Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms Tabletop Game Interviews with Chris Birch

Elder Scrolls Call to Arms Table Top Board Game Skyrim Chris Birch Interview

Towards the end of last month Modiphius announced they would be launching a new tabletop skirmish game in partnership with Bethesda Games Studio, and that game was Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms.  The announcement came with images of a Dragonborn miniature which would then be on a limited sale during the UK Games Expo.

To say I was very excited about this news is an understatement.

I was fortunate enough to sit down with the founder of Modiphius, Chris Birch to find out a little bit more about the game during the expo.

As I understand it, Elder Scrolls uses the skeleton of Fallout Wasteland Warfare mechanically, where did you start with the design and what are some of the main differences?
The good thing is that Elder Scrolls and Fallout share a lot of similarities with their structure in the background, so that helped with many of the design principles.  But again, it is a game where you’ll be playing out narrative story lines and quests.  You’re not just there to have a meeting battle or a retreating battle.  It’s more of a case of ‘You are here because This is happening and you now need to go and save this character, or break  into the Stormcloak camp and steal this item’ etc.  The main idea was: let’s play a story, not just a battle. 

We’ve simplified the system from Fallout a little bit, you can’t just ‘copy and paste’ from Fallout into Call to Arms, the mechanics have to be matched to the theme.  Fallout has a lot of ranged combat and some mele, whereas Elder Scrolls is more heavily mele and then Magic and Ranged attacks.  You’ve got to theme the mechanics, what we’ve done we’ve rebuilt it from the ground up on the principle of ‘let’s have a D20 and lets of those effect dice.
Elder Scrolls Call to Arms Table Top Board Game Skyrim Chris Birch Interview Dragonborn

So I’ll be able to fireball an enemy, neck a potion of extra damage before lopping someone’s head off with my enchanted sword?
Yes, Of course.  The game uses a D20 skill dice - a bit different from Fallout: Wasteland Warfare in terms of numbers, but effectively you’ll be rolling against a skill level.  It uses a six-sided coloured, weapon effect dice (like in Fallout but D6s instead of D12s) and this lets us create the different type of weapon effects you see in the game.  Some may do additional damage, some may have special effects triggers like fire or ice damage.  So if you have an enchanted weapon on a certain effect symbol it has a certain effect to the target.

Will the Dragon Shouts work in a similar way, or do I have to actually shout Fus Ro Dah at my opponents?
You’ll be able to make use of all the Shouts making loads of different choices with them.  You’ll get more as you level-up and progress through the game.  Once you collect a certain amount of victory points you’ll be able to get more and do more with them.  Later on we’ll be introducing Campaign Play, allowing players to build their own settlements after clearing an area of Draugr, building up their settlement before being attacked in another scenario.
Elder Scrolls Call to Arms Table Top Board Game Skyrim Chris Birch Interview Draugr

How much of the game is scenario based?
The main game is scenario based but you can absolutely play it competitively if you like.  We fully support competitive play, we call it “Battle Mode”.  But if we do a big organised event, it will be a story based event where everyone gets the reward for coming and playing.  You get to play that new story mission first, you get to buy it before anyone else and then of course they’ll be prizes for the best painted army, for the player who completes the story the quickest, that kind of thing.  

So the real heart of Call to Arms is the story that you’re telling?
We want Elder Scrolls to be about Story Mode, we want cooperative-competitive game play, so that players are teaming up together to beat the game.  We focused on making sure the AI and co-operative mode are really strong in the game.  Players could team up with their Stormcloaks and take on some Draugr, or get together with their heroes and try and take out the Imperial camp.  The plan from the beginning was on making the game play very flexible. 

The game is very character driven, you’re buying Yrsarald or  Hadvar, so you’re picking all of the iconic characters from the video games and then you can customise them with gear, spells, potions.  Of course, you can have Dragon Shouts if you’re a Dragonborn.  And being a Dragonborn doesn’t mean you need the Dragonborn miniature, your favourite miniature might be a Stormcloak character and that’s going to be my hero. In Campaign Play, later on that will introduce more abilities and have more customisation.
Elder Scrolls Call to Arms Table Top Board Game Skyrim Chris Birch Interview Imperials

Can you tell me a little about the AI and how it differs from that found in Fallout?
The AI is a similar concept to that found in Fallout, but we simplified it right down and this allows us to introduce more developed AI in later box sets.  In Fallout,  each unit had its own AI whereas here, each race or advisary you come into contact with will they have their own AI.  So the Dragar have one AI card - a little card that you can check quickly and easily work out what they are going to do.  They will go after the objectives, they will try and defend them, they might come after you where archers might retreat to shoot at you.  They don’t all just move towards the nearest enemy  

How much of this will I be able to do when the game is released?  Will I have to wait for expansions and additional box sets?
The base set will include 18 miniatures; the Imperials, the Stormcloaks and the Draugr as well as the complete rule set and all the dice you’ll likely ever need.  We wanted to make sure that the core set can really facilitate players getting stuck into an adventure straight away.  They’ll be loads of scenarios, loads of game play content.

There are also a bunch of characters, most game will make use of one or two characters and each character typically comes with 3 henchmen.  The Dargur are probably best describe as being an “active terrain” in the general game when you are playing against one another.  They’ll be getting in the way, attacking both players.
Elder Scrolls Call to Arms Table Top Board Game Skyrim Chris Birch Interview Stormcloaks

So, when will I be able to get my mits on all of these goodies? 
In terms of release, fingers crossed, the base game will be out for Christmas, which is our big two player starter set with expansions coming in the new year, which are all in multi-part resin with bespoke custom bases included.   Over the course of 2020 we’ll be releasing box sets of Imperials and Stormcloaks if you want to collect those factions, more for the adventurers.  Creatures and eventually dragons, and they’ll be big!  I mean, what would Skyrim be without Dragons?  After that we’ll be working on Wave 2.

Wave two…?
We don’t really know what will be in Wave II because it will really be decided upon by the community.  Something we do with all our games is to go out to the community and the Facebook pages, because we have an idea of what we should be making, but we’ll create a survey of all the factions and put it out there and say “What have we missed?”  “What factions would you most want to see next?”

If they’re saying “We want Falmer next!” then we’ll bring that development forward to try and meet that demand.  You’ll probably see Falmer in Wave II, but as adversaries, not as a full blown faction.  But that will come.  We care what our players want to see.  What are your favourite creatures, what is your favorite scenery.  If they want it, we’ll do what we can to make that happen sooner.
Elder Scrolls Call to Arms Table Top Board Game Skyrim Chris Birch Interview Skeletons

And finally, it was only recently revealed that Modiphius are now also creating a Fallout RPG in line with the tabletop game...any plans for this to happen with Elder Scrolls too?
At the moment  there isn’t a plan to turn Call to Arms into an RPG, but who knows what Bethesda want to do?  There is a lot of work, for them, being as big as they are because they’re really busy making video games.  They may want to see how much work is involved first before trying to create an RPG.

We definitely have enough on our plate to focus on for probably the next 5 years.  With both Fallout and Elder Scrolls, just “doing Skyrim” is going to take us a couple of years.  We have all the iconic characters from the cinematics sculpted, but then you’ve got Oblivion and etc etc.

There’s no final MSRP set yet because of all the political nonsense that’s occurring currently, but I was able to get one more nugget out of Chris.

There may well be events in the future that could lead to shooting another adventurer in the knee.
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