Longsword & The Digital Table-Top Revolution

At times it feels like we are on the cusp of something great when it comes to ‘digital’ table-top games. As more and more boardgames get digital port, so too are projects emerging that try to natively capture that pen & paper/dice rolling magic within a videogame framework.

You may remember a few months ago we covered Wartile, a ‘real-time’ miniature skirmish videogame that has some pretty interesting ideas, but some of the core concepts may perhaps needs tweaking. We’ve also taken a look at Warbands: Bushido, a more traditional turn-based project. Today we’re talking about another table-top videogame project – Longsword.

Brainchild of Daniel DiCicco, who has previously worked on the StarDrive sci-fi strategy games, Longsword is a digital table-top platform for miniature-based wargaming. The term ‘platform’ is important because DiCicco is already looking beyond the initial fantasy-themed units and tiles that are on offer in the game’s Kickstarter.

“One of the fundamental tenets of Longsword’s design is flexibility,” he said to us in an interview. If successful, this game could incorporate other settings and visual styles that will allow players to play & create what kind of game they want – from science-fiction, to WW2.

“Tabletop games have this tactile experience to them. It’s fun to hold your miniatures and customize them, and to customize your terrains and do it all with friends. Longsword aims to replicate that as much as possible but without needing a giant crate of hexagonal tiles taking up space in your garage. It’s my hope that we can get some players crossing over from the pure digital realm to discover how fun that can be, but I also hope players from that purely analogue realm will adopt Longsword as a much quicker and easier way to get a tabletop game in.”

The core experience revolves around hex-tile maps, where players compete using army ‘decks’ to summon units, items and buildings to the field in order to destroy the opponent’s nexus. DiCicco has created a more extensive overview video to support the crowd funding campaign:

Wartile experimented with what a ‘digital tabletop’ game could look like by going real-time, but, like Warbands, DiCicco has stuck to the traditional turn-based formula of physical games.

“I want Longsword to be a game that you could play with pen and paper if you wanted.”

“Going turn-based for me again hearkens back to the concept that I want this game to be something you could play on a tabletop. I also find myself slowing down a bit and wanting a more relaxed gaming experience. I’ve got two kids, a busy work-life and a busy social life. When I game, sometimes I want to be blowing stuff up in fast-paced action, but most of the time I just want to exercise my brain with some tactical puzzles. This keeps me coming back to turn-based games, which I know and love very well. So I write what I know and what I love.”

From looking at the videos and imagery available, an impressive amount of design and energy has gone into the project already. Graphics are good, the map tiles are a great homage to their physical forebears, and the miniatures are rendered well and have good animation. The future is far from certain however – despite the coverage and how visually striking Wartile looked, rumour has it isn’t really selling amazingly well. Longsword could suffer the same fate as the ‘indie’ scene becomes increasingly difficult to succeed in.

“You know, finding an audience for your indie game is getting harder and harder every day. We have so many options and people tend to settle in to things that they know and love. I’m 100% confident in the gameplay of Longsword. I sincerely believe that the turn-based tactical gameplay offered in Longsword will prove to be among the finest offerings on PC. Whether people come and play it is something else entirely, but that’s why I’m giving the game away for free.”

“There was a point early in development where I saw the trend of the indie-pocalypse looming, and that’s when I decided to build a free-to-play model. I don’t want people to hover their finger over the buy button. I want them to download the game and play it and see how good it is, and I’ll start building a paying customer-base from there. We may be a niche game forever, but as long as the right people know about the niche then we’ll be a healthy game for a very long time.”

As well as trying to tap in to that ‘DIY’ appeal of customisable and collectable miniatures, DiCicco has also taken some cues from popular trading cards games, even down to the use of terms like ‘Deck’, and the card-like presentation of his units in certain screenshots. It’s slightly confusing, but a deliberate design direction that DiCicco thinks will help in the long-run.

“I have been a bit inconsistent in my use of terms, because I talk about Decks and Armies interchangeably in the game. I take a lot of cues from Collectible Card Games – or more accurately, Trading Card Games. Specifically, I like having a thriving trading economy, where the things you collect aren’t just locked forever into your collection. If you spend real money on an item then I think it’s awesome for you to have something fungible in your hands. Somewhere along the way you might decide you’re done with Longsword and you could trade your cards out on the Steam marketplace for anything else on the marketplace. That’s what I’ve learned from TCGs – create something with value and your players will make a mini-game out of it. Trading can be a lot of fun.”

As wonderful and exciting as this all sounds though, we may not be at a point where games like this have instant mass-market appeal. At the time of writing, Longsword’s Kickstarter has 12 days to go and isn’t much over a quarter of the way funded. Is this a dream that will die before it starts? DiCicco is committed regardless.

“If the Kickstarter doesn’t succeed then we’ll get back to business as usual and finish the game anyway. My goal for this Kickstarter was to raise awareness of the project, to bring on early backers who want to be involved, and to provide a funding boost to help push the art creation to new heights. If we fail, which is a distinct possibility, then I’ll try to not feel too sorry for myself and just focus on doing the best job I can with the resources that I have.”

“That said, I still think we can make our goals. We just have to get the world out there to the right people, to let them know what we’re doing and to show them the serious value on offer here on the Kickstarter.”

Luckily, there will soon be a way for you to go and find out for yourself whether this is the digital table-top solution you’ve been looking for. DiCicco will be releasing a public demo via Steam, which will contain approximately 150 units, spells & other cards, as well as multiplayer support, table-making and sharing. AI skirmishes against a relatively basic AI will also be available, and you will be able to look at the single-player campaign structure. It’s what he calls a “vertical slice”, and will also come with some limited painting features. We expect it up and running sometime next week as DiCicco is just waiting for it to be set up on Valve’s end.

We’ll be trying it out ourselves and will look at a full write-up further down the line, but if you do try it out before then let us know what you think in the comments.

Please always do your research before you consider backing a Kickstarter.