From the Screen to the Board, Part I

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As a longtime fan of the Warcraft video game series, I was extremely excited when Chris offered me the chance to design a board game based on it. I mean, who wouldn’t want the opportunity to bring the Orcish Horde, the Human Alliance, the Undead Scourge, and the Night Elf Sentinels to the tabletop?

Of course, converting a video game to a board game isn’t as easy as you might think. There are a lot of variables and rules that the computer takes care of for you when you play a video game, so a straight conversion is just going to produce an extremely complicated board game that takes hours and hours to play. Instead, I chose to concentrate on the elements of the video game that I felt were most important to the Warcraft feel. My goal was to create a fun, relatively simple game that could be played in under 2 hours while still capturing enough of Warcraft’s charm to have players yelling “Zug zug!” and “At your command, my Lord!”

So, in order to do that, I wrote down all the basic elements of Warcraft on a sheet of paper as they occurred to me, and tried to imagine how best each could be reproduced for the board game, keeping in mind my budget and component constraints. Probably my favorite mechanic in the game that grew out of this process is unit upgrading.

In the video game, there are a wide array of unit types that players build and combo in order to create a truly vicious army. Key to this is a sort of rock-paper-scissors setup with melee, ranged, and flying units. Thinking about it, I felt that I could build some key strategic decisions into the board game by forcing the players to think about which of the three unit types they wanted to primarily pursue. This would also allow me to simplify the core game a great deal while keeping a lot of flavor and unit types intact. Here’s a diagram from the rulebook that boils the process down:

Basically, you have 3 stacks of tiles, each one representing the current strength and abilities of your 3 types of units. As you spend gold and wood to upgrade a unit type, you improve its ability to deal casualties, and if you upgrade it to its most powerful form, the unit type often gains a cool ability as well (such as Raise Dead or Slow Poison).

The reason I like this mechanic so much is that it abstracts and simplifies a lot of elements from the video game into a form more easily used and understood in a board game, and ultimately that’s what a good conversion is all about.

Next time I’ll tell you all about another of my favorite parts of the game—scenario play.