Exploring the Launch Facility with Roger Tankersley

Roger Tankersley joins us on the blog to give us a fascinating insight into how he and co-designer David Thompson created the Launch Facility map for Sniper Elite: The Board Game.

Karl crouched in the shadows near the warehouse, peeking around crates to the road beyond.  He saw the missile research building—and the guard watching the door.  “Too hard a shot from here, gotta reposition.”  He moved beyond the train cars onto the edge of the road, took aim and fired.  The guard dropped but a nearby officer heard the shot.  Karl sprinted across the road and headed for the alley leading to the research building back door.  Maybe he could get there in time…..

When David and I started designing a hidden-movement boardgame based on Sniper Elite, we knew the board designs would make or break the game.  We thought about hidden movement games that used point-to-point movement to create clear routes between objectives.  One of our favorites used a continuous grid system of same-size spaces, allowing more freedom of movement.  How could we make Sniper Elite stand-out among these classics?

Right away we wanted the board design to capture shot difficulty and movement speed in the shape and size of the spaces themselves.  We wanted to avoid fiddly rules like ‘if moving through a building’ or ‘if shooting around obstacles.’  Pretty quickly we landed on the idea of variable size spaces.  Large, open areas with large spaces that let the sniper player take shots from across the map, or cover large distances in only a couple of moves.  Small, claustrophobic areas like alleys and building interiors with smaller spaces that slowed movement and made shots more difficult.  We built the game around this core design decision.

I like to start with theme and then layer-on mechanics.  So like every kid playing with toy soldiers, I grabbed some crayons and a sheet of paper!

The first draft of the Launch Facility board

We wanted to evoke the Peenemünde Army Research center, where V2 rockets were developed and tested.  For Sniper Elite we used the research center to get an idea of the types of buildings and objectives we should include and then built a board tailored to hidden movement.  We quickly iterated to a slightly different scale—the breakthrough came at a time when all I had was literally the back of an envelope!  That general arrangement of buildings can still be seen in the final board design.

Planning out the map on the back of an envelope

We tried adding spaces and objectives using a vector-based design program, but it was very difficult to quickly make changes in shape size and arrangement—look at those gaps!  Look at all the diagonal corners!  A friend of ours, who happens to be a data scientist, taught us to use a spreadsheet to create groups of cells that became our spaces. One huge advantage was the ease of identifying diagonals and changing spaces to remove them (although sharp-eyed readers will see some stray diagonals in this early version).  We could also quickly account for number of moves between objectives, areas with long lines of sight, and cluttered alleyways that slowed movement.  We iterated many, many times using this system, making sure we got the board exactly right.

Vectors versus Spreadsheets

Art transforms board spaces into places.  David and I delivered a near-final board design with descriptions of all the buildings and features and the artists from the Sniper Elite video games brought it to life.  We love all the small details in the missile assembly building, the cluttered interior of the warehouse, and the way that lighting around the buildings evokes the feeling of creeping through the shadows.

Board layout with art references

So how does this design affect gameplay?  Playing as the sniper, you should quickly identify your first objective and decide on how to get there.  You can move quickly through open lanes, alerting defenders but moving past them and darting into the shadows.  Or you can move more slowly to avoid detection and surprise the defenders by accomplishing your first objective—and then you better run!  As the defenders, it’s important to spread out and block the main lines of movement, so that you will be alerted when the sniper runs by.  At some point you will commit to an objective and collapse your defenders to pin the sniper in.  Use the doorways and roadways to restrict movement, and force the sniper to make a mistake.  Just be sure not to over-commit.  It’s a bad feeling to surround objective 4 only to have the sniper complete objective 5!

The Launch Facility Map

We are really happy with how the boards turned out and can’t wait for players to get their hands on them. David and I think we struck a good balance for all playstyles—whether you want to run-and-gun, shooting all the defenders who get in your way; or creep along slowly in the shadows, increasing the tension as you near the time limit of your tenth move.  One hallmark of a good hidden-movement game is the tension of both sides feeling “I can’t possibly win this” and we think we’ve hit that mark with our board design!

Eager to stalk through the shadows of the Launch Facility yourself? Pre-order your copy of Sniper Elite: The Board Game today!