Interview: Game Designer Richard Launius on Planet of the Apes Board Game

Planet of the Apes Board Game

“I wouldn't call myself a 'super fan.'” says Richard Launius when asked about the original Planet of the Apes movie series.

But that didn’t stop Launius, famous for his games Arkham Horror, Defenders of the Realm, and Elder Sign, among others, from taking on Planet of the Apes as his next big design. The game will be released soon by IDW Games.

“I've seen all the movies and certainly enjoyed them,” he continues. “I'm an old guy, so I saw them when they first came out at the movie theater. They really focused on a lot of social commentary at the time and had a great story and great acting.”

“Basically, when I was given the design, IDW wanted a co-op game. They asked me if I could do 'Escape from Monkey Town.' I don't do ‘Escape from Monkey Town.' That's not my perspective on it,” Launius recalls. “So I rewatched the movies about ten times.”

Multiple Personalities

The problem with taking the 1960s cult hit and transforming it into a cooperative board game should be obvious to anyone who’s seen Planet of the Apes—there’s only one protagonist.

“There's really only one character that you can be,” says Launius. “So I think the first breakthrough I made was, you'll just play a different aspect of the Charleton Heston character.”

Launius got the idea to split Heston’s character, Taylor, in such a way that up to four players can control him.

“You'll either be the defiant Taylor, or you'll be the Commander. Basically, your personal skills are based upon the attitude that you play,” Launius explains. “So that's kind of how it started.”

Launius tells CGR that he wanted players to be able to work through the events of the film, starting at the beginning and making their way through each conflict.

“I wanted to work through the movie and be true to it in terms of how it moves from scene to scene,” he says. “I wanted to provide excitement and challenge for the players in the process.”

Planet of the Apes board game

The 4th Time is a Charm

But no one said game design was easy. Launius says it took him several drafts before the game really came together.

“I think it was my fourth version before I finally got something that really worked the way I wanted it to. I had to chuck the first three versions of the game. But the fourth one really, really clicked. It worked well. It did all the things I wanted to do to create the kind of pressure and feeling and storytelling that I thought should be in this particular game,” Launius says.

So what kind of game can tell this story in such a way that it can provide the tension and anxiousness of the original film? Launius explains that his top priority was the narrative.

“I always focus on story first,” Launius tells us. “All my games are always based on telling the story, creating the experience, and what kind of mechanics work best for that.”

Launius wanted his game to capture the nerve-wracking excitement of the movie.

“I feel like any time that you're in a game that has uncertainty, an adventure game, then the best mechanics are some kind of dice mechanics. Because there's this uncertainty that exists around dice mechanics that doesn't exist with collecting a set of cards, or trading two cubes for a different color cube, whatever the case is. Those all make fine economic mechanics, but they don't lend themselves well to a story-driven adventure game. So I started working on what type of dice mechanics I wanted,” Launius says.

But he didn’t want the game to be completely luck-driven. After all, in the film, Taylor relies on his own skills and competence to save himself.

“What the players do—how they manage their hand, how they manage their cards, how they use their skills—can control, to a large extent, the dice rolls in this game. And so it’s kind of a combination of resource management, hand management, and cooperative use of skills between players,” the designer says. “Each particular aspect of Taylor has skills that are extremely important to move you across the board.”

Taking Part in the Plot

Just like in the film, the board game Planet of the Apes has short-term and long-term challenges. Players must complete Taylor’s objective before they can advance to the next scene. However, Launius explains that there are other forces at work, as well.

“You're trying to get to the end before the ape token gets to the end of that scene. If you can achieve your objective, depending on where you are in the story, you get a bonus or you get a penalty. Later in the story, you actually can become lobotomized, killed, or lose the game if you fail to achieve your objective before the ape token advances to the end. Along with that, there's an overarching story, which is the Statue of Liberty, which is constantly moving toward the end of the story—the great discovery. And you've got to get to the end of the whole movie to make that discovery prior to the Statue of Liberty token moving to the end,” Launius tells us.

Though Planet of the Apes isn’t officially out yet, Launius gave us an idea of the scenes we can expect to play through in the game. Fans of the post-apocalyptic film will be pleased to find themselves experiencing its every aspect firsthand.

“At the very beginning, can you get out of the ship and how many supplies can you rescue before it sinks?” Launius describes his game. “When you're crossing the Forbidden Zone, how dangerous will that become? When you get into the corn fields and start getting hunted, how will you survive? When you become caged, will you try to communicate and make friends with your ape captors, or will you simply try to escape? So every key scene in the movie is going to be in this board game. And how well you perform at that will drive you to the next scene and the consequences associated with that.”

Planet of the Apes will hopefully be the first in a series of five board games released by IDW Games, each depicting a different film in the original sci-fi saga. Launius says it’s a simple, casual game that brings a lot of fun without taking all day.

“The game plays in about 60 minutes,” Launius says. “You could learn to play in a couple minutes. It's not hard at all to play. The mechanics are dice mechanics most people are familiar with. The card mechanics are easy to understand.”

Planet of the Apes will be released later this month by IDW Games. MSRP is $59.99.