Who wouldn’t want to dash around the Highlands with Jamie, trying to be his favorite, and rescuing him from trouble on the way? That definitely sounds like a fun time, even if all you can do is dream about it. Or IS that all you can do?
NO! Sometime this fall, a brand new board game will debut – Outlander The Series! Designed by the husband and wife team of Matthew and Ashley Killeen, the game will let you play with a bunch of your friends, meeting familiar faces along the way, and getting in and out of all kinds of scrapes. The game will be available for holiday shopping, so you can start to set up your Outlander game nights now. I had the opportunity to talk with Matthew and Ashley about the development of this new game, and learned some details.
From the game’s marketing information: “His fate is in your hands! Step through the stones of Craigh Na Dun and run through the Scottish Highlands with the handsome Jamie. The year is 1743, and the outlaw James Fraser is at your side as you navigate the thrills and dangers of the Highlands. Use your wit, reach the right locations, make the right friends, and gather the items you need, all while keeping Jamie out of the hands of the many who would do him wrong. The gallows await fair Jamie (or worse!) should you fail. Fulfill your destiny, and win his heart. Only then will victory be yours!”
Outlander is the Killeen’s first big franchise game. “From a business point of view, it’s something I always wanted to do,” Matthew said. “I enjoy games with an IP license attached, TV show or movie, and I have designed prototypes that might be good for Ghostbusters or Star Trek. I really wanted to get into that.” Ashley knew Matthew was interested in trying a licensed game, and said “I’ve been watching Outlander, you should make a game based on that.” Matthew hadn’t yet seen the show, so he said “you do it” – and she did.
Ashley didn’t get into the show until season three. “The first version (of the game) was based on the book, because I thought that might be the avenue to go. But it ended up being more layers to secure the book rights than TV. We heard back from Starz/Sony quickly, and the show and book were similar enough that I didn’t have to change too much from initial design. I swapped out characters and items that didn’t translate from one to another. Jamie still has same event encounters, the same enemies. It’s nice to look at both sides, to really put in all those little hidden tidbits from show. I’m hoping that fans of the show will enjoy all those subtle things that I’ve put in. But the other thing we wanted to make sure was that it was not dependent upon being familiar with the show, because the last thing you want is a game with Outlander masked on top of it that doesn’t play as anything on its own. And having a lot of friends who knew nothing about Outlander, how could I get them to the table?”
Matthew said, “One of philosophies for the board game stuff was that I’ve seen games that were maybe like a movie spin on top. Is this fun or exciting because of the game, or just because of the movie or tv show tie in? And one reason, the biggest reason why I got excited was when I first played it, I had never seen the show. I knew nothing about it. I had never seen the characters, and yet, I still enjoyed it. It was a good game.” Ashley added, “He has since seen the show.” Matthew continued, “That’s another thing that’s always bothered me. I feel like if a certain publisher or game designer makes something but doesn’t know the back story, that’s lazy. As soon as I found out we were going to do this, I watched the show. I know all my lore now. I was obviously able to play the game again once I knew the show and the lore, and it made the game play better.” “You understood my decisions,” said Ashley. “Exactly,” said Matthew. “Whether you know the show or not, it’s a good game.”
Ashley discussed their process: “I started December 2019. This past December, we were finally able to go forward. We got the contract from Sony in November. It was a long process! We got approvals for the design of the game, and access to the virtual library. We could figure out images that would go with the components we had.” Once they had that, Matthew figured out the graphic design for the game.
Was Sony/Starz helpful? Enthusiastic? Ashley said, “They were enthusiastic. They didn’t really have a board game. They had Destiny Dice, but that wasn’t the same thing.” (For my review of Destiny Dice, a game that came out a couple of years ago, click here.) I’ve had reservations about this previous game, so I asked how they overcame the failings of that one to make this new game. My concern with a platform like this is that the show is so big and layered – a group of women will come together over a glass of wine or three, and are they going to be able to figure it out easily enough to have a good time in an evening? Ashley feels that the new game will let us do that. “The idea behind this was that we wanted to bring everybody to the table – people whose board games lives consisted of Scrabble for their whole lives, and those who have played campaigning, like Mage Knights, epically, every week. We want to bring both those sets to the table. It should be intuitive enough once you’ve figured out the first turn order. It’s the repetition of that, it’s just your personal strategy that changes on what you choose to do, but the game play isn’t going to change on you as you go.”
She added, “But there’s enough in there that if you are an experienced board game player, you’re not sitting there bored waiting for the next thing to happen. That was our goal, as many people at the same table as possible enjoying it at the level they’re at. You can have the game player who knows nothing about Outlander, and you can have the Outlander fan who doesn’t play board games, and they will have a good evening. We also tried to be strategic about the length, because you don’t want to have just a tease of a game, because then you can’t be really invested and immersed in that world, but we also know, especially being parents now, you don’t have time to spend four hours on a game. That’s not going to happen any more. What’s a good length? If you can watch an episode of Outlander, you can play a round. So we wanted to find something that made sense. A lot of these pieces, once you apply a little logic to it, they fell together really nicely.”
This is the first “franchise” game the Killeens have designed. The fascination with board games started in 2004, and in 2011, Matthew began to design games as hobby. “I enjoyed playing, but in between then I was going to school and forgot about it. As school was winding down, I really got into it. I created an educational game called Witchful Thinking. We’re both teachers, and when doing practicum, the teacher (that he was working with) had kids doing games for math. but they were really boring, and the kids didn’t like it at all. I remembered I had a game that worked for this! I started looking at my business from a professional point of view, filling in gaps in the market. I wanted to bring people to a table they hadn’t been to yet. Witchful Thinking is a card game – witches brewing potions, teaching math – subtraction, addition, pre-algebra, and more advanced math. It was a great educational tool.” The company has more ideas – they have an upcoming Kickstarter for a game called Tennessee James, an Indiana Jones parody (learn more here). Matthew says that the company expects to bring out many more titles – “Between the two of us, we have a backlog of designs.”
When do they expect to have this out? Matthew said definitely for the Christmas season. “I am working with manufacturers right now, trying to iron out some of those details, but we’re going to be moving into manufacturing right now. It depends on how long it takes to do the mass production plus shipping, but I would estimate this would maybe in stores (or online retailers) by October. That’s probably a good estimate.”
Did they do a lot of testing? “We needed especially non-Outlander fans to play this game. The Outlander fans, it didn’t take a lot of convincing to get them to play,” said Matthew. “Even before there were pictures on the cards, they knew the board, they knew the characters. So even if you had a blank piece of paper that just said Murtagh on it, they know what it means. I wasn’t worried about the Outlander fans, and the game play is pretty intuitive, once you go through the steps. So once you’ve done a round, you can keep going around, no problem. So we were just like, ok, you don’t know what these names mean and where these places are, but you’ve got a bit of the information, are you on board? And so far the reaction has been, yes, I feel like I’m playing a game, even if they don’t know who Jamie is or anything like that.”
He continued, “The tall and short of it is that this that this has been play tested thoroughly. It’s not broken, and the most important part is that it’s fun.” Ashley added, “It’s a nice balance of cooperative, nobody wants Jamie to come to any harm, but you still want to be his favorite. So you can get a little catty, and that’s what makes the fun. You’ll be adding something a little stronger to your tea nights once you start playing that way.”
Matthew said, “One of my strategies for play testing is that I like to try different strategies each time and see what works and what doesn’t .Ashley laughed, “You played mean one time.” “Yeah, it’s my wife, I’ve got to play nice, right? But one time, I didn’t play nice, and I took a competitive edge, and it was awesome,” he said. So players, remember that!
“When I was working on Witchful Thinking, I was looking to put it into Walmart and Target. But they don’t want to talk to the independent company, they want to make sure they’re getting multiple products from the same distributors. So we want to make sure that the distributors that we get are also trying to get the game out there. I do have distribution in the US for Witchful Thinking, and they’re excited to take on this one.”
What was your favorite part of the game, as you play it, I asked? Ashley said, “I like the QuickSave. This is a component we have because Jamie is always going to move in a predictable pattern, and the three villains he’s trying to avoid – Black Jack Randall, the Redcoats and the Watch – those are all the Meeples that are going to be moving around. As you are collecting friends along the way, if you happen to be en route to an Encounter, you can use the special abilities from your friends. So maybe it’s Dougal who is going to be discarded, and that will be a Quicksave to put Jamie back in hiding, so the game’s not over, you haven’t captured him yet. I like that idea, the Quicksave. So you’re strategizing, not just for what’s going to give you a lot of Favor from Jamie to try to win his heart in the game, but where are these people going to help me if Jamie is in a pickle. Because he’s going to get himself in a lot of pickles.”
As he does on the show, I said! Ashley continued, “And as a designer, that’s a fun way for me to tie in the personality of the characters. There’s a reason why they have the values that they do. There was a little argument between us in the design phase, because I made Willie – Willie Mackenzie from the first season – he has this hidden kind of superpower that most of the time, he’s a bit weaker, but when the danger level’s up, he’s strong. Matt was criticizing that, ‘he’s a minor character, why is he so strong?’ But you haven’t been paying attention. Because when Jamie’s in Wentworth, it’s Willie who’s willing to go. So that’s his power, when things are toughest, he’s the one that can save the most. I was having fun finding those little nuggets, the lore, that fans love, and if you’re paying attention to how I’ve designed it, you’ll start seeing like why you get more Favor in some places, or more Wit, or why you have the saving abilities.”
The women playing will like seeing that, I agreed. “I think that we’ve got it so that your favorite characters, from S1 at least, this is just in the Highlands, you’re going to see them, I think they’ll do you proud,” Ashley says. “We’re still excited about it, even though it’s been a year and a half doing it, so I think that says something about it, that we can still be passionate about it, little choices like that, I think the game has life.” Ashley told me that she has ideas for additional Outlander games to follow each season, so this may go on for quite a while!
As their cute kids came into the room, I asked if game design was full time, or is this an extra job? Ashley said, “I’m a full time teacher, so I’m squeezing this in between the report card writing and the classroom stuff. With a bunch of changes with Covid, it’s made more sense for Matthew to stay home, so we decided to go all in, make this run for itself.” Matthew said, “I can speak from the graphic design standpoint – I didn’t design the gameplay, Ashley did that, but I offered suggestions here and there, it was her decision on things, and she made some great decisions. And between that, I did the playtesting and the graphic design in January and early February, I’ve put in hundreds of hours, not just with the graphic design, but also the business stuff too, figuring out social media posts, getting things approved by Sony, talking with the distributors. So this has been not just like a full time job, but overtime, I’ve put in some serious hours for this.”
Since this is the company’s first big license, I asked if is this something they want to continue. “Absolutely,” Matthew said. “And I knew that when I turned this into a hobby back in 2011. I enjoy making board games. I enjoying making movies, watching movies, reading books, all that stuff. I needed some sort of creative outlet. And this was it. I enjoy tabletop games, so I found a business that I’m passionate about. But I found over the years, since I am a small business, I had to learn everything. I can do the game design, I can do the graphic design, the IP stuff, social media, the PR, distribution. I have all those experiences, so if I can continue this, I’ll be very happy.”
Price point for the game should be $48.99 CA (US equivalent is about $40). And it will be available in the US, and more – Matthew says, “The territories we have with Sony are Canada, USA, UK, Australia and France. We’re a small family run company, but at the same time, this is a big license. So we want to do the fans proud, we want to do this IP proud, so we want to give the biggest reach that we can.” Ashley said, “We’re limited because we’re not the distributors, so once we put it in those hands, it’s really up to those stores that want to put it on their shelves. So until we know where they’re placing it, I can’t tell you ‘oh, pick it up here.’ ” Matthew agreed. “I have experience with all of that, so when I made Witchful Thinking and released that, I had a hard time getting distribution. So I went store to store, city to city, and I made those contacts myself. For me as a business owner, I’m not just one of those owners who throws money out and does it. I have experience in all these aspects. So when this game comes out, let’s say that distribution doesn’t have as far of a reach as possible, I’ll make it happen. With Covid especially, the online market is important.”
“From a business standpoint, we’re a new company,” Matthew said. “It seems that we’re very new to this but that’s not really the case. This game has been been in development for a long time, and between the two of us we have 20+ games in prototypes. So we definitely know how to make games, and make games fun. And the fact that we’re both teachers, I think makes it even better. Because as teachers, we have to know how to sell to an audience.” ” And explain the games,” Ashley added.
PRE-ORDER THE GAME RIGHT HERE! Three if by Space has the game available for pre-orders in our Collectibles shop!! Click here to go to the pre-order page!
Want to know more, and have a chance to ask some questions? Join a Live Q&A from Outlander Podcast, hosted by Ginger Wiseman, on Saturday, June 19 at 10 am pacific/noon central time/1 pm eastern! Click here to join the Q&A.
Find Witchful Thinking and more information about Variable Outcomes here.
Join us to chat about Outlander and everything related on Facebook at Outlandishly Three If By Space
Subscribe to get instant notice of new posts and new items in our collectibles shop
Like this interview? Share it with our Social Share buttons!