Back to the drawing board

It’s been a while since a new title with my name on it hit the shelves of board game stores. Expansions aside, my last published board game was Versailles in 2014. I have stated many times that publishing turns out to be challenging enough so that I can no longer dedicate time to board game design and, as NSKN Games grows, I should have less and less time to put into design. My focus was more on the business side of things and I have been actively developing games from other designers, but I do miss putting my own thoughts into a game, from scratch to finish.

But now I am happy to say that I am back at the drawing board, doing something I enjoyed the most: designing a grand strategy board game. My previous two attempts were hot and cold. Warriors & Traders was too technical and intricate to be a big success, and my being fresh into board games publishing felt like a burden to the game. Exodus: Proxima Centauri on the other hand was a lot more polished, streamlined and it saw a much bigger success, the Exodus universe being in fact the second most sold franchise from NSKN Games, second only to Mistfall.

I am still proud of the lighter games I designed, but I must admit that my first passion – empire building games – got me started again. The difference is that today NSKN Games is alot bigger than in 2011 or 2012, thus I can count on my colleagues, my partners and the company resources to orchestrate an even bigger game. I bet you must think “How long is this game going to be? Will we play for 10 hours?”. Let me put your fears to rest, it is going to be a big game in terms of game components and production value, but the game time will be kept in check, depending a lot on the kind of experience that gamers want to take out of it.

With the working title Dark Ages, my empire building game has a few key elements I can and would like to talk about now…

The engine

Dark Ages will be powered by an action selection mechanism which allows players to play a diverse and versatile game. Each action type has a number of spaces equal to the number of players plus one, going from strongest to weakest, giving each player access to both strong but not-yet-popular actions as well as popular but not-so-strong actions. This system allows for a diversity of strategies, as our first full fledged play test session demonstrated.

On top of that, most actions feature a less powerful reaction, performed by every other player every time the action is resolved. This reduces the downtime to a minimum, while keeping players interested in everything that happens on and around the game board. Simply put, Dark Ages is designed to be an involved strategy game, where you keep playing almost all the time.

The board

Speaking of the game board, my vision is of a grand map of Europe around 1000 AD, depicting the formation of today’s European power houses such as France, Germany, Spain or England. My colleagues have been scared at first when they saw the size of the prototype board: 90 x 70 cm. Imagine how they felt when I stated that ideally the final board should be a 2-piece map covering 112 x 84 cm (44 x 33″). Divided into 70 provinces, it will accommodate up to 5 players, but there’s already a module in the works to upgrade the game to 7/8 players.

This may (or may not) be a prototype of the game in question.


History of the European Dark Ages is a bloody and treacherous one. Many peoples had arrived in Europe between 250 and 1000 AD and each of them had its opportunity to leave its mark on the future. From Visigoths to Franks, from Saxons to Lombards, in Dark Ages everyone will have its shot of rewriting history and forge and empire. With at least 12 playable nations, Dark Ages will offer an amazing replay value.

Nations will share a common pool of technologies (as there cannot be an empire building game without developing technologically), but each of them will also feature a unique set of them, setting them aside. With Government you will be able to improve your nations defense, with Production you will increase your income, with Trade you will gain versatility, with Military you will grow large armies and with Religion you will gain fame and your place in history.


Just like with technologies, can you imagine an empire building game without miniatures? Dark Ages will feature armies – infantry, archers and knights – as well as castles, forts, cathedrals and potentially more.

All in all, this will be a behemoth when it comes to components, offering a truly immersive experience, while the game time will be kept in check by a set of varied modes of play based on different game end conditions.

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