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Sailing The Sea Of Legends: An Interview With Zach Weisman And Ryan Schapals

Everyone likes pirates. Seriously, go up to someone on the street and ask if they like pirates. They will first ask who you are and maybe feel threatened, but once they calm down they’ll almost certainly respond that they do, indeed, like pirates. Some people like them so much that they end up making board games out of them, and one of the most recent piratical games to hit the scene is Sea of Legendsa bona fide sensation on Kickstarter that has raised over $400,000 against its initial goal of $75,000. The splashy art, fun theme, and high quality minis have driven much interest, as has the unique narrative gameplay that combines traditional competitive board gaming with unique stories that change from game to game. We had a chance to speak with some of the scallawags behind the game: Zach Weisman,  Lead Designer  co-founder of Guildhall Studios, and Ryan Schapals, Creative Director for Guildhall. Both are veterans of the game industries,  with Zach working on games like Shadowrun Returns and Golem Arcana, and Ryan working on BATTLETECH and the RPG Open Legend. We wanted to find out the game’s design process and maybe learn what went into making a pirate game for the 21st century.

The Fandomentals: What was the genesis of the idea for the game?

Zach Weisman: Usually, we design games from the bottom up with mechanics in mind, then we find a theme to match. But Sea of Legends was different. We were missing classic movies like Captain Blood and Pirates of the Caribbean and games like Monkey Island and Sea of Thieves. So, we started with a theme and a wild idea, thenstarted testing all sorts of mechanics from there.

FM: The pirate theme is an extremely popular theme in board games and fiction overall. How did you approach making your game feel unique?

ZW: It really comes down to the unique blend of mechanics and storytelling. We looked to a lot of different games for inspiration like Merchants and Marauders and Tales of Arabian Nights. We also really loved the free-roaming nature of Western Legends. Being able to do whatever you wanted and go wherever you wanted felt very piratey — I mean no one really wants to be a pirate. That’s a rough job! But running things your way, doing whatever you please, that doesn’t sound too bad. So, what could be more appropriate than a sandbox for players to run amok in?

Ryan Schapals: The “choose your own adventure format” in Above and Below was perfect for letting each player decide what kind of captain they were going to be through a series of  branching narratives.

FM: How do you make a board game “narrative based” and how did you implement it in Sea of Legends?

RS: It starts with the character and the world. From there, we started building the adventure system so that players would juggle story arcs based around their Captain, Lover, and Nemesis. Each has their own story to tell that ties back into the action happening on the map.

FM: How do you make a story-based game competitive?

RS: We knew from the beginning that our stories would have to reward the players relatively equally to other types of actions. That balance was fundamental.  But this is also a sandbox game and that means there’s many ways to win. So, if Player A only wants to hunt down relics and battle minis on the map – that’s completely valid. And if Player B wants to go on an adventure every turn, then that will also give you a shot at winning. All actions in the game help push the players toward victory. You don’t just accumulate treasure in adventures. You’ll be forced to roll the dice for challenges. You might be wounded or even cursed, but you never walk away completely empty handed.The most competitive players are going to likely maximize their turns by looking at the actions they can take and choosing the best one given their circumstances.

FM: App integration is incredibly common in board games now. Why did you choose to use one?

RS: There’s the obvious ease of use. It’s just so much easier to have the app string together each story, rather than flip through the book. But what really made us excited about the app was the possibility to have the player’s stories change on the fly and reflect decisions made by other players at the table. And having other players’ lovers or nemeses drop into your stories in meaningful ways was just something we could never do without an app adjusting and tailoring these stories to the state of the game.

FM: Where did the Nemesis/Lover mechanic come from and how does it affect the game?

ZW: It comes from all the romances and rivalries in classic pirate films! We’d always wanted the player to make lovers and nemesis during the course of your adventures, but they weren’t always cards in front of you. In early playtesting, we actually found that players didn’t engage much with adventures! The problem was that the game boiled down to a race to gain 10 notoriety, but players weren’t willing to take a risk on an adventure action when they didn’t know what rewards were. I realized that we needed to bring the benefits for going on adventures front and center. We created the lover and nemesis cards and included them from the start, so players could immediately see the benefits ahead of time.

A look at some of the lovers and rivals in the game

FM: How did you come up with the art and look for the game?

RS: From the start, we strove to craft a re-imagined Caribbean full of magic and adventure. To capture these themes, we researched and explored a number of artists and art styles. Working with a team of artists, we developed a unique style that evoked character and attitude. In terms of source material, we emphasized on the Caribbean’s rich history and cultures. We built a diverse cast of characters and explored Mesoamerican mythology to breathe new life into tired pirate cliches.

FM: Was there any pirate media that influenced the character and faction design of the game?

RS: Sea of Thieves, Monkey Island, and the Ixalan set for Magic: the Gathering!

ZW: Captain Blood and Pirates of the Caribbean were my major influences.

FM:Who’s your favorite faction? Favorite captain?

ZW: Captain Cesare and the Dread Tide. Undead conquistadors! What else do you need?

RS: Captain Tonne and I’ve got to with the Aztec Reawakening because Quetzacoal’s art and model are just gorgeous and I’m still a kid who loves dragons at heart.

FM: How does it feel to not just fund, and so quickly, but to overshoot your initial goal by so much?

RS: It’s a big relief. We’re amazed! We spent a lot of time in the dark working on the game and playtesting, but you never really know what’s going to happen when you go to launch a Kickstarter. Seeing Sea of Legends is a game that people like, that they want to play – before it’s done no less – that’s an incredible feeling. It’s really going to help us finish up this project knowing we have a whole community behind us.

FM:You already have so much already, but is there anything planned for the future of Sea of Legends and Guildhall Studios?

RS: All I can say for now is that you can expect bug fixes and new content for the app, and more games from us in the future!

You still have time to back the game on Kickstarter, but the campaign ends at 3:00 AM tomorrow morning so you’d better get on it! Even if you miss it, we’re assured that while the game won’t be available in brick-and-mortar stores or other retailers, it will be sold on their online store and at conventions. It’ll be a little while though,  as the game is scheduled to ship in February 2021. Until then, be sure to keep an eye on The Fandomentals for all the latest from Kickstarter and the board game industry!

Images via Guildhall Studios

 

Dan Arndt
Written By

Fiction writer, board game fanatic, DM. Has an MFA and isn't quite sure what to do now. If you have a dog, I'd very much like to pet it. Operating out of Indianapolis.

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