The Daily Worker Placement

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Hot Take: Should you Back Skyrim: The Adventure Game?

by | published Friday, November 19, 2021

You may have heard that it was the 10th anniversary of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (the videogame) this week. You may also have heard that Modiphius Games has launched a campaign on Gamefound for a Tabletop adaptation: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim The Adventure Game (Skyrim:TAG hereinafter). You may even have read my two-part interview with publisher Chris Birch and design team member Juan Echenique (Part One, Part Two) earlier this week. I’ve played the tutorial and the first part of the first Campaign on Tabletop Simulator–where it is available for anyone to try, by the way, if you download it from the Workshop.

So it’s just quite possible that you’re interested in my take on the game and whether I’m going to back it. Because that might help you decide if you want to back it–or buy it when it comes to retail (which it definitely will). 

If not–well, you’re in the wrong place, friend. 

Let’s start by talking about how the Internet has made idiots of us all.

* * *

Here are the most common reasons I’ve seen from people who’ve taken pains to explain why they’re not backing Skyrim:TAG:

  • The artwork is “lazy” because it’s “just” taken from the videogame. On the contrary, to me this is a good choice because it helps immerse me in the game as I know it. I don’t want to spend the game distracted by artwork, no matter how good, which is different from the game. The worst-case scenario (looking at YOU, Legendary: Firefly) is artwork which is so bad it completely breaks immersion. In other words, I’d rather Modiphius spend their budget on perfecting gameplay than hiring artwork which may or may not improve the immersion of the game.
  • A boardgame could never capture the feel of the videogame. First of all, that’s false. It’s hard, there aren’t a ton of examples, but see Fallout, Superhot, heck even Jetpack Joyride. Second of all, duhhh, it’s a boardgame, of course it’s not going to completely capture the feel. You want Skyrim? Play Skyrim! Skyrim:TAG offers a different kind of experience set in the world of Tamriel. Trashing a boardgame because it’s not a videogame is not a reason. 
  • Similarly, I’ve read and seen complaints that the combat in the game is weak. But even if true (and I’m not sure I agree anyway), from what I can see, this is a feature not a bug. The designers were leaning into the narrative and character-growth aspects of Skyrim. If it’s combat in Skyrim you want, there’s a game for that: The Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms. While I’m at it forgive me, but until I found out about it in the interview I never even knew that Call to Arms existed–and it’s my (unpaid) job to know about such things–besides which I’m a Skyrim fan. I never saw it in any FLGS here in Toronto (unlike Modiphius’ other tactical-minis-game-based-on-beloved-IP Fallout: Wasteland Warfare). 
  • It’s too expensive for what you get. That’s true if you just back the base game (no way it’s worth paying the shipping)–but not if you back at the higher tiers. If you’re a minis person then you’re getting good value on top of which you get a chance to sample Call to Arms for almost no extra charge. Besides, prices are going up across the board (no pun intended) and gamers are going to have to get used to it. Plus, you know, COVID. I don’t mean that sarcastically. The global supply chain which we’ve allowed to underpin our “buy now” economy is in deep doo-doo. Viruses are notoriously immune to whining.
  • There were no physical prototypes available for reviewers. It’s a bit weird to me that backers would care about prototypes, but I do get that they want some people at least to get some physical, tangible evidence of the game. On the other hand, once again, COVID. I mean, I don’t think these people realize just how expensive it would be to manufacture a small run of prototypes, especially under today’s circumstances. Reviewers have been living with digital review copies for over a year. It’s not ideal–but it also shouldn’t be used as a cudgel to beat Modiphius with or used as an excuse not to back.
  • The Siege of the Citadel campaign was a disaster. True. But Modiphius has had six other successful Kickstarter campaigns which met all targets. Plus, all the evidence I’ve seen is that they’ve learned from the mistakes of that campaign and are well ahead of the game on Skyrim:TAG. Ironically, the fact that they’re production-ready is being used as a reason not to back because people are requesting changes that aren’t feasible at this point without adding delays.

In summary, 95% of the reasons not to back that I’ve seen are not persuasive. That doesn’t mean I don’t think Modiphius has played its hand perfectly.

At the end of my interview, I asked Juan Echenique why people who have already bought and/or played games like Gloomhaven should also buy Skyrim:TAG. What did Skyrim:TAG bring to the table that was unique? 

Juan’s been working on this game very intensely for three years, and his devotion to the game (and Skyrim itself) is unquestionable to me–this is not (as some have said) a soulless mindless IP-clone ground out to make money. It is a labour of love.

But his answer essentially boiled down to Skyrim:TAG is epic in scope and provides a shared experience at the table. Both of these are true, I believe, and they’re good selling points for the game–yet the fact remains that there are already many, many other tabletop games that also have those qualities. Most of what makes Skyrim:TAG special is very entwined with Skyrim itself. If you’ve never played the videogame, you might enjoy Skyrim:TAG–but you may also enjoy Gloomhaven or Too Many Bones or Descent (any edition) or Dungeon Degenerates (to name just four)–each of which has a distinct flavour and unique gameplay and none of which rely on IP to motivate the narrative.

But even for Skyrim fans like me the lack of a Dragonborn campaign which roughly follows the narrative arc of the videogame is disappointing. On the other hand, I do appreciate the opportunity to fill out the lore and the backstories–in fact, if nothing else it will get me playing Skyrim again just to remember them all. Maybe there’ll be a Dragonborn expansion with Shout and Imperial/Rebel faction mechanics. Or maybe in the true Skyrim spirit there’ll be a fan mod.

Still, there are several things Skyrim:TAG gets very right which haven’t received enough attention. The first is the tutorial mission, possibly the best I’ve seen in a tabletop boardgame and absolutely necessary to get players comfortable with the game’s various systems. The second is getting the tone right: fantasy with just the right amount of whimsical comedy. And finally, although there are the usual Threat mechanisms which serve as timeclocks on quests, there are ways to mitigate them which leaves plenty of breathing room for a truer Skyrim experience: open-world, meandering, exploration-focused.

* * *

Skyrim:TAG is a solid game. It works well overall, and extremely well in bringing Skyrim to life on the tabletop. In the part of the base game that was available to play there was nothing that leaped out to me as “ooooh, this is different and elegant”, but there appear to be some more interesting and original mechanisms at work in the Dawnguard expansion. If you’re going to back it you’ll need a reason other than gameplay. It could be the minis, your attachment to Skyrim, or something else–but the game itself on its own merits doesn’t justify the monetary commitment Modiphius is asking for.

In the end, I am backing Skyrim:TAG–Gameplay Tier, of course, for all the extra content. And after all this back-and-forth, I’ve got my one and only one reason: my son. He and I spent a lot of time in Skyrim, back in the day: one of us kibbitzing while the other played, or watching YT videos, or playing together in Elder Scrolls Online (though he never forgave me for levelling up my character so much while he was away at camp that one summer). 

And even though I haven’t seen him for a while I love the idea of the two of us sitting down at a table someday and riding through the countryside together, hopefully not taking an arrow in the knee.

YMMV.


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