Paradox Interactive completed a very big circle this weekend by announcing that some of its biggest franchises will soon be available as board games. The company's defining hit was 2000's Europa Universalis, which itself was based on a 1993 board game of fearsome reputation – thanks to its grand campaign potentially taking weeks to play – and that franchise, among others, will now be coming out in board game form.
The company was very clear though that it wasn't losing its focus. "We're not making board games ourselves, and we're not going to make pen-and-paper RPGs either… our business has always been focused on digital growth, we don't plan on doing anything except being that kind of company," said Shams Jorjani, VP Business Development, to a group of journalists at PDXCON over the weekend.
That means the new games will be licensed out instead. With the first release to be Crusader Kings from Free League Publishing. And to back up the experimental nature of the new venture, that game is coming to Kickstarter first in order to gauge interest – a pretty typical move for a board game – before making a big public splash at the Essen games show later this year.
We got hands on with Crusader Kings for a brief demo, and it looks highly promising. A lot of the action takes place off the main geographical board, with siring an heir and marrying off useless scions of your house being a major part of the game. Free League's game designer Tomas Harenstam used to work for Paradox, so he's certainly familiar with the IP.
That game will be followed by titles based on Cities: Skylines, which will have a "Ticket to Ride level of complexity", Hearts of Iron "very hardcore" and the new Europa Universalis.
So why has Paradox taken so long to make this move into such a closely aligned area, and one that's been growing rapidly for many years now?
"It became abundantly clear that there were many cool opportunities and people were coming to us in droves really asking if they can make board games," he tells us. And he's clear that it's certainly not driven by potential income, saying it's "not a way to make tons and tons of money or branch out into new verticals, but a way for us to expand what the IPs are and how people play them.
"It's still freakishly small compared to PC gaming, because the scalability is completely different. But there is a huge resurgence in board games right now, it's a lower hanging fruit and it's easier for us to do it today than five years ago, because then we were so much focused on making game, we're bigger now so it's easier to try different things."
And with so many offers, how is the company deciding which pitches are best for each franchises? "It's very much on a case by case basis, we ask 'do we trust these folks, do they understand what the game is about'."
"We're not board game licensing experts," he admits, "so we're trying a number of different things and see how it pans out." Adding that in terms of complexity and style "it's going to be mix, we're not pretending to know what the best thing is, we're just looking to give additional fun for our fans who love our IPs.
The game with the biggest potential to our eyes looks to be Cities: Skylines. Jorjani says: "It's the game that sold the most in terms of volume copies, so it has a wider brand recognition far outside the usual hardcore niche we operate in, it's easier to get interest in that one because of the install base."
And Mariina Hallikainen, CEO of Colossal Order, the original game's developer was positive: "It's very exciting for us at Colossal, there's a lot of people here who play board games after work and we have that culture. It's really great to see, given where we started out with Cities: Skyline, to see it branching out in this way."