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A humanoid with a dashing pompadour flanked by a slug-like beast and a floating robot. Image: Kyle Ferrin/Leder Games

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Arcs is a 4X board game from the team behind critically acclaimed Root and Oath

An interview with designer Cole Wehrle ahead of Leder Games’ next Kickstarter launch

Board game publisher Leder Games just won’t stop swinging for the fences. The company, founded in 2014, already has two critically acclaimed titles to its name; Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right and Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile. The asymmetrical strategy games are renowned for designer Cole Wehrle’s mechanical innovations and artist Kyle Ferrin’s charming woodland creatures. Now that dynamic duo is poised to launch something completely different.

Arcs: Collapse and Conflict in the Void is a quick-playing strategy game set in space. Players take on the role of scrappy spacefaring societies, each one attempting to achieve galactic supremacy. The project boasts the same level of daring innovation that Wehrle is known for, but it also proposes an entirely new release model. Arcs is being designed with expansion in mind; additional add-on modules will change the game over time. Even more fascinating is the fact that Arcs will be left open for other designers to contribute to. The project arrives on Kickstarter on May 24. Polygon recently sat down with Wehrle to learn more.

A spaceship in white, black, red, and gold.
Kyle Ferrin brings the dirty space sensibilities of properties like Firefly and Star Wars to Arcs.
Image: Kyle Ferrin/Leder Games

Out of the box, Wehrle wants Arcs to feel like other board games about building space empires, classics like Twilight Imperium and Eclipse, but with a focus on quick, 60-90 minute games as opposed to all-day slugfests. This accelerated pace of play is not the only driving force in his design; Wehrle said, “If you like that [core loop], you can actually make the game into a three-act structure where each session feeds into the next and allows you to procedurally generate your [subsequent] games.”

Wehrle explained that the conclusion of each campaign game should result in the procedural generation of the next session to be played. In this way the focus is always on “building yourself up for the next game.” In this three-act mode, the game encourages players to think of endgame victory points as just another resource to be spent. Wehrle wants to start having players think about what victory points mean narratively.

“In Arcs, you get to use victory points to spend on upgrades for the next game,” Wehrle said. “This allows me to play around with time. Star Wars is a good example [of time dilation]. A Star Wars movie takes place in a few weeks, but in between it’s like months or years have passed. Arcs is very similar with its focus on action and aftermath.”

Time isn’t just a thing referenced by Wehrle’s design principles; it’s also in the blend of science and fantasy that Kyle Ferrin’s art brings to the project. Spaceships and gun-toting bug-folk are found side by side with regal space royalty. Arcs, as with most titles by this team, is all about those novel, dynamic perspectives.

Two furry fellows with antennae and tails. Image: Kyle Ferrin/Leder Games
A spider-like pair with multiple eyes stare at futuristic documents. Image: Kyle Ferrin/Leder Games
A pair that look a bit like preying mantis people. One holds a large gun. Image: Kyle Ferrin/Leder Games

Perspective shifts are one of the major ways in which Arcs provides a refreshing take on its genre. Few other space-faring political games care about the different views from bottom to top, but Arcs does, and Wehrle needed to make a slight shift in his focus for the game’s design.

“One big difference about Arcs,” Wehrle said, “is that I normally don’t design with expansions in mind. [...] Arcs is designed as a framework that is fun to work in and design for. The system allows for dynamic stories to develop.”

Of course, this isn’t to say that other 4X empire-building games don’t twist and turn in interesting directions. But very few of them shift genres, such as a game Wehrle played which “turned into a very similar game to Pax Pamir.” For those newer to tabletop games, this is like if your game of Civilization seamlessly transformed into Crusader Kings halfway through play, but without losing any of the charm in the change. This overarching focus on procedural generation enables for the game to “allow experimentation with [the] different game systems that could be developed.”

A noble on a throne... this is floating. Image: Kyle Ferrin/Leder Games

Indeed, this point of Arcs’ ability to zigzag across every aspect of tabletop play is garnished with Kyle Ferrin’s particular artistic touches. The denizens of this galaxy can’t be pinned down and could live in all sorts of places the game could potentially go. It’s not just haggard emperors or mech suits but a whole host of humanoid and anthropomorphic critters filling this galaxy with life — life which focuses on the banal and the extraordinary, each and every part shown in the lackadaisical and serious brushstrokes of Ferrin’s art. This world is one where coming out on top matters, and Wehrle sums up much of the conceit of Arcs and many of Leder’s other designs as a focus on “the thematic game [where] it’s really important to understand why you engage with victory.”

Update: The crowdfunding campaign for Arcs: Collapse and Conflict in the Void launched on Tuesday morning and has earned more than $532,000 in its first five hours. The campaign runs through June 14, and the game is expected to be delivered to backers by December 2023. A retail version is expected to follow.

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