Lander – The Story Behind The Board Game
The UK Games Expo is a magical place. Each and every year, more and more board game players, publishers, and designers enter the fold to play and exhibit the newest games on the market. Each year the quality of those designers gets ever higher, and this year we saw some of the most exciting games enter the board game sphere that we have ever seen. In fact, coming out of the Expo, there were two specific games in particular that piqued our interests – and that we later predicted would become huge games within the board game world. The first was Megacity Oceania, a new entry into the city building genre. The second, and a game I literally cannot wait to play again, was Lander.
Lander is a space themed strategy game that is currently in the middle of a #PlayBeforeYouPledge campaign. FLGSs will have been receiving their copies for people to play over the past few weeks. Lander itself will be launched on Kickstarter on 3rd March 2020, and I seriously urge you to check it out. We’ve played a round and it is a really, really good game.
At the time of writing, I have literally just got off Skype to Dan Alexander (the designer of Lander). Over the past week or so we have had a few calls where we have discussed the story of how the game was created. Today, I wanted to share that story with you as it is one I personally find inspiring. I hope that other aspiring game designers also find it interesting, as well as those who want to play the game.
What is Lander?
Okay, so briefly before we start – a very quick overview of what the Lander board game is and why it is exciting.
Firstly, Lander is a space themed game in which you lead a corporation who have found themselves on a brand-new planet. You goal is to harvest resources, train your crew, and ultimately complete missions to win the game.
There are three different modes to Lander – a short game (lasting 20 minutes per player), a medium game (of 30 minutes per player), and a longer game (of 50 minutes per player). It is a highly strategic game with a modular board, and, to be frank, it is really, really cool!
Lander will be Kickstarted by Intrepid Games on March 3rd 2020.
This article isn’t really about how to play Lander, but more about the process, so I have embedded a video showing how it is played below.
Creating Lander – Part 1 – The Initial Idea
The idea for Lander dates back to Boxing Day 2014. After two players could not make a game night, Dan Alexander and his friend Charles Gershom could not play Catan due to the 3+ player count. Instead, they came up with an idea. They were going to create a game – one that was (at the time) heavily influenced by Risk Legacy and that would, over the course of the next 4.5 years, become the game that we are so incredibly excited about – Lander.
What Games Influenced Lander?
The idea for Lander initially came about because of a dislike of two things. The first was the aforementioned Catan player count.
The second was the concept of Risk Legacy and how, in a previous game, Dan had managed to build a huge army that was, in due course, destroyed due to poor dice rolling. Off the back of that, he wanted to create a game that had no dice in it whatsoever and relied on the strategy of the players. This led to Lander (or “Untitled Game” as it was at the time) becoming a solid strategy game, without dice, themed around the idea of space combat on a planet everyone crash-landed on. The idea was a novel one, and one that Dan decided to develop.
Core Mechanics Behind Lander
At that point, there were three core mechanics that Lander used. The first was a combat mechanic of stacking cards to increase the starting value. The second was more interesting – a crew mechanic. The crew deck was made up of 30 men and 30 women, chosen from 60 different countries. Equality was a driving force behind the game, and the idea was to represent the people of the world.
Next, there was an upgrade deck. A core aspect of the game was developing the crew to allow for them to get better as time went on. That way they could complete missions and score objectives.
Taking those concepts, Dan and Charles developed a game (mostly over Skype, it has to be said) that was the raw foundation of Lander. When they came back to play it however…well…there’s no easy way to say this. They hated it.
Creating Lander – Part 2 – Going Back To Basics
So, I love this idea. Dan and Charles had developed a game that they kept tweaking and turned into something they didn’t actually enjoy playing. They could have put it down there, but they decided to persevere, and I am personally glad they did – partly because I actually really like Lander as a game, and also because I think all aspiring game designers can learn something here.
Going Back to Basics
It is at this point in our conversation, the point where they turn it around that Dan said something brilliant that I want to quote directly for a second –
We stopped thinking about the game and thought about the story.
That was a pinnacle moment that turned Lander around and something I think all game developers can take away. There comes a point where you have to stand back from your own game and say “What is it meant to be about?”
The truth is, Dan and Charles, had created a space combat game – but Lander was never meant to be about that. It was meant to be about people, and the crew, and being inclusive. Board games are a great hobby for bringing people together, and Lander needed to do that.
If anyone gets stuck designing a game, you need to go back to your philosophy and start from there. Once you have that you can get it right.
The story of Lander, the story behind Lander, was not about combat. The combat didn’t even make sense in context of the game. So, Lander got stripped back. The combat aspect got removed, and it became a strategy game about training crew and resource generation.
Those aspects together are the basis of a fairly interesting game, but Lander needed to be unique. It needed to offer something that other games didn’t.
Creating Lander – Part 3 – Developing The Mechanics
Over the following years, Lander’s mechanics kept being refined. The idea of the resources and modular board became symbolic of the exploration of the planet. Dan became lead designer on the project, Intrepid Games was born, and the different decks in the game slowly got refined over hundreds of games to ensure they were balanced. One of my favourite parts of the conversation was actually around the crew cards and how they were further developed.
Developing the Crew
As mentioned previously, Lander was designed with being inclusive in mind. There are 30 men and 30 women within the crew cards, with realistic artwork that has been created to depict real people rather than idealistic godly beings who are beyond human and over-sexualised.
This is where the true philosophy of the game shows its face. Not only was Lander to, in due course, aim to also have an education aspect about geology and oceanography, but the crew were also designed to be inspirational in their own way. The people in the crew are realistic people who can do extraordinary things when they put their mind to it, and Dan wants them to be almost fictional role models.
Our aspiration with the game is to, through fiction, try to create characters that people can connect to and relate with, to inspire the next generation to pursue STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths).
Once again, this is an awesome concept and one I can’t help but tip my hat to. It is a fantastic idea, and one that I have to admire. Kudos Intrepid Games – a name which, in and of itself, means to persevere.
Anyway, back to how Lander was designed.
Encouraging Player Interaction
From the start, player interaction was a key aspect that the Lander team wanted to promote with the game. As such a few decks were introduced to the game in order to encourage players to both interact with each other and even impose conditions on the game as a whole. What this has led to, inadvertently, is a game with little downtime.
When I was talking to Dan over Skype, one core things that came across was how much he kept coming back to the philosophy of the game. He wanted to emphasise the fact that gaming to him is not about looking down at your own player area, unaffected by everyone else. Instead, it is about looking up, at the people who you have invited to play a game around your table.
To quote Dan one more time –
It’s about playing a game with [the other players], not playing a game around them.
What this means is that Lander is a game that has been designed with player interaction as a core aspect.
If At First You Don’t Succeed – Test, Test, and Test Again
There are so many aspects of Lander that then came out of testing. Around the same time Intrepid Games was created, with Dan teaming up with a friend to create the company, they managed to find an artist (Elias Stern – who coincidentally did work for Solar Storm). They were able to put together a prototype of the game and play test it all over the world.
Through play testing, different developments made their way into the game. This included the accolade deck, as well as an opportunity to balance out Lander. One interesting point is that, when playtesting, there were a few crew members who were overpowered. Removing them from the game left it lacking, so the simple solution was to overpower all the crew members to fix it. It’s a genius idea and one that, since I have tried the game myself I can say, works.
At the UKGE 2017 a faster version of Lander was created. Originally the game was designed to be long – up to three hours long, and it became clear that there were players who would want a faster option. So a new version of the rules was created to allow for a shorter game to be played. This adds to the overall versatility and replayability of the game.
Creating Lander – Part 4 – Developing the Artwork and the Box
The artwork of Lander went through a similarly interesting process. There were a few choices made that make Lander interesting from an artistic perspective. Firstly, every single card has unique art, which is a feat in and of itself. Secondly, the artwork was made by creating 3D models that were then painted over the top.
What this allowed for was for the card to be kept realistic and for the conditions of various card to easily be portrayed within the artwork. Once a model was created, it could be reposed and moved with ease. It could be recoloured or given a different uniform. Once it was complete, the whole image could be painted over to enhance it and make the visuals pop.
Just as much thought went into the box. The world is plagued by bad box inserts, and yet with Lander the box inserts form a part of the game. They can be removed and used during the game to help organise the cards.
All of these components are the icing on an exciting cake.
With all those elements in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to try and create a snapshot – a sort of summary – for Lander. It is a game that I find really interesting, and I wanted to create a small image to summarise the core mechanic and points of the game.
Creating Lander – Part 5 – Play Before You Pledge and Kickstarter
And so here we are. Dan and Intrepid Games wanted to run a campaign for Lander where they have shipped it to game stores all over the world. At those game stores it is possible to play the game before it hits Kickstarter. It’s an ingenious move, if I may say so, and shows how much Intrepid believe in Lander as a game.
As mentioned several times throughout this article, Lander Kickstarts on March 3rd 2020. You can visit the BGG page by clicking here. Finally, for a chance to win a copy, there is a competition that you can enter here.
I’m not 100% sure this article does justice to the creation of Lander but I hope it gives you an idea of the pure ingenuity, time, and effort that has gone into creating a truly remarkable game. This is a game that has been made by gamers, for people who love gaming together. It is well thought through and well refined. We literally cannot wait to play it again.
So, what is your impression? What do you take away from the process? If you are a designer, what is your story? Let me know in the comments below.