Hi Matt and Andrew, thank you for taking some time to catch up with us here at Zatu and we look forward to getting to know all about Iconiq Games and your latest project.
So, first things first who are Iconiq, how long have you been together and when did you start designing games?
Andrew: Iconiq as a brand has only been established recently, however this game is where it all started to take form around 2 years ago, while on a group holiday. The game has been in constant design since that point. They Live: Assault On Cable 54 will be Iconiq Studios first game, and there are a number of other projects on the horizon.
Matt: I’ve known Andrew for many years now, we both actually met when I was working in my local comic shop. We became really good friends over our mutual love of movies and collectables. I can’t say the amount of times we've sat waiting for a movie to start and argued about our dream cast for a film or the perfect collectible.
I’ve been working on the mechanics of the game since the initial concept, however Andrew has been the most instrumental with the processes. From art direction all the way to manufacture, I have to say that we couldn’t have got this far without him.
Your latest game is based on John Carpenter's cult classic They Live. How did you come up with the ideas for the game and how did you manage to get the license to develop and produce a game based on this iconic IP?
Andrew: Originally we came up with the idea based directly on They Live. It was a movie we were very passionate about that feels just as relevant today than it ever has.
One of the key drivers for us was creating a hidden enemy game where it wasn't just about hidden cards, but with something tangible from the movie and hidden icons that were not visible. We played with a number of ideas ranging from UV ink through to cards that combined, but it just didn't feel like They Live. All of the other action-adventure elements fell into place really well, but when we found the correct style and combination of polarization technologies it became something so much bigger.
Getting the license to the IP was an interesting one, when we started we never imagined in our wildest dreams that we could work on this IP. We planned to make what I will refer to as an “a-like game” taking key themes but changing it so it wasn’t They Live, however no matter what we did, we could not shake the feeling that we were losing something that made the game so magical. They Live is infinitely quotable and just oozes something that is pure cult classic and we wanted that. By this time we had formed the company with a friend who literally said “why don't we just talk to the studio” and the rest is pretty much history. The studio has been great and could immediately see what we wanted to do, they have given us a chance to share it with everyone and I know as a team we are very grateful for the opportunity.
The imagery from the film is well known and there are some classic scenes. How did you go about combining the feel and look of the film with the mechanics of a board game?
Andrew: After asking if the game would have glasses, every They Live fan is immediately going to either reference or ask about a 10 minute fight scene. We identified very early on that we were going to need to recreate that in some form of optional and potentially risky PvP. We wanted players to be able to have that “Put on the glasses or start eating that trash can” moment and have a reason to do that. So to get the right to look at another player's cards and see if they are an Invader, you will need to beat them down, gain the upper hand and risk your glasses in doing so (Represented by glasses tokens that you earn). Now you may do all that, gain injuries for nothing, damage the people who are meant to be helping you, or you may just prevent an enemy causing you problems later on. The bigger question is will the other players believe you? Remember you are the only one who can see the results by wearing the glasses.
Matt: This form of tension was very important to us (SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE), Holly Thompson for instance has so many twists and turns in the movie and we wanted to keep the feeling of unease and possible betrayal at any point. To put it simply you will need to weed out the enemies before the “final assault” on Cable 54 or risk having a friend turn on you just like the movie.
From a look and style perspective, our artists have a very distinctive real-world style. The brief was to make everything feel tangible and so it could seamlessly fit into the movie if it was not already on screen. For example, our resistance themed board has a practical ragtag look. It is a combination of maps, pins and string, with polaroid style photos for locations. It always goes back to that resistance meeting at the end of the movie, nothing is clean or high tech and people fight with what they have. We have worked very hard to create a world that feels practical, where everything from weapons cards that look like open boxes, through to character boards that have a wooden finish, all feel like they would live in the movie. (Expect easter eggs too)
So how does They Live: Assault on Cable 54 play? What are the key mechanics and what will people remember from their first play?
Matt: First and foremost it is a 4-6 player narrative adventure game (However there is 1-3 player ‘Blind Play’ mode which we will talk about later). Each player will experience a total of 4 phases that will allow player actions, enemy movement, story encounters and what we call a propaganda phase that shapes the story. Players will aim to complete their objectives before the game time runs out and start their assault (or defence) of Cable 54. This final assault event and its outcomes, will be a randomised ending each time you play.
To explain the next bit a little easier I will break this down into both Human and Invader player experiences, as we have done in our rulebook.
Human characters: Will explore the game world with the aim of gathering enough resources to tackle a final assault on Cable 54. To do this they will take on the enemies, complete story encounters, and pay in resources to resistance locations with the aim of increasing their stats, and building a deck that will provide additional successes in the final assault. If all goes to plan and the Humans weed out the enemy players then they will hopefully be successful in surviving the trials of the final assault, which will involve 3 heavily stacked tests that form a unique ending each time.
Invader Characters: The role here is a little more complex. It is all about scrapping good items and depositing the worst items to give the Human players a false sense of hope. With a bit of luck, you can convince the other players that you are Human and take part in the final assault with them, waiting for your moment to strike. The Invader will be able to reveal themselves at that opportune moment (Think Holly and poor Frank) and roll against the team, reducing their successes in the final assault, with the aim of bringing the team down and their hopes of stopping the signal.
So let's talk about the ‘Blind Play’ mode:
Andrew: The main game will involve the players looking at their cards and knowing if they are a Human or an Invader to assume the correct role. For obvious reasons, this doesn’t really work for 1 player and could even mean outnumbered play for lower player counts.
‘Blind Play’ will involve the player or players controlling multiple characters. All taking part in the adventure without knowing their character’s allegiance. They can enter PVP and engage their own characters, using the glasses to uncover the possible enemy. If you do find an Invader, the game will take over control of the uncovered Invader and activate a separate Invader behavior deck.
If Invaders in the party make it all the way to the ‘Final Assault’, they will become active and produce significant debuffs to your character and engage with you in combat.
Three key “wow” moments have taken place in every playthrough or test with new people.
- Wow the glasses really work, and I can see hidden messages.
- The exciting story beats for each character's personal story/final assault. (We still get excited by these and we know what every card says)
- The moment when an enemy player reveals themselves, making you realise that you can't trust even your closest friends.
What treats lie in store for those who back They Live, when it is released through Kickstarter?
Matt: We have an amazing trailer and a detailed rulebook for you to explore and get a feel for the game. There will be some great stretch goals allowing people to unlock more iconic characters and some new interesting people to play as.
We will also be leaning into the classic style of the movie with some really cool add-on content that will feature the classic black and white style of the movie.
Andrew: When backers get their hands on the game they can expect an action-packed adventure with nail-biting deception. You will also get a rich story deck for each character, giving you a reason to play as each one multiple times.
Clearly a game based on such a classic will arouse many memories and I am sure will create many more. What games hold that magical ability to bring back memories for you?
Andrew: There are so many for me from childhood (Heroquest, Darkworld), to present-day (Zombicide, Resistance, Pandemic), however there is one game that I have played to death and that is Coup. It is very accessible and I always pack it when travelling. I can not begin to count the amount of people I have introduced to it and the sheer amount of fun and very long nights that have come out of it.
Matt: I’ve been playing wargames (mostly Warhammer) for about 20+ years so I'm a bit more competitive than Andrew and I’m an absolute sucker for a minis game. Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Marvel Crisis Protocol. Throwing cars at super villains, swinging around the city and using insane team-up moves. It’s those outrageous watercooler moments where you do something so memorably crazy that really speak to me. Walking away from a game, even if I’ve suffered a complete and utter defeat, but having a great story to tell is what turns a good game into a great experience.
I am sure your focus, at the minute, will be They Live, but have you got any games that are currently in the pipeline or at the germ of an idea stage that you can tease us with?
Andrew: We have a few things that we are currently talking with licensors about. Without getting too specific I would say that everything we want to do going forward should have a physical element from the IP working as part of the game.
Matt: We both grew up seeing those toy commercials (usually for movies with an R rating that had a toy line that probably shouldn’t exist,) and they were always using phrases like ‘relive the movie’ etc. We want to ensure with all our future projects that everything we produce creates an immersion for the players and in the case of licensed properties, isn’t just a sticker slap.
Matt, thank you again for your time and I personally cannot wait to get a look at They Live and take a peak through the lens to see what is really going on out there!