For those who love Saturday morning cartoons and over-the-top superhero films (and who doesn’t?), the Volition-developed Agents of Mayhem video game offered the perfect mix of the two genres in an open world adventure game. Set in the same universe as the popular video game franchise Saints Row, boardgame publisher Academy Games, known for their historical and strategic tabletop game offerings, has taken on the task of adapting Agents of Mayhem for the tabletop.
The result of their efforts is Agents of Mayhem – Pride of Babylon which is fully funded (four times over) on Kickstarter as of this writing. As the project describes the game:
“Agents of Mayhem, Pride of Babylon is a team vs. team skirmish boardgame for 2 to 4 players. The game is played on a modular 3D board that is fully destructible. You and your opponents will play through a radiant story where every choice you make will have effects that ripple throughout the campaign. Play as either LEGION, an organization of supervillains who have taken over the world, or as MAYHEM, a band of anti-heroes who will do whatever it takes to stop LEGION.”
Geek & Sundry got a chance to ask Gunter Eickert, the Academy Games Creative Director and the game designer behind the analog adaptation of the Agents of Mayhem, a few questions about creating and adapting this game for the tabletop.
Geek & Sundry: Let’s talk about process adapting the video game Agents of Mayhem to the tabletop. What sorts of things did you want to carry over from the video game to the world of analog gaming?
Gunter Eickert: Agents of Mayhem is unique among third-person shooters in that you don’t just play a single character but a team of characters that you can switch between at will. This was one of the main things we wanted to carry over. This is why you get to play 3 Agents at once just like in the video game and freely switch which one you take your actions with turn to turn. Unlike the video game where all 3 characters take up the same space, your team of Agents of MAYHEM gets to spread out and work together using real-world military squad tactics.
We also wanted to bring out the personality and humor of the game.
Character customization and leveling is another key feature of Agents of Mayhem that we brought to the board game. Before each mission, you get to attach gadget cards to your character that can drastically change their play style and the strategies available to them. You can also purchase upgrades for your characters after each mission. These upgrades stay with your character much like a legacy game but you can reset the game at any time without the need for replacement parts.
One thing that is different in the board game is that you can also play as the evil LEGION. In the video game, LEGION is not a playable faction. However, LEGION and its cast of characters are just as interesting, deep, and funny as the Agents of MAYHEM. So we wanted to allow players to explore and play them just like the Agents. This is why Agents of Mayhem is a 2 to 4 player team versus team game and not just a cooperative game against a non-player LEGION. We do offer an AI expansion in the KS though that lets you play the game solo or cooperatively as MAYHEM or LEGION.
G&S: This game is a departure for Academy Games, so much so that a sci-fi branch of the company was created to make this game. Can you give me some insight into how Academy Games was approached to make this game, and how your approach to this game differed from your previous titles?
GE: We created Apollo Games to publish all of our non-historical sci-fi and fantasy games. These games will still be in the Academy Games family but will be marked with Apollo Games to easily distinguish them as non-historical.
Volition approached us about doing a board game for the title they were working on over 2 years ago. Several of their staff are fans of our other games and trusted that we could do the franchise justice because of our excellent track record (Most of our games have won several games of the year and design awards). We were of course initially surprised since Volition’s Saints Row series is so different in theme than any of our other games but we quickly saw some great potential for an Agents of Mayhem board game and the theme was not much of a hurdle.
We actually designed this game just like we design any of our historical games. We treated the Saints Row and Agents of Mayhem canon as if it were history that we had to study, learn intimately, and accurately represent.
I think it is also important to mention that we initially ignore the theme or history of the game as we start to design it. We focus on the game mechanics or the game’s engine as we call it. Once we know we have a fun and engaging game engine, we then build the theme/history around it, altering the game engine where needed. To illustrate how unimportant theme is for building the game engine, the 3D buildings originated from a war game based on modern-day Fallujah. The Refresh System that allows you to take actions with any one of your Agents each turn came from a strategic level game on Gettysburg. And the optional artificial intelligence you can add to the game so that you can play it solo comes from our WWII tactical game, Conflict of Heroes. All of these games have drastically different themes but we were able to take mechanics from each, and add some new ones to create a great game engine for Agents of Mayhem.
Another interesting fact is that the first version of the board game’s system had everything in the video game represented. We made sure that you could do everything in the board game that you can in the video game. We then removed the elements that did not translate well to a board game because they were either not fun or simply not necessary. For example, in the first version of the board game, killing an enemy would cause them to drop loot like scrap and cash that you would then use to build new Gadget Cards and buy upgrades for your side’s main base. However, this was tedious in the board game and really was not fun or necessary to make a game that felt like Agents of Mayhem. So we removed it and replaced it with a much simpler and more abstract mechanic that still gives the feel of customizing and upgrading your side.
However, most things are still represented. This allowed us to easily add every character’s special abilities, upgrades, and gadgets to the game and make them feel like they do in the game. You can still teleport units with Hardtack’s harpoon, trigger explosions that have a delay before they go off so that your opponent has a chance to dodge them and trigger powerful mayhem abilities.
G&S: Some people may be very familiar with the Agents of Mayhem game, and some players may not be. What sorts of things will fans of the video game love in the board game?
GE: The video game’s fans will love that all the personality and feel of the characters are in the game. When you play an Agent, what they can do in the board game feels just like what they can do in the video game, keeping each character’s unique play style. You get the same satisfaction from timing the use of your Special Gadget ability or Mayhem ability.
They will also enjoy the humor and personality that we have put into this game through the flavor text of character’s cards, the comic book intros to Missions, and the narrative of the campaign.
Most of all though they will love the ridiculous things you can do in the game that let you break the normal rules. Whether it is ripping the head off of an enemy and throwing it at another, blowing up a building with a laser in space, or bailing at the last minute as your car blows up in the face of LEGION. The Agents of Mayhem board game has an epic and ridiculous feel to it.
G&S: Can someone who isn’t familiar with the video game still enjoy this game? What sorts of board gamer will really appreciate in Agents of Mayhem?
GE: People who know nothing about Agents of Mayhem can definitely enjoy the board game because to be good at it requires no knowledge of the video game at all. Because we started by first developing a fun engine and then putting the theme on it, the players that don’t know the theme will enjoy the engine.
We also focused on making a game that is very accessible but has gameplay that is deep and meaningful. Put another way, the rules are simple but there are a lot of choices you make while playing that have a strategic impact on the game. The game also has a nice pace to it that will keep players engaged. A player is doing something and making choices in every minute of the game. For this reason, wargamers and strategy gamers will like it.
People who enjoy legacy or story-based games will also enjoy Agents of Mayhem because of the story campaign. You and your opponent will procedurally generate each Mission of the campaign by playing campaign cards. These campaign cards will have you make choices when they are played or add objectives to the game that will give you victory points to win the mission. At the end of the mission, players will draw numbered campaign cards from the campaign deck depending on what objectives they achieved and failed. They will then use these cards to build their future campaign mission and continue the story. This will allow you to play through a series of procedurally generated campaign missions with a radiant storyline that has hundreds of possible endings. Unlike a Legacy game, you can reset the game at any time and start playing it.
The character customization and progression should also be fun for people who like building characters in an RPG.
G&S: Designing a tabletop game that actually has a 3d board is no small feat, both from a game mechanics standpoint as well as a production standpoint. What do the 3d board elements bring to the player experience?
Simply put it adds a lot of new options. Just like in the video game, players can move vertically as much as they move horizontally. Being able to fight in the streets and alleys between, on top of, or inside of buildings creates a great variety of gameplay. Each battle zone requires completely different tactics and gives a different feel to the gameplay. When fighting on top of a roof it is very open, you have to worry about being pushed or thrown off, and have to cope and use the gaps between buildings to your advantage. At ground level on the streets and in the alleys, there are a lot of choke points that you have to fight through and you always have to worry about being attacked from above. In buildings, the fighting is very claustrophobic and close-quarters. You can easily find yourself cornered or in an explosion that you cannot escape. However, you do have the benefit of protection from outside attacks and attacks from higher ground. You just have to make sure that someone does not bring the building down around your head.
Agents of Mayhem is also one of the few board games out there where controlling the high ground and elevation matters when you attack. This is something that is really important in real-world combat, so the 3D board adds an extra level of realism to the board game.
The 3D nature of the game also makes gameplay easier. Something you can’t move through is not just represented by a graphical wall on the map. There is a literal structure to show you where there are walls blocking your way. This had the unexpected side effect that I have never seen a player need to check to see if they have Line of Sight on their target. The 3D board seems to allow our brains to easily determine this without thinking.
Last, the 3D board just adds a nice aesthetic that makes the game more fun. Anyone who enjoys playing miniature games with cool terrain setup will understand how having a cool looking 3D structure improves the fun of a game.
G&S: Agents of Mayhem is an over the top, humorous title. As a game designer, how do you leverage humor to connect the tabletop game experience to the player?
GE: First, it was important to understand that humor is subjective. What one person finds funny another will not. So we really try to put a variety of humor in the game. A static board game also does not have as many options to portray humor as the video game so we had to get creative.
In the video game, the characters have a lot of funny lines. We have placed these as flavor text on most cards and have an optional rule that promotes players to say them aloud as they take actions with a character for a small bonus.
We also plan to include short comics at the beginning of missions, similar to the comic book cutscenes seen in the video game. These will not only put the mission into context but should also give players a good laugh at the very start of the game.
Last is what you can do in the game. We allow players to take some pretty funny actions with their characters and attempt to complete humorous objectives. This allows players to experience the humor of the game but to also create it.
Agents of Mayhem – Pride of Babylon is still funding on Kickstarter, but if you want to get your hands on it when it ships, you only have until February 27th to back it.
Image Credits: Volition/Deep Silver/Academy Games
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