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Designer Interview: Marcel Köhler

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

Jump into the role of a real Dutch resistance member during the last years of World War II. Build a good alibi and manage morale in this pickup and deliver game. Orange Shall Overcome will have you dodging the occupiers, keeping people safe from them and moving important things around for movement. Today I have an interview with Marcel Kohler designer of Orange Shall Overcome! which is still available for late pledges.

I am Marcel Köhler, 33 years old and very interested in history and (personal) stories. I studied history, where I specialized in the darkest side of history, genocides. I like to play all sort of board, card and video games, and spend time outside walking or biking.

What brought you into game design?

I started designing my first board game when I was young, about 10 years old. I still have this first prototype. I started playing modern board games at the end of 2016, when I played gateway games such as Citadels and Ticket to Ride. After that I soon started trying out other, more hobby style games. I soon realized all the different options that are out there now.

I always liked to work on creative projects. I basically started designing again 2 months after playing those modern board games. I felt that I can make some great games too. I used to organize Live Action Role Play events and the creative storytelling I used then could be used for board and card game design.

What did you find most difficult designing a game that has the setting/theme of World War II?

I think that the most difficult part with this theme was making sure everything in the game is relatable, historically accurate and relatively accessible. It should give a glimpse of that time period, with the struggles that people had to overcome then, big and small.

Even with or maybe because of my background as a historian, I know how delicate The Second World War is for many people. When I started this project I thought such a tough topic is not something that should or could be fun when you ask people, while that is what many people think of when they think of board games.

I could of course have made up people as well, but I wanted the real feel with real people and honor them this way.

The whole idea for the game started with the fascinating stories of resistance from my grandmother. The goal then became to add more people as characters that resisted the occupation forces and are somewhat lesser known. So some of the toughest things for this project were to find the right people that the characters are based on, and to find their family to ask if it is ok to add them into the game. I was also scared that all of them did not know anything about modern board games and would say no, thinking that this is not a theme for games. So I was very happy that the family or other connections of almost everybody I contacted as well as the 2 resistance members that are still alive said yes.

I could of course have made up people as well, but I wanted the real feel with real people and honor them this way. Unfortunately, there are still so many people with interesting stories that are not in the base game, but luckily there are options for expansions.

One of the things that slowly evolved during the years I was designing the game is the focus on non-violent resistance. Most World War II games are focused in one way or another on violence, even those about resistance instead of soldiers fighting each other. This is partly because they are not taking place in the Netherlands, as for a large part of the occupation period in the Netherlands the main ways to resist were non-violent. So the range of options I have for this game that are non-violent are still immense.

What is currently your favorite game to play?

I always enjoy playing Battlelore: Second Edition. It is the only game with multiple expansions that I have all the possible expansions for. I did start to notice now that I have played it quite a bit that it feels a bit lucky sometimes. I also started with Pandemic Legacy 0, with an interesting historical theme, that is really a lot of fun.

What did you find was the most difficult part of the design process?

Making sure it all feels relevant in the right way. I think it is important to have a good balance between a complex game to represent the events truthfully and accurately, but still have a streamlined game that is easy to play and works well with all player counts. I think I managed in a large part, because the game is divided into different scenarios. Each of these have some unique rules, cards and tokens that help with the right representation, while still not overwhelming players when playing that scenario.

Getting the game as cooperative as possible and bringing the alpha player issue that many co-ops have to a minimum were also important factors in the design process. They created some tough challenges. I think I managed well with both of them, but it was not easy.

What was your favorite part about the design process?

To try out new ideas and see if they work the way I thought they would work. I am really happy when I get a new idea that just seems to click and work well with all the other elements that are already in the game. For example, creating and fine tuning the character cards that make each character very asymmetric and still work well with each player count and in each scenario. Or the four ways the occupation forces are trying to find or hinder you, as each has a unique deck of cards that works slightly different.

Connected to this is that I managed to make the scenarios in such a way that they basically consist of separate modules, that can also be added to other scenarios. So the SS module from scenario 5 can be added to scenario 1 for example, to add an extra threat to that scenario if people like. This way you can, when you have played all the scenarios multiple times, just build your own scenario with the elements you like most, and have infinite replayability.

What's next for you?

When everything is fully finished for the base game of Dutch Resistance: Orange Shall Overcome! I will be working on an expansion where I can add more stories of this great topic of Dutch resistance during the Second World War. I am also publishing the localized Dutch version of the upcoming board game Distilled by Paverson Games. So I am looking at a great period ahead of me.

What was the hardest issue you had to overcome while designing Orange Shall Overcome?

Maybe the decision to self-publish the game, to make it just how I think it should be. I contacted publishers in an earlier stage, but realized that I might have to divert at some points from the values and feel I want to give this game. This could be a different art style then it has now for example, or adding things to the base game I don’t want, such as a violent scenario. Some of those changes could make it better for a larger audience, but it might turn into something that is not the kind of game I want to make.

What is your favorite mechanism in Orange Shall Overcome?

That is a tough question. There are some games that I was playing when I started making this game, with mechanisms that I really liked. I thought they are very streamlined and fun, but at the same time not really how I wanted my game to be like. One of these games was Dead of Winter. The movement between locations in that game felt too simple for what I envisioned for my game. So I wanted to have policemen and soldiers in between some of the locations while others being totally safe, making the movement a vital element of the game. I also really liked the crossroads cards from the same game. This resulted in the end into the Control cards, that get resolved when you pass a policeman or soldier, where another player reads the text and you decide what you do based on that text.

Even though the crossroads cards help to keep other people engaged when it is not their turn, I thought that engagement could be enhanced in my game. So I wanted something you could do or think about that can help the group, even when it is not your turn. I found this with what I think is my favorite mechanism in Dutch Resistance: Orange Shall Overcome!, the Morale track and Morale action cards. These can be used by any player during the action phase in between any other action, no matter whose turn it is and if you already had your turn or not. I really like the free-form it has and how well I think it fits thematically, because the higher the Morale, the more Morale cards you have for the whole group of players. Using them wisely can really make a big difference in winning or losing the game. I personally have not seen something exactly like this in another co-op game.

It was not easy to get to this mechanism tough. I tried many things, such as having a fixed action point you give to another player in your turn. But all of those other ideas did not work, because they were either unbalanced or just did not create more engagement, especially with people who were still learning the game.

Play lots of different games, both for inspiration and to make sure that what you are making adds something to what has already been made before.

Do you have any advice for up and coming designers?

Try many things in your design and don’t be afraid to remove things if they don’t work as well as you hoped or if it does not create the type of decisions you want. Listen to your playtesters to see if there is a better way to do something. If you have a turn-based game for example, like my game was before, don’t be afraid to try and see if it might work better with a round structure. Or if you feel something should not change during the game, but playtesters often mention that they think it is better when it does, than at least try it to see why they say that. It could be that your game gets better that way. Or it might just be that there is another issue that they think should be solved in a certain way. So even though their suggestion does not make the game better and you should always filter the feedback, it brings to light something that the game does that is not very fun, so it has to be looked at.

I agree with what I heard on one of the Board Game Design Lab podcasts, I think with Matt Leacock, where it is important to write down the problem first and only then the solutions of the playtesters. Because only then will you realize if what they say is really the problem and something that needs to be changed, or if it is not a problem. Not all playtesters are your

target audience, so you should be careful not to be sent in the wrong direction for the type of game and audience you want for your project.

And what is just as important as trying many different ideas: Play lots of different games, both for inspiration and to make sure that what you are making adds something to what has already been made before.

What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow?

What do you mean? An African or a European Swallow? 😉

1 komentář

Good coverage on Marcel's game, Bert.

I am certainly looking forward to receiving this and backing the expansion.

Cheers and good gaming.

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