ARTICLE: From His Perspective…

Ignacy was recently interviewed by the Polish boardgaming website so we thought we’d share. Enjoy!


From his perspective… an interview with Ignacy Trzewiczek

During this year’s Portalkon, the Portal Games’ crew, headed by Ignacy Trzewiczek, announced a very ambitious release schedule. Listed among numerous well-known board games was the studio’s secret project – First Martians. Described as a grand, co-operative adventure on Mars, it sparked my – and probably other people’s – imagination. Ignacy Trzewiczek – the author himself – talked to me about the game. You can see the written record of our conversation below.

What is your opinion of the effects that announcing First Martians – a new title – had?
First Martians is… the most hyped game in the history of Portal Games. The amount of re-tweets on Twitter and the comments on blogs and vlogs was huge. We keep track of buzz to see how the public responds to our news and actions… well, First Martians generated more than any other product in the history of our company. The feedback is positive, very positive. I won’t try to hide that we expected a positive reaction – it’s a good game, after all. But… I simply didn’t expect it’d be this good! For two weeks now we’ve been in the first place on Board Game Geek in ‘The Hotness’ column, even though no one outside of the studio knows what the game will be like. We only showed a teaser, really, since it’s still far too soon to reveal more. There’s a lot of positive energy in the studio and we believe First Martians will be one of the biggest releases of this year’s Spiel. We’ll see what actually happens, though in October. It’s February now, so we have a few months left. A few months which we’ll have to spend hard at work because every publisher has cool games they promote.


What is the genesis of First Martians? Where did the idea came from, and why go with Mars?
The mechanic of Robinson Crusoe is a very clever system, which I hope I’ll be able to prove in the coming years. I managed to create it a few years ago and this mechanic enables creating a great variety of games. I came up with various notes, ideas, and really various game types. For many years after releasing Robinson I was asked about different types such as ‘Lost,’ so a competitive game, a Cthulhu type – which is being already announced – and of course one taking place in space, where players have crashed on an alien planet… On average, I receive a handful of e-mails from fans every day, in which they thank us for the game they played and enjoyed, followed by questions asking when we’ll release expansions. They ask whether we already have set ideas, and sometimes even send scripts. At times as if not realizing that a studio like Portal Games receives a ton of awesome feedback from fans as well as many different concepts. As such, the idea of Robinson in space has been circulating for a few years now, practically since the game was released. Similarly to the ‘Lost’ type.

Then there’s the second thing – I played X-COM: the first big board game released by a significant publisher to utilize a mobile application. It was a big discovery for me – as if someone split my skull and smacked my brain with a hammer. It’s a brilliant idea to have an application do at least some part of what we find boring and uninteresting in games. Managing tokens, moving the pieces and all that fiddly work which pulls us away from the essence of the game, from the fun. When I played X-COM and saw what the app can do… That’s when we started thinking on First Martians – a Robinson Crusoe in space where players don’t need to move any tokens or shuffle the cards, because the application does it for them. And now, a month later, with the game already up and running and me having a prototype, it looks so good that we place a tablet next to the board and it remembers many silly things that usually the players would have to mark using tokens.


How far are you in the game’s development?
The game mechanics are ready and the game works – anyone could play it right now. We even had an auction during The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity where the highest bidder was invited to visit Portal. That person’s coming on one of the upcoming days if memory serves right, maybe sometime next week, and he’ll play First Martians. The game works properly and it’s fun. What I need to design, and what we’ll be working on in the next few months are hundreds of adventures, events, and surprises, because the greatness of both Robinson and First Martians hinges on encountering a different events, seeing a different card, and playing through a different adventure with each sitting. In the teaser, we said that the game will include three separate campaigns. Making that is a pile of work and a pile of creative thinking and coming up with various concepts. One campaign is almost ready, the other two still have to be designed. We have early storyline concepts, in terms of mechanics and interactions – as cards, they’re not finished. On top of that, we announced that we have something we call “open modes” where you sit down and choose that, for example, you’re playing the exploration mode, or the survivor mode, and we’ll have to add the game components into that as well. Therefore we’re in the stage where we create content; specific events, specific cards, whereas the game mechanics is running smoothly.


So you don’t expect any delays towards the end of the year, before the Spiel?
I don’t. It’s too big of a financial and marketing investment. It’s our important release. There won’t be any delays for certain. During Portalkon, I showed how many people work at Portal – we’re a really big publisher, at least on Polish scale. There’s a multitude of people working on First Martians and other projects full-time, day and night when necessary, so there’s no threat of a delay.


Do you know which games could compete with First Martians? How many similar games are scheduled for release this year?
I know of a few that I’m certain will come out. Mars is a very hot topic right now, not only in board games, but also in mass media in and culture in general. Even in technology. People talk about Mars everywhere. There’ll be a few games with a similar theme, but when it comes to board games using applications – I don’t know. I know that several well-known authors are working on games working with applications. For us, from the point of view of Portal Games, the greatest competitior will probably be SeaFall. It’s also an adventure game using the Legacy mechanic, and it’ll be great adventure game. Knowing the game’s author, Rob Daviau, I can tell SeaFall will be an excellent game and I already recommend it to everyone. So I hope that towards the end of the year, players will find both SeaFall and First Martians under the Christmas tree, and have a blast playing them.


And how do First Martians compare with Robinson Crusoe? How similar are these two titles?
One day I had to come to the studio with a prototype and show the team how First Martians looked, since that’s our procedure – all team has to see what we are working on for next year. When I brought First Martians prototype and presented it, explaining the rules took took 5 minutes, maybe 6 minutes later people were playing. The mechanics are very similar in the sense that the player has 2 action action pawns and can use one to roll dice or use 2 and have a full action. The actions also work in a similar fashion to those in Robinson Crusoe. What’s different is a whole narrative background, as are the adventures. There’s a huge new mechanic, which I’ll be talking about in the coming months in various articles and movies. The whole right side of the board in Robinson where we have ‘inventions’ such as spears, dams and so on is gone – in First Martians, the right side contains a HUB, generators, a farm and these kinds of things. So that part is different. But in general, someone who understands the rules of Robinson should be able to have a great time with First Martians after hearing, I don’t know, a 4, 5, maybe 6-minute long explanation of the new rules. That was one of our main objectives, to make it so the game can be enjoyed as soon as possible. And I know that the rules of Robinson Crusoe are understood by thousands of players throughout the world.


How difficult will First Martians be? Will there be different difficulty modes, easier and harder gameplay modes?
Since First Martians will utilize an application, players will be able to choose the difficulty just like in computer games. It’s very simple, you just press ‘easy,’ ‘medium,’ or ‘difficult,’ and the application chooses which ‘events’ and ‘adventures’ – cards from specific folders – should be drawn. The application will have several folders containing tagged cards. The tags will specify both the adventure mode and the difficulty. It’s a bit too early to reveal details of how the game was built. We’ll be talking about it over the next few months, plus the release date is still far away, but in general terms, having an application govern the whole gameplay and choose which adventures are drafted on a given day and in a given session allows the players to scale the game themselves. If they wish to play with friends while sipping wine and relaxing, they’ll choose the ‘easy mode,’ and if they’re hardcore solo gamers who’ve finished the game several times, then they’ll play on ‘hardcore,’ and have a ton of fun. The solution here is as simple as in video games. The application adjusts the difficulty to your expectations.


Is the application ready? Are you using it or are you waiting for it?
It’s working, otherwise testing the game would be impossible.


So it’s impossible to play the game without using the application, like in the case of Alchemists?
No. In Robinson, you have around 300 cards. There’ll be even more here. All of them will be coded into the application. They won’t be included in the box.


What about the play time? How long will the campaigns and game modes be? In the teaser, I noticed several interesting option which could extend the play time.
The way it works is that… similarly to how it was done in Robinson Crusoe, there are various scenarios. Your scenario can be ‘Saving Jenny,’ which lasts 8 turns and has the play time of one hour, or it could be ‘Robinson Family,’ which lasts 12 turns and can be played for over 2 hours. The ones from campaign which we’re testing right now last a bit over an hour. The campaign can’t be too long since it has five scenarios, so people would play them for about a few weeks. Therefore campaign scenarios take around an hour or a bit more to finish and the story progresses in that way so you can finish a campaign by playing with friends for the one very long night, or by playing for an hour each day, and you play through a really cool adventure over a week. But as I said, the play time still has to be worked on. During the trailer, we showed a bit of application’s menu. That menu will change multiple times. It’s not final yet. But even there you can see us choose session settings like if it should be long, short, simple. All of that due to having an application which can adjust any variable to suit whichever way the player wishes to play the game on any day.
Will it be possible to pause the game mid-campaign and resume from a saved state?
Yes. That’s the plan. This function isn’t working yet so I don’t want to get everyone’s hopes up too high, but it’ll be inevitably implemented in the campaign mode. It’s a mandatory element of the application. Being able to save the state of the game, the status of characters; their wounds, their events, how broken the HUB is and so on. This function isn’t coded as of now, but it will be.
And about the Legacy system – what about the campaign’s replayability?
Multiple playthroughs will be possible, because although it’s linked by goals of the scenario which always stay the same, the application drafts different random events. That’s why each time you play, despite working towards the invariable goal, each playthrough will always be new, always interesting, always different. You can finish it three, four, or five times since there’ll be new events and everything will happen differently. It’s a bit too early to say more… the game will be released in almost a year. In October, so in nine months, which is a whale of time. However, just like Robinson Crusoe, just like Imperial Settlers, and just like my other games – the replayability of this one will be enormous.


We are bookworms. Movie maniacs. Story addicts. We grew up reading Tolkien, Howard, Herbert, Dick, Lem… We were watching Willow, Blade Runner, Never Ending Story, Robin Hood…

And yet, we don’t write books… we don’t make movies. We don’t make those things, because we make games. We make games that tell stories.