Interview with Wardens Game Designer, Kate Tessier
Wardens is an upcoming tabletop board game from the team at Raven Tales, launching on Kickstarter October 9th. Designed by Sam Turner and Kate Tessier, Wardens is a 1 – 4 player game that can be played 1 v.s All, cooperatively, or even solo. In Wardens an allegiance of survivors known as the titular Wardens fight back against the armies of Cthulhu after the Great Old One flooded and conquered the world.
Kate and Sam have put a fantastic amount of detail into their creation. Wardens has a detailed history describing how the Naacal Elders were responsible for keeping Cthulhu at bay, but they have long since departed. Before they left, they imparted their power to a bloodline of guardians known as The Brotherhood. You play as the most elite of The Brotherhood known as Wardens. Thousands of years later, Cthulhu has risen from his slumber, flooded the world, and locked the Elders away. Now it’s up to the three remaining Wardens to hunt down the Naacal artifacts to defeat Cthulhu once and for all.
The board itself is inspired by environmental post-flood simulation maps of what Earth will look like in two thousand years if ocean waters continue to rise. Cthulhu’s minions, the Starspawn, were inspired by a particular Lovecraftian tale, and the Warden Captain Morgan Bellamy is based off Raven Tale’s very own Kate Tessier.
Fascinated by the ideas and details that have gone into Wardens, I had to know more. So last month, I reached out to Raven Tales’ charming Co-Founder, Game Designer, and Marketing Director, Kate Tessier, to learn more.
What is your background in gaming and what inspired you to pursue game design?
I started playing board games with my aunt Caro when I was a child and the passion grew bigger as I grew up. When I left my parent’s house, my apartment was right next to a FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store) and I spent almost all my free time there while quickly growing my game collection.
Four years ago, I met Sam, a talented artist and board game fanatic and we spent countless date nights playing games, and sharing this amazing passion together. As we played, we noticed our favourite mechanics and themes and our gaming date-nights slowly turned into a silly idea called “our own game would be…” Every time we played a new game, we discussed the changes we would make or the mechanics we would add to create our perfect game. Without knowing it, we were imagining Wardens.
At that time, Sam was working at a video game company as a concept artist and illustrator. In his free time, he started turning our ideas into a board and some cards. This is how we got a first prototype which was only part of a silly project that we enjoyed working on just for fun. A couple months later, after multiple successful playtests that we decided to turn this project into a reality.
I’m really enjoying the art direction. I have to ask, with the popularity of Lovecraftian themes in modern board games, what lead you to go in this post-Cthulhu direction?
As we are two Lovecraft fans, there was no doubt for us that The Great Old One mythology would be a part of Wardens‘ universe. We also wanted to create this post-apocalyptic and dystopian world where, I think, a very distinctive kind of heroes can emerge from. Here, there are no classic detectives or investigators. Only the strongest warriors can defend against Cthulhu’s legion of Starspawns.
Can you talk a bit about why you decided to exclude dice from battles and describe how the Strategy Battle Tokens work?
I have never been a lucky person and, unfortunately, I just can’t play any dice or luck-based games without being horribly defeated. I love a game where I can win or lose because of my strategic abilities instead of hoping for a lucky roll.
There are some small luck based elements in Wardens, but it was important for me to design the battles as strategically as I could, as this mechanic takes a big role in the gameplay.
Each Battle Token represents a different war strategy. For example, the Attack Token will allow you to destroy three of your opponent’s units but gets one of yours destroyed in the fight. The Rush Token will give you two additional friendly units on the battlefield and the Defense Token will destroy two of your opponents units without losing any of yours.
You must be careful with your strategy selection because Battle Tokens follow a rock-paper-scissor mechanic, with the three attacks types having circular strengths and weaknesses to one another, so when a battle takes place, both opponents (Cthulhu’s player and the Warden’s player) will carefully choose the Battle Tokens that they need at that moment, while keeping in mind that they need to beat their opponent’s Token if they want to use their chosen strategy.
It gets even more strategic as every Warden is different and has his/her own abilities known as a Battle Bonus in addition to the Battle Token Strategies. Each battle becomes a quick and stressful mini-game within the game, changing the tide of any situation.
What features have you included to ensure that the Wardens Brotherhood characters support one another and work together in their fight against Cthulhu, instead of having a 3 vs. 1 free for all?
Every Warden and his/her respective armies is totally different from one another, each having different abilities, Mastery bonus and Companion Pet Skills. They must work in coalition if they want to survive. For example, the pirate is designed to focus more on battles while the engineer must repair outposts and gather blueprints in order to upgrade the whole team. This means that the pirate must use melee and ranged attack advantages to clear the path of enemies for all allies.
What are some of the more unique strategies you’ve come across during play testing?
The thing that really turns the tide of the game is the fact that each Wardens slowly become insane. Once they’re Mad, they are corrupted and turn against their friends, following Cthulhu’s orders and fighting against their former Warden allies until the end of the game.
The Artifacts also really make a huge difference in the gameplay. The journey is very dangerous and stressful but once you find one, it’s really worth it! One of the Artifacts allows the Warden’s team to sacrifice one of their allies so the two others can play a second turn that round. During a playtest, two of the players secretly turned against their friend who was almost completely Mad at that moment and was about to get corrupted by Cthulhu. The ‘sane’ Wardens decided to sacrifice him without letting him know and gave him away to Cthulhu so the two of them could play a second round. This betrayal saved them and allowed them to win the game!
With each of the characters’ ships essentially representing air, land, and sea, how is the game designed to balance itself out and prevent Cthulhu from having a significant advantage when there are less than four players?
The game is designed to have all four characters in action. One player taking the role of Cthulhu and the other player(s) playing as the Warden’s team. I absolutely love both 1 vs. 1 and 1 vs. All as the gameplay stays the same but the feel of the game is so different! Controlling the whole Warden’s team is really exciting and much more strategic as you have to coordinate the moves and the actions of each character just like you had your own three different armies, allowing you to take control of oceans, land and sky.
The 1 vs. All style is very different. Each player work together and discuss their strategies to help each other achieve their goals and try to defeat Cthulhu!
Which mythos stories did you pull your inspiration from for the Starspawn designs?
The Starspawns are our own interpretations of Shapeshifters. We were inspired by the creatures in the novel Mountains of Madness but Sam really got creative as he wanted to design a special creature and adapt it to this post-apocalyptic universe. In Wardens, Cthulhu has two kind of minions; the Starspawns which are very strong and powerful, and the Tentacles that leaks out of them once they take damage.
The Starspawns are Cthulhu’s main minions, they count as three units instead of only one, like every Wardens’ army units. In other words, each Starspawn is as powerful as three Ships or three Tanks. Once a Starspawn takes damage, it will break into multiple Tentacles which are worth one unit. The Tentacles have the same actions as the Starspawns, they can move, teleport through portals and fight the Wardens’ armies but they appear only once a Starspawn or Shapeshifter, is damaged.
After all the time you’ve spent designing Wardens, have you settled on a favorite character, or are you attached to them all?
It’s really hard to say! I enjoy a lot playing as Cthulhu and just being so powerful that you can wipe out everything on the map and just watch the others struggle to survive. It’s quite satisfying!
I think that my favourite character is Morgana, the pirate because she is the first one that Sam drew while he was still working at the video game company almost three years ago and I really got attached to her abilities and characteristics (and also because her face was inspired by mine and we look alike a little bit).
If you had unlimited time and funding, what’s the one thing you would want add to Wardens to make it stand out even more?
One thing we really hope to do is a gold or bronze Cthulhu as an add-on or for the collector’s edition. But the thing that could be even more amazing would be a “Green Glass” Cthulhu, giving him a semi-translucent greenish look which really looks incredible and original. If I could, I’d like to make it possible for the backers to get Cthulhu, his Starspawns and the Tentacles made from that material, but glass is very fragile and pricey!
Wardens sounds fantastic. Kate, thank you so much for talking with us. I’m very excited to see the finished product!
Wardens is going live on Kickstarter on October 9th. To get more information about Wardens you can sign up for updates on their page to get additional details as they become available.