Today marks the release of Toy Vault’s Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars board game in the United States. The game features the monsters Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Rodan and Gigan. To celebrate, we sat down with the game’s designer, Richard H. Berg. We’ll interview him concerning the title, his work on the game and also general questions related to the Godzilla franchise as well.
Chris: Mirjahangir: What was the inspiration for the game? Are there any existing board games that were influential?
Richard Berg: My inspiration was getting a phone call from Toy Vault asking me if I wanted to do a game on one of their licensed properties; it was between Godzilla and The Princess Bride. As much as I have always wanted to say “I want my father back, you son of a bitch” to someone, I opted for the lizard. Obviously far more gameplay opportunities therein. (Apparently TV had done some research before calling me…) Having done – and played – so many games, it is almost impossible to say what other board games were influential, especially as I view each situation as a separate entity and try to figure out what soft of game mechanics will best reflect its “realities.”
Mirjahangir: You have created a lot of board games in the past, to put it lightly, especially war games. Would you say any of your past games are similar to worked as a point of reference in creating a board game on Godzilla?
Berg: Not entirely… I had not done any games which were focused on one-on-one combat. But what I did use as a basis for most design decisions were asking the players to make choices, choices that could produce “bad” or “good” results. Decision making produces tension, and tension makes for great play. That and the idea of “Chaos”, that nothing ever goes as expected/wanted.
Mirjahangir: How long did it take to develop the prototype of the game?
Berg: Basic game took about a week… most of it spent on figuring out what kind of gameboard I needed. That doesn’t include my Rumination Period, where I toss game mechanic ideas around in my head (usually while researching), envisioning therein what I want to see on the gameboard.
Mirjahangir: How much research did you do before you started on the game, in terms of the Godzilla universe?
Berg: One of the great things about Godzilla is that he is treated by the Japanese much like Sherlock Holmes is by the Western world: as a real figure, even when he is known to be fictional. This, and the dozens of movies, meant there was a plethora of information available… and I made sure that I read every piece available, making notes as I went… as I do with historical games. As you read and research, the game tends to form into shape in your mind… and you start to concentrate and focus on specific aspects of the history.
Mirjahangir: Who came up with the game’s title? Were there alternate names thrown around before the final one?
Berg: My original working title was GODZILLA, A TOHO KAIJU MONSTER GAME. I think the Vaulters adapted that to what it is now. It was obvious that “Godzilla” was going to be the major word in the title, especially as a game title is a marketing tool.
Mirjahangir: What major changes occurred from your original design versus the final product?
Berg: Developer Paul Blake changed my use of battle matrices and charts that the players had to cross-reference with the present, and rather elegant, card-comparison system that simplified play greatly. Every designer is only as good as his Developer. Everything else pretty much was as I wanted it, especially in the use of the plastic blocks for the players to construct their own buildings, giving the game a marvelous 3-D effect… and the ability to bring them crashing down in play.
Mirjahangir: Who picked the four monsters in the game, Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Rodan and Gigan?
Berg: I did. Researched pretty much every kaiju in every movie. I wanted kaiju that would provide their own “world” and would be worthy foes for The Big G as well as each other… plus ones that had different, and interesting, capabilities. The only one I tossed early was Mothra, for several reasons. One was that reproducing her capabilities – especially that of staying airborne – was something i didn’t want to tackle in a first game. Then there’s the fact that i find giant moths as frightening as dinner with my relatives (which can be DefCon 3, but still…) and what was I going to do with those warbling midgets?
Mirjahangir: Were these always the four monsters picked for the game?
Mirjahangir: Some of the designs for the game, from the Xilien to Rodan and Gigan’s designs, seem modeled closely after Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). Was this conscious, or just the result of it being the most recent Godzilla film?
Berg: It was a conscious choice made from the extensive background information available on all these kaiju. I wanted to portray them at their highest powers, at least in the Advanced Play version of the game. The basic game presents them somewhat “reduced” in that area.
Mirjahangir: How long have you been a fan of Godzilla?
Berg: Never really been a big fan, in the sense that I ran to see every movie. Saw the original (when I thought Raymond Burr was supposed to be Godzilla). I was mostly an aficionado of giant dino movies, like “Beast from 20,000 Fathoms”, et al, that ran riot in the 50’s (actually my favorite was “Tarantula”). Did got to see several when they came out, mostly to check put the latest other bad guys – let’s face it, the plots are pretty much all the same. Not exactly Charles Dickens at work here. Caught most of them on TV… which, granted, reduces the spectacle. Last night I actually caught “Godzilla vs Mothra” (the one with Battra); it actually comes across rather well on the fairly big screens of today’s TV’s… altho it doesn’t do much to alleviate the rather inane dialogue.
Mirjahangir: Favorite Godzilla movie, favorite Godzilla character?
Berg: I know there will be cries of anguish on this one, but I really liked (one of the 8 people who did) the US GODZILLA (1998), the one with Matthew Broderick. The big boy was REALLY big in that one, rather better delineated… and, in some spots cunningly scary. True, you have to sit thru some rather awful non-kaiju drivel . . . but you can say the same for almost any Godzilla film. I always liked Rodan… and the giant shrimp, what was his name, Ebora? I kept waiting for someone to throw cocktail sauce on him. Many of the other kaiju are quite clever… certainly King Ghidorah, who ought to run for office in the mid-west. Much imagination and creativity at work on the kaiju.
Mirjahangir: When we interviewed Paul, the possibility of an expansion came up several times. Would this be something you might be involved with as well? If so, any ideas on the direction you might take the game in an expansion?
Berg: Oh I have lots of ideas. I want any expansion to not only be a stand-alone game (with different/additional kaiju) but one that can be joined with the original to produce bigger, wilder, smashier battles. Maybe one with a Monster Island board… tropical island stuff. And certainly lots of kaiju around . . . although, alas, king Kong is not available to use. Neither is that flying soup, Gamera. No loss there. And i would definitely be involved in expanding the system and series . . . as I have done with so many of my history games.
Mirjahangir: What are your overall feelings of the final product for Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars?
Berg: I think Toy Vault did a smashingly marvelous job – from all sectors of their company – in bringing my visions to life. Every time I play the game I make sure I put on my official Zilla slippers… just to make sure I’m truly into the world of the kaiju. That, and some good take-out sushi helps…