Czech board game scene gets a shot of Adrenaline

Photo: Board Games Edition

Czech Games Edition is a small but internationally-respected firm which has published very well-known original board game designs, some of them in as many as 12 languages. Titles include acclaimed party games like Krycí jména (Code Names) or heavier titles like the civ-builder Through the Ages. CGE’s newest release, which got a lot of hype at this year’s Essen Game Fair, was Adrenaline, a game pitting futuristic combatants against each other in a tight arena of rooms. Think proverbial “knife fight in a phone booth”.

Filip Neduk,  photo: archive of Czech Games Edition
The game is inspired by original First-Person Shooter video games from the early 1990s and if you still remember the first time you played Doom or Quake, this might be for you.

You may be wondering how you successfully transform a video game genre to cardboard. Somewhat unusually given its theme, Adrenaline is what is known as a “Euro” (as opposed to American-school design), not relying on luck, but on players to work within a number of tight interlocking mechanics, where they need to work out how best to manage and transform limited moves and limited resources to optimize their position and, if they can, outsmart their opponent for the win.

I asked designer Filip Neduk, on a phone line to his homeland Croatia, to tell me more.

“The concept is really simple. The game emulates the first-person shooter (FPS) genre and not any kind of FPS genre, but the old school FPS genre.

“They’re all very fast and you basically go around shooting. The video game version, the more frags you have - the more kills you have, you win.

“But in this version it’s a little bit different because it wouldn’t be that interesting. You don't just shoot and that’s it.”

When I think about FPS, we’re talking video games. I guess Doom would be the first famous implementation of that or one of the first, Quake, games like that, right?

“Yes, these were my inspiration, I used to play them a lot when I was younger and that’s where the idea came from. They’re really quick-paced games, you shoot around and until you have 20 frags and that’s the basic thing. Turning that into a board game, it’s more complicated than that.”

Photo: CGE
I guess that’s the thing, because when you have a board game, you don’t have the same visceral intensity, the same claustrophobia when you’re running or seeing things through that character’s eyes. How does that translate into a board game form? Obviously there have been implementations that tried but as you said they get bogged down with rolls, re-rolls, checking of defence and attacks and that kind of thing.

“Yes, we really wanted to streamline all of that so when you deal damage you just deal damage. That’s it, there’s no how precise you are, where you shoot, there’s no dodging, no healing.

“The main idea with this game was to make it as fast as we can. That meant cutting corners and a lot of things we didn’t put in the game; a lot of sacrifices had to be made because of that. But in the end I think it turned out really good.”

The game is called ‘Adrenaline’ and adrenaline is also an interesting mechanic in the game. If I understand correctly, the more often you get hit it actually works for your advantage. Is that right?

“That’s correct. The more you get hit, at some point, like 3 damage or 6 damage, your adrenaline rises and you become faster and it adds an extra move. It’s a little thing but it really helps you in a way. It’s not too overpowered and it helps just enough.

“The name of the game actually came long before I added this mechanism”

It’s a very cool name I’m surprised it hasn’t been used before.

“It just fits perfectly.”

One of the reasons many of us love board games is that we take on a role. Who are the characters in this board game?

Photo: CGE
“That’s interesting, I never thought about it like that. In this game, our theme is the FPS genre, it makes it different. But yes, you have characters in a sci-fi setting, it’s more of a parody of the FPS genre than an established setting.”

I understand that, since my son who’s never played a FPS, he saw the cover and the smiley face mech immediately got a lot of attention. From photos, I don’t know if it was Gen Con or Essen Spiel, they showed a giant version of this character. So tell me a little bit about that character.

“I don’t know who came up with the smiley face, I wanted to have a robot in it. Me and the artist Jakub Politzer talked about the robot and what would he be. The idea was that he was an old mining robot, repurposed for the arena, and he liked it a lot, so they put a smiley face on him. He’s always happy when he’s shooting everybody, that’s the background story for him.”

On the one hand you have the setting which is futuristic, it’s sci-fi, it also uses very euro mechanics. It’s a kind of a mixed beast if I can put it that way.

“Yes, it is a mixed beast, it came out that way accidentally, I didn’t plan it.

Before, it was like a deck building game, a long time ago when I started it.

“Then it turned into this weird euro. It all happened because I wanted to solve the problem of players ganging up on each other, and the euro mechanics are the perfect solution for it.”

Basically the difference between old school or the newer, American design, what is referred to as Ameritrash. Those are the games that probably have a lot of theme but would probably have at least a little bit of luck, or perhaps a dice roll or another form. At least the sense that I get is when it comes to euros, they are games that are very finely tuned, wouldn’t you agree?

“Yes, yes. I really didn’t want the whole dice-throwing because when you have dice in combat, they usually take a lot of time and they are very luck-based.

Photo: CGE
“I came up with this resource-management thing, when you collect different types of ammo and the weapons require for you to use it, it seemed interesting at the time.”

I wanted to ask a little bit about CGE. How did you settle with this company to release Adrenaline?

“They actually released my first game, Goblins Inc., like four years ago and I know them from way back then. They invited me to their event and I showed them my game.

“It’s been at that event for a couple of years now, cooking and standing there for like three years. Then it just came to the point that they said yes, that’s basically it.

“They are really well-known, they don’t do a lot of games, but they do quality games, they won’t release a game until it’s really, really good.”

People don’t realise how much work, how many years the process of designing a game actually is. When it came to Adrenalin, where you have an arena of different rooms, different things going on, cards to be picked up, resources to be managed; how important was it, getting the balance and how long did that take?

“That was a big issue with this game; we wanted to balance it so it would go really fast.

“The thing we balanced most I think were the weapons. We made a lot of versions of the weapons, doing different things. I think we had like 20 or 30 versions of weapons altogether, just in the last year. Before that it was just me alone with the game.

“So yes, there was a lot of testing and a lot of talking about what goes into the game. Especially in the late phase of development.”

And is this one of the areas where old school video gamers will find the so-called Easter eggs, all kinds of guns and weapons that they will recognize from games in the past?

Photo: CGE
“Yes, there is a lot of tiny little bits everywhere, spread around the game.”

What feeling do you want players to take away from Adrenaline? Is this the kind of game which you’ll be satisfied if when people say after they finish it ‘let’s have another go’?

“That was the idea. When you play the video game with first-person shooters, you never just play one, you play multiple of them. But in board games it’s a slower pace, we really wanted to hit the one-hour mark, so our players could play again right away.

“So yes, the idea was to make it fast and re-playable with different weapons; each time you go you pick up different weapons and you can experiment with a lot of combinations.

“The setup is fast to learn and you can just call anybody on the table and play it instantly, it doesn’t take a lot of intro into the game.

“I think four or five players is best, three also works. But the more the merrier, the more targets you have, the more fun it is and you can use the weapons in a more imaginative way than you would with fewer players.”

At home after the interview, I couldn’t resist trying a play-through but, as often happens the board and figures and pieces were almost immediately hijacked by my children who began playing with the colourful pieces of mechs and other baddies. They’re not the recommended age, but kids after all always find a way to have fun and make up their own rules. A mutant warrior becomes a princess; a monster her prince, a killer robot a friendly sidekick. An excerpt:

“Hey it’s a smiley-faced robot!”

“That one looks like a zombie! Can you catch him?”

“Time to retreat.”