Critical Role is getting into the board game business. The popular web series has announced their latest business venture - Darrington Press, a new publishing arm headed by Ivan Van Norman. Darrington Press will release four games in 2021, two of which are set in Exandria (the world where Critical Role takes place) and two of which are wholly original and new games. The 2021 titles include the semi-cooperative game Uk'otoa, the legacy-lite campaign game Critical Role Adventures (in which players play as the heroes from Vox Machina, the tabletop RPG Syndicult designed by Matt Mercer, and the co-op card game Guardians of Matrimonia.
To find out more about Darrington Press, ComicBook.com spoke to head Ivan Van Norman about the new publishing line and its upcoming plans.
ComicBook.com: How long has Darrington Press been in the works? How did you first become involved with Darrington Press?
Ivan Van Norman: I've had pleasure of working with Critical Role in collaborations (UnDeadwood, Cinderbrush: A Monsterhearts Story, The Chronicles of Vox Machina I & II) for a few years now, but I only really started the conversation about becoming a member of the team with Ed [Lopez] and Rachel [Romero] (the COO, and SVP of Marketing respectively) about this time last year. Back then it was simply, "We want to get into publishing, and we want you to do it," and it wasn't until very recently that 'thing' became "Darrington Press." There have been a lot of details to spin up since then - and here we are now! Announcing it formally!
What are the advantages with having an independent publisher as opposed to licensing with an existing game maker?
To be absolutely honest, it's the ability to really make our own creative decisions and take the risks we want in order to explore new ideas. The team and cast are always getting approached to work on, create, and collaborate on games and other immersive media - but Darrington Press allows us to really explore what we *really* want to do, and give that passion an outlet. When we want to go out and do something, it's much, much easier when you have a team who can help execute it.
Could you explain some of the game design ethos that goes into making Critical Role board games? What comes first - a theme from the show, a unique design element for the game itself, or a combination of both?
We have a huge pool of creative endeavors in which to pull from, past, present, and future - and the glorious thing about Darrington Press is that we are not committed to doing just Critical Role games! Our 2021 line-up is exploring original concepts and new worlds as well.
As far as ethos goes, for me, it's always been about something 'delightful.' Does a game concept make you excited, happy, or just giddy to consider it? I've learned from some great designers about 'experience first': chasing a feeling and gamifying it, and I believe in that ethos wholeheartedly. But I also know that you can get really excited around a theme, and it's very exciting to try to discover the 'perfect' mechanic to integrate with it as well.
While the first Darrington Press title, Uk'otoa, will be released direct to retail in 2021, are there plans to utilize Kickstarter for any future games?
At this time, Darrington Press is not looking to utilize crowdfunding for any game releases. We're very happy to make sure that our games come out in a window that will accommodate our business partners and retailers.
Tell us a little bit about Uk'otoa - how does a round of the game work?
There are four main phases: Advancing Uk'otoa along the placed tile path, drawing cards to your hand, playing your cards to move around your terrified sailors as well as remove sailors of your opposing factions, and then a hand management phase. It's a real quick tactical card game that involves some pretty down to the wire last turns. Everyone is invested in two colors on the board, so it leaves a lot of variety in how you want to change and position your strategy during the game.
This game takes place in the world of Tal'Dorei and as a result, there are lots of fun details that fans will enjoy. However, at the end of the day, Uk'otoa is a game anyone can play. Enjoy Grandma fighting for both Ank’Harel and The Revelry as she moves The Great Leviathan across the board!
What are Darrington Press's plans for 2021 in addition to Uk'otoa? Can you tell us anything else about the other games?
Along with Uk’otoa, we have one more Critical Role themed game slated for 2021, which is a cooperative, legacy-lite big box board game called Critical Role Adventures, a modern magical role-playing game set in criminal underworlds titled Syndicult, and Guardians of Matrimonia, a cooperative card game that was actually made for Matt and Marisha’s wedding back in the day!
Since a lot of your past game work is in TTRPGs, does this mean we could possibly see a non-D&D TTRPG for Critical Role come out in the future?
Of course! As I mentioned earlier, if you’re a fan of low-magic modern roleplaying games and a fan of Matthew Mercer, then you’re going to love Syndicult. It’s a pretty light rules system, but has a lot of lore to explore.
Full descriptions of the currently announced Darrington Press games are below:
Uk’otoa - Q1 2021
A battle for life and death on the high Lucidian seas! This flagship title from Darrington Press is a tactical game of semi-cooperative card play as factions of sailors vie to be the last claimed by the raging sea leviathan Uk’otoa. As the ship slowly falls into the ocean, you’ll have to run, push, and sacrifice others to win! Fans of Critical Role know Uk'otoa as the ex-patron of warlock Fjord (played by Travis Willingham). Who could say whether these tales hold any truth? Fjord isn’t telling.
CREATIVE TEAM: Created by Jeb Havens (Burrows, Mother Sheep, You Don't Know My Life!), with additional game design by Gabriel Hicks ( Roll20, Paizo, Mythic Grove), art by Critter Hannah Friederichs, Uk’otoa Sculpt by Niklas Norman ( Runewars, Imperial Assault, Fallout: The Board Game) and layout by Vee Hendro (Good Society: A Jane Austen RPG, Visigoths vs Mall Goths, and Lost Roads).
Uk’otoa will be available in the Critical Role online shops in the US, UK, and AU, as well as hobby stores in the US.
3-5 players, ages 12+, 30-45 minute gameplay
Critical Role Adventures - Q2 2021
Embark on your own journey through Exandria with Critical Role Adventures! Play as the upstart adventurers Vox Machina and overcome treacherous challenges. This cooperative legacy-lite campaign game uses a unique narrative social, and combat mechanic, luring you back session after session. Within this enormous box, you'll find a host of hidden treasures and a rich storybook to guide you through thrilling combat, dynamic character growth, and tales worthy of the name Vox Machina!
Syndicult - Q3 20210comments
Syndicult is an original modern magic roleplaying game designed by Matthew Mercer in which mob families jealously guard secrets and battle it out for power on the city streets. Featuring a simple storytelling dice mechanic, Syndicult is a low magic world where all bets are off.
Guardians of Matrimonia - Q4 2021
Fight the monsters, save the party! Guardians of Matrimonia is a cooperative card game where players have pre-built decks that are pitted against a deck of monsters (party crashers). If your deck runs out, everyone loses. But if you battle your way through the entire party crasher deck, everyone wins!