The Dead Cells board game started life as an original, unrelated project closely inspired by the hit roguelike video game. So close, in fact, that the game’s studio head admits it would’ve been “awkward” if they hadn’t had the chance to make it an official adaptation.
Scorpion Masqué’s Manuel Sanchez told Dicebreaker that he had been “obsessed” with adapting the popular rogue-lite video game genre - which typically sees players making multiple runs through a gauntlet of semi-randomised enemies and levels, unlocking new items and abilities before resetting their progression upon defeat - since 2016.
“With the Scorpion Masqué team, we were also in the process of building an expertise in evolutive board games with Zombie Kidz and Zombie Teenz,” Sanchez recalls, referring to the publisher’s series of family-friendly legacy games. “They were kids games but included video game concepts as part of the evolutive architecture of the projects, and we were wondering how to apply that to adult games.”
Inspired further by Dead Cells’ acclaimed release in 2018 - “It was a revelation to me: everything I’d been looking for was there,” Sanchez says - the studio increased its efforts to translate the rogue-lite genre to the tabletop. It also began to experiment with adapting the ‘Metroidvania’ gameplay of video games such as Dead Cells and the eponymous Metroid and Castlevania series, typified by exploration of revisited environments and unlockable traversal-focused skills, to board game mechanisms.
“By mid-2019 we had built an expensive document on how to emulate the evolutive part of a Dead Cells-like, rogue-lite, Metroidvania board game but we were lacking an engine and the quantity of content that would need to be developed was overwhelming,” Sanchez says. “We knew we needed a designer to help us with that. Several designers, in fact.”
That help came in the form of Antoine Bauza, Corentin Lebrat, Ludovic Maublanc and Théo Rivière, the experienced French designers collectively known as team Kaedama, who joined the project in late 2019.
Among the changes needed to make roguelike and Metroidvania gameplay satisfying in a board game was a streamlined combat system - where each player plays only a single card during each of three phases, and fights last only a single round - and a balance between being able to revisit each area and take multiple paths without the ability to backtrack, which required multiple iterations of the game’s exploration system.
“It is important to respect the feeling of the original game without trying to copy the same exact mechanics,” Sanchez says.
“[The co-designers’] influence is immense: when they joined us, the project was a shell made of evolutive concepts, a few exploration mechanics and without combat mechanics. [They] quickly severed some development avenues that proved impracticable - real-time [gameplay], for example - and proposed new ones.”
While multiple video games include such gameplay, the resulting project drew upon Dead Cells in particular - so much so that Sanchez acknowledges that it would’ve felt ‘awkward’ to release it without the name officially attached.
“The game we wanted to make was so closely inspired by Dead Cells that it would have been awkward not to call it that way,” he admits.
In a lucky opportunity, co-designer Rivière was familiar with someone at Dead Cells developer Motion Twin, opening the door for the board game publisher and video game’s team to talk.
“They were enthusiastic about the project,” Sanchez says. “We were very lucky that Motion Twin was such an approachable, human and friendly company.
“It is very simple to talk to Motion Twin and [co-developer] Evil Empire and the modifications were always for the best. They helped us improve the content a lot.
“We knew we would still have a lot of work, but by spring 2020 everything had fallen into place for Dead Cells: The Rogue-lite Board Game to exist.”
Dead Cells: The Rogue-Lite Board Game will launch its Kickstarter campaign on May 16th.