Monday, March 10, 2014

Interview with 'Fireteam Zero' Creator Mike Langlois

Today in The Cube:

Unless you've been under a rock the last week or so, you know that Fireteam Zero (or FTZ for short) is one of the hottest tabletop gaming projects on Kickstarter. As of this writing, the project, which had a goal of $50,000, has earned nearly $164,000 from approximately 600 backers, and it's made the "Hotness" listing on the seminal tabletop website, BoardGameGeek. The stretch goals are rolling along as well, with some sweet add-ons to the game.

Here's the skinny on FTZ: in 1942, soldiers have been recruited for a secretive strike force that tracks down ancient, corrupting artifacts and the creatures that serve them. They are Fireteam Zero. Assisted by psychics and other occult specialists, they traverse the globe putting down the eldritch menaces where they live. (The game is based on the 'Emergent Earth' novels of Mike Langlois – so if you want to get the lowdown on the universe, check them out on Amazon!)

As a co-op miniatures game for 2-4 players, you can play as one of four different soldiers, everything from a sharp-shooter to a knife-wielding close-combat expert. And the enemies, hideous (and, often, BIG) as they are, aren't pushovers – the longer you take to knock them out, the more there are of them, and the more daunting they become as adversaries. The game (and its three expansions) plays a series of Operations, each with three missions, or acts – and at the end of the final stage is a terrifying boss. You have to (literally) play your cards right to survive. And if you don't... the world goes down in darkness. No pressure! There's a neat aura of adventure around the game, combining the best elements of great films and comics like Raiders of the Lost ArkHellboy, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

(Lady gamers take note: FTZ comes with one variant female core Hero figure, and you can add on a full set of female Heroes if you'd like! The designers are making lots of effort to be inclusive and are good at listening to comments on the Kickstarter page).

While I featured the game in a recent post here on SuperPopCultureCube, I wanted to get a better feel for what makes it tick, and what might be next for the Emergent Games team (along with Mike Langlois, FTZ is designed by Christian Leonhard of Founding Fathers fame, and Gary Simpson, who worked on Summoner Wars and the Call of Cthulhu card game, among others). I was lucky enough to snag an interview with Langlois and pick his brain about FTZ's past, present and future...

SuperPopCultureCube: Where did you get the inspiration to adapt the universe of your Emergent Earth novels to a tabletop game?

Mike Langlois: I've always been a huge tabletop gamer, so it was always in the back of my mind when writing the novels. As anyone who has spent a lot of time worldbuilding for a book or a series can tell you, it's never far from your mind when doing other things (this would be a great game/movie/line of cupcakes...). When Christian, Gary, and I started seriously talking about starting a game company, it seemed like a natural fit and gave us a huge repository of lore and backstory to work with.  

SPCC: What was the process of creating the game like?

ML: Long and busy. We divided up the labor to be as efficient as possible, but really, there's no part of the game that hasn't been touched by all of us. We use shared design documents for most things, which allows us to go from idea brainstorming to beta testing to integration with the final ruleset pretty easily. We also get a ton of great feedback from our playtesters, who were indispensable for finding and fixing bugs and coming up with great suggestions based on their experiences. It's been a great learning experience for me (Christian and Gary are already old pros at this) and honestly the whole process was a lot of fun.

SPCC: What do you think sets Fireteam Zero apart from other games?

ML: Two things: immersion and tactical depth. For immersion, all of our Operations have a plot, which is revealed in three missions, called Acts. The characters have a backstory and a distinct personality, and there are cool mission briefings and after-action reports for every mission that provide lots of context and atmosphere. In the case of tactical depth, we go way beyond the usual mechanics of heroes moving and hitting things. The Reaction system allows the players to actively support each other in both offensive and defensive ways, not to mention the Tactical Response mechanic that allows the players to have a huge impact on the board at the start of each round. The system is very easy to use and intuitive, but also provides the kind of tactical depth that is usually reserved for tabletop skirmish and war games. 

SPCC: Kickstarter seems to be a popular venue for the funding of gaming projects. What drew the Fireteam Zero team to Kickstarter?

ML: There was no doubt in our minds that Kickstarter was the way to go. The board game community has rallied strongly around Kickstarter as a platform and it gave us a great chance to involve them directly in the rollout of the game. We get to provide extra rewards for helping us make the game and at the same time Kickstarter itself provides a huge amount of visibility that we otherwise may not have gotten. 

SPCC: With Fireteam Zero funded, what are the next steps once the Kickstarter ends? Are there any plans for further new projects from Emergent Games?

ML: Absolutely!  FTZ is our launch product and we're very proud of it, but it's only the first.  Our goal is to continue to create and deliver games in the long term. We hope to build a solid reputation of quality gameplay, not gimmicks, and first rate community involvement. Our open source board gaming initiative is an example of that kind of community partnership. 

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