Bruno Cathala has designed games 100+ games and expansions over 15 years, including Shadows over Camelot, Mr Jack, Cyclades, Abyss, Five Tribes, and Kingdomino.
The following interview is about Raptor, a two-player strategy game he co-designed with Bruno Faidutti.
Jason (GameGobble): Raptor is a 2 player card-driven board game that has been praised for the gameplay, theme, and art. Can you share some background of how the initial ideas for the game led to the final product?
Bruno: The initial idea was purely mechanical. Each player had his own 9 card deck, with numbers from 1 to 9, and one specific action on each card. Players chose their cards simultaneously, and then revealed it. The player with the smallest number went first, and triggered the ability of the card. The player with the higher number playing second, with actions depending to the difference between the 2 numbers.
I had this idea in mind for a long time without really knowing what to do with it. When Bruno Faidutti asked me to build a pure 2 player game with him, we discussed the idea further. We wanted special abilities strongly connected to a theme, and less emphasis on the mathematical aspect. We worked with Vincent Dutrait and asked for artwork to tell the story in the cards, as if we were watching a movie.
Jason: Raptor is an asymmetric game, with each player having their unique set of cards and winning conditions. What were some of the challenges of maintaining game balance and how did you address them?
Bruno: It was not that hard. The higher the number on the card, the most powerful the ability. This means that it’s not that easy to trigger your most powerful abilities.
But when you don’t succeed playing your ability you will get some action points, which avoids too much frustration.
Jason: When cards are played, the respective numerical values are compared to determine which player gets the action card effects while the other gets action points. The two outcomes aren’t inherently better or worse; what matters is how well you can fulfill your needs relative to your opponent’s. How did you come up with this game mechanic?
Bruno: The main challenge was to find special abilities/actions that you always want to play, so players would not have dead cards in their hands. The kind of dilemma I really like in games is for players to have more desirable options than they’re able to do, so they have to make a tough decision.
Jason: Talk about the overall gaming experience you were trying to create when designing Raptor.
Bruno: We just wanted to try to see players living a “real” story.
Jason: What else do you want gamers to know about Raptor?
Bruno: The initial prototype was called Mirkwood. One player represented Frodo and his friends trying to escape, while the opponent controlled giant spiders trying to capture/eat them. The card that allowed the main threat (the Raptor mother in the eventual game) to disappear was using the ring!
And if you want a good laugh: