hellboy game, or a horror game featuring Mike Mignola's art (I have a
prototype with his art for a card game in my closet...). So, when Roberto presented us the chance to do a Marvel game, we jumped at the opportunity.



F:AT: Was it your goal to "pull back" from the action in the game, as opposed to a street-level skirmish game? In keeping with the shorter playing time, what sort of abstractions became necessary?



Roberto:
I leave Francesco alone in answering this one!

Francesco:
We wanted to stay away from everything that was already been done about Marvel, so the first choice was to forget the tactical aspect. At the same time, we thought that what interested us in comics was not the fighting aspect, but the storytelling.



So, we thought it was better to take a step back, to look at how the stories came together, composed as mosaics by several fighting scenes and events. The 'bigger scale' enforced many abstractions, like for example tactical movement, and the interaction between large numbers of characters (allies in the game).



F:AT: I think the game is quite fun and captures the spirit of an ongoing comic series very well in a game that plays in 2 hours or less. Are there plans to expand on the game with new teams, villains, and scenarios?


Roberto:
We've lot of ideas, and have the rough plan for the first two expansions. But until we get proper approval from Marvel on these new products, I can't really say anything!



F:AT: Your next release appears to be Age of Conan, a game that many of us are anticipating, but details have been precious and few. Can you give us any Fortress: Ameritrash "exclusive" details about what to expect from that?




Roberto:
We are now getting closer and closer to opening the "beta" testing, so I think we can tell something.

Age of Conan will be a game for 2 to 5 players, with players taking control of a major power of the Hyborian Age: Aquilonia, Nemedia, Turan, Stygia, Hyperborea. As a ruler, you will have two main type of units under your control: armies, which you use to crush your enemy, and emissaries, which you use to create alliances and treaties, or to wrestle the alliances of your opponents.

The game is set between the youth of Conan and the time he becomes king, so this is not really a time for an all-out war, world-conquest style. The nations of Hyboria have their own "agenda" for becoming a stronger power, but none of them is set to conquer the other nations. This is reflected by a dual system, where you can either develop your power through military conquest - but this is of course a bloody and costly effort - or using more subtle and treacherous ways.


We are using many elements of War of the Ring as "building blocks", so people who are familiar with War of the Ring will catch up with Age of Conan fairly easily, but all mechanics have been
re-visited with many original twists.


Francesco:
With Age of Conan, we are trying to blend the adventures of Conan and the political and military efforts of the kingdoms of the Hyborian Age, as we were able to reproduce the progress of the Fellowship and the military events of the Lord of the Rings on the same level in War of the
Ring.
You guide your kingdom's rise to power, as Conan forges his myth across the Hyborian kingdoms. From time to time the two paths cross, as Conan fights in your armies, or raids your subjects. You generally try to benefit from his intervention, but the barbarian is dangerous as a
double-edged sword...



F:AT: What other sorts of games do you guys see yourselves working on in the future? Do you see yourselves wanting to create even more involved designs, or perhaps try lighter fare?

Roberto:
I think that - in the Nexus' catalog of games - War of the Ring will probably remain our most complex game, even if as a company we are working on a project which is quite close in complexity, which is our Battles of Napoleon game system (it's worth noticing that my brother Ugo is involved, so may be all that time spent inventing rules to play with toy figures was not wasted after all...).
Battles of Napoleon will also be close to the heart of Ameritrash fans: big box, lot of figures, good
gameplay, strong coherence with the theme. It is definitely more simulation-oriented than the Commands & Colors system. I think a closer comparison - in style and level of complexity, not in game play - maybe Tide of Iron.

We envision Battles of Napoleon as a series of games, just like we did with Wings of War. Every game will be a stand-alone product but all of them will complement each other. This is a formula which I like lot and I am really surprised it has not been widely copied yet!

Wings of War is also evolving as a miniature game and is absorbing a lot of our energy...

We are also working on lighter projects, however: I designed a game which I took maybe two hours to invent and has one page of rules, which may be played by a 4-years old and which will be our first family games product.
It will also be released by our friends FFG in the USA, which incidentally also did their first family game this year, Penguin... It's called "Rattle Jungle" but I think that in the USA it will be
called "Rattle Snakes" instead. I don't know if I will ever do another game in this style, but it has been a nice change from the year-long agony which is the design of our "big" games.

Next year (2008) Nexus will also start - very carefully! - to do a few more mainstream Euro games... We have to start to compete to win the Spiel des Jahres, you know! Hopefully, however, even here we will try to add some originality to the category.

And then there's Micro Mutants of course...


Francesco:
I like to think that the complexity level of my designs will be always forced upon the game by its theme. And generally, I am attracted by complex stories...

But sometimes it happens that we fall in love with some clever mechanic, as in the case with Micro Mutants, that is basically a dexterity game (think about tiddlywinks with special powered creatures). So, I cannot fairly predict our future design directions.



F:AT: Again, I can't thank you guys enough for doing the interview; you've got a lot of fans on Fortress: Ameritrash, myself included. We're looking forward to more of your
games, keep them coming!


Roberto and Francesco:
Thank you for welcoming us Italians in the Ameritrash category! We
will try to deserve to be here!





(All images used in this article are courtesy of BoardgameGeek.com).

65 comments:

Jan Lucas said...

This double interview was excellent and very informative - War of the Ring, The Age of Conan, etc - Wow! I really liked how the planning and design for WotR was discussed. Great game that I'll play anytime and almsot any place. This was the interview I was waiting for (the only thing I would still be interested in learning more about is WotR deluxe - but I guess that's in the early stages anyhow).

Michael Barnes said...

Holy mackeral! Now _this_ is a great game interview- man hugs all around to the involved parties!

a horror game featuring Mike Mignola's art

Francesco, if you're reading this, know that my darkest prayers are with you...there is that HELLBOY special VERSUS set that came out, but a full-on board game with Mignola art and sculpted pieces would be unbelievably cool.

BTW guys- Italians are always welcome in the hallowed halls of F:AT...I'm Italian (Cavalcanti) and god knows Mr. Skeletor is too, Sicilian I believe.

Ken B. said...

Both Roberto and Francesco promised to check here for feedback, but BGG is down right now so I can't contact them to let them know it's published.

They seemed genuinely interested in hearing from our readers, so let the questions and feedback fly!

hughthehand said...

Pure awesomeness....and I could really care less about the damn game. I don't like the Tolkien novels, which seems odd even to me, since I am a huge fantasy book fan, so WotR has very little chance of me playing it. BUT, just in case, let me ask...

If I do not care for the theme, would I still be able to like playing this game? I'm a strategy euro gamer at heart, and I am curious if the mechanics are engaging enough that I would like it anyway.

Second question, since bgg is down at the moment and I can't research. They mention Wings of War minis...how were these guys involved in that game?

Ken B. said...

I think you would, Hugh, but honestly there is a large amount of thrill involved in being immersed in the theme.

You've got asymmetrical victory conditions (big favorite of mine) competing with each other. The Shadow would like nothing better than to crush everything on the board militarily. If they ignore the Ringbearer, however, their military might will be for naught as the Fellowship dunks the ring.

They want to corrupt or slow down the Ringbearer, but to do so they can only exert very indirect control--devoting precious dice to "The Hunt" and hoping for the best. It's inexact and frustrating for the Shadow, but if they *don't*...well, they often lose.

Contrast that to the Free Peoples: all they want to do is dunk the ring. They'd like to spend every die just racing them to Mount Doom. They have to pace themselves, though, as each subsequent move in the turn grows more and more dangerous (reflecting their moving more and more openly).

Meanwhile, the Shadow is breathing down their necks, destroying the strongholds of Men, Dwarves, and Elves. The Free Peoples would love to be able to stand up to them militarily, but they are limited--their reinforcements are finite, they are hamstrung by the politics of their people, they are ill-prepared initially to withstand the assault.

So while they want to move the Fellowship at Mach 9, if they don't at least try to defend themselves the Shadow will crush the hope of all...and then it is assumed he can turn his focus on the Ringbearer completely, consuming him.


The other two victory conditions keep the other side honest...Corruption win for the Shadow is the result of carelessness by the Free Peoples, and ditto a Military Win by the FP. If the Fellowship moves too quickly regardless of danger, they will take too much corruption and fall. If the Shadow goes all-out militarily and leaves his strongholds undefended, a few Free People's armies can sneak in, claim those fortresses and strongholds and declare victory.


Trust me, the game is *good*. There are tons of licensed Lord of the Rings games out there...and you don't see everyone playing those, despite the license.

It's ranked highly on BGG, and that's a tough, Euro-centric crowd.


I did a lengthy review of it on BGG several months ago, Hugh...you should check it out to see if any of that information helps you. My thoughts are if you can handle the 3-to-4-hour playing time, the game itself is absolutely worth it.

jan lucas said...

For me War of the Ring is one of the current kings of Ameritrash - a game with real depth and class, and I love how all the mechanics interlock as well as the quality of the product. But I'm holding back on buying the expansion in the hopes it will be included with the main game in a deluxe edition being planned. (I'm not a fan of Elvish gold text being used on the new board, BTW, but would buy any pre-painted minis edition of WotR with a slightly improved map - a bit more clarity, more green in the west of the country - plus larger font cards. For that matter I'd be interested if pre-painted minis could beb bought on their own). Question for the designers: any idea when the deluxe version might come out and will it include the expansion? And, as long as we're on the subject of expansions and LotR, any thoughts on creating a hobbit game that would capture the fun of the original book? It would be cool to go right back to the beginning with the dwarves and/or Dale guys having to kick Smaug's scaley tail. Good opportunity for a Heroscape or Descent style dragon)to be included in the minis too!

goldenboat said...

Nice interview.

I would like to have known the degree to which the SPI Lord of the Rings game influenced development of War of the Ring. With their background in wargames of the 1970s and 80s I'd assume there was some connection, and in a lot of ways this new game feels like a redevelopment (and an improvement) on that older design.

Roberto Di Meglio said...

Question for the designers: any idea when the deluxe version might come out and will it include the expansion?

Definitely before the end of the year, or I deserve to be fired from the company!

And, as long as we're on the subject of expansions and LotR, any thoughts on creating a hobbit game that would capture the fun of the original book?...

This is not completely in our control, as it is Sophisticated Games who holds that license. I guess that the near future will bring us more Hobbit games (hopefully good old Peter Jackson will decide to do the movie!) and the credit we got with WotR should at least give us a chance to run for making a Hobbit strategy game (you know, there was a "secret war" going behind the scenes - the Battle of 5 Armies is only really the outcome of that war...)

Roberto Di Meglio said...

Second question, since bgg is down at the moment and I can't research. They mention Wings of War minis...how were these guys involved in that game?

Nexus is the publisher of Wings of War (and Wings of War miniatures).
At the moment, Wings of War is our most important non-licensed line of products.
FFG, which many believe to be the producer of the game in spite of our logo on the lid of each box, is our english-language distributor - other distributors include Ubik for the French, Edge for the Spanish, Mad Man Magic's for the German and ourselves for the Italian edition. We also have a licensee in Russia, Smart/Tehnolog, publishing a local-language version.

Roberto Di Meglio said...

and god knows Mr. Skeletor is too, Sicilian I believe.

Now I understand better why he has such bad temper ;-)

Roberto Di Meglio said...

I would like to have known the degree to which the SPI Lord of the Rings game influenced development of War of the Ring.

All of us played SPI's War of the Ring when it appeared in Italy (in the early eighties). Personally at the time I was excited whenever I got to play. Our taste in boardgames was not exceedingly refined yet (after all we could have fun playing PANZER BLITZ! May you imagine it?).
Unfolding the huge board was really an experience for a Tolkien fan, and there were all these character cards, each with his own drawing, and you could command Riders of Rohan rather than Russian T-34s...
After a while, it was clear that the game was quite broken: the Character game winning strategy was to try to get the Ring to Aragorn, turn him into an unbeatable Nazgul-killing machine, and make sure he came on top in the traditional orgy on top of Mt. Doom were a host of Nazgul was waiting the Fellowship for the final showdown.

The "full" game was not equally broken, still twisted strategies which went strongly out of theme were the norm. And of course by today's standard it would not be such a great game overall, even if it was ok in its own time.

So, definitely there is a legacy of that game in our design - but mostly of things we knew we had to avoid, rather than include. What is perhaps the main similarity between the two games, the concept that the Sauron player must split his attention between the Fellowship and the Military action, is actually a cardinal concept in the story, but it is possible that some influence of Berg's design crept into immediately thinking of making this idea important in our game as well.

BTW I should mention another game which had really little or no influence on the design, but that's in my opinion the best LotR game published before ours - ICE's "Fellowship of the Ring". That game had great concepts, only spoiled - as many ICE games- by an excess of complexity. Trimmed down, it could still be a game good by modern standards. That game handled the victory conditions in a clever way, avoiding the problem with Mt. Doom that the old SPI game had. Even if we handled the problem in a different way, "Fellowship of the Ring" demonstrated that the problem COULD be solved if you considered it from the right perspective.
In our case, the perspective was "well, we can't pretend that the Sauron player does not know - we still want Mt. Doom to be the climax - let's force the Sauron player to act as his "historical" counterpart by denying him a possibility of direct action against the Fellowship".
"Fellowship of the Ring" avoided the problem by a combination of hidden movement and allowing the FP player to win by reaching quickly a number of destinations which were "close" to Mordor, allowing for a variety of routes to victory.

Pat H said...

Now that was one fine interview Ken - backslaps to you.

I damn near pissed myself when you mentioned your next project being “Battles of Napoleon”, this is a subject that requires proper treatment and if you are designing this in the same vein as TOI to reach out to the grogs and AT gamer then you are right on target. I am eagerly awaiting this title from here on in.

Very informative read, I should have known "Barnesenisi" was Itialian.

All hail Panzerblitz.

Michael Barnes said...

Agreed with PatH- ToI has _finally_ provided an accessible, fun, and heavily thematic broadbrush WW2 style game to the larger gaming world and I'd love to see BATTLES OF NAPOLEON follow in that same vein in terms of presenting a very specific, evocative game that illustrates the essential details without drowning in minutiae. As much as I love BONAPARTE AT MARENGO, there's still a level of esotericism that really keeps it from reaching outside of typical wargame bounds. I can't wait to see what you guys do with the production- bring us all the pageantry, Austrians in white uniforms, and feathers represented in plastic minis!

AGE OF CONAN is a no-brainer...I believe it's actually already one of the canonical AT games if only because it's Conan.

neonpeon said...

Nice. Thanks Ken!

You know, I have yet to play this game... [hangs head in shame]

the red phantom said...

Goddam splendid interview! Conan AND Battles of Napoleon? Sweet mother of all things AT! I might expire right here and now!

Hugh, there are some issues with WotR, mainly with rules, fig/board space, and game length, but it's already a classic. I don't think you'd be disappointed.

Bravo Ken!

goldenboat said...

Thanks for the response regarding elements of influence from earlier Tolkien games -- excellent insight.

Roberto said...

Well, I guess I have to tell you more regarding Battles of Napoleon, then. This is a total preview, exclusive for Fortress: Ameritrash!
I really hope Battles of Napoleon will hit the same "soft spot" in old grognards' hearts that ToI did. It's funny that Nexus and FFG, about 2 years ago, both decided to do an "ameritrash" style game with historical settings, and fortunately we decided to go into two different periods (when we found out about each other project would have been too late!).
We plan Battles of Napoleon to be a game series, in a similar sense to Wings of War, but with each set being a big box full of figures rather than a small box full of cards like a Wings of War box.
The first game in the series is called "The Eagle and the Lion" and focuses on the French and British armies. Scenarios included feature the Peninsular War, Maida, and battles from the Waterloo campaign.
The scale of the game is such that a small battle (such as Maida or Salamanca)or a portion of a large battle, may be played in one scenario. However I am sure that at some point there will be somebody joining boards, sets and figures to play large battles such as Waterloo or Austerlitz... The second game will bring us Austrians (and more French!), the third game should include Russians (and more French!)... In between the various games, we are likely to release smaller expansions.
The game system includes most of the elements which fans of the period will be accustomed to: formations, orders, chain of commands. However all is made to flow in a very smooth way, and very "visual", like in a miniature wargame, so the game should be much more accessible to newbies.
We have a card system which enables us to include some of the finer points of the simulation without additional rules: for example, there are cards which may boost the fire capabilities of the English Infantry, and cards which may boost the maneuver capability of the French Infantry, to represent the different strengths of these troops without adding more rules.
We also have a very nice "variable CRT" system, which essentially provide us with a 2-dimensional matrix of results based on a die roll and a card draw.
Last but not least, the art is going to be just great (we got the first pieces of art and they are gorgeous, with a very strong "period" feel), and the figures are 1/72 scale, based on some of the latest releases by Italeri (and some as yet unreleased figures, realized first for this game).

Ken B. said...

I've gotta say, that sounds pretty amazing. Add that to the list with Age of Conan, for me.

Further proof that "Ameritrash" is a state of mind rather than descriptive of locality--Nexus really seem to have the finger on the pulse of the kind of games we're looking for.

European, German, and Italian designers are taking their innovations of gameplay and melding them with American-style themes, aesthetics, and mechanics. Pretty heady stuff, and a great time to be a gamer and a fan of this genre of gaming.

Muzza said...

Oh fer F*cks sake!

I've just spent the last 3 weekends trying to shoe-horn the game collection into my office to make way for the new baby and now I find out I've gotta buy a pile of Napoleon games and a Conan game... at the very least. Where am I going to put em all? Adoption may be the only solution.

Bloody brilliant interview. I love to take a peek inside the minds of such clever creatives. Bravo, keep up the excellent work.

Mr Skeletor said...

Roberto Di Meglio said...

and god knows Mr. Skeletor is too, Sicilian I believe.

Now I understand better why he has such bad temper ;-)


Oi, watch it you!

Glad to hear that there are some marvel hero expansions on the drawing board - I was a bit disappointed in that game, there is nothing wrong with it per say but there just doesn't seem to be enough going on. An expansion will hopefull give the game the extra level of complication i think it needs.

Love the approach to age of Conan.

Russ Fade said...

GREAT INTERVIEW!!

I was already interested in Age of Conan for the simple fact that, Hey, it's CONAN! I had no idea this allstar team was behind it. It sounds truly fantastic and I'm literally *drooling* now.

I just played my second game of War of the Ring and loved it. I think it's definately tilted against the Free but I wouldn't have it any other way. I felt like I was living a "what if" version of the novels. If I want to play a perfectly balanced "tournament" game, I'll pull out my chess set. WotR should be played as an experience and not a test of skill. Sure, skill helps a ton, but if bragging rights and an inflated sense of self-worth because YOU WON are all you're after, find another game.

I hate to say it, but despite being a comics fan, an AT fan, and a Euro fan, Marvel Heroes was a miss for me (yet I'm convinced I was your target audience). I appreciate what it tried to do, but in the end, I just felt I was modifiying dice rolls for 2 hours. I'm not sure what it is missing for me. I wonder if any expansions are planned? I think there is a salvageable game here waiting for an expansion but . . . oh geez, we'll have to listen to the BGG crowd drone on and on about "another FFG patch" if you guys ever do make an expansion for this one. It's an OK game.

Pat H said...

This has truly been a great scoop. I have always been a fan of a smooth CRT, and 1/72 scale figs. I can hardly wait.

Roberto, don't be shy to drop additional scoops down the road as you have an eager audience. Keep up the fine work.

Michael Barnes said...

WOW...just that little bit of information makes BATTLES OF NAPOLEON one the games I'm most looking forward to in the near future- that sounds like a really novel approach.

You guys really need to pick up the pace here, I for one would like to see a new Nexus game once every two months or so...back to work you, quit killin' time on F:AT!

gary sax said...

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the red phantom said...

ToI has _finally_ provided an accessible, fun, and heavily thematic broadbrush WW2 style game to the larger gaming world

I just don't get this. Were A&A, Memoir '44, CC:E and A&A:M never published??? ToI complements and adds to, but it does not provide, unless all these previous games are to be stricken from the record.

The Battles of Napoleon description sounds like absolute gaming nirvana, and as Ken said is right on the pulse of what the gaming community might want.

Lordy! Not even all the Valley Games reprints got me so excited!

alan polak said...

Great interview. War of the Ring is the game that took me away from miniature wargaming and into boardgaming. Big fan of the books and I think one of the many strengths of this game is that so much of the book is in the game. It _is_ like someone said, like playing a giant what if. Brilliant. Conan sounds fantastic. As soon as I heard it was coming I watched the film again. Music stuck in my head as I type this. I agree though on Marvel Heroes. I feel I'm missing something but I dont know what it is......

J de said...

WotR is a game that defies Euro or Ameritrash classification and I find it silly that people still try to claim it for either. It's just the best game to have come out in the last couple of years.

Too bad Battles of Napoleon will be a board game. We could do with these guys' approach in tabletop games, getting away from the old fashioned: move-fire-melee-test sequence. It's good to know that Nexus are miniature gamers as well, so maybe that's a project for the future...

I will be looking forward to it nevertheless. This way I can draw some of my boardgaming friends into Napoleonics. :)

Age of Conan seems to promise a very good game will surely be on my to have list.

Excellent interview!

Roberto said...

Too bad Battles of Napoleon will be a board game. We could do with these guys' approach in tabletop games, getting away from the old fashioned: move-fire-melee-test sequence. It's good to know that Nexus are miniature gamers as well, so maybe that's a project for the future...

Well, given the nature of the game I would not think that "porting" the rules of Battles of Napoleon to tabletop wargaming would be an impossible task. Of course big hexes (funny how hexes became fashionable again but only if big!) are easy to use than rulers, turning templates and the such, but I don't see why you could not play the game on an open table with terrain elements if you wish.

Michael Barnes said...

I just don't get this. Were A&A, Memoir '44, CC:E and A&A:M never published??? ToI complements and adds to, but it does not provide, unless all these previous games are to be stricken from the record.

Red, do you have to hijack this thread with the usual "I disagree with everything Barnes says" rhetoric? Hell, I'll bite anyway...

A&A- grand strategic game, TOI is squad level
M44- "family" game without nearly the flexibility or detail as TOI
CC:E- Great game, but still practically inaccessible to anyone with out the grognard gene
A&A:M- bad distribution, more miniatures oriented, no board game elements

TOI is something very novel, while also offering the best of wargames and boardgames.

BACK TO NEXUS, where this thread belongs...do you guys think, like I do, that very high quality licensed games like WotR, MARVEL HEROES, and AGE OF CONAN are one of the most signficant developments in game design in recent years? It used to be that "licensed game" was practically a bad word, almost always meaning some mass-market game with movie still cards. I think games like Knizia's LotR and QUEEN'S GAMBIT really set the stage for some of the great licensed titles we're seeing now. Is Nexus pursuing any other licenses (that it can talk about)?

Pat H said...

I'm still unconvinced on the licensed games. The payoff is not great enough to continue with the garbage that is pumped out. Perhaps one good title to every shite 4. I am more into originality rather than trying to cash in on the childhoods of 40 year old men. This is not to say that I don't enjoy a good LOTR game but with so many licensed titles coming out it smacks of unoriginality. I know you can draw a similarity to history but there is much more room to work with as the story lines of reality are much less rigid.

War of the Ring is a good example of a good go at it due to the asymmetrical imbalance which stays true to the theme, much like any "lost cause" war simulation where it's just fun playing out the last days as the defenders of a hopeless situation.

For me personally though I can't wrap my head around the arguments of "well in the movie "this" happens so why did they modify "that" to achieve balance" kind of crap. The discussions are all rather shallow and wind up as "Starscream pwns Destro".

I'm more into original fiction in boardgames personally - historical games aside.

Good examples of original fiction are Warhammer & Tannhauser. Then there are the general theme games that tie into any number of licenses like giant monsters and zombies which provide a little more leeway and creative license.

Roberto said...

BACK TO NEXUS, where this thread belongs...do you guys think, like I do, that very high quality licensed games like WotR, MARVEL HEROES, and AGE OF CONAN are one of the most signficant developments in game design in recent years? It used to be that "licensed game" was practically a bad word, almost always meaning some mass-market game with movie still cards.
I think games like Knizia's LotR and QUEEN'S GAMBIT really set the stage for some of the great licensed titles we're seeing now.


Yes, things have been changing in this area, and definitely the trendsetter were some of the LotR boardgames, plus some collectible games.

The problem we also realized that to do the type of things we are doing now (and that other folk, such as FFG, has also been doing), is that you need a strong, durable license. Developing a new game, tailored on the license, takes a lot of time, and most licenses just do not last. How many people would be interested in a "Shrek" game two years from now, for example?

Such licenses are very rare indeed...


Is Nexus pursuing any other licenses (that it can talk about)?

At the moment, we are looking at getting out what we haven't yet, reinforce our licenses, and develop our own properties.
This means we want to do more products (games, expansions) set in the LotR universe: the Collector's Edition, a 2nd expansion to WotR, maybe at least one new game if we get an agreement with Sophisticated.
With Marvel, we are negotiating extensions to our board game license; same with Conan Properties. There is still a lot to do with these licenses.
Then we've got Wings of War, Battles of Napoleon, and other ideas... We're a small company, and at this moment this is more than enough. If some of these projects should not happen for whatever reason, we would probably go for different "brands" to license, but given that in 2007 our most successful products is Wings of War Miniatures, I don't think we have to get a license necessarily to develop our business.

Ken B. said...

I think games like Knizia's LotR and QUEEN'S GAMBIT really set the stage for some of the great licensed titles we're seeing now.


Man, you have no idea how much that statement rings true for me.

I remember seeing both Knizia's LOTR and Star Wars: TQG at a game shop. All I could think about was how terrible licensed games were and how I wasn't about to pay the $$$ to get these games and be disappointed AGAIN.

Long story short I find out much later that these are great, great games..."10s" for me, in fact...and I had passed up the chance to get them. Knizia's LOTR was on clearance at KB Toys for $15 and I couldn't be bothered to pick it up then, and TQG was marked down to $40 at the local shop and I still passed on it.

Fortunately for me, a friend of mine had taken a chance on Epic Duels and told me it was a great game...and I myself had been pleasantly surprised with Clash of the Lightsabers that I'd picked up for a few bucks. So I bought Epic Duels from K-Mart on clearance, found out it WAS great...

Which had me going..."surely there are more great games like this!" Then I read about Queen's Gambit...hey, I remember that game! Wait, this game is GOOD?! Crap! Then I end up paying twice what I could've gotten it for earlier...and that was after a LONG chase to get it.

For LOTR I got lucky a traded an extra copy of Epic Duels that I'd bought and got the whole LOTR set (base game, F&F, Sauron). So all's well that ends well.


But getting back into the hobby I find out about this incredible game called...War of the Ring. I just couldn't believe they even made games like this, this was too good to be true...so I devour endless hours reading session reports and looking at rules summaries...then I was all in. I wasn't making that mistake twice.


That's not to say that the trend is really reversed, I don't think. Plenty of licensed junk still gets released every year; just check Wal-Mart for proof of that. The difference is that a *great* licensed game like WotR can now get published and word can spread among hobbyists that yeah, this is a great game, pick it up.

Meaning that a team of designers can really put their heart and soul into a licensed game like this and be confident that word on the quality of the game will spread.

I've said it many times, but THIS is the golden era of boardgaming. Absolutely, positively.

simon said...

First of, great interview!

Michael Barnes: Agreed with PatH- ToI has _finally_ provided an accessible, fun, and heavily thematic broadbrush WW2 style game to the larger gaming world and I'd love to see BATTLES OF NAPOLEON follow in that same vein in terms of presenting a very specific, evocative game that illustrates the essential details without drowning in minutiae.

Agreed, but I hope you don't make the same mistake with Battles of Napoleon in making it 2-players only.

Pat H said...

I think the number of player is entirely scale dependant. Unless you can realistically deploy more than two armies in a tactical environment repeatedly then you are stuck with the 2, 4 player split. Only 40k and fantasy games can really get away with more than two forces deployed in the given scale.

Historically it is improbable and unlikely to have two armies operating so close. Commando raids etc... for one off battles maybe.

Michael Barnes said...

That's really a great point, Roberto- most licenses don't have a timeless, evergreen quality like LotR or Marvel Comics. Or Conan for that matter. You guys are really fortunate to have licenses like that, I think the timeless quality of them is one of the primary things that sets them apart from flash-in-the-pan, fad licenses.

But you know, it's interesting that we're seeing some great games these days based on video games...back in the 80s, we had all those abominations like ZAXXON: THE BOARD GAME or PAC MAN: THE BOARD GAME...interesting reversal of fortune there.

I do agree with PatH that I like to see new stories, new concepts, and new game themes but I do really like licensed games, and I think they're extremely important for the hobby. I've sold WAR OF THE RING, a pretty complex and fairly daunting war game, to a lot of people who've never played any other board games. I've seen comics fans pick up MARVEL HEROES solely because they love the characters. Familiar, recognizable stories and characters matched with highly thematic mechanics is an ideal way to get new gamers into the hobby or to generate sales.

How could we have not brought up DUNE yet? Now _that's_ a license...not just the AH game, but also the novels...there's so much game material in there it's ridiculous. I'd love to see Nexus take on a new DUNE game!

Pat H said...

You can in a Napoleonic setting portray large battles with allies however the scale starts to get really big. I would love to fight out Borodino but the scale would not be the same as TOI, nonetheless you have a multitude of player options with the only factor being where do you stop? You have Poles, Russians, French, Italians etc... You would in fact be dealing with thousands of men rather than localized engagements like TOI where the men number over 2-300 deployed.

Let the speculation begin!

the red phantom said...

Red, do you have to hijack this thread with the usual "I disagree with everything Barnes says" rhetoric? Hell, I'll bite anyway...

Hey, who's hijacking? I just thought you didn't give the aforementioned AT games their due. I also think it's FAR too early and too few games played to make such bold statements about ToI unless, of course, you've playtested it or played it non-stop since it shipped.

Now I think you will be proved correct, as you are usually, but I still think it's too early. And I'm not always disagreeing with you, I just thought this was a forum where we could air slight differences, unlike somewhere else. Is that not true?

Re-orienting the thread back to its correct vector, I must admit some suspicion with licensed games but the Nexus products, WotR especially, have been very high quality. MH was a miss for me, but an innovative, daring miss. I really look foward to Nexus' next. And yes, wouldn't Dune just be awesome?

Michael Barnes said...

Alright Red...just meet me out at the flagpole, 3:15.

I have played TOI almost exclusively since it shipped...I've got 6 games under the belt and I'll have a 7th tonight. I feel safe in my comments on it, having played enough and seen enough games come and go to be secure with an admittedly high opinion given the relative newness of the game.

Back to Nexus once again...

Red said something that I've not heard yet- that MARVEL HEROES was a "daring" game. I think that's actually a pretty good way to put it. I don't think the game was entirely successful (although it's good) but it did have a certain sense of taking a few chances in design. That being said, my biggest disappointment was that it followed the basic template for superhero games a little too closely...if anything, I kind of felt like the "daringness" was in being more old-school in a lot of ways then we expected from the WotR team.

I'm telling y'all...the GW JUDGE DREDD game is the template by which all other superhero games are built...

Ken B. said...

Oh yeah? Then explain SUPER DECK.

Francesco Nepitello said...

I'm back from Spain, and my souvenir of choice was the awesome Hellboy Animated 3-figures set, so my mood is the right one to say that I would design a Hellboy game as soon as somebody convinces Roberto to buy the rights, or at least to pay Mignola to do what he does best, drawing monsters for a horor game!

Thinking about all things Ameritrash, I think that a Lankhmar fantasy game with Mignola art would be another fan-favorite.

Francesco

Ken B. said...

Francesco, my wallet is asking you NOT to make a Hellboy game.

I just realized that of the stuff I'm most excited about coming down the pipe, it's Nexus stuff, with the exception of Starcraft and Marvel Heroscape. You guys are on to something.

Michael Barnes said...

Lahnkmar? Hellboy? Francesco, get off line and start designing, man!

the red phantom said...

so my mood is the right one to say that I would design a Hellboy game as soon as somebody convinces Roberto to buy the rights, or at least to pay Mignola to do what he does best, drawing monsters for a horor game!

Thinking about all things Ameritrash, I think that a Lankhmar fantasy game with Mignola art would be another fan-favorite.


Mignola? Hellboy? Lankhmar? Mommy, I think I just wet myself!

Now I can't meet Barnes out by the flagpole! But let's just agree to make the Hellboy game better than the movie, OK?

Has Mingola "designed" a game before? What a coup that would be!

ubarose said...

*swoon* Excellent interview, plus men whose names end in an o.

MARVEL HEROES has become one of our favorite games. It took a while. It it has a learning curve. But is has grown on me. It gives me the same happy that I get from playing MONSTERS MENACE AMERICA, but better.

Mr Skeletor said...

I'm more into original fiction in boardgames personally - historical games aside.

Fucking A pat. I'd be more excited about the upcoming FFG games if they were developing their own settings rather than Blizzards.

That being said Francesco / Roberto, don't worry about boring old Hellboy and make me a Masters of the Universe game, pronto! If you start now it will be ready by the time the inevitable movie comes out.

Roberto said...

That being said Francesco / Roberto, don't worry about boring old Hellboy and make me a Masters of the Universe game, pronto!


I guess that property is a little too much in Hasbro's baneyard, and looking at recent news it looks like WB is going to do a movie quite soon, so it's already too late anyway!

But please please don't try to make Francesco too enthusiastic about designing Mignola-based games or he will stop working on Conan and we'll never be done with it!!! ;-)

Mr Skeletor said...



I guess that property is a little too much in Hasbro's baneyard, and looking at recent news it looks like WB is going to do a movie quite soon, so it's already too late anyway!


Actually the property is owned by Mattel, not Hasbro.
Have Mattel ever made a good board game in their life? =(

He-man was always supposed to be a Conan Rip-off, so I guess I could just put some lasers into Age of Conan or something... *sigh*

Shellhead said...

I'm thrilled to hear about these projects in development, especially Hellboy.

But I was surprised to see the Lankhmar reference. I love the adventures of Fahfrd and the Gray Mouser, but they have gotten such limited exposure outside of the original books. In the old Conan comics, Roy Thomas wrote a scene where Conan easily defeats a pair of rogues who strongly resemble Fahfrd & the Gray Mouser. In fact, I think his Fahfrd-analogue, Fafnir, came back for a later guest shot. DC had a Fahfrd & the Gray Mouser comic that lasted for a short time in the early 70s, and then also featured them in a bizarre team-up with Wonder Woman and Catwoman:

www.fanzing.com/mag/fanzing37/feature7.shtml

And TSR had an old boardgame, then some later rpg stuff for D&D. But no movies, no tv show, no love for two great swashbuckling characters.

So I would love to see a Lankhmar boardgame get published. And if somebody ever wants to tackle the ultimate game design challenge, Roger Zelazny's Amber series is just begging for a card game and/or board game adaptation.

Roberto said...


I'm thrilled to hear about these projects in development, especially Hellboy.

But I was surprised to see the Lankhmar reference.


Nonono! These projects are NOT in development. Francesco just mentioned them as games he would LIKE to design (I think more because of Mignola than the subject matter!).
Nexus does not hold the license to such properties, and we don't foresee us aquiring such licenses in the near future, as we are not even negotiating them.

Ken B. said...

Ha! Roberto, the cat's out of the bag, no turning back now!

You've got to march in there and GET those rights! The fans have demanded it!

:))


Seriously, consider this free market research...maybe sometime down the road this would possibly be a project worth pursuing.


But yeah, we need to get Conan in our grubby little paws first before we can make big dreams about the future...

Roberto said...

On an almost completely unrelated matter, I posted on BGG the first images of the Collector's Edition. Mike will forgive me, but I've no idea how I could post images here (I guess I can't!).

Mr Skeletor said...

I don't think you can.
The piece looks good!

Anonymous said...

A good friend of mine and I used to play Fellowship of the Ring in late night marathon sessions. The rules were so hideous we changed the game's name to Knife Fight.

But it was great fun to play once we'd interpreted the rules to our satisfaction.

Roberto Iza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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