Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) is one of, if not the, single most influential publisher of board games in the world.
They produce games based on some of the biggest licenses such as Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and more. Recently they were gobbled up by the worldwide board game Goliath Asmodee and they haven’t looked back, producing massive hit after massive hit.
Their most recent Star Wars title, Star Wars: Rebellion, a 4x game that pits rebels versus the empire is an asymmetrical masterpiece that has rocketed up the BoardGameGeek rankings, now sitting comfortably at #22, with no place to go but up.
I had the chance to talk with Anton Torres, Executive Projects Manager with FFG about the origins of his company’s success, how it makes its games, and what he considers to be a Fantasy Flight Games hidden gem.
[img via Geekz United]
Gary: Fantasy Flight started in 1995, and in 1997 hit the map with the release of Twilight Imperium. Since that time it’s grown into one of the largest and most influential board game publishers in the world. Can you briefly describe how FFG grew into what it is today? Was there a particular point in FFG’s existence that served as a critical moment toward its current path and if so what was it?
Anton Torres: It has been an incredible ride, even over the past 7 years that I have been here.
The company was founded by CEO Christian T. Petersen, who grew up with a great love of tabletop gaming in all its forms. If you ever meet him in person, his passion is apparent.
He has built this company striving to produce the very best tabletop games possible, starting from game concept and mechanics, through to the components and materials, artwork and graphic design, and finally to the play experience.
Christian also has a savvy head for business, and was able to combine these two passions into what we have now in FFG.
Looking back, his instincts led to FFG landing a license for The Lord of the Rings novels just before the release of the movies.
Then to work with George R. R. Martin on A Game of Thrones a decade before millions of fans started to watch HBO’s Game of Thrones series.
Some of FFG’s seminal releases, perhaps most notably A Game of Thrones: The Board Game and Twilight Imperium, are classics in the tabletop hobby…while we produce and publish a great deal of games that are not licensed, I can pinpoint the acquisition of the Star Wars license as another key point in our history.
This took place even before Disney was involved, and certainly before any news of new films. That we now are able to explore a galaxy far, far away on your tabletop is an incredible opportunity.
[img via gonnagogeek.com]
Gary: I wanted to ask you about Star Wars specifically. I agree with you, the Star Wars license was key in FFG’s development. Of course you were already a leading brand by that point, but Star Wars is Star Wars.
Given that [at the time] it had been recently dropped by a major publisher, was it seen as a risk to pick up?
And can you chat about how FFG acquired the license, the process behind acquiring it, and how you decided on the current slate of titles you’ve released to date (X-Wing, The LCG, Rebellion, Imperial Assault, Armada, Empire vs Rebellion)?
Anton Torres Over our company’s history, we have made it a point to produce great games, whether for a license or not. We weigh our options very carefully when considering our products, as they have to meet our own high bar regarding design and player experience.
Regardless of the license itself, we recognized that there were some essential experiences we wanted to deliver in that setting. So many of us here grew up with Star Wars and it’s in our collective cultural DNA. The opportunity to marry a tremendous IP with an incredible game system was too good to pass [up.] In my opinion, X-Wing is the perfect example of what can be produced when you stay focused on that goal.
The process of acquiring the license took some time, but by the time the signatures were dry we already had a list of games we wanted to design.
Looking at Star Wars, we considered what were some of the primary experiences we had as fans of the setting: dog-fighting star fighters, huge capital ships battling above a planet, the Force, and more.
A team will sit to brainstorm the essential game play elements required to deliver each experience, and then countless hours of work begin.
Gary: Can you give us a sneak peek into the development process behind FFG? How does the company choose titles and designers for titles? Do designers pitch them to you, do you pitch projects to designers? Is it some combination of both? And if FFG pitches the concepts, how do you come up with ideas?
Anton Torres: FFG has a large in-house creative staff that deal with everything from core game design, to graphic design, and game content.
With regards to game design, we divide into teams by category of game. For example: there is an RPG team focused on our roleplaying games and an entirely separate LCG® team that works on our Living Card Games.
Each team can build their own synergy, [but can make] use of [everyone’s] collective talents if they’re pushing through a particular creative problem.
The higher level conversations take place between key members of staff and the executive team, who will identify both short and long term goals.
One reason why we don’t take outside submissions is because we’ve got a long list of products we’d love to create and explore, if only we can find the time.
Gary: That’s a common theme that’s emerged from talking to board game companies: “we have so much to do, but our days are only 24 hours, and there are not enough of them!”
Anton: I have worked full time since 1989 and have never met a harder working group of people. In my opinion, you have to be a little bit crazy to work in this industry.
The payoff though is to produce an entertainment that brings people around a table top, face-to-face, where they can enjoy each other[‘s company.] The game is simply a medium for the shared group experience, whether competitive or cooperative.
[img via Geekz United]
Gary: So you spoke about the development of long term and short term goals, and that sort of leads me to my next question. Let’s take a game like Imperial Assault, one of my favourites (only one of 2 I’ve ranked a 10 on BGG) that has multiple waves of expansions.
It’s set in a massive universe so planning must be a huge undertaking. Were all of the expansions planned out right at the beginning [of the game’s planning] in detail? [Or] were they roughly sketched out and developed more in detail as time passed?
Anton Torres: Good question. In many ways, the process is similar for anyone working on serial fiction or narrative. You sketch out key milestones that you hope to hit over the course of time, but you focus on the near future.
Star Wars: Imperial Assault is an interesting case because there is more than just story text involved.
The box contains two separate games: the campaign game and the skirmish game. While the mechanics are nearly the same, the execution is very different.
Someone’s got to design an interlinked set of adventures that will hold both the Rebel and Imperial player’s interest.
Mechanically, all of the timing elements and statistics that drive conflict resolution must be tested to be sure there isn’t an overwhelming benefit to either side.
For the skirmish mode, the statistics have a different purpose and so much be play-tested in a highly competitive tournament environment.
At the same time, a separate team is writing art descriptions and commissioning work from artists around the world to design the look and feel of all in-game materials.
And along the way, many ideas will arise that must be saved for later; perhaps for inclusion in a future release or expansion.
It’s an ongoing and organic process, but the boundaries of production and delivery dates keep us tightly focused.
[img via EW.com]
Gary: FFG is known for its high quality games and significant licenses such as Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Arkham Horror, and so many more. Could you highlight one title that you and the folks at FFG really love but doesn’t get as much attention from fans as the larger, more well-known titles?
Anton Torres: Ah, that’s a question that hits home. FFG has published games in both licensed and proprietary settings, but one struck a chord for me several years ago and hasn’t let go.
It’s set in the world of Terrinoth, which is a fantasy setting that FFG has slowly been developing across many games such as Diskwars, Runebound, Descent: Journey’s in the Dark, and more recently BattleLore Second Edition.
One game that some days seems to have slipped under the radar is the epic fantasy game of Runewars.
It is an empire building and conquest game that plays from two to four players, and for me absolutely delivers on its promise. It’s something I’ll only get to the table with co-workers a couple of times a year, but the stories continue long past when the game is packed away.
At least I have been able to enjoy watching the setting expand with Runebound Third Edition, released last year, and the ongoing expansions for Descent: Journey’s in the Dark.
Gary: And of course Runewars was the game that was featured on Orphan Black in the not too distant past, right?
Anton: That’s right!
Gary: A million clones can’t be wrong!
Anton: With those numbers, who’s going to tell them?
Thanks to Anton Torres and to FFG for a sneak peek inside their universe! I loved chatting with them almost as much as I love their games and THAT is a hard bar to reach because I love their games…A LOT.