I remember first meeting Eric Lang at Snakes and Lattes. He was there visiting our mutual friend (and fellow Game Guru) Jonathan. I was super thrilled to meet any designer at the time, but especially the guy who designed one of my favourite games of all time, Chaos in the Old World. Over the years we’ve gotten to be friends, hanging out at conferences and gatherings, and at playtest nights in his home. The past year has been a really great one for Lang professionally. He’s released a number of different games like The Others and Arcane Academy. His latest Kickstarter project, Rising Sun, is winding down, but it broke Kickstarter records as one of the most anticipated games of the year. Finally, this month he announced his new permanent position with CMON, as the Director of Game Design. I can’t think of any designer out there that currently enjoys influence on the directions the industry is going. This is a perfect time to look back at five of the best games from his career (so far, in six months I might have included Rising Sun and The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire on this list as well).
In Arcadia Quest, players put together a Guild with the different different Heroes of the city of Arcadia. It’s been taken over by the evil Lord Fang, and his minions are roaming he streets, causing nightmares for the Heroes trying to get to Fang and dispose him. Arcadia Quest uses an interesting Player vs. Player vs. Environment system, were the Heroes battle each other and the various monsters overrunning the city. You can play one-off adventure in Arcadia Quest, but it’s best enjoyed when you’re taking on a full campaign. Your Heroes gain weapons and items from game to game, better preparing them for a final showdown with Fang. Arcadia Quest has spawned a number of different expansions, and this year, a full sequel, Inferno was released. There is a whole world to Arcadia with a lot of different aspects to explore. Definitely worth getting into, just don’t expect to leave that rabbit hole anytime soon.
Lang is well known for his ‘dudes on a map’ games and Blood Rage is probably his most famous. It’s his incredible ode to the Viking legends and myths he loved growing up. Ragnorok is coming and different tribes engage in glorious battle for the opportunity to go to Valhalla. Over three different ages, players draft Quest, Battle, and Upgrade cards to form a hand. Then spend rage to play out their cards. They’ll add forces to the board, upgrade their warriors, recruit monsters and complete quests all in an effort to earn glory. Blood Rage was notable for it’s incredible miniatures (not surprising since it was published by CMON). Each of the tribes has different sculpts and the monsters are breathtaking. Truly a mini painter’s dream. Blood Rage has an interesting card-based battle mechanic, and often rewards players for having their forces killed off. This is the first in a series of games Lang envisions, based on the myths that captivated him as a child. Rising Sun has been called its spiritual successor, and there are a lot of similarities, but I just prefer to think of it as the second in a (hopefully long) series.
Chaos in the Old World
Chaos in the Old World is one of Lang’s first dudes on a map games. Players take on the role of Old Gods, come to Earth to wreak havoc on the mere mortals. Each of the different God starts from their own unique position, with their own goals to achieve victory. Nurgle The Lord of Decay wants to spread corruption around the board, Tzeentch The Changer of Ways uses magic card to his advantage, Slaanesh Master of Temptation has an adaptable strategy and many paths to victory, and Khorne the Skull Taker, well he just wants to kill. CITOW is full of crazy macabre imagery and brutal head to head battles. Players can win by earning 50 points or advancing their threat dials to a victory. What I love about this game, is that even though all the players start very asymmetrically, it feels completely balanced. CITOW is not an easy games to play well. You have to put in some time to learn the different Gods and how to use and combat them. However, once you get this game, it’s so rewarding and definitely worth the time put into learning it. My only suggestion is that you only ever play with four.
Arcane Academy flew under the radar for a lot of people last year. Lang co-designed it with Kevin Wilson, in what I can only describe as a departure for both of them. We already mentioned it on our list of games that deserved more love in 2016, but I think it ranks among Lang’s best work. One of the big reasons, is that it’s a small and fast game, that feels like a departure from a lot of his other fare. In Arcane Academy, players are wizards training and developing their skills in case an attack should ever occur. You develop your personal slate with tiles that may connect together depending on the way you lay them out. The goal is to collect Will and Shards (the economy of the game) and spend them to acquire Items and Spells. How you create your slate will determine how impactful your turns can be. Each turn you select one tile to activate and exhaust, but any of the four adjacent tiles can also be activated, if they’re connected. Sooner or later you’re going to have to take a turn to rest and take all those exhaustion cubes off your board. Getting the timing right for that is key. Arcane Academy is pretty anomalous in Lang’s catalogue, but I definitely recommend checking it out.
XCOM: The Board Game
This is another interesting on for Lang. XCOM is based on the video game series where different departments come together to fight off an attacking alien force. It’s pretty unique in his designs for it use of a digital app that directs gameplay and handles all the upkeep that would make it more or less
unplayable without. I haven’t always ben the biggest fan of the mixture of analog and digital elements in games. It remains to be seen whether it’s a flash in the pan, or the future of gaming. One thing is for sure, XCOM is one of the games that does it better that any of the others. It’s a cooperative game, with up to four players assuming the roles of Commander, Central Officer, Chief Scientist, and Squad Leader. Each role has unique tasks to perform in the game, and the “Pandemic Syndrome” (whereby one player takes over and makes all the decisions) is deftly avoided by forcing each player to make their decisions under timed conditions; the app keeps track of time spent and pausing does not stop the clock. Each round consists of the timed decision-making phases (which are increasingly frenetic at higher difficulty levels) followed by a resolution phase when all the decisions play out. This may not be for everyone, but I still think it makes for a fun and innovative experience.