Interview with Game Designer Sherwin Matthews of Steamforged Games on Resident Evil 2: The Board Game
by Kevin Billman
Recently, while attending Gen Con 50, I had the opportunity to sit down with game designer Sherwin Matthews and get an early look at Resident Evil 2: The Board Game from Steamforged Games, currently on Kickstarter. Game components not final and are subject to change.
Kevin: I’m here at Gen Con 50 with Steamforged Games, looking at their prototype for their upcoming Resident Evil 2: The Board Game, and game designer Sherwin Matthews. Sherwin, why don’t you go ahead and give us an overview of how Resident Evil 2 is going to work.
Sherwin: Sure. Basically, the demo itself is centered around the Resident Evil 2 demo disc that came with the Resident Evil 1 Director’s Cut, because that was your first experience everyone had of playing Resident Evil 2 the video game and we really wanted to give that fantastic demo experience that people had when they first played the game. And it also works as it’s a nice tie-in to the tutorial for the original game as well so it enabled us to get a lot of the core concepts we wanted into the game: things like corpse markers, how enemies move around and attack you, how the characters move, and also stuff like the tension deck which we’ll get onto in a little while, and the random items. It allowed us to give everyone a good overview without bogging them down in too many details. That’s really what we were trying to emulate and so far from what I’ve heard from people this weekend it has gone really well.
K: You had mentioned that this is a cooperative game for 2-4 players and in a lot of cooperative games there is an AI system that handles the enemies. How do the enemies react to the players in this game?
S: Yes. It’s completely cooperative. We wanted this to have a really fast pace, much like the actual game itself and we’ll keep coming back to that concept. We really want it to feel like playing the actual video game. It’s a really fast paced game and the AI for the enemies will work so that if you’re on the same board or when your character moves and there are enemies nearby, they will react to you. We all can remember playing the game and that zombie comes spinning around and lunging at you as you run past, or staggering towards you as you put bullets into it. We built the engine around that: as you attack enemies they will move towards you or as you try to dodge past them they will try to bite you. They also get their own step so if they’re around you as you finish moving they will stagger towards you as well so they will really try to catch up with you and rip you to pieces. Different enemies will react in different ways. Zombie dogs are much faster than other types of enemies and you have to be careful, particularly if you meet them in pairs. Zombies themselves are not necessarily too bad on their own but if you get a big group of them they can be very dangerous. The lickers are a real challenge; that sort of a thing scuttles after you as you move. We’ve built a lot of individuality into the enemies.
K: The rank and file enemies that we’ll see through most of the scenario, if you come into contact with them do they get an attack as well? Or does that trigger an attack?
S: The onus is basically, or for the most part, the attacks from most of the enemies will happen during a character’s activation. If they are next to an enemy, then it will try to attack them and move around. So character’s are always under threat. They don’t really have a safe turn or a safe time when they can manage to move around, unless they can literally break free from all of the enemies. If you start at one end of a corridor and there are no enemies around, that’s fine, but as you start moving they might spawn around, which could happen from the tension deck or from gunshots drawing them toward you. There will come a point when you are surrounded and have to just dodge attacks all the time, because it gets very tight and enclosed. And that’s a lot of what the Resident Evil IP is about: tight, close, spaces with enemies that you have to dodge, but it’s not easy to dodge past them.
K: Obviously, in a scenario there will be pinnacle enemies. Do they have different AI setups? How does that mechanic work?
S: The bosses all have their own unique AI decks, much like we had with Dark Souls. That worked really well to give them that unique flavor to how they want to move around and do stuff. It also lets us add an extra step for complexity to how the game will work without being too overdrawn or having to look back to the rulebook all the time. All of them will have different cards in their reaction deck. It lets us tailor something like the G-Mutant, for example, which is a very static enemy: it spits acid at people and drops off the little G-Larvae which will come and try to latch onto you and bite you. To something like Birken, which we have in the demo, which is stalking people around and really going after them all the time, which is quite relentless. I was surprised when I played the game just how much that goes. Those guys will have their own decks and they’ll have their own unique quirks so if you’re damaging them you may add or remove cards to make them progressively weaker or stronger depending on the enemy.
K: Dark Souls had the heat-up mechanic where the bosses refresh. These guys are going to either get stronger or weaker and there desk is going to change as you combat them?
S: Not uniformly, but as a rule of thumb there tends to be something unique about each encounter. Hopefully what we’ve tried to achieve with this and at all levels of the game, especially the bosses, when you encounter something it should feel exactly like it did in the video game. Going back to the g-mutant, the larvae will scuttle up and try to bite the player and we’ll have tokens for that, but they aren’t really an enemy you fight, more of annoyance to the fight, doing damage as time goes on.
K: As far as the player is concerned, do the players have to worry about any kind of infection or is it just their health that they are monitoring?
S: Everything is resource management in Resident Evil, anybody who’s played the series will tell you that.
K: Right, get that classic survival horror/resource management…
S: Exactly. We don’t have enough bullets or ammo to kill every enemy so you have to choose who you just run past. And health is no different. You have your own health track and it’s just like the game: you start out at fine and go to caution then to danger. We’re not going to make Resident Evil 2 without poison, although that’s all you’re getting from me at the moment.
K: You mentioned the resource management with the bullets. How are we going to see that in play? Is each bullet we spend more attack power? Extra dice?
S: It will depend on what weapon you’re using. All the weapons have different profiles. If we look at the pistol, the pistol is a really good example of the resource management aspect of the game. It’s the weapon you’ll have throughout most of the game. It’s the weapon you’ll use to attack zombies the most. With that one you get a certain amount of bullets and you can choose how many you want to fire and put into the enemy. More bullets will give you a higher likelihood of putting it down. Rolling less won’t waste as much ammo, but carries the risk of missing. It isn’t just a binary state where you either hit or miss. There are also things like pushes, staggering back. You could push it back into a room so you can close the door and it come back and get you. There’s always options, you might need to clear a path for example. So there are a lot of tactical versatility. If you look at something like the shotgun, by comparison, there’s no subtle way to hit someone with a shotgun. That’s just raw damage output.
K: During the course of play, I see there is a tension deck that you’ve mentioned before. Is that going to create events for the players?
S: The tension deck is really our jump scare deck. As players are playing through this, it’s the character’s sense of unease. That real sort of fear that you’re generating going through the streets of Raccoon City or the overrun police department. That growing sense that players had when they first played it: I don’t want to go that way, I can hear a banging door somewhere, I can hear a zombie groaning, dogs howling, that sort of stuff. That’s what the tension deck represents, so whilst there are some “all clear” cards which are just “everything’s okay for the moment,” there are plenty of cards that force us to make difficult decisions: leave this room quickly or stay in this room because something bad is happening outside. There are some cards that are just our straight up jump scares: zombies break through a window and try to grab us or attack us.
K: What are our options as players when we want to sit down? Is there a campaign option? Do we scale it if we want to do a one-off? Will we be underpowered?
S: The game is designed for 2-4 players and it will balance itself very nicely at all player counts. No worries there. You could solo it I guess if you want to control two characters. There is no disadvantage to playing more characters. With more players you have more firepower, but you’re also going to go through the tension deck a bit faster. It will ramp up in terms of difficulty to accommodate that quite nicely. By no means is it “oh, I’ll just add another character to make things easier” that’s not the case. There will be a campaign mode, which I can’t really talk about at this second. There will certainly be objectives that will cross over between scenarios. It’s a scenario-driven game. Regarding the scenarios themselves, if you want to just pick up the game and play you will certainly be able to do that. It’s a stand-alone thing, you sit down with your friends and say “I want to play scenario 3” and just play that game through. If you want to play in order, playing the narrative, you can do that. There will be rewards and penalties for playing both. There will be some rubber-banding sort of things so you don’t feel underpowered playing in your chosen style.
K: Is there anything mechanically that you can think of that we haven’t covered?
S: We’ve pretty much covered most of the stuff I’m able to talk about to be honest. For the most part, the core essence of the game is the reaction system from the enemies, as they try to attack you as you move around. That’s really what the core mechanic is. We could look at the doors as one of the great examples we have. The doors are a big part of the franchise, that loading screen we always had. The RE board game doors can be how you manage the enemies that are attacking you. For example, when you step into a room, you’re always stepping into the unknown and it’s because we have a random generation system for our enemies so even if you play the same scenario, when you play it the next time through, you may get different enemies so there is a lot of replayability. The crucial part is, you have the choice of leaving doors opened or closed behind you as you go. If you shut the doors behind you, it will slow you down as you move through, but it will keep the way much more secure and much more safe. The flip side to that is, if you suddenly get ambushed, it’s going to slow you down a lot from running away from enemies. Of course, it’s much more dangerous to leave the doors open as zombies can follow you. And of course because it’s RE, there’s no reason there wouldn’t be a card from the aforementioned tension deck which suddenly means that zombies gain the ability to open doors. We’ve got to keep everyone on their toes.
K: And this is headed to Kickstarter this fall?
S: That’s correct. We’re all very excited about this one, I’m a huge RE fan and quite a lot of the other guys in the company are as well. It’s been so much fun to work on this and a real privilege that Capcom are able to give us this IP to work with and that they wanted to.
K: With the quality in the Guild Ball starter box and the Dark Souls box, I’m excited to see what you guys can do with the license. Thank you for your time and this sneak peek into Resident Evil 2: The Board Game.
S: Thank you.
I was really excited by what I got to see of Resident Evil 2: The Board Game. It’s clear that designer and the rest of the team at Steamforged Games have a passion and an appreciation for both the IP and the original video game. Even at this early stage, the game feels like Resident Evil. The resource management and the growing sense of dread from rising enemy counts and the tension deck really draw you into the theme. Steamforged Games has a strong track record of great games with amazing components and their miniatures are fantastic. The campaign for Resident Evil 2: The Board Game runs until October 23rd, 2017 and they are already well into stretch goal territory so head on over to Kickstarter and check it out.