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Faithfully adapting the tabletop classic Ogre

October 5, 2017 | By Jennifer Allen

October 5, 2017 | By Jennifer Allen
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More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, History, Video

Ogre and its creator, Steve Jackson, are kind of a big deal in the tabletop game community.

First released in 1977, Ogre is an asymmetrical forces game set in the late 21st century. It pits fearsome robot tanks against puny humans. The game's influence within the strategy field is incalculable, and the original continutes to be hugely popular.

Since its release 40 years ago, it's been reprinted many times, enjoyed numerous expansions and a sequel in the form of G.E.V. Most recently, in 2012, its elaborate Designer's edition was released via a successful Kickstarter campaign. One of the stretch goals was to make a digital version. With over 5,000 backing that tier alone, the company decided to go ahead with a conversion but they needed a developer. With the enduring love for the original, any digital adaptation needed to be placed in some pretty safe hands. 

Those hands are Auroch Digital, an UK-based games developer wspecializing in digital adaptations of popular board games such as Games Workshop's Chainsaw Warrior and Dark Future franchises. With Ogre being arguably their most complex adaptation yet, Ogre's production manager Nina Adams to find out more about the game's development process.

Past experience proves useful

Adapting something so well-loved is a risky move but Auroch did have an Ace up its sleeve - co-founder, Dr Tomas Rawlings, who's been playing Ogre since the 1980s. "Tom has loved game design since he was very very young," explains Willington. "He made his own units for the 1983 version of the game, I think it was. He actually brought those into the office yesterday."

The 9 year-old Rawlings' cardboard cut outs of his own Ogre tank and some hand made scenery. That helped lead to the development of Ogre. "Steve Jackson got chatting to Tom and they must have hit on the fact that Tom is a massive Ogre fan," points out Adams. It's part of what landed the deal for the studio.

The full version of Ogre is a mixture of all the board game revisions, with players starting out with the most simplistic/original form of the game and working from there. Gradually, more terrain is unlocked, demonstrating the different eras of the game. 

Staying loyal to the original

"One of the key briefs [was] that it had to be true to the original board game," explained Adams. With Steve Jackson signing off on "every little bit", the team were called up on anything that was slightly off in the game compared to the board game, even if it was simply that one of the Ogre units wasn't quite to scale. "He's been keeping us in line in making sure that it's very much in keeping with the original," notes Adams. 

"You also know there are people that have been playing [Ogre] every weekend for the past 40 years and they live and breathe know damn well that if the slightest thing is wrong, they'll be down on you like a ton of bricks," explains Adams. "We knew that if we added an extra movement or anything too significantly different, we would have had our heads chopped off."

Certain elements of the game and to be tweaked for the digital conversion, mostly due to the board game being designed for players to be gathered around. "When you've got a rule on the board that says 'decide between yourself what's going to happen next', you can't really do that in a computer game," points out Adams. "He's had to relinquish a little bit [and allow for] some minor changes." 

"They're...very very minor changes," chips in Auroch Digital's marketing manager Peter Willington. "Like, in the game, you can have units riding on other units on top of other units." In the physical version, that's very clearly indicated while in the digital version, a certain amount of "automation" is required to be the most efficient choice. 

"We kind of get a little meta," notes Adams. "The original game was supposed to feel like you were in a control room moving around units, a bit like a war room." In this adaptation, there's the extra layer of making it seem like a board game that feels like a war room within a computer. 

Listening to the fans

The team certainly seems to have achieved their goal of not just making a game 'like Ogre' but to actually make Ogre for a digital platform. Being able to translate that 'in person' intensity to an online service has been a success thus far too. "You can be playing someone who's half way round the world and still be shouting at the screen like you'd be shouting at them [in person] if they kept rolling sixes," Adams points out. 

Ogre does have one significant addition other than online play - a scenario editor. "Basically, players have a layout of all the different terrain tiles, and they can make their own maps," explains Adams. "They can lay on their own victory conditions which you wouldn't have been able to do with the board game." 

With Ogre finished, Auroch is continuing to focus on board game based IPs. Games Workshop's Dark Futures is next for the team, along with 2 unannounced projects. "It's pretty safe to assume that we'd continue to work on board games titles," notes Willington.

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