Ravensburger’s Ryan Miller on putting inclusivity and accessibility at the heart of Disney Lorcana
Ryan, it’s great to catch up. Disney Lorcana is Ravensburger’s huge new trading card game. It went down a storm at Gen Con, people were out in force at last week’s midnight launch last and Filip Francke – President of Ravensburger North America – has called it “game-changer”. Where did the idea come from?
Ravensburger has regular meetings with Disney and – before I came onto the project – an idea had been discussed for a trading card game. It’s an area Ravensburger had wanted to get into, so that afternoon – in a bar called The Famous – the Ravensburger people in LA percolated this idea. That’s why we called it Project Famous during development, after the bar!
I was working as a freelance designer at the time. My friend and co-designer on Lorcana, Steve Warner, was at Ravensburger already – he had been my producer for The Princess Bride game I’d done for Ravensburger. That experience was when I really started to understand Ravensburger and grasp the attention to detail and love they put into their products…
So that reassured you when this opportunity came along?
Absolutely. A trading card game is a huge endeavour and not to be taken lightly, but having experienced the company’s work ethic and values, when Steve told me about the Lorcana project it appealed straight away.
And I’m a lifelong Disney fan. I used to go to Disneyland with my grandmother when I five and even now, they are some of the most immersive experiences you can have anywhere. That really impressed me, even as a little boy. That ability to immerse is one of the things that actually attracted me to game design in the first place and it’s something we wanted to get right with Lorcana. We have designed a whole world and story arcs…
Because there is seriously long-term thinking at play here right?
Oh yeah! This is the biggest project this company has ever done. It speaks to Ravensburger’s organisational fortitude that they’ve been able to commit to something of this scale – and really do it right.
When Steve and I were designing the initial gameplay, it’s a weird process because we had specific goals but you don’t know when you’re going to hit them, but Ravensburger said “Take all the time you need.” It ended up taking us six months to get the basic game system down, but Ravensburger were committed to getting this right from the start.
You mentioned specific goals for that early stage of the game. What were they?
We wanted it to be strategic but fun – and inclusive too. Trading card games have traditionally been very male; we’re hoping to change that. And not just through the IP that we have, but through the art style and gameplay too. We also wanted accessibility; we needed the game to be easy to pick up and play.
A few other goals… We wanted you to be able to put your favourite characters together, so the deckbuilding needed to be relatively simple. We wanted you to have a great experience, even if you’re not a regular trading card game player. If you just want to bring the princesses together – do it! You’ll still have a fun time.
That said, we also wanted veteran trading card game players to have something to chew on – and it’s something that these kinds of games do quite well on their own. The rules of a trading card game are the skeleton and the cards are the meat. People don’t come for the skeleton, they come for the meat! It means the skeleton can be relatively simple and the strategy comes from which cards you put in your deck and how you play them.
Great stuff. How did you decide what and who to include in this first wave of cards?
It was a fun process. We’d watch the movies and take notes, but when we first started we had too many options! Who do you we want to include? Well, we want everyone! We had to drill down into who to include in this one, knowing that we’ll be doing more. That’s one of the nice things about having 204 cards in Disney Lorcana: The First Chapter – we can include the superstars as well as the ‘deep cuts’. Players will see characters that they’ve not seen in a Disney game in a while.
How did you approach taking classic Disney moments and translating them into a card in a way that feels authentic?
Well, a good example of this is ‘Song’ cards. These are special action cards – action cards being one-and-done cards where you pay their cost, do what they say and discard them. So one example of a ‘Song’ card is ‘One Jump Ahead’, inspired by the song from Aladdin. You can play that like a normal action card by paying its cost, or you can have one specific character sing it for you, which means you can play it for free. So, for example, Jasmine might qualify as a character whose cost means she can sing the song for free. It makes sense in the game, but it’s also fun because that character doesn’t usually sing that song in the movie.
Another example is our ‘Ariel on human legs’ card. In the film, to get human legs she has to give up her voice, so this card cannot sing songs. We also have flavour text on each card – flavour text being just a little bit of story we put on the card. Her flavour text just says “…” because she can’t speak. It’s a great example of authentically representing a character in the game through both gameplay and the art on the card.
I’d imagine a side-effect of that approach means some aspects of the game feel quite intuitive. ‘Ariel on human legs’ can’t speak, so of course she won’t be able to sing songs in the game…
Exactly. Story and theme isn’t just there for fun; it makes the game easier to learn. It’s a story being told to you, rather than rules you have to learn. And we wanted as much story as possible on each card… We gave abilities in the game thematic names. For example, Maximus from Tangled has the ‘Horse Kick’ ability. When you play him, the chosen character gets -2 strength – so he kicks somebody and makes them weaker for this turn. Maleficent has ‘Cast My Spell’, Yzma has ‘You’re Excused’…
We also have ‘Let it Go’, which is a Song card. Its effect is to take an opponent’s character and put them face down in their inkwell – basically turning them into ink! What’s great about that is that you can’t help but sing Let it Go as you play that card! It’s a fun bit.
And the art in this game looks great.
And every piece of art here is new. Some characters have little changes. We call them ‘Glimmers’ because they are a glimmer of a Disney character; they’re not actually the exact character. Some are ‘Storyborn’, which mean the characters look like they do in the stories, and some are ‘Dreamborn’ and ‘Floodborn’, which have been changed by the lllumineer that brought them to life.
We have a version of Steamboat Willie in the game – he’s black and white but his surroundings are colour. It’s beautiful. One of my favourites is a Hades card that features him sitting on the throne of Olympus as if he’d won.
We have a version of Scar from The Lion King that’s made of lava – so cool! We also have a Captain Hook who is a duellist, so instead of a hook he’s got a blade. It’s subtle but it’s a cool detail. And in the game, Hook is better at challenging than being challenged, so it’s another example of us trying to tie the gameplay and the art together as much as possible.
Here’s an analogy for you! I was a club DJ back in the 2010s and there’s a lot of similarities to game design. You need trust and to gain trust when DJing, you play songs people will like. Once you’ve got their trust, then you can go on a journey. This is very similar… We want the fans to know that we love Disney too. One of the ways we convey that is by doing all new art and through the design of the game. Hopefully they’ll trust us to go on the rest of the Lorcana journey.
A fantastic analogy – and not one I was expecting!
Ha! They are very, very similar – although you get faster feedback when you’re DJing!
Before we wrap up, I think it’s fair to say they’ll be a large chunk of the Disney fanbase that’s new to trading card games. Do you think Lorcana can help grow the audience for this sector of the industry?
That’s my deep goal. There are so many Disney fans out there and we’re going to get a lot of folks that just want to collect – which is great – but my hope is that some of them get interested in how the game plays. Trading card games are super fun – you’re making your own deck of cards with your favourite characters! There’s a lot of people that don’t know that yet who will discover this through Lorcana and that’s exciting… I want Disney fans to walk into core hobby stores and say “Where have you been all my life?!” To quote Aladdin, it’ll be a whole new world for them!
Nicely done! There’s no better place to wrap up than there Ryan; a huge thanks again.
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