From mice to dice: How Steamforged Games adapted ‘Monster Hunter World’ into a board game

After ‘Dark Souls’, ‘Resident Evil’ and ‘Devil May Cry’, the UK tabletop gaming specialists sets its sights on fantastic beasts and how to kill them

With over 16.8 million copies shipped as of December last year, Monster Hunter World isn’t just Capcom’s highest-selling title – it’s a global phenomenon that brought the thrill of taking down fantastic beasts to the mainstream. And now, World primed to reach an even wider audience thanks to a massively successful Kickstarter board game campaign.

Steamforged Games, which has previously helmed board game adaptations of such video games as Dark Souls and Resident Evil, managed to raise almost £3.5million from 20,000 backers – well beyond its modest £150,000 target. So where World modernised many of the brilliant eccentricities from the beloved 20-year-old franchise, Steamforged has spent the last two years translating it into a kinetic, intelligent board game.

Monster Hunter World Tabletop Game
Monster Hunter World Tabletop Game. Credit: Steamforged Games

NME was lucky enough to get to play a demo of the tabletop World, and we were impressed by how well it emulated the experience of playing the digital equivalent. Steamforged has crafted the experience based on what they see as the core emotional responses of players to Monster Hunter, streamlining the play experience in order to respect players’ time.

In the board game, monsters are wild but predictable to a degree. Positioning and selecting what attacks to use is just as important in cardboard, which accurately represents the thrill of hitting a perfect attack at the right time. Other nimble ideas include turning the pre-hunt gathering phase into a choose-your-own-adventure experience, and the inclusion of a ‘damage deck’, which needs to be refilled by taking a break from combat, to represent sharpness.

After the demo, NME sat down with Steamforged’s Alex Hall (a 4,000-hour Monster Hunter expert), Charlotte Cloud, Jamie Perkins and Mat Hart to dig into their approach to making these ambitious adaptations.

Steamforged has made a lot of video games based on board games. Was there a decision behind this or was it a natural progression?

Alex: We naturally fell into it. Our creative director [Mat Hart] used to be a producer/executive producer on that side of the video game world, so working with video games was familiar to him. Dark Souls was the first one, and from there it’s been a natural fit for us.

You’ve worked with Capcom on three separate games now: Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, and now Monster Hunter. How did that relationship come about?

Mat: Our relationship with Capcom really all started on a hotel balcony in Turkey sipping a cool cocktail. Capcom called me to see if I’d be interested in talking to them about a Resident Evil game. As soon as I got back to the UK, I was in the Capcom office catching up with colleagues and chatting about all the cool ideas I’d had for Resident Evil – while lazing next to a pool!

Can you talk me through how you pick a game you want to work on? Do you gravitate towards certain types of games or licenses?

Mat: Choosing licenses is a mix of calculation and intuition. The key element we consider is whether the translation to tabletop will deliver a great gaming experience that fans of the license will resonate with.

It’s vital that we deliver the same feeling and emotional response for players. The potential game needs to spark lots of ideas as to how we can create a tabletop experience, which gives us a hugely fertile environment to design within.

Monster Hunter World Tabletop Game
Monster Hunter World Tabletop Game. Credit: Steamforged Games

What is the general process you go through when adapting a video game into a board game?

Alex: The starting point is our team: we have a lot of creative people and we’ll start by talking through cool ideas or mechanics that might fit certain games or themes. We then decide whether we’d like to work on that mechanic or idea with an external license or if we would like to work on it internally.

From there, we start digging into the emotional response and decision-making side of things. We figure out what we want to evoke with our game and what mechanics we want to use to represent those things, while also ensuring we’re respecting the players’ time during a playthrough.

Then we do a lot of prototyping and testing, head to the production side of things, and sprinkle a load of fanservice on. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way: it’s the special sauce.

As an example from Monster Hunter, I knew we needed to have sharpness in it because that is a key component of the games. We had to find a way to fit that in the game that was smooth, streamlined, and flowed with how everything else worked.

Jamie: A different example was with Devil May Cry. Our thought process there was an attitude of “How do we present the over-the-top ‘stylishness’ of combat that is almost a little bit silly?” And we narrowed that down to how characters would fight.

So in the combat system of Monster Hunter World, you play cards based on how much stamina you have. We took that but removed the limitations of stamina, and let the players build endless combos that are only stopped if they are hit by an opponent during the enemy phase. It helps keep the cool, stylish feel of the game consistent between video and board game.

You’ve used Kickstarter a lot in the past: is this because you’re comfortable with the platform or because it lets you tailor your product to individual customers?

Charlotte: Tabletop is massive on Kickstarter – it’s been steadily growing, and it got even bigger last year. The tabletop audience is more active there than the video game audience, and on our side we have to do a little more to inform the video game audience that our campaigns exist.

Alex: Business aside, it lets us interact with people who are interested in the game. We’ve taken games of varying levels of completion to Kickstarter, but as you’ve seen with Monster Hunter World, it’s finished.

We’re not up our own arses and stubborn enough to think we know how everything should be for everyone though. If enough people give us feedback, we’ll absolutely take a look at how something works and see if we can make it better.

Charlotte: This is exactly what’s happened with the Lance and the Hunting Horn [weapons in the video game]: they weren’t originally going to be in the Kickstarter.

Alex: Yeah, they got added in. Feedback en masse is invaluable. Board games are the same as video games in that it doesn’t matter how much you playtest something ahead of time; getting the opinions of a huge volume of people on the way something works is invaluable. And if you don’t respect that as a resource, you’re losing out on a huge benefit of using Kickstarter.

Monster Hunter World Tabletop Game
Monster Hunter World Tabletop Game. Credit: Steamforged Games

What was the biggest challenge in translating Monster Hunter into a board game format?

Alex: Bowguns. Not as a whole, but in a game where movement is so important, where movement makes it sing, trying to make what is a turret interesting is very hard. They are handled by a deviation deck which determines which body parts you can target.

There are other cards which represent critical range, so movement ends up being important as you’ll need to try and predict where a monster is going alongside positioning yourself. Keeping ranged things interesting from a design standpoint is always hard.

Jamie: What I was most concerned about was making sure we got a compelling set of narratives for the choose-your-own-adventure gathering phase, but I was blown away by the work that Sherwin [Matthews, lead designer and writer at Steamforged] and Richard put in. Capcom was quite clearly very impressed with that.

You had a big roster to pick from, so how did you choose the monsters to put in the game?

Alex: I wrote a very deep blog about it, but the gist of it is that it’s a balancing act. I had locations we could use, versus monsters in those locations, versus the weapons and sets you can craft from them, versus the sculpts we want to use – so much juggling to make it all line up.

Eventually we went with location as a priority, settling on Ancient Forest and Wildspire Wastes. Picking monsters to match [those locations] gave us Barroth and Great Jagras, and the rest followed logically from the video game.

For the Kickstarter, we were able to expand beyond this with Elder Dragons. There is Kushala Daora who spawns in the Ancient Forest, Teostra who turns up in Wildspire Wastes, and Nergigante who can appear in both places.

Monster Hunter World Tabletop Game
Monster Hunter World Tabletop Game. Credit: Steamforged Games

What kind of expansions are you looking at in the future, if any at all?

Alex: We’re super into Monster Hunter and would love to make more stuff, but aren’t entirely in our hands just yet. We will absolutely explore it if the option is there.

You’ve mentioned “respecting the player’s time” a lot today. Was that a conscious choice in the beginning?

Alex: I think it’s been a part of what we’ve been looking at for a long time. Pretty much everyone at the company plays games, so we have a good testbed for questions like “Did that feel right?” and “Was the experience of time versus rewarding?”

I think it’s ok to have a not particularly complex card game as long as it’s fun and quick to play, and the time and effort line up. As much of the time as possible during a board game should be spent playing it, not setting up or doing maintenance.

Late Pledges can be made on the ‘Monster Hunter World’ Kickstarter page. Steamforged plans to get the game to backers in September 2022, with a retail launch planned for Christmas 2022.

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