Interview with Gordon Alford, Creator of Lost Ones
There’s always a plethora of new games arriving and it’s a challenge to stay informed of them all, but we certainly try. I personally love having the opportunity to speak with game creators earlier on in their process and it so happens that we recently did just that.
In 2016, Gordon Alford self-published his first game, Of Dreams and Shadows. Of Dreams & Shadows is a cooperative role-playing board game for one to six players where collaborate to defeat one of three villains. Last year, Alford released the expansion, Of Dreams & Shadows: The Monster Within that continues the story, adds new rule sets, an additional villain, and a bunch of new resources and spells. All the while, Alford was hard at work on a new game, Lost Ones, that takes place in the same world.
At this stage, Lost Ones is still in early development, but that didn’t stop us from trying to satiate our curiosity.
Gordon, what’s your experience in game design and how did you first become so interested in going from player to creator?
I’ve always loved the fantasy genre and grew up playing D&D with friends. I’ve enjoyed many tabletop role-playing and board games over the years and drew inspiration from the many stories to work on my own dark fantasy setting. In particular, I am fascinated by old Celtic mythology and wanted to build a world heavily influenced by this theme. I self-funded and launched my first board game, Of Dreams & Shadows, at Spiel Essen 2016 where I hit it off with Greenbrier Games. We then partnered together on a global release in 2017 and launched an expansion, The Monster Within, a year later. Lost Ones takes place in the same world setting and has the same narrative-driven experience, but the game mechanics will be different.
Tell us a bit about the concept behind Lost Ones and how it’s developed into the storytelling game that it is today.
In this setting, people struggle to survive in a world dominated by spirits and other supernatural creatures. While there is an element of horror and bleakness to the setting, it is contrasted by a realm filled with wonder and adventure. Humanity has carved out four distinct kingdoms and begun to explore more of the surrounding wilderness. The story begins as ominous signs and prophetic dreams warn of a rising darkness. People have gone missing from their homes and investigators can only find strange stick figures that have been left behind.
Players take on the role of up to four youths who have gone missing. Each character has been kidnapped and taken to the Otherworld, home of the Fae, for unknown reasons. The game begins just as the character escapes captivity during a conflict between warring Fae factions and must now find a way back home.
As the character explores the world of the Fae, they will meet a variety of different creatures and spirits. One of the key concepts in this setting, is that those you may think of as “villains” are not necessarily evil for the sake of being evil. They have their own reasons for their actions and, as terrible as those actions may be, they believe they are actually doing “the right thing” or “what is natural”. There is the immediate plot of trying to get home. However, there is also an underlying story where you can discover why you were taken and what is actually happening in the Otherworld.
Lost Ones is still early on in its playtesting stage. What has the experience been like so far? What adjustments have you made and has it sparked any new ideas?
The experience involves testing a lot of assumptions made during the initial design concept. There is a lot of iteration of both the game mechanics and user experience. We often discover new and better ways to design a feature or convey story content. The intent of Lost Ones is not to be too crunchy in terms of mechanics so a lot of the focus is beginning to shift to balancing difficulty level.
Exploration games are beginning to catch on a bit more as the release of 7th Continent and Discover: Lands Unknown has shown. How will Lost Ones set itself apart from other games in the genre?
Exploration games like 7th Continent (a great game!) have the main focus of game features and content delivered through the map tiles that the player interacts with and explores. Lost Ones actually delivers much of it through a Story Book when you explore map tiles. It is a much more narrative-driven game with a lot of story content.
As a big fan of solo narrative games, what can I expect to encounter on my journey?
Each map tile in this game has an encounter in the Story Book that often links to encounters in other specific tiles. As you explore map tiles, stories begin to unfold and you will have to choose which story path to take. Types of actions taken (based on the cards you play) and decisions made will change your character, the story, the ending, and even the landscape of certain tiles. It is very much like a “choose your own path” story that utilizes map tile exploration, ability/power cards and tokens. There are also various Fae that are hunting down the character and one particular creature (the Nightmare) will enter play and chase the character across the map. Certain events will move it closer and, if moved to the same location, the player will lose the game.
Talk to us about the differences between solo and 2-4 player modes.
Solo makes for a more straightforward experience, while a 2-4 player game involves the need to coordinate abilities between characters at a higher difficulty level. Each player has a hand size of ability cards to use in encounters and also acts as health. The size of the hand gets smaller when there are more players in the game. Also, there are in-game effects that are more dangerous for more players.
With exploration and storybook games comes concerns of repetition and tedium. What steps have you taken to ensure variation between each play?
The map in Lost Ones wouldn’t get close to fully explored in one playthrough and there are several different exit points to escape the Otherworld. Each exit point has a unique ending that is the culmination of a story path filled with choices. There are also over a dozen key decisions to make across story paths that will further change the ending for your character. While there is definitely an end point of discovery, there is plenty of story content to give players enjoyment in replaying the game numerous times.
The sample artwork is stunning. Who is the artist and what were the inspirations?
I have two artists working with me on Lost Ones. The first is the very talented Matt Forsyth. I was drawn to his style of illustrating characters years ago and he has worked on all of my games. As map tile exploration is a key feature to Lost Ones, I searched for an artist that I felt could convey the dream-like landscape of the Otherworld. I found Florian Moncomble and he has been amazing to work with on this game.
I’d love to hear a little bit about the world you’ve created for players to explore. What kind of cultures can we expect to encounter? How much does this tie into Of Dreams and Shadows?
The Otherworld is like a bright reflection of the real world, where the supernatural Fae dwell. They are creatures that inspire fear and awe as their very nature is born from dreams. The Fae are not one race, but a collection of beings and spirits that have bound themselves to strange rules and customs. Many of the discoverable races and characters have been inspired by Celtic, Norse and Slavic mythology. For example, two of the most prominent factions are the Seelie and Unseelie Courts.
Lost Ones has several connections to characters and events in Of Dreams & Shadows. The game will stand on its own story, but people that play both will get a more complete picture of what is going on.
Are there different classes available for the player to choose from that will allow them to experience the world from different perspectives?
There are actually no classes in the game, but each playable character has a special ability that offers a different style of game play.
What are some of the character abilities and how much will those influence the branching narrative path?
The current character abilities involve different ways to manipulate or adjust the player’s Ability cards, deck or Hand. I don’t want to reveal them just yet as we may still make some adjustments based on testing.
With a genre as open ended as this, there’s always room to expand. While it may be too soon to tell, do you currently have plans/ideas to expand upon Lost Ones down the road, or possibly even as Kickstarter stretch goals?
The story of Lost Ones fits in neatly with Of Dreams & Shadows. There is also plenty of room to expand the Otherworld for more exploration and encounters. If there is enough interest, I do have plans for a major expansion that would carry the story forward. It would take place after the events in The Monster Within and Lost Ones and include characters from both games.
Arguably the most important and most selfish question, how soon can I expect to dive into this world and experience it for myself?
The game will be released in 2020. I’ve made great progress in writing the story content, which is the most time-consuming part, and the map tiles have been fully illustrated. Playtesting began this summer and I want to ensure there is thorough testing and feedback. I’m in discussions with Greenbrier Games on partnering again and I’m still deciding on whether to launch a Kickstarter campaign later this year to fund production or self-fund it like what was done with Of Dreams and Shadows.
Gordon, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. We’re really excited to see this come to fruition.
Lost Ones is still very much in development but sounds like it’s well on it’s way. If you’d like to follow the game’s continued development, you can follow along on the Lost Ones BGG page and Gordon Alford’s Facebook.