Days of Wonder CEO Eric Hautemont talked with ICv2 and explained the rationale behind the creation of BattleLore, which he called Days of Wonder's most ambitious game ever, and which will be released on late November in both Europe and North America in English, French and German editions with a suggested retail price of $70 (70 Euros in the EC).
ICv2: Are the miniatures in the BattleLore game pre-painted?
Eric Hautemont: No, the miniatures in the base game are not pre-painted. They are in plastic, but they are not painted, people can paint them if they want. However there is a key game component, the banners that will be attached to the critical miniatures of the game, and those are made with full color components that are glued on the banner. The effect of the colored banners, or standards, and the unpainted miniatures creates an interesting visual effect. One additional thing I would add is that we are contemplating providing pre-painted miniatures in future BattleLore releases.
How tall are the miniatures?
EH: Some of the creatures, the promotional figures like The Hill Giant that we are going to make available to game stores are in the 25 to 30 mm range, but these are unique creatures in the game, the actual units that make up the bulk of people's armies, the scale is somewhere between the Memoir '44 scale, which was 20 mm, and the 25 mm scale. Remember you will have 200 miniatures on your side, so on the visual side making a comparison to any other miniature game out there is difficult, because this is really a mass combat situation, so the look that we are going for is a look that stems from the fact that you have lots of miniatures, way more than with a squad-based or figure-based game.
So there are hordes of miniatures?
EH: Yes there are hordes of miniatures. Are you familiar with the old Games Workshop Warmaster game, the 10 mm game they had way back? Well it's like that in a way, or like some of the miniature games people are playing that are set in the Napoleonic period, things like that where they have literally dozens and dozens of miniatures on a game table to re-enact those battles and so on. It's the same kind of 'mass look' that we are going for, so it's kind of difficult from a visual standpoint to make a direct comparison to other collectible miniature games, because in BattleLore the type of game play and the type of miniature you are dealing with is completely different. The miniature itself doesn't matter much, what matters is the unit, which is a group of miniatures led by a banner-bearing miniature.
Tell us about the Banners.
EH: There are 58 of them and the interesting thing from a game system standpoint is that the banners are interchangeable so you can put the banner in any of the miniatures or pull it out and put it in another one. The banners provide the visual clues for both yourself and your opponent as to the capabilities of the unit that the miniature is leading. So the net result of it is that you are going to be able to have a lot more flexibility right out of the box -- you are going to be able to use your units in very different ways depending on which banner you attach to it.
The banners tie in to a number of different things. The shape of a banner -- there are two kinds of banners, one looks like it is hanging and others look like a flag that is blowing in the wind, and those visual shapes give you the cue as to which camp or which side the unit belongs to. Then in addition to that you have the undertone or the background field of the banner, which are of different colors and different colors correspond to different types of troops. So green banners will represent 'green' or untested troops appropriately enough, and blue banners will be the regulars, the backbone of your army, and then the red banners will represent the elite forces. In addition to the colors on the banners you are going to have additional information, the most useful of which is the weapons symbol, which gives you information about how that unit specifically battles, so that for example a crossbow wielding unit will battle quite differently from archer unit. In this way we want to support the kind of variety of units that people expect in a fantasy game by using something that is visually attractive and very simple to understand by the guy across the table. We didn't want the players to have to go and pick up the other miniatures and look at the details on their backs or on their base or to have to go to reference books to find out what they are facing.
What do you mean by saving the BattleLore has 'card-driven' mechanics?
EH: What we have with this game is an interesting cross between a traditional board game, like the board games we have come out with before like Memoir '44, and a miniatures game, which it resembles from a visual standpoint and a game play standpoint to an extent, but he way you activate or control the miniatures is driven by cards, which is more like a board game. What I mean by that is you have a set of common cards that are drawn from a deck by the different players and those cards are kind of a way to focus the action in the game on a specific corner of the battlefield. So if you play card on your left flank, then some of the figures that are on your left flank are going to be able to move and battle and so on. If you are playing a card that allows you to infiltrate behind enemy lines, the common cards will determine what units you can activate on a given turn.
The number of cards that you have in your hand will determine the number of choices that you have and how likely you are to be able to react to your opponent's move at any given point. So that's what we mean by 'card-driven' -- at the core of the game mechanics you have a set of cards that you have in your hand and you try to manage your cards in such a way that you can carry out your plans on the battlefield.
Do you know of any other miniatures games that have 'card-driven' systems?
EH: Miniature games no, but in board games like Memoir '44, there are. But BattleLore, though it's similar in some ways to Memoir '44, it goes way beyond. What's interesting from a product standpoint compared to the games we've done in the past, which though they have been selling very well, the games we done before were family games where you bought a box and you could play and have fun and then you were done. Here, though you are going to be able to open the box and play right away, but at the same time we are looking at this as a tool to develop a whole new hobby that is somewhere between the miniature space and the board game space. I think one of the things that has been interesting about the past few years is that while the RPG side of the business has gone down (though I don't think that people have lost interest in fantasy, I don't think that is the issue there), the board game as a category has been going up quite a bit in the U.S. and abroad. But it's almost like there are too many board games coming out now, and I concerned that we are going to see a similar glut in the board games, that we saw in the RPG side of the business. So one of the things that we were keeping in mind when we designed the game was -- we have always been careful to release just a small number of games every year, we've never released more than two new games, because we've wanted to spend the right amount of time getting them right, and because we think it's better for our retail customers -- we think retailers are better off selling 50 copies of Ticket to Ride rather than 5 copies each of ten different games. When we designed this game, we wanted to be able to give retailers a reason to have customers come back again and again. So the question was, how could we design something that had the appeal of a board game format, but that would keep all the 'I want to come back and I want more on a monthly basis' that is typical of miniature games and other games with regular releases. So we are kind of straddling the genres here, and so it's a big departure for us in that the game is much more for a hobbyist than it is for casual gamers.
Is that what you meant, when you called BattleLore a 'foundation game,' that you are going to have a product stream?
EH: Absolutely, the plan for next year is that starting in March we are going to have a couple of pieces releasing every month, not a lot, just a couple so that we don't swamp retailers and gamers. In addition to these individual 'elite' figure releases, we plan to have two major expansions a year -- in June of next year we are looking at releasing an army box set. A the same time in order to keep the interest up and to keep the gamers coming back to the stores on a regular basis, we are going to release a couple of small things, special figures that will keep the game in the limelight.
So gamers will be able to build up their armies -- can two players who each have the base set pit their armies against each other?
EH: Not only that, what you will be able to do in that case is actually expand the battlefield -- on the back of the game board is actually a larger scale half board that can be combined with a board from another box set -- so if you have a base set and your buddy has a base set you can actually play on a board that is actually twice as large. To support this kind of action we are going to be releasing a number of scenarios and campaigns that we call epic adventures -- and the epic format is double board size format.
Will retailers get one Hill Giant promotional figure for every game that they preorder?
EH: Yes that is correct. This is the way it is going to happen. We are air shipping these figures ahead of time, so sometime in September, October we are going to receive those miniatures and we are going to distribute those to distributors for them to pass on to retailers. Initially the retailers will receive 12 BattleLore Primers, a small multi-page pamphlet, and six miniatures for their store. If they run out and get more than six preorders, we'll make sure that before the game ships they get additional miniatures to that they can give one such miniature to every customer that preorders the game up to the release of the game at the end of November. So retailers should not worry about getting enough miniatures, the reason we are limiting them initially is that we are only receiving so many in the first shipment.
We have done promotional items in the past like the mystery train for Ticket to Ride and we felt that in this case we wanted customers to make a firm commitment to preordering so that retailers would be comfortable that the day they got the game they would be sure that a good number of them were already sold, and we felt the best way to do this was to give the retailer the game piece so he would be able to actually hand it out to the customer ahead of the game's release. The idea is that if a customer commits to buying the game, he can walk out of the retailer's store with the miniature in his pocket -- in fact in addition to the figure itself the customer gets a reference guide that will provide some ideas about how the game is played, the Hill Giant's banner, and the creature's lair, a small terrain piece that also comes into play in the game.
Have you got plans for any sort of organized play program for BattleLore through retailers?
EH: Yes we do, we have a number of plans and what we are going to do is on our Website we have been collecting the names of volunteers who are willing to demonstrate games -- we have in excess of two hundred names now, and what we are going to do is that we are going to make sure that those people have the games and can demonstrate them in the game stores. Initially organized play is probably too strong a word, it's going to be more like demonstrations from our volunteers, but one thing we are looking at putting together is a campaign of adventures in a similar way as to what Games Workshop has been doing in the past. So by early next year I am hoping we will have some real organized play in the sense of a unique series of adventures that people will only be able to play and discover when they go to game stores.
What sort of consumer marketing are you planning for this launch?
EH: The consumer marketing we are planning will focus on two things. One is we are going to be doing advertising, but that is advertising in the trade. We don't do print advertising to final end users because we just don't think that is very effective. We are going to spend a lot of money on direct-to-consumer advertising, but we are doing that online. We are going to get online exposure on role-playing sites, and doing other things to stimulate word-of-mouth support. We have looked at things like Ticket to Ride to see what was having the biggest influence -- and the two things that really make money for us and for the retailers are making sure that the retailers get plenty of information via trade publications and making sure we get the word of mouth so that when people come in the stores they are looking for the product.