Hit points, inventory management, and statistical-based combat in role playing games can be tracked back to Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s Dungeons & Dragons. Since the release of D&D nearly fifty years ago, table-top titles and RPGs have intermingled, spawning analog and digital interpretations of high-fantast adventures.
This link is unmistakably evident in Wild Hunt Festival, a Japanese-born board game that draws inspiration from games like Monster Hunter and the Atelier franchise. We spoke with Hong Kong-based Ramo, the co-designer of the upcoming table-top title in anticipation of the game’s Kickstarter crowd-sourcing campaign.
Tech-Gaming: Currently, we’re at a stage where board games included video games, which are now reciprocating and influencing board games. What are your thoughts on this evolution?
Ramo: This is a thought-provoking topic.
From my point of view, while the game experience—and even the operational function of table games and video games seems to be quite different—the fundamental nature of “games,” regardless of type, is inextricably linked. Put the elements of a table game into a video game; transform the concept of video games into table games… The difference between them is simply the medium.
Moreover, when making table games and video games that contain the same subject matter, it’s the interaction and experience that matters in the end. And that interaction and experience ultimately comes from the creator/designer of that game and the rules by which the game is constructed. Therefore, it’s an inevitability that video games will influence table games and vice-versa.
What I mean to say is: the very foundation of a game—any game—is its rules. A game can have no story, but it can’t not have rules. If you think about it historically, long before video games, there were “table games.” Table games have been rooted in entertainment culture since the dawn of civilization. How we create games with rules, while letting the participating players have fun, is also a very meaningful topic (though one for a different day). Simply put, from my point of view, traditional games, “table games,” and even the latest video games, are basically the evolution of a rules-based representation.
In other words, to define the category of a game is to start with the rules of that game, which as eluded to, is the core mechanism of any type of game. So for instance: if a game’s description was something to the effect of, “two teams must compete for a ball-shaped object on an athletic field using their body parts (but excluding their hands) in order to send said object into a designated range to score a point,” we’d naturally think of the game of soccer.
With the progress of civilization—as mankind can use knowledge and tools to deal with more complex rule sets—the development of games has seen explosive growth. To that end, rules and logic that can’t be achieved because of the constraints of the real environment around us, can have infinite possibilities of play through the use computer programs. When we play a soccer-based video game, it’s sort of amusingly ironic that we must rely on our hands to manipulate the virtual characters in the computer to play the aforementioned soccer game, while in the rules of an actual soccer game it’s forbidden to use our hands.
What’s also interesting to think about is the origins of TRPGs (tabletop role playing games) and how Dungeons & Dragons was born as a tabletop game before the advancement of electronic technology. The Game Master in TRPGs, as the authority of the game rules, leads players in role-playing the behavior of risk-taking. Because the Game Master executes and adjudicates the game rules in real-time, it’s difficult for the current technology to be fully handled by computer programs. But in time, when VR technology matures, TRPGs in virtual space will surely create a more perfect game experience. The GM will be able to easily change the terrain environment and players will be able to move freely from the point of view of the roles being played, all of which will achieve the goals that the previous table games could not achieve.
Tech-Gaming: Kradia: Wild Hunt Festival bills itself as a “cooperative boss-battle board game”. Is there any competition between players?
Ramo: In Wild Hunt Festival, the entire game is co-op; there’s no competition between players at all. The only way to win the game is by working together.
Tech-Gaming: There are twelve different boss battles in the game. How does the game make sure each encounter feels different?
Ramo: It’s all about level design. Though, I’d be lying if I said that designing 12 unique boss encounters, all of which feel different, was easy. To ensure that each fight felt like its own, we created different attack modes within the existing resources and really relied on the combat system we created, which I think is pretty robust, especially for a pick-up-and-play RPG boss-rush-style game. What we’re most proud of though is how there’s no one set way to defeat the bosses. This not only allows for (and encourages) player experimentation, but it exponentially increases replayability.
Tech-Gaming: There’s a lot of complexities in the risk/reward systems of table-top games? How did you go about designing these?
Ramo: As far as Wild Hunt Festival is concerned, the players’ available actions are relatively simple compared to other tabletop games. At its core, WHF offers just three actions that players can take each turn (they can only take one of the available three). Because of this, we mainly used the “attack” action to calculate the game’s risk-reward system. Because Wild Hunt Festival uses a turn-based combat system, the sooner the players defeat a boss, the less damage they’re likely to receive. However, if players don’t consider the boss’s attack mode and the various options it has at its disposal to deal damage and inflict status effects, and instead just go with an all-out attack approach—without considering any type of strategy (which would be the equivalent of, say, button-mashing in a video game)—they’ll undoubtedly face not just unpredictable attacks from the boss, but ones that are incredibly deadly.
One of the mechanics of Wild Hunt‘s boss battles is that bosses roll attack dice based upon their current HP. The different numbers on the dice determine how the boss decides to attack, with the higher numbers equating to higher-damage attacks. But the flipside to an all-out attack is one that is more cautious. One might such an approach is the way to handle bosses in WHF. But that’d be a bad assumption, as keeping to a low-risk strategy means having to deal with more attacks at a lesser lethality. So with that in mind, the players’ task really is to make the best possible choice at any given time in battle, weighing the pros and cons of the various types of strategies available to them. It’s a constant game of risk vs. reward, which is something we’re really proud of, as designers.
Tech-Gaming: Wild Hunt Festival‘s eight characters level up and developer skills as a game progresses. Can the party grind to soften the difficulty of the boss?
Ramo: Yes and no. When we designed the difficulty levels of each of the game’s bosses, we balanced them according to the ability of each class/character in the game. So, in Story Mode, it’s entirely possible for a party to spend time grinding a Level 1 boss so that the Level 2 boss isn’t as challenging. This approach would essentially be like switching a video game’s difficulty level to Easy. Which is a completely fine way to play Wild Hunt Festival! However, it’s not necessarily how we intended the game to be played. We think players will get the most of the game by not grinding and instead being at the same level as each of the game’s bosses. So, if you’re going up against a Level 3 boss, you’ll get the most of your session by being at level 3 yourself.
Tech-Gaming: Naturally, a team of players want to strive for synergy? How important is a balanced party build to beat a boss?
Ramo: A balanced team structure is vitally important in playing the game. The party we always recommend to players, especially new players, is: 2 attackers, 1 healer, and 1 balance type. But like any JRPG or MMORPG with a Job system, part of the fun is in experimenting with different party builds/compositions and finding which ones work best for which bosses.
Each role (class/job) in Wild Hunt Festival is designed to have its own different positioning and abilities. However, the abilities of some roles can syngerize with that of others’ for extremely powerful effects.
But like those JRPGs and MMORPGs I just mentioned, if you disregard formation structure and simply form a party without any kind of forethought, you’re very likely to fall into one of two categories: either having insufficient attack ability, or having insufficient recovery abilities. Either category is a fast-pass to annihilation.
Tech-Gaming: Wild Hunt Festival supports from one to four players. How will the game play out for soloists?
Ramo: The game definitely supports a single-player games. The process of single-player in Wild Hunt Festival is the same as that of four players. That is to say, if you’re playing solo, you won’t be managing one character, you’ll be managing the entire party of four characters. There are no changes to the mechanics or difficulty in single-player, either. So, even if you play by yourself, you’ll be getting the entire experience you’d get otherwise, which is something we’re also really proud of. Since Wild Hunt Festival is a board game version of an JRPG, it was important for us to include an option that allowed for solo play.
Since so many folks who play JRPGs are used to doing so on their own—I mean, it’s not exactly a genre that offers many multiplayer outings—I really wanted to reach out to them via the board game medium, to invite them into the medium and make them feel comfortable with the type of gaming they’re used to. In that regard, Wild Hunt Festival is a really good gateway into board games if you’ve never given them a shot before.
Tech-Gaming: Can you talk about how it scales to accommodate two, three, and even four players?
Ramo: As in the previous question, the game’s various mechanics and systems aren’t impacted by the number of players. Though it goes without saying that if more than two people are playing, it might be easier to find effective strategies simply because you have multiple people to bounce ideas off of.
Tech-Gaming: How much testing was involved to make these systems were enjoyable as possible?
Ramo: For us, playtesting took about four months. We most conducted our playtests internally, though we invited some folks from the outside to give it a try just in case we found ourselves, as the game’s designers, in one of those forest-from-the-trees situations. But yeah, four months, multiple times a week. By tabletop gaming standards, that’s fairly intensive, at least for the boss-battle RPG genre.
Tech-Gaming: The game takes inspiration for Gust’s Atelier franchise, as well as Monster Hunter Please describe how these titles fit into Wild Hunt Festival.
Ramo: Gust’s Atelier franchise was the largest influence on Wild Hunt Festival and really the larger Kradia universe we’ve built (more on that in a moment). As the game’s lead designer, I’m really drawn to Atelier‘s juxtaposition of exotic adventure and ordinary, everyday life. So, when we sat down to create and flesh out the world of Kradia, our main objective was to create a world that was unique but also not too serious.
As for Monster Hunter, its influence is primarily felt in the game’s premise; that being players forming a four-person hunting group. Much like Atelier, I’m a huge fan of Monster Hunter. In fact, when coming up with the game system/genre for the Wild Hunt Festival, we asked ourselves one question to kick off the game’s concept development: “I wonder what a turn-based version of Monster Hunter would be like?” And from there, we just slowly built the game’s combat and job system.
We also used Monster Hunter to inform our decision about how to handle the game’s story. Like in Monster Hunter, Wild Hunt Festival‘s story isn’t front and center; that goes to the combat. However, a story exists in Wild Hunt Festival for those who are interested, and it’s delivered between boss battles through written Quest Log sheets that come packed in with the game. You’ll get to read about the game’s lore, your upcoming quest (who posted the quest, what the objective is, etc.), as well as the boss that you’re being tasked with taking down. These story elements weren’t actually included in the original release, however, we worked with our publisher LionWing Publishing to include these elements in the English edition to really flesh out the experience, so as to give it that true RPG feel. We didn’t set out to create a sprawling tabletop narrative like Gloomhaven or Descent, but I’m really pleased with what we came up with and I’m excited to show it off for the first time in the English release.
As referenced earlier in this answer, Wild Hunt Festival is part of a larger universe and game franchise called Kradia. So while WHF is the first Kradia game to get an English adaptation, it is in fact the second game in our larger Kradia series (we just released the third game in Japan/China last month). Each of our games is set in the Kradia universe but is of a different genre, with different game systems and mechanics. These different game systems are meant to depict different faces of the same world. LionWing has expressed an interest in localizing the other Kradia games if Wild Hunt is a success. So we’re optimistic about Kradia’s future.
Tech-Gaming: Looking at the original Japanese release, there’s mention of an “Easy Mode”. How does this work?
Ramo: I talked a little bit about a video game “Easy Mode” equivalent when I discussed grinding earlier. But there’s another way that players can make Wild Hunt Festival easier (because quite honestly, it’s a pretty challenging game), and that’s by allowing characters to start each successive fight in Story Mode with full HP. Normally, you start the next Story Mode boss fight with the HP you were at when the last boss battle ended; and if any players died in the previous battle, they can’t be resurrected—they’re out for the rest of the adventure (there are four boss battles per “adventure”). Starting with a full line-up of characters, all at full HP, makes the game a lot easier and more welcoming to newcomers or younger players.
Tech-Gaming: Are there any plans for expansions or is Wild Hunt Festival close-ended?
Ramo: There absolutely are plans, and preparations are already underway.
Wild Hunt Festival is only the beginning of this combat engine we’ve created. I’m excited to explore it further and build upon it for future content. Our immediate next project is designing some additional single-player content where we explore the combat engine some more as well as the story; a sort of single-player “DLC,” if you will. Not only will this content complement the narrative of the characters, chapters, and stories that I’ve always had in my head but struggled to work into our Kradia games (just because board games are so much harder to work strong narratives into), but it will also allow me to try out some systems that aren’t currently in the game, such as material-gathering, weapon-crafting, etc. Those gathering and crafting systems are really appealing and are content that everyone—single-player or multiplayer-minded folks—can look forward to!
Tech-Gaming would like to thank Ramo, Bradly Halestorm,
and LionWing Publishing for their time and efforts.