Anastyr has assembled a big team. If we can’t give the floor to all the contributors, these three interviews will let you to know the approaches of some of the creators of this huge project. A big thank you to Nicolas Lamberti, from Guerre & Plomb, for having brilliantly conducted the interviews and allowing us to publish them on our website!
Philippe Villé, Game designer of Anastyr
Hello, Philippe. Can you introduce yourself to our readers? What is your background, what led you to start creating games?
Philippe Villé: It isn’t very original, but I’m an enthusiast of board games and video games, first and foremost. As a teenager, I fell into the role-playing game world with Maléfices and Paranoïa. Then, I quickly branched out into miniature games with Heroquest, Space Hulk, and Warhammer 40K. As a kid, I used to play with little Atlantic soldiers, and I was frustrated to settle the outcome of a battle only with marble throws… When I discovered that there were rules for that, miniature gaming became a consuming passion! I think I played everything that came out on the market for at least 20 years, preferring fantasy worlds to historical ones. At the same time, painting miniatures has also become one of my favorite hobbies.
I arrived in Paris at the end of the 90’s and started to work in the gaming world, but in a “semi-professional” way. It must be said that at that time it was a microcosm, and we were still “tinkering” a lot. So, I worked as a freelancer for Ravage, Asmodee, and I had a little experience as a magazine editor (Codex Arcanum). I started to rub shoulders with the “great old men” of the field like Léo (ed.: Léonidas Vesperini) and Croc (whom I admire, but I don’t tell him because it’s bad for his ego) and to work on some of their projects, but everything accelerated with the advent of Kickstarter.
How did you meet Mythic Games?
At first, it was through Monolith. Leo and Frederic Henry subcontracted me as a scenario creator, a few months before the KS launch of Conan, which was exciting, being a new publishing experience.Then, after founding Mythic Games, Leo and Benoit (ed. note: Benoit Vogt) first offered me to work for them as a freelancer, then I was hired.
What were the circumstances that brought you to the Anastyr project?
Mythic Games wanted to launch an accessible action game with a system that could be used in other productions. The original idea was to develop a contemporary “beat ’em up”-style game, using the mechanics of a game we had the rights to. But Paolo presented us with his seductive “barbarian fantasy” universe, and we couldn’t miss such an opportunity! So, we decided to start from a blank page and develop a home-made game system, while keeping the original idea of making a “beat’em up” game.
What is, or what are, your inspirations that influenced your creative work on Anastyr?
Mainly dungeon crawler games, of which I am an absolute fan.
Can you describe your design process? Is there an amicable process to match the theme and the mechanics, or a set of specifications? Tell us all about it!
The specifications were as follows: a beautiful, fun, and accessible beat’em up-inspired action game with a quick set-up. Granted, it’s not an easy challenge to meet considering the competition! Another requirement was that the wild creatures could be ridden by the heroes. The hardest part was to make the game accessible enough without having to cut back on the depth of the system, which was a real challenge! We removed a lot of things that would have made the game too much like a simulation.
I’m supported by two talented developers, Lou (ed. Lou Pruvost) and Romain (ed. Romain Delavie) and all decisions are made mostly in a collaborative way. As far as the artistic direction is concerned, Paolo is in charge and thanks to him we have had the chance to take advantage of an armada of talented artists to materialize what was at first only a concept. We also collaborated a lot with the team of authors Mélanyn and Mathieu (editor’s note: Mathieu Gaborit) to develop the “lore” and to ensure coherence with the game’s mechanisms. As a game designer, I feel incredibly lucky to work with such a “dream team” for my first published game.
What is the element of this world setting, you think needs to be reflected in the game system?
The wild and hostile nature plays a major role in this universe, and we tried to transcribe this through an ecosystem specific to each region crossed by the Companions of the Spear. For this we used different game effects generated by event cards, wild beast miniatures, board spaces or even Quest cards. In addition, most of the antagonists also interact with this ecosystem. I hope that players will enjoy discovering each new environment, not only from a narrative point of view, but also and especially through the new features each environment introduces to the gameplay.
I also asked Paolo and Leonidas this question, but now I’m interested in the designer’s opinion. What do you think are the assets that will seduce the players who like hybrid games and who are nowadays faced with a very wide range of proposals, all of them of excellent quality?
I think the game is visually impressive, which is very important for the immersion of the player. But a beautiful game does not make a good game. We tried to fix some of the problems inherent to the hack and slash genre, like player downtime between turns, the cumbersome activation of enemies, or the limited tactical options available to the players. Each hero has been carefully developed (and we’re going to refine this even further) and offers the player new ways to approach combat.
Finally, we wanted to give an epic and cinematic dimension to each scenario. To do this we used Quest cards, each of which marks out key moments in the adventure with a touch of narrative, while introducing new objectives. With this principle, we can give rhythm to the game, to create surprise, and to turn things around. I’m adamant about the quality of the scenarios, because you can have the best system in the world, and you will certainly ruin the experience with mediocre scenarios. We will also be providing the community with a suite of tools to help them create their own adventures and I can’t wait to see what they do with them. The creativity of the fanbase is impressive and limitless, just look at what has been done for games like Zombicide, Conan or Reichbusters.
Paolo Parente, Art Director
Hello, Paolo! Before looking at your current situation, we’d like you to tell us a little about your professional background in the gaming and artistic world. What is your background and how did you get into the game world?
Paolo Parente: It’s a long story. I grew up in a doctor’s house, I was the youngest son. A house with a huge library, full of history books, science books, geography books… But not fiction books, a genre that was not considered serious in the family. So, my discovery of fantasy was not through literature, but through the cinema with Conan the Barbarian in 1982. It was a shock that deeply impacted me. At the age of 21, I decided to try the American adventure by going to Los Angeles to study art, after two years of fashion design studies in Milan. An adventure that sadly ended with an early return to Italy. During this difficult period, I discovered by chance an absolutely “magical” book that changed my life forever: “HEROES FOR WARGAMES”, published by Paper and Tiger in England. That was the day I discovered fantasy game miniatures. Wow, what wonders these figurines were, what creativity! It was love at first sight! Then, by pure chance, I met a great Italian importer of role-playing games and miniatures, and as I could draw a little, I started to work with him on black and white illustrations for Italian role-playing game editions. And then it was one thing after another: color work on Mutant Chronicles and its comic book, then it was Marvel, DC Comics, Dark Horse comics and Magic: The Gathering… I started my career at the age of 22, and now I’m 57.
What are the games that have most marked your life as a player? The ones that built your way of designing a game?
I always preferred miniature games to all others. Even role-playing games were an excuse for me to get minis out of my drawers. Warhammer was my initiation, but Space Hulk, Necromunda and Mordheim are the games that remain my favorites. And I want to specify that I only play with my friends and for fun, never competitively.
Magic, Confrontation, Dust… Of all the games you’ve worked on, which one do you consider the most important in your career path?
Dust was supposed to be my legacy, the game I was leaving to the world, it was supposed to become a movie and everything… Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out the way I planned.
And can you tell us more? What will happen to this universe? Do you plan to take it over or develop new games in this universe?
Unfortunately, Dust is no longer owned by me, and the new owners will soon reveal their plans for the future of this IP. I am working with them now.
You are a game designer and business owner specialized in miniatures and based in China. I imagine that the COVID crisis has had a significant impact on your business and caused difficulties. Looking back, how do you analyze this period?
You give me the opportunity to clarify this myth that sticks to me! I don’t own the business in China, I’m just an employee of a company located in Hong Kong, which manages contractors in China and specializes in manufacturing high quality miniatures and games. COVID is one of the major causes of the Dust line’s discontinuation. This crisis has indeed had a lasting impact on our ability to produce. At the same time, the pandemic stranded me in the Philippines where I was on vacation to visit my wife, and it finally allowed me to spend a lot of time with her, so it was finally a godsend! I won’t be going back to Hong Kong or China; I’m now working remotely from home.
Let’s come to the news. Which means Anastyr. Leonidas Vesperini told us in an interview that you have been working on it for several years. Is this true?
YES! My first drawing for Anastyr dates back to a long time ago when I lived in Paris. I was still working at Rackham. The file is from 2010!
Can you tell us more about Anastyr’s universe? Obviously fantasy, but… what else?
A barbaric, wild and primal fantasy universe
Can you describe the game in a few words?
It’s a co-op game with crazy miniatures and multiple scrolling tiles!
You are the art director on the project and the creator of the universe of Anastyr. Do you plan to use collaborators to define the imagery of Anastyr?
Yes, we have a great team with Wayne Reynolds on the cover and on the living dead, the great Carlos Amaral on the concept arts, Filipe Pagliuso as a concept artist too… and many others!
Do you have any insight into the creation of the game mechanics and system? How does the collaboration work?
Philippe develops the game on his own. Sometimes he is inspired or guided by the sketches or illustrations, sometimes he asks me for clarifications to meet the needs of the game. It’s a very nice collaboration, managed in harmony by Erwann Le Torrivellec, who is the Project Manager.
In your opinion, what will make Anastyr stand out from other hybrid games on the market?
The game system, Anastyr has very dynamic and original mechanics.
We know that you like extended universes, games declined in ranges. Is the Anastyr range designed for the long term? Are there any sequels or extensions already planned?
Yes, we are already preparing the sequel! The adventure will continue beyond the borders of Alboraan, the specific part of the world of Anastyr where the first game takes place, to allow the exploration of other barbaric and exotic lands!
Léonidas Vesperini, Publisher
Hello, Léonidas. During the Cannes International Game Festival, you gave us some information about Anastyr. Can you tell us how the project is progressing?
Hi Nicolas! Anastyr is a project we’ve been working on for a long time, we’ve been preparing it well and as the Kickstarter date is approaching, we’ve been focusing lately on all the elements of the campaign itself. We just couldn’t keep on playing with “home-made” prototypes, we had to prepare “professional” prototypes, with miniatures and material very close to what they will be in the end, even if evolutions are always possible until we send the final files to the printer. We have laid out and translated into English the rules of the game (the game was made by a French team this time), finalized the Kickstarter page, posted many things on our social media networks, and offered demo prototypes to all kinds of reviewers. All the illustrations are done even if some are not yet colored, almost all the miniatures are sculpted, the layout of most of the material is finished, the rules are ready and the first version is laid out and being proofread, and finally, we have several scenarios finalized, too. There will still be some left over after the Kickstarter, but the “work debt” after KS will be less than it has been for our highly narrative game projects like Solomon Kane or HEL: The Last Saga.
Anastyr is a hybrid game with miniatures. Great miniatures as usual, but what is, in your opinion, the element that will entice players, who are bombarded by other choices?
The board game market is quite crowded, it’s true, hence the need to stand out and offer something that resonates with people. First, and this remains an important element, by the visual quality of the game: we have gathered a dream team of artists! Paolo Parente is not only a great illustrator, but he also has a fabulous portfolio. Anastyr is one of the most beautiful games we have created, as much for its illustrations, its tiles, and its miniatures as for its graphics. Then, by its Heroic Fantasy theme, which we had never tackled before, and which inevitably strikes a chord with many players. Who doesn’t feel moved when thinking back to their old (or current) role-playing games, to some movies, comics, or novels in this evocative genre (Conan, Lord of the Rings, Slaine, Confrontation, etc.)? Finally, by proposing something innovative, which leaves the beaten path. Thus, not only does Anastyr offer a different game experience, a kind of cooperative beat ‘em up style inspired by the video games of the 90s, and in particular Golden Axe, but it also offers all sorts of innovations, both gameplay wise and technically speaking: the scrolling tiles (a different exploration concept than what dungeon crawlers usually offer), the backdrops (admittedly optional but quite unique in their design) that plunge you directly into the environment you’re traveling through and turn your game board into a diorama; and finally, the magnetic miniatures, which allows your heroes in their mounted version to easily and instantly attach to any mount in the game, allowing all sorts of combinations. It’s a very challenging game, you play very powerful heroes who eliminate a lot of enemies, and despite this omnipresent action, you are embarked in an epic and gripping story.
We know Mythic Games’ love for big games. How will the range be packaged? A core box and expansions?
Anastyr can be played as a “one-shot” game, by randomly choosing one of the game’s scenarios to play with your friends one evening with minimal effort and preparation. But it can also be played as a full campaign, and there we want to take people on a story they won’t forget. The scope of this story will depend on their desire, their time, and their level of personal investment. We absolutely want the game experience to be strong and self-sufficient with the core box alone, which if the Kickstarter campaign is successful will be enriched through stretch goals with many gameplay and exploration elements (not just miniatures, although there will be some miniature stretch goals, of course!). In addition to this big core box, there will also be expansions, totally optional and which will sometimes add episodes to the campaign or cosmetic improvements, to make your game even more spectacular.
Paolo Parente is the artistic director on the project. What does that entail? Are you reworking his vision of the universe?
Paolo Parente is the one who imagined this universe back in 2011, and even though Mythic Games has completely acquired the IP, Paolo remains the creator and conductor. He has a very clear vision for the world and has created many concepts from that time, even if almost all of them have been recreated for this game. So, Paolo commissioned and directed all the illustrations for the game (some of them he did himself, of course), including those for the tiles and backdrops, he also commissioned and supervised all the sculpts, and finally he guided the narrative designers, giving them the basics before letting them write the lore, the region descriptions, the character descriptions, etc. I would like to pay tribute to Mathieu Gaborit and Melanyn, who did a remarkable writing job, which they approached with as much involvement as for a novel, a comic book or a role-playing game, which ultimately gives a lot of body to this universe. Sometimes, for game design reasons, we needed this or that aspect of the universe to be developed and Paolo was always there to propose ideas or to validate those that had been brought up. He was never obtuse or closed-minded and loved the huge teamwork that was done. I have rarely seen so much enthusiasm and passion in all those who worked on Anastyr, and there are so many of them!
Do you already have plans for a retail edition? Any idea of what it might look like?
To be quite honest, we are thinking about the Kickstarter version first before thinking about retail for this game. With experience, we know that games like this one are not easily sold in stores, except at a very high price. As this year marks the beginning of our retail adventure (thanks to Super Fantasy Brawl!), we of course don’t want to close the door to a possible retail edition, but it will certainly not be quite the same form as the Kickstarter edition. That’s why the Stretch Goals of the campaign will be mostly KS Exclusive, it’s illusory to think that we can offer the same content at the same price in a store as on KS. If we go to retail with Anastyr, it will probably be with a core box without stretch goals, and all the expansions you have on the KS will not necessarily be available in retail.
Coming to Kickstarter on Tuesday, April 19th! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1162110258/anastyr
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