Some time ago, I was approached on Twitter by a pair of aspiring developers working on a game very different from anything I’ve ever covered on this blog. Journey to Ecrya is an upcoming fantasy board game influenced by several examples of high fantasy such as The Lord of the Rings and the Munchkin card games by Fighting Fantasy novelist Steve Jackson. Allowing from 2 to 4 players, p[articipants are given a choice between 8 heroes to choose from and thus traverse the land of Ecrya, making use of different types of cards such as Hero Cards, Boss Cards, and Encounter cards encompassing all the corresponding aspects of a traditional RPG. The priority among the developers is currently to release this as a traditional board game, but they have also ported a preliminary version of it on Steam with the team having prospects of bringing players a full PC port in the future.
Wanting to bring this game to my attention, the two lead designers of the game, Jessica Schüssler and Kira Bodrova hailing from Leipzig in Germany asked me about the possibility of reviewing the game, and I suggested the idea of conducting a Q&A for the opportunity to bring the game to the attention of new potential players and about the prospects of where this game could possibly go following its physical release. Here’s what Kira Bodrova and Jessica Schüssler had to say about Journey to Ecrya:
What were the influences behind Journey to Ecrya?
Jessica: I think we had a LOT of them, some maybe even without realizing it. The biggest one for me was Magic, as it was the first fantasy-themed card game I got introduced to wayyy back when. I love the storytelling and cards in epic fantasy worlds combo. That aside, the Munchkin card games, for the “reveal and see what happens” part, because that’s great fun to me. For the travel portion of the game, the basic idea comes from the LotR card game, where you follow the story of the movies and travel through parts of the story. Then there are the classic Catan tiles we used as inspiration for the board rework because that’s just a smart way to create a “path” while leaving the option of customizing as wanted. I’d say it’s a little sprinkle of a ton of games I played over the years since I was around 16 to 25. I’ll be damned if I can remember them all. Mix in some fantasy elements from PC-RPGs I played and enjoyed, stir for around 3 years, and you get Ecrya somewhere along the line.
What has the developmental process been like?
Jessica: A wild ride. It is the first game I designed, so there was a LOT to learn and consider and a lot of trial and error. Also tons of feedback from all kinds of awesome people. A big thing was the “make something cool, but remember, it has to be do-able and not cost two fortunes” part. Like, we had so many cool ideas along the way, and a lot of different opinions on what could be added and such, but can we actually make that into a game? A game that can be produced for an affordable price? Creativity is one thing, and if it was up to just that, we’d probably have a monstrosity of a game by now. Reality checks from good friends now and then and feedback from awesome people in the industry helped a ton there.
How close are we to seeing the finished product?
Kira: It’s hard to put it in terms of an actual time frame since we both have to find ways of paying our rent. Sometimes this means taking up a lot of freelance work and not being able to work as much on the game as we would like to. That being said, we have the hardest part of the development figured out and set: That’s the mechanics and the whole concept. The game is balanced, all items, heroes, and so on are thought through. We are ready with the designs, layouts, etc.
Jessica: As ready as we can be, I guess! We’ll have to wait and see how well received the game is once played by a wider audience, of course. Small changes here and there are to be expected, before the final print. Thinking of some wording here and there, updating pictures, a big ol’ spell check by more people for the rule book, and so on.
Kira: What we need to finish now is the artwork for the cards, we are finished with about half of them. We don’t want to just slap the artworks on, we want them to let you dive deeper into this fantastical world we created. Even though the artwork is a small part of a board game, it’s still a part and we want to put the effort in to make it great and not just functioning. The second task is fine-tuning each and every card effect. Especially the Encounters and Event Cards are still missing that fine cut in the wording and we want to add more fun options for more replay-ability. But this is just a small task compared to what we have already created.
What has been the most exciting aspect of development?
Kira: For me, the most exciting aspect was and is to try out every major change we made in the game to see if it’s actually improving the game the way we anticipated. And in general, seeing our game coming to life: with each finished artwork, with each final design, with the handmade prototype we spend hours in making – and then holding the components in our hand. It’s a joyride for sure!
Jessica: Finding out while playing how well the things I put together in my mind actually work out in action, I think. We made some pretty hilarious mistakes along the way, and during play, I sometimes sat there like: “Did I… did I write this? Oh F…”. And of course, seeing what others do when handed the game and the rules. Like, players come up with the greatest ideas sometimes. I didn’t even think of some of the stuff that play-testers wanted to try or just did because the rules didn’t say to. Certainly opened my eyes to what a crazy range of things a dev has to consider sometimes.
What has been the most challenging aspect of developming Journey to Ecrya?
Kira: Sadly that has been marketing for us. We really love our game, we believe in it! But since we’re both the opposite of outgoing people we really struggle to share that enthusiasm that we’re actually feeling.
Jessica: That, and play-testing. We had to abandon the live tests at the start of 2020, so everything after that was online testing thanks to the whole pandemic situation. It’s certainly harder to read people’s reactions to something just over a mic and screen. And it’s a totally different atmosphere over the internet, too. Nothing compared to the game night where we sit around a table sharing snacks.
How well has Journey to Ecrya been received so far?
Kira: Of course reviews are mixed when you scrape at the role-playing genre but don’t really dive into it. Nevertheless, most feedback was really positive, people had great ideas and inputs on how to make it even more fun. People, who played the game, for the most part really had fun with it, or they found very constructive ways of telling us what they were missing.
What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
Kira: Since it is a physical card game we’re focused on bringing it to life in print first. We have a free Tabletop Simulator demo version of the game. And we’re working on setting up Tabletopia. If the demand will be big enough, we want to create a standalone digital version of the game on Steam. But that’s a matter for the far future!
On the game’s Twitter page, I can see there has been quite a lot of interaction between you and other developers. Have there been any other developers in particular that have offered feedback in regards to Ecrya?
Jessica: Over time we had the luck to meet some very awesome people with very awesome projects! It’s certainly exciting to get to share ideas and look into other games and their development. We are part of some very awesome discord communities and groups all over the internet. At the start, it was hard to get noticed at all. It still is, honestly. I think we really did get lucky to meet so many cool people and we hope it will be many more in the future! I don’t want to call any dev team out in particular, but we got some very good and honest feedback over in our own discord server, as well as in designated Facebook groups. We also made it a point to join many webinars during development to expand our horizons and get outside views of the whole industry. BackerKit had some amazing people in their free webinars this year, for example, with great Q&As at the end.
From one cat lover to two others, has Merlin inspired any aspect of Journey to Ecrya’s conceptual design?
Jessica: He’s not the only cat involved in the development and they all were very amazing help. Especially when they roll around on your prototype, shoot dice through your room or try to catch the pen you try to draw with on the tablet. I don’t know where I’d be without their help and friendly input, honestly! I didn’t give them the honor of being part of a card just yet, but I think I will sneak them in there somewhere for sure!
Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that has since been scrapped or reworked?
Kira: A lot of them! We reworked quite a lot from the first Kickstarter to this one. Starting with the game board, which now consists of tiles that you can place to create your journey instead of a fixed board. We reworked the Encounters, or rather the options that you have countless times and aren’t done yet refining them. To name a few of the countless ideas that we scrapped due to many reasons in the process: A wandering shopkeeper that has some special equipment that you can buy with coins, collected from killing monsters. Fist fighting with other heroes whenever you both are in a camp. Traps that you can find at different locations and place them on the map to hinder others (or yourself).
How instrumental has player feedback in terms of shaping the course of Journey to Ecrya been?
Kira: It’s been very important to us. With the first Kickstarter launch, our game was looking completely different from how it looks now and we were pretty satisfied. It‘s all the feedback we got then, and further from many many playtest rounds that made us decide to change that much. We’ve been listening to what the players want and if a majority agreed we worked out how to make that change fit into our concept. We haven’t regretted a single change yet.
As two female developers, what are your opinions on the history of women in the video games industry, and are there any particular historical women in games that you look up to?
Kira: We are highly aware of the history of women in high positions in any industry, not just in video games. While gaming was and still often is considered a male-dominated area, there were always some women working in the industry. Sadly their names were very rarely promoted, which has lots of reasons and I don’t agree with most of them. That said, it was never about gender for us. We don’t have role models in the industry that we want to follow. It’s not about proving anything or fighting some battles. This, Journey to Ecrya, our dream of creating games – it’s about doing what we love. We love gaming, and we want to create games that others will enjoy as much, as we do ourselves!
If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or for any franchise, which would it be, and why?
Kira: I’m more of a computer game nerd myself, so for me, it would be 11 Bit Studios (based on their first game This War of Mine). I really love those story-driven games and it would just be an honor to be working on something like that.
Jessica: I’m not picky! Working in a great team to make a great game sounds like an awesome idea, no matter who. Honestly, I can’t think of anybody, in particular, there are too many awesome dev teams out there right now. It’s hard to keep track of all the cool projects in the making this year alone.
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
Jessica: We are first-time devs and have yet to see our planned Kickstarter succeed, so I can’t really give any advice on how to make something great that people will love. We’ll talk about that again in a few months! What I can say is that you should take your time in developing your game or project. You’ll have so many great ideas and so many creative opportunities, and it can become a bit overwhelming. You want to include it all and might end up making a jumbled mess accidentally, instead of improvements. So take your time, ask for feedback and listen to it. Some of it can be harsh, especially on the internet, but most of it has something you can draw value from in it. What else? Ah, sometimes I get lost in the details and try to make something perfect, just like it is in my mind (spoiler alert: it never works). That’s not smart or helpful for the project in most cases. As my art teacher told me long ago: “Done is better than perfect”. It’s something I need to remind myself about frequently, so you might need to hear that as well.
Where on the Internet can people find Journey to Ecrya?
Kira: We have our own website, but are most active on our Discord Server and Facebook. We have a monthly newsletter, where we keep the subscribers up to date on the development process!
https://www.journeytoecrya.de/ → newsletter
Our Kickstarter will go live on the 6th May 2021 and you can follow the pre-launch already to get notified once we’re up:
We also have a Twitter, YouTube and Instagram account, where we upload images/videos and updates.
Do you have anything else to add?
Jessica: Nothing I can think of right now. Maybe we can use this to sneak in a little shameless self-advertisement and ask you guys for a share here and there? Maybe you have just the kind of board game friends that would love our game? Who knows! In any case, thanks a lot for reading and also for the interview. We’d love to see you guys during the Kickstarter campaign. Cheers!
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank both Jessica and Kira for appearing on the blog and telling us more about Journey to Ecrya. This was a very new experience for myself in particular, as I’ve never covered the topic of a board game on the site before, and It certainly made for a wonderfully refreshing experience. It makes me even more excited for when a full PC port is possibly released. A review of this game will be coming to the site as and when that may happen. But in the meantime, I hope you guys check out Ecrya Games for yourself, and I hope you enjoyed learning about this new game as well as experiencing something very different from what is covered on the blog.
Scouse Gamer 88