She is the most powerful princess in an apocalyptic world. She has a long-unfulfilled magical destiny. To make up for this inexcusable failure – because of course it is, and totally her fault – she develops an intense scientific interest. She remains a teenager for a very long time. Her magical destiny is meant to defeat is a timeless, reincarnated evil. This magical destiny exists because she herself is the reincarnation of an ancient power meant to fight this evil. Her dedication to her science and her duty to her kingdom leads to a cold, distant personality at times. She has a blonde teenage swordsman sworn to protect her.
Isn’t Princess Bubblegum great?
No, despite all these matching traits, I’m not talking about Princess Bubblegum. I’m talking about the latest rendition of a more iconic princess who has experienced a variety of personalities over the years.
Zelda has been many things throughout the course The Legend of Zelda’s long, storied history. Often she plays the role of damsel in distress for Link to rescue in the end Mario-style. Sometimes she takes action within this role, such as her brief appearances to help both Link and Midna in Twilight Princess. Wind Waker gave us a Zelda entirely unaware of her secret royal heritage. Most times, she either fights alongside Link against Ganon or grants him the power to win.
Of all these many versions of Princess Zelda, probably the most famous is the version which appears in Ocarina of Time. There are several reasons for this; mainly that Ocarina was the first 3d Zelda game. As such, it was one of the most influential games of all time, ushering in the world of 3d gaming and defining it for years to come, much like Super Mario 64. The game, of course, remains fantastic to this day. It’s the kind of near-timeless masterpiece even the young, graphically spoiled generations will go back and love.
Another large reason was the cinematic turn which breathed a previously unseen life into classic Zelda characters. One of, if not the largest beneficiaries of this newfound cinematic flair was Zelda herself. No longer a passive prisoner for Link to rescue, our princess played an active role in the story. She sends Link to find the Spiritual Stones opening the Door of Time and sneaks him the Ocarina of Time while escaping Hyrule Castle.
After the disaster occurring because of Link’s premature claim of the Master Sword, she spends seven years training as a Sheikah in order to win back her kingdom and eventually assist Link in freeing the Sages necessary to defeat Ganondorf. Now, this doesn’t seem like that big a deal on the surface. Where it gets juicy is the further examination of why exactly Zelda does what she does.
After all, she sends Link to retrieve the Stones opening the Door of Time, allowing Ganondorf to seize control of Hyrule. It’s heavily implied to the point of obviousness that she feels crushing guilt over this. It is her guilt, combined with the duty she feels to her ruined kingdom, which causes her to train as what amounts to a ninja and fight Ganondorf’s evil. At the end she sends Link back to his childhood while she remains behind with the ruins of her kingdom to rebuild.
You can talk for hours about the mental and emotional state she must have been in throughout this game. Pretty obvious why this Zelda stands so memorably above her counterparts throughout the series. Well, move over lady because Breath of the Wild gave us a Zelda with strong claim to the title, one I’m not sure Ocarina’s Zelda can beat back.
Guilt and Destiny
In a lot of ways, what Breath of the Wild does with Zelda’s character resembles Ocarina. Both see their kingdom laid to waste by Ganon. Both try desperately to prevent this and fail. Obviously the same crushing guilt afflicts both young women afterwards, and causes them to sacrifice a great deal to try and hold Ganon back. However, where Ocarina gives a relatively bare-bones series of events for the player to fill in the blanks, Breath of the Wild delves deep into who exactly Zelda is and why her failure was a devastating personal blow, while also increasing the magnitude of her failure considerably.
Alright, so quick background; Breath of the Wild takes place 100 years after Calamity Ganon emerges from beneath Hyrule Castle, destroying Hyrule in the process. Zelda and Link both descend from the ancient heroes that initially imprisoned Ganon 10,000 years earlier with the help of 4 Champions from the 4 other kingdoms of Hyrule. These Champions pilot giant machines called Divine Beasts created long ago by the Sheikah for this purpose. They also built all the futuristic ruins and enemies Link explores and fights.
What does all this mean for our girl Zelda? As the descendant of the Zelda who initially sealed Calamity Ganon away, she was named for that descendant and expected to wield her power, just like every female descendant of that bloodline. Ganon would eventually return and it was her job to stop that should Ganon return in her lifetime. A series of optional flashbacks shows the immense burden her father placed on her. The guy does not hold back at all. Really, Zelda’s father is a complete prick about the whole ordeal.
Zelda’s mother was meant to train her, but dies when Zelda is six-years old. King Rhoam’s journal within Hyrule Castle talks about Zelda’s struggle to learn without a teacher.
“She lost her mother, her teacher, before she could learn from her. Ten pointless years of self-training, without so much as a book or note to help her find her way…”
As such, Zelda spends her life stuck between the need to realize her magical powers and her duty to help her kingdom however she can. Because of her frustration awakening her powers, she instead turns to the ancient Sheikah artifacts and ruins. Most of the flashbacks revolve around her traveling with Link and the Champions to research the Divine Beasts and activate the other Sheikah artifacts and weapons unearthed throughout Hyrule.
Zelda’s feelings of inadequacy and failure plague her long before Calamity Ganon busts loose and lays waste to Hyrule. They start at a very young age due to her father’s expectations and only grow worse when Link claims the Master Sword. As her sworn shield and the hero wielding the sword meant to defeat Ganon, he succeeded where she cannot. He represents and intensifies her failures. So do the Champions. Each of their successes in controlling their Divine Beasts leaves Zelda as the only thing separating victory from defeat should Ganon return.
It didn’t help that everyone else represented the very best of their race, and they were each meant to serve her. Even Link was a “better” Hylian than Zelda, the princess. That just left Zelda the “failure” surrounded by the kind of people she was supposed to lead. As you’d expect, this creates considerable guilt over her inability to fulfill her role and also considerable loneliness among those who already have.
Duty and Loneliness
As if you don’t feel bad enough for Zelda already, we also see how lonely and distant she was while helping the Champions figure out their Beasts. She treats Link outright hostilely. Her interactions with Daruk, Mipha, and Revali are practically nonexistent. Urbosa clearly tries to play a motherly role (just end me now) but she’s a single, isolated example.
Still, things improve for the poor girl. She overcomes her dislike for Link after he thwarts an assassination attempt. She dives happily into the science behind the Sheikah ruins and grows closer with her crew. For a brief period she gets to be happy.
This, of course, is an awful sign.
Soon thereafter, Zelda’s father confronts her to demand an end to her scientific pursuits. This leads to the scene above where he attacks her insecurities in brutal fashion. He accepts nothing but her total commitment to her powers and Sheikah artifacts distract from that commitment. Because clearly she’s running from her duty, not struggling with her failures and her responsibility to help her kingdom however necessary, and he demands she stop.
So she does. She leaves behind her friends, her interests, and her only escape from her crushing guilt and loneliness to concentrate solely on failing her magical destiny. Link still accompanies her, but we’ve already covered what Link represents to her. Their newfound friendship won’t entirely change the friction between them or what he represents to her.
Why accept his demand? Well, because she’s the princess of Hyrule, of course. It is her duty. And she totally loves her father, and he loves her,
and their conflict i s born of the fact neither took two seconds in the ten years following the death of Zelda’s mother to discuss their grief or their fear of Ganon’s impending return. Whoa, Bo, we haven’t reached this point yet.
We find out again through King Rhoam’s journals (the journals do such a great job adding context to all this) that when her mother died, it was Zelda that held him together. Despite being only six-years old (yeah) he describes her as completely steadfast and strong.
“Zelda never cried, never faltered. Not even during the royal funeral or later when she and I were alone with our grief. I must assume her strength is a result of us repeatedly informing her of her duty to be a valiant and steady princess. For a child of merely six years of age, her conduct was truly that of a born leader. Her strength gives me hope.”
Rhoam’s journal continues to paint a picture of a truly lonely girl with nothing but her duty and the burden of her destiny. Keep in mind Zelda spends these years after her mother’s death single-handedly trying to figure out her powers. Rhoam describes his disappointment in her lack of powers a year after her mother’s death. She is seven-years old and her father already treats her like something is wrong with her. She still has ten years of failure ahead of her.
From the age of six Zelda is left alone to grieve and live up to an immense magical prophecy with no help whatsoever. Her father certainly does not help her. He grieves too strongly to help with the loss of her mother and has absolutely no idea how to help with awakening her powers. Zelda seems to isolate herself from any other help anyone might offer. She bears her duty alone and with little emotional connection to anyone, because as Rhoam himself says, she was raised to do so and no one else knows how to help.
Silence and Similarities
Like you see time and time again with these characters, this leads to severe communication issues only increasing her loneliness and insecurities until they reach breaking points.
Her hostility towards Link only exists because of a literal lack of communication of any kind, as Breath of the Wild took silent protagonist Link and gave him a reason for his silence. Zelda was not the only one dealing with immense expectations. As the chosen wielder of the Master Sword and the princess’s sworn knight, Link has his own expected role in defeating Ganon and must also deal with the burden of it.
“When I finally got around to asking why he’s so quiet all the time, I could tell it was difficult for him to say. But he did. With so much at stake, and so many eyes upon him, he feels it necessary to stay strong and to silently bear any burden. A feeling I know all too well…”
Why did she need to “finally” get around to asking? Because she was raised to bury her feelings by a father who did the same. Rather than ask Link about his silence, she lets her questions stew until she believes Link resents her.
“I never know what he’s thinking! It makes my imagination run wild, guessing at what he is thinking but will not say. What does the boy chosen by the sword that seals the darkness think of me? Will I ever truly know? Then, I suppose it’s simple. A daughter of Hyrule’s royal family yet unable to use sealing magic… He must despise me.”
And to her mind, why wouldn’t he despise her? Zelda’s journal entries take place shortly before Ganon’s emergence, when she has tried and failed on her own to awaken her powers for ten years. Link has the Master Sword and stands ready to defeat Ganon. The Champions have control of their Divine Beasts and stand ready to help. The only missing piece is Zelda, who must seal Ganon away after Link and the Champions win. No matter what she tries, though, she can’t awaken those powers.
Zelda’s self-loathing nears its peak at this point, as she travels alone with her guilt and the constant reminder of her failure ten years after her mother’s death, all the while refusing to talk about it. Why? Why swallow her feelings to the point of self-hatred she projects onto her most faithful servant? As you’d expect, it’s a character flaw shared with her father.
Let me be frank: King Rhoam Bosphoramus Hyrule acts like a complete prick. From the very moment he reveals himself as the mysterious old guy making you shrine-hunt for a glider, Breath of the Wild inspires a dislike for the man. His scene demanding Zelda quit her scientific interests only increases player hatred.
It’s not unless you discover Rhoam’s journal that you receive sorely needed information about him and Zelda. It provides a lot of the quotes I’ve used. The journal also does one unsurprising thing; it reveals the shared traits of father and daughter, including those flaws responsible for their fraught relationship.
Like his daughter, Rhoam has a deep interest in the Sheikah artifacts. He orders the excavations revealing them. At some point after their discovery, he describes Zelda’s reaction to them:
“Zelda’s eyes lit up like a wildfire when I told her about the relics… I must admit, she has a knack for research.”
By the way, Zelda’s five-years old here. Talk about an early start.
The journal also reveals Rhoam’s obsession with the prophecy predicting Ganon’s impending return. After his wife’s death, preparation for Ganon dominates his thoughts. He can’t show weakness or even take time to comfort his daughter. There is no time for comfort. They must each prepare for Ganon in their own way, and nothing else matters. Not even their grief.
“It has been a year and three months since her mother passed. Perhaps she is held back by heartache too deep to heal. If the Ganon prophecy wasn’t looming over our heads, I would tell her to take her time… To wait until she is ready. But our situation is dire and leaves no room for weakness—even on behalf of my beloved daughter. My heart breaks for Zelda, but I must act as a king, not a father.”
What becomes clear is how Rhoam, much like Zelda, uses Ganon as a distraction to avoid his feelings. Only by diving deep into his own duty could he avoid Zelda, his wife, and his own sorrow. Feelings are hard, after all. Much easier to drive them all away using a very legitimate aim for your attention. He fully understands what he is doing, too. He knows he is sacrificing his relationship with his daughter in the name of defeating Ganon. His feelings come second to the safety of Hyrule.
Huh, sounds like Zelda, doesn’t it? In fact…
“The return of Ganon looms—a dark force taunting us from afar. I must learn all I can about the relics so we can stop him. If the fortune-teller’s prophecy is to be believed, there isn’t much time left… Ah, but turning over these thoughts in my head puts me ill at ease.”
Much like her father, she would rather let her feelings torture her than face them. She wanted to make amends, but too late.
“When Link arrives, we will set out for Mount Lanayru. The other Champions will accompany us there. I have not seen my father since he last scolded me. Things are too strained now… I will meet with him when I return. …”
As for King Rhoam’s opinion on the matter:
“I have been told my Zelda went to the Spring of Wisdom… This will likely be her last chance. If she is unable to awaken her power at Lanayru, all hope is truly lost. If she comes back without success, then I shall speak kindly with her. Scolding is pointless now.”
Don’t mind that sound. It was just my heart breaking over here.
Two characters receive all of Zelda’s scorn throughout the memories of Breath of the Wild; Link and King Rhoam. Fittingly, they each share immense similarities with her. Link and Zelda are both children of destiny, descendants of ancient heroes tasked to defeat Ganon. Both struggle mightily with this destiny and internalize their burden to the point of creating conflict with each other. Zelda and her father both place their duty to their kingdom above all else, even their happiness.
They also share the same fear of Ganon’s return, a fear driving a wedge between them, and grief over the loss of Zelda’s mother. Neither ever takes the step necessary to face their shared feelings, choosing instead to run from them and bury themselves in preparation for Hyrule’s defense.
In the end, Zelda never entirely opened up with either of them, or truly repaired the damage done to either relationship. Ganon attacks during that trip to Mount Lanayru, killing her father, her citizens, and her Champions. Link suffers mortal wounds defending her and ends up in the Shrine of Resurrection for 100 years. Zelda’s powers awaken too late, and she is left alone to bind Ganon at Hyrule Castle until Link reawakens.
Tragedy and Flaws
This catches us up with the beginning of Breath of the Wild. Link reawakens. King Rhoam’s spirit makes him run around doing stuff rather than just hand over a glider. He is tasked with defeating Ganon, who Zelda still struggles to restrain after 100 years.
Breath of the Wild does a fantastic job using all this history to define its world and characters. For obvious reasons a great deal of anger, loss, and guilt exists in this ruined version of Hyrule. Link faces open hostility for his failures. Every society grieves the loss of their Champion. The ruined remains of familiar locations (why did they do this to Lon Lon Ranch) hit hard at longtime fans. The game drives home the tragedy of Calamity Ganon and the failure of Zelda and her Champions at every turn.
It all makes for a powerful storytelling beyond anything I’ve ever seen from the Zelda series before. Breath of the Wild does a remarkable job telling Zelda’s story through skilled use of conventional cutscenes and a more subtle, Dark Souls-style use of visual clues and optional information. Absolutely none of Zelda’s story is necessary to complete the game. You can beat the game without learning any of it.
I suppose this might be the biggest negative of all this. By leaving so much of this information optional, she plays little role within the game itself. She does end up spending the game inside Hyrule Castle, taking no action besides holding Ganon back. She speaks telepathically to Link from time to time, but takes no other role in Link’s journey to Ganon. As much as I love the execution, the entirely optional of Zelda’s story makes me sad, as many gamers will never discover the full extent of it.
I suppose there might also exist dissatisfaction about how her powers manifest. The game makes it pretty blatantly clear that Zelda came to love Link before Ganon’s attack, and implies her powers awoken due to that love, as she first uses them to protect him. I would have preferred if the overwhelming emotions of her failure awoke her powers, and the moment is vague enough about the cause. One could easily read the manifestation as her refusing to lose the last person in her life, regardless of whether she loves Link or not.
Really it’s beside the point. Breath of the Wild tells a wonderful tale adding yet another Dutiful Princess to the ever-growing list. This is a version of Zelda more tragic and compelling than any preceding her. It is a surprisingly strong story about a princess’s destiny, the guilt and burden born of said destiny, and her failure to live up to it. This is a story of a princess and her guardian struggling to make up for those failures, and a story of a father and daughter whose grief and duty tore them apart.
Damn if Nintendo didn’t knock this game out of the park. Breath of the Wild just might have lived up to the hype as the best Zelda game yet, and Zelda herself stands tall among the reasons why.
Images Courtesy of Nintendo
GenCon Report: White Wolf Publishing On Making The Modern Vampire
It’s been seven years since the last version of Vampire: The Masquerade debuted, the longest gap between editions since the game debuted in 1991. The vampire-shaped void in White Wolf Publishing’s World of Darkness setting was filled by Masquerade’s companion and ostensible successor: The Requiem. But after all that time, people still wanted Masquerade. And so, as their first project after being bought by Paradox Interactive, White Wolf debuted Vampire: The Masquerade, Fifth Edition at GenCon.
I was lucky enough to meet with a pair of developers who worked on 5e: Karim Muammar, Editor In Chief at White Wolf, and Jason (not Lorenzo) Carl, Producer. We had a great chat about how the new edition was developed, what thoughts went into changing the game, how vampires are adapting to the 21st century, and how White Wolf got back to its roots.
Dan: So tell me a little bit about what you two put into the creation of V5?
Karim Muammar: I oversaw the writing as well as the system designs, mainly the vampiric system, which is the hunger system, and all the different powers of the blood and so on.
Jason Carl: My role was as Producer, a role that sits between creative and business and has operational oversight for the project. Budget, scheduling, resources, that sort of thing.
Dan: It’s been a few years since the last edition of Vampire, the last one being released in 2011. Has this been in development for that long or is there a reason to bring it back now?
JC: Man, seven years would be awesome! Wouldn’t you love having had seven years to work?
KM: Imagine what we could have done in seven years!
JC: Can we do that?
KM: You know what, let’s do that for Werewolf, yes?
JC: Seven years, that sounds reasonable.
KM: What we actually did here, me and Martin Ericcson the Lead Storyteller, we did a lot of preliminary work in 2016 and 2017, thinking about what kind of game we wanted it to be. But past the meta part, what we wanted to bring to the fore, what we wanted to add to it, what we wanted to see as separate projects, as well as what types of rules we wanted to see. What kind of system, to what extent we would adhere to the old system, to what extent we would try to renew things. I think the actual writing process, that really started about a year ago.
JC: I think the whole development cycle, from beginning to end, is almost eighteen months, but about a year of really intense development on the aspects of the game that you see in the book.
Dan: What inspired you to bring it back? It obviously has enduring popularity, but why bring it back after such a long gap between editions?
KM: I think the reason is that as White Wolf was purchased by Paradox Interactive, we felt that we sort of had to “carry the torch” forward for the centerpiece of this transmedia brand that we were trying to create out of White Wolf. So we are looking at more than tabletop role-playing games. We’re looking at board games, we’re looking at card games, we’re looking at books, we’re looking at video games, naturally-
JC: Films, TV, Comic books.
KM: Exactly! But all of these need a strong centerpiece. So we wanted to go back to where it all began: a tabletop role-playing game. And really, we’re really inspired by the first edition of Vampire: The Masquerade, that when it came out it revolutionized everything. A completely new look different from every other game, a completely new setting, a new feel and a new way to play tabletop role-playing games.
JC: I think that there’s a reason. It’s that once we settled on it, we realized that we still have plenty of stories in this world to tell. Vampires are still very relevant to the world around us and what’s happening today, globally. This is still a very rich storytelling experience, with an infinite amount of stories to tell.
Dan: So you drew inspiration from the first edition that came out in 1991, and obviously with this sort of genre, as you say, ties heavily into contemporary things. As well, gaming tastes and habits have changed since then. What are some of the things you’ve added or changed about Masquerade that reflect the world in this new edition?
KM: I think one thing that has changed is gaming technology and the way to play tabletop RPG’s, there’s more expected of the players. Games today have a much more modern rule set, that is often less “simulationist,” and more narrative or “gameist.” So what we wanted to do with this game is create a game where the rules did not interfere with the story, but rather created the story, so that every single roll has the potential for drama, excitement, and even tragedy.
So we started with the parts that worked. The dots, the d10s (we couldn’t change that or else it wouldn’t be Vampire: The Masquerade). But we wanted to look at how these things actually translate to the table experience. Instead of rolling five times per interaction, we wanted to take it down to one. Instead of [an] initiative to hit, damage, soak, you’d instead make a single role for an engagement, any engagement, whether it be a physical engagement or a social engagement.
But we also wanted to make it clear to the player that you are playing a vampire. Thus, we came upon “The Hunger” system, which is a way to introduce “The Hunger” as a constant in every single roll. The hungrier you are, the more your dice are going to turn into Hunger dice, which carry with them the possibility for tragedy or violence or just great drama that comes with being a monster, especially a hungry one.
JK: We also obviously updated how the book looks, visually. That was really important to us. When you look back at the first edition of Vampire, it’s easy to forget the impact that it made on the eyes. It looked like a rock n’ roll album with it’s black and white cover, visceral colors, and real people as vampires. And we wanted to be sure that v5 has the same visual power as the original. So we decided to include a lot of very high-quality photography to show what real vampires look like today, but also drawings, sketches, pictures, graphic design digital art, in a really interesting visual mix in order to reflect the World of Darkness as it is today.
We were very fortunate because our layout artists were Free League, a Swedish design company who’ve been winning awards for Tales From The Loop and Mutant Year Zero. Just incredible design that you’re going to see in this book, just interesting design layouts; you’re going to see infographic charts, you’re going to see information laid out in a way that’s easy to read. It makes the game easier to learn and teach that way, too. It all works together with the art and the design to give the whole book a very sleek, very modern, and contemporary look.
DA: So you’ve changed the mechanics, but let’s talk about the setting, the World of Darkness itself. How has it changed in the way you’ve written and conceptualized it to fit into more modern sensibilities?
KM: I will say it has progressed.
JC: This is not a reboot.
KM: Yes, it has progressed, nothing has changed as in being retconned, but the story has moved forward so that the vampires are caught up in the events of the modern world. They are being hunted by what is called the Second Inquisition, which is a result of the War on Terror getting a whiff of these strange anomalies, Swiss bank accounts, and people disappearing.
JC: People who don’t show up in airport scanners…
KM: Exactly, exactly. The kind of people, they call them “blank bodies” because they don’t show up on scans, they don’t have a body. That means that vampires are hunted to a much larger degree than they were previously.
JC: And we all know how that turned out. Look, it’s a terrible time to be a vampire. People are walking around at night with one of these “phone” things with a camera on it. There are closed circuit TV cameras everywhere. There are biometric scanners and its impossible to get through an airport without a screening. So vampires really have to adapt to a modern world that is changing fast both technologically and culturally, or they’re going to be hunted and killed.
KM: Or they recoil like the Camarilla does (EN: the Camarilla are the most conservative sect of vampires, working the hardest to maintain the Masquerade and keep vampire society as it is) and disavow technology, trying to return to a feudal age.
DA: Vampire Amish, basically.
JC: Exactly. If the Prince of Chicago wants to talk to a vampire in Boston, whereas in the 90’s he’d have just picked up a phone and called him…that’s too dangerous now. Who’s listening? Now, he’s got to write or send a coded message or find a neonate.
KM: Exactly. He might get a coterie to act as his messenger.
JC: “Hey you, standing over there in Elysium (EN: A place where vampires may gather without fear of discovery or harm), go to Boston!”
KM: At the same time, there’s also “The Beckoning,” a mysterious force that is calling all vampires of a certain generation to the Middle East as the Antediluvians (EN: The god-like eldest vampires and mythical founders of the thirteen clans) either might be rising, or might be threatened by the Sabbat (EN: Militant vampires bent on destroying the Antediluvians at Gehenna, the vampire Armageddon said to take place in the Middle East) of the Gehenna Crusade, leaving gaps in the Camarilla’s power structure that can be exploited by an ambitious coterie. So all these changes have been made to give the players agency with the way they can interact and have a bigger impact on the setting. Rather than just being constant lapdogs.
JC: Something that Karim mentioned that is expanded on the rules set as well is that the vampire factions are again in conflict. The Camarilla and the Anarchs (EN: Vampires who reject the rigid rules of vampire society) have been pulled apart, their political alliance has been destroyed. Clans have left the Camarilla and moved to the Anarchs and in future products, you might see new clans join the Camarilla. So vampire society really reflects the turmoil of the real world today.
DA: It sounds like you’ve really embraced the more globalized world we live in now. It sounds like there’s been a lot of globalizing and internationalizing of the Masquerade.
JC: There is. We consider ourselves a global company, and we consider our game to be global in nature. It’s very important to use to reflect all the world, so we will move away from the very North American focus and will look at vampires as they are in Europe, in Latin America, in Asia, and Australia. It will be very important [for] us to make sure that we have people who are experts in those cultures writing those books for us.
KM: Write about what you know.
JC: When you see the Chicago By Night book coming from Onyx Press, you’ll see a very diverse team of writers, many of whom live in Chicago, and work there, and represent very diverse points of view. And we think that’s super important.
KM: We think that credibility and authentic representation of a world [are] important. What was most striking, for me about the first Vampire was how real it felt. It felt genuine and rooted in the real world.
JC: You could believe it.
KM: Exactly. Real authors and real music. You could almost…smell the West Coast, even for me as a Swede living up north. And that also made the vampires more real. They didn’t live in some sort of fantasy vampire strata, but they were firmly anchored in the real world, which made them so much more alluring and interesting to play. And we really wanna push that there.
DA: It sounds like you have a lot for new players, but also a lot for players who have been with you since 1991.
JC: I think that players who have always loved Vampire are still going to love it, and I think it’s going to match their expectations for how games are designed and played. But we are seeing very positive reactions from people who have never played Vampire before, who didn’t even know it existed, and they are eager to play a game that lets them play the monster in the modern world. And do so in a way that they can share with their friends. We’re pretty enthusiastic that this game will help us grow that community.
DA: So can you give me a little taste of what might be coming next in The Masquerade?
KM: Well we have a couple books coming out this year, the setting books: The Camarilla book and the Anarch book. These will portray two vastly different ways to be a vampire. What it is to be a vampire in a Camarilla, the methods of the Camarilla, and how the Camarilla perceive the outside world, how it ties into both the real world and the world of Vampires. Plus more lore, more sheets, as well as some playable crunch there as well.
And of course the Anarch book, which tells us wildly different stories about vampires outside of the Camarilla. Whether they are trying to live their own lives in various ways, still connected to their families or subcultures, or if they’re organized as part of the Anarch movement fighting a harsh and desperate, but passionate, political struggle against the Camarilla and everything they represent. The Anarch book, looking at some of the initial work, it is a really really incredible book. I’m really looking forward to the books. And they’re also going to have their own distinct art styles that illustrate the themes and the mood of the book.
JC: And of course Chicago By Night, where we will return to where it all began, the setting of the very first Vampire chronicle ever, Chicago, and take a look at what’s been happening there. That’s where we will introduce what’s happening with the Lasombra clan (EN: A clan of predatory social Darwinists who seek to rule other vampires by virtue of their power), who play a pivotal role in what’s happening in Chicago, and the Sabbat. But we’ll also have to turn our attention to Werewolf very soon as well.
KM: But I thought we had seven years?
DA: And that’ll reflect the same sort of changes that we’re seeing in the Vampire books?
JC: Yeah. We’re still at a very early conceptual phase with it so nothing’s set in stone, but yes of course. The werewolf situation is in many ways even more dire than the vampire situation and that will be reflected in the game.
KM: Yeah, I mean, a lot of vampires are thriving in today’s world.
JC: Absolutely, if we could just get rid of the pesky cell phones!
KM: Whereas for werewolves its just much worse.
DA: Thinking back to the present, when will V5 be available for purchase?
JC: This is the worldwide debut at GenCon, the pdf is available right now on worldofdarkness.com, and depending on where you live, your local hobby store could have it on their shelves as early as right after GenCon, but it might be a week or two.
DA: North America and Europe, primarily?
JC: Yes, it’ll take a little longer to reach Australia because basically everything does.
Be sure to keep an eye out for physical copies of Vampire: The Masquerade V5 at your local game shop or, as Jason mentioned, pick up the PDF from their website for $24.99. And keep an eye here on The Fandomentals for our full review of Vampire: The Masquerade including an in-depth look at the story, characters, and mechanics of the game as well as what it’s like to actually play it!
Update: Some of the lore within the editor’s notes has been changed to reflect V5 more accurately. Jason Carl’s name has also been corrected to its proper spelling. Please don’t call the Camarilla on me.
Images Courtesy of White Wolf Publishing
GenCon Report: Asmodee Digital Lets You Game From Beyond The Tabletop
The intersection between the digital and the physical has become a theme at GenCon in recent years, and 2018’s was no different. Computer games are becoming board games, video game companies are making board games, and there is even a growing market for VR tabletop. One of the companies leading the charge from dinner table to computer screen is French developer Asmodee Digital. I had a chance to talk with Julie Le Vacon, Head of PR & Social Media at Asmodee, about their newest releases and hottest GenCon announcements.
Terraforming Mars debuted in 2016 from Fryx Games, and was hailed as one of the best games of the year by publications like Popular Mechanics, ars technica, and Polygon. It was also nominated for a Kennerspiel des Jahres (Connoisseur Game of the Year) at the prestigious Spiel de Jahres board game awards in Germany. This success, and a very dedicated fanbase, has led to a lot of excitement as Asmodee brings the game into the digital realm.
Set in the 2400’s, you take on the role of a corporation competing with other corporations (one of them no doubt led by the preserved brain of Elon Musk) to transform Mars from a lifeless husk into a new home for humanity. At its core, Terraforming Mars is similar to other resource management games like Catan in that you must get enough money and resources to change the climate or build cities. The end goal of the game is to have more victory points than the other players. In the demo I played, I ended up using an ocean that an AI built to benefit my buildings. While certainly not the fast-paced action game that’s going to take EVO by storm, it’s a really well-made strategy game for people who love the genre. With the addition of the Internet, you can play against faraway friends or total strangers. The game is also ripe for expansions, even beyond the two that have already released.
Terraforming Mars is due to release at the end of September of this year and will be coming to Steam and eventually iOS and Android.
Scythe, designed by Jamey Stegmaier and published by Stonemaier Games, is another hit game from 2016 that Asmodee is adapting. The game is set in an alternative 1920’s Europe, where dieselpunk engines of war fight for territory in the wake of the Great War. It won awards from BoardGameGeek.com and Geek and Sundry and was followed by three expansions (the second of which, The Wind Gambit, won awards on its own).
Players take on one of the factions that are vying for control in Europe. The goal of the game is to earn all six stars for your faction. These are obtained through accomplishing goals like playing all four mechs or a secret objective like Crimea’s “King of the Hill.” Players spend the game trading or gathering resources, building their nation and military up, fighting their opponents, or upgrading their ability to act.
The game is a one to one rendition of the physical game board, but with all the dynamism that a digital game can offer. They also kept the absolutely breathtaking oil paint art by Jacob Rozalski, meaning the game retains the unique aesthetic that has made it so popular.
Scythe is currently available on Steam Early Access and is planned to be released in Q3 of this year.
New Games For Console
Ticket To Ride (Ps4)
Ticket To Ride is one of the biggest successes in board gaming this century, and since its release in 2004 has sold over three million copies. While I’ve never quite understood the appeal of the game, it has certainly made its mark on the landscape. It has won myriad awards, gotten seven spin-offs, and 17 expansions (not including fan add-0ns). Asmodee has already released versions of Ticket for iOS, Android, and Steam, but their newest version releases for the PS4.
The game is built around constructing a network of railways connecting different destinations around the map, claiming routes and placing train tiles as they compete to become a railroad tycoon. The winner is the player who has connected the most destinations. The new game will use Sony’s brand new Playlink system, where players will be able to use their phones to look at their digital hands and plan ahead.
Ticket To Ride comes to PS4 at the tail end of 2018
Carcassone (Nintendo Switch)
Ah, Carcassone. The German game with the hard to pronounce name. Released in 2000 by Hans im Glück, Carcassone has been a staple of strategy gaming since its release and received nearly 30 expansions. Asmodee has previously released the game on both Google Play and Steam, but in a first for Asmodee, Carcassone will be releasing soon on the Nintendo Switch.
Players must work to develop their medieval fortress by building roads, cloisters, cities, and fields. The player does this by placing development tiles and adding “meeple” to that tile to gain the points and resources therein. The game’s winner is the player who has the most points after the last tile is placed.
Carcassone on Switch will use the same 3D appearance as the version on Steam, and Asmodee is confident that the game will be the first of many games to come to the Switch.
Carcassone will come to the Switch in the final part of this year.
Asmodee Looking Forward
While Asmodee has made a name for themselves adapting board games directly to the screen, their newest games will be brand new games inspired by board games. Their biggest announcement at GenCon was the announcement that Gloomhaven, declared “No. 1 Board Game Of All Time” by BoardGameGeek, will be developed as a video game by Asmodee and Flaming Fowl Studios. In a press release, Asmodee’s Chief Marketing Officer Phillipe Dao said that Gloomhaven “continues our commitment of expanding our catalog with more original video game experiences based on board game IPs and not just direct 1:1 adaptations of existing board games.”
The new game will be a dungeon crawler like the board game, but will actually look, play, and feel like a dungeon crawl video gaming while still using the look and mechanics of the original. It will be an RPG with turn-based tactical combat that allows people to team up in an “infinitely replayable” roguelike. Players will fight through the procedurally generated levels to find loot and level up their abilities.
Gloomhaven is due to release on Steam Early Access in the first part of 2019.
The first game announced by Asmodee to adapt a board game to an original game, Mansions of Madness is based on Fantasy Flight’s hit Lovecraftian strategy game. The new game will emulate the story and atmosphere of the original in Asmodee’s first adventure game. The player will take place in an eerie mansion in 1926, and must lead a team of investigators through traps, puzzles, and monsters to discover the secret of the mansion. But like any good Lovecraft game, you must beware you do not allow the madness to take you.
Mansions of Madness: Mother’s Embrace will release for Steam in early 2019.
Munchkin! You’ve played it! I’ve played it! It has a billion licenses, versions, and adaptations. It’s the game that made Steve Jackson Games. From space to superheroes to ninja turtles, Munchkin has been seemingly everywhere since it released in 2001. Its skewering of nearly every media property has made it popular, but it has especially endeared itself to tabletop gamers for its extremely well-informed parodies of common tropes in games like D&D (even the name, Munchkin, refers to a player archetype who play the game way too aggressively, turning a co-op experience in a competition). The game is fast and frenetic, encouraging players to undermine and backstab their fellow players.
The game, like Mansions and Gloomhaven, will be a full on game rather than a digital card game. It will be a dungeon crawler, with players moving through each room to fight monsters from the Potted Plant to the dreaded Gazebo to the mighty Squidzilla. It will be, in the words of Le Vacon, a “co-opetition” game where the players are all heading towards the same goal, but only one can come out on top. The new game was produced with the personal help of Steve Jackson himself and captures the spirit of Munchkin in a radical new way.
Munchkin will come to Steam in 2019
Images courtesy of Asmodee Digital
Paradox At Gencon: A Hands On Look At Their Newest Board Games
Paradox Games debuted two new games at GenCon: Europa Universalis and Crusader Kings. In my interview with Paradox’s Marketing Manager Luca Kling, he emphasized the value of retaining the core elements of their video games as they’re translated to the tabletop. Shortly after our chat, I got to see this philosophy at work when I got to demo their new games with the designers from Aegir and Free League themselves.
The Crusader Kings board game was one of our Top 10 Most Anticipated Games debuting at GenCon, so I was extremely excited to check the game out. Of the games Paradox is releasing, it is the furthest along. It recently finished up an incredibly successful Kickstarter that raised 4.7 million Krona (over $500,000). Paradox and Free League hit all of their stretch goals (including a marriable Glitterhoof!), and are close to releasing the game to retail.
The board itself emulates a medieval map of Europe, focusing on the ruling dynasties of the era rather than the kingdoms they rule (especially considering the rapidly shifting borders of said kingdoms). The outside of the board is ringed with the playboards of each dynasty. What those dynasties are and where they sit in the world is all dependent on the scenarios you choose to start the game with. We started with the houses of Hauteville (Italy), Normandy(England), Württemberg (Germany), and Capet (France) at the beginning of the 11th century.
Players then choose between actions like waging war, building up their kingdom, commuting acts of subterfuge, being diplomatic, or, of course, going on a crusade. You get a certain amount actions drawn from each category, represented as piles of cards, and what you choose dictates your kingdom. But that isn’t the only thing that affects your ruler.
The interesting part of Crusader Kings, both on the computer and on the tabletop, is the way a ruler’s traits define their strategies. Your ruler, their spouse, and their children all have special traits that inform what might work best for you. This manifests in how one “rolls” in this game. “Dice free” games are gaining steam at GenCon, and CK is one of them. Rather than rolling a die to decide your fate, you place your traits into your little bag, shake them, then draw one at random. If the trait is good (or good for your action at least), then you succeed! A bad trait means a fail. Take my king, Roberto il Guiscardo, for instance:
Roberto is brave but deceitful king, giving him an advantage on belligerent actions but making him rather bad at diplomacy. He’s also good at spying actions such as murder and unrest even though the deceitful trait is ostensibly bad. His wife, Felicia, is honorable. By marrying her he can add that trait to his bag, increasing his chances of success. His children, which he never got during the demo, would also get their own random trait that affects their chances of marriage.
The game moves between eras and covers the hundreds of years covered in the original. Each action you take can lead to consequences. For instance, I caused unrest in south France, a prelude to invasion. But it led to a plague in my own land. Another player raised armies but caused a civil war in their lands. A lot of the action takes place off-board as you plot murder, make matches, and build your connections and spread your influence.
Just like the original, there’s a deeper strategy beneath the Risk-esque trappings. The Kickstarter added a lot of really cool features like an AI for single or two player games, new scenarios and crusades, and added rules like Dukes and Duchesses. The standard edition is retailing for around $70 based on the Kickstarter, but that may change. But I will for sure be picking it up when it hits shelves. The game is gorgeous, mixing real-life medieval portraits, game assets, and original art together to really capture the feel of both Medieval Europe and the original Crusader Kings games. It is one of the coolest games coming out this year and promises a lot of engaging gameplay that is fun for new fans and familiar to Paradox veterans.
The second game we demo’d was the board game adaptation of Europa Universalis. EU debuted at GenCon, and I was one of the first people in the world able to get my hands on the prototype of the game. While the original EU was an epic war game that could take days to play, the new EU is meant to be played with friends in around one to three hours. Aegir Games did not forget the game’s roots, however, and included rules for a “Grand Strategy Mode” that complicates things a bit and extends gameplay more into the range of five to eight hours.
The game, just like the video game version, takes place on a MUCH grander scale than Crusader Kings. While still heavily Eurocentric, it expands the map to include everywhere from the Holy Land to Norway and Siberia to Morocco. It also adds in Oceania, Asia, Africa, and the America’s as sources of resources and trade (I’m really hoping that these places become playable nations in future expansions, as they are in the digital version).
Also unlike CK, there’s a lot more on-board work and strategy to be done here. Armies and land control play a much bigger part in things here as you’re no longer controlling a family but a whole nation. It uses the same scenarios set up as CK, meaning there are many options for starting points in history. In our scenario, it was the early 15th century (400 years after our CK demo) and England and France are in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War, the Holy Roman Empire is having a crisis of faith, and Castile is putting the finishing touches on the Reconquista. (It’s not essential to be as much of a history nerd as I am to enjoy either of these games, but it is really fun if you are.)
The game plays much more like Risk than CK did, but it still had all the depth you expect from a 4X game. They had to make fewer compromises when adapting EU, limiting the game really more in scale than in mechanics. As players, we were able to do things like arrange marriages (much less complicated than in CK), establish trading posts, and expand influence. Aegir also emphasizes the way players can interact during the game, whether through tentative alliances or underhanded schemes to gain power before one must betray the other. There’s also an interesting pass mechanic where you can choose not to take an action, collecting only money from your trading posts and letting the round continue. The passes have consequences, however. When we passed as England, we set off a Burgundian succession crisis that gave most of our enemy France to the HRE and severely weakened their position in the war.
Decisions like that, as well as the overall complexity of nation-building (we didn’t even get into researching new technology and government ideas), mean that Europa Universalis has the potential to be one of the deepest board games released. And that doesn’t even get into the possibilities the “Grand Strategy” mode offers. It’s a game that people who love Risk or Stratego might play if they want to devote that much time to a far more interesting and complex game. It also has gorgeous art taken from the game and just has a polish to it you expect from Paradox.
While there’s less info out on EU’s release, keep an eye out here for the scoop on any new developments.
All images via Paradox Interactive, Aegir Games, and Free League Publishing
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