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Call of Duty: The Board Game kicks off a series meant for competitive and co-op play

Many have tried, but few have succeeded in cracking this particular game design puzzle

A collage of armored men shooting guns, including a novel double-barreled shotgun. There’s a vehicle-mounted mini-gun in the foreground. The style is from a comic book. Image: Arcane Wonders/Activision Publishing

Call of Duty: The Board Game is an attempt to translate the thrilling, high-stakes action of the classic franchise of first-person shooters at the table. Developer Arcane Wonders (Sheriff of Nottingham, The Dice Tower Essentials) say its new strategy game is headed to Kickstarter this fall, with a retail release worldwide by holiday 2024. But how will the game actually work? And what should fans expect from the Texas developer’s long-term partnership with Activision?

Arcane Wonders tells Polygon that the design goal for CoD: The Board Game is to recreate the experience of playing the video game using novel combat, movement, and line-of-sight mechanics. While it will include large-scale, 35-millimeter miniatures, it’s not a miniatures wargame, and the action won’t be slowed down by things like charts or rulers. It will be set in the era of the 2019 reboot of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and include the same weapons and memorable maps that fans already love. When it lands at retail, the two-player base game should be available for $50, and multiple sets can ultimately be combined for four-player matches.

However, the team at Arcane Wonders stressed that this isn’t a rehash of any particular title in the series. It’s a new entry in the long and storied history of Call of Duty and, just like the live-service games currently in the marketplace, it is one that will grow and expand with its player base.

Makarov totes an older model AK-47 in a stylized picture from Call of Duty: The Board Gaem. A fire rages behind him. Image: Arcane Wonders/Activision Publishing

Call of Duty: The Board Game is a series of products within the same game system, starting with the initial core sets,” said Bryan Pope, one of the game’s designers. “From there additional products will add new features to the game such as new operators, weapons, maps and even new modes of play over time.”

“In addition to the competitive and tournament styles of play,” he continued, “we are also creating cooperative campaigns for the game in the future [...] that will allow 1-4 players to progress through a challenging and immersive Call of Duty story.”

Traditionally, adapting FPS mechanics to a board game has proved challenging for traditional designers. Many have tried to abstract the moment-to-moment action of getting another player in your sights and pulling the trigger, and while there have been notable successes — like Tannhäuser in 2007 and Doom in 2016 — the developers aren’t quite ready to show off their solution in detail. But we did get a few hints out of them.

“Obviously we will be unveiling more as we get closer to the launch, but we really feel this game captures the immersion of a first-person shooter,” said Pope. “[Players] simultaneously plan out [their] moves secretly and then resolve those at the same time out on the map. Line of sight is easily determined by colored lines on the map, and when you do have eyes on your opponent, combat happens. It’s all about outsmarting and outmaneuvering your opponent to get in the best possible position to win in a fight.”

The initial crowdfunding campaign will be for a special collector’s edition of the game, which the team says will include more than the final retail product. Additional content will be made available during the campaign, and will also be “broken up in the later retail releases as separate products” according to Arcane’s president, Robert Geistlinger.

“We already have planned some future content, including zombies, as well down the road, but not right away,” added Benjamin Pope, another designer working on the project. “There are so many great characters and locations within the CoD world that we want to explore and share with the fans in a tabletop platform.”

But why is Activision, one of the biggest video game publishers in the world, using crowdfunding to produce this board game? Well, it’s not. Arcane Wonders is, and this type of process — using a crowdfunding platform to generate capital to launch a new product — has become the norm in the tabletop industry for projects of this scale and profile.

“It’s fairly common for board games to crowdfund,” Geistlinger said, “and of course this is an officially licensed game being produced by us here at Arcane Wonders. The Activision team has been a wonderful partner in allowing us to create and play in their world, but at the end of the day, this is our experience that we’re bringing to gamers, and that team has kindly allowed us to use whatever tools and platforms we feel are necessary to make the best version of our game for their fans.”

He emphasized his excitement to get the collector’s edition components out into the world for folks to see.

“If we only used the traditional route, it simply wouldn’t be possible for us to offer fans the amount of content, scope, and scale we want to deliver from day one,” added Walter Barber, creative director at Arcane Wonders. “For example, we really want to include high-quality, pre-painted miniatures in the core retail game, but every which way we tried, the costs were too high. We would’ve been forced to either compromise our vision or sell the game at a much higher price tag. By using crowdfunding first, we can make exactly the game we want to make, and exactly at the retail price we want to offer it.”

Fans can sign up to be notified at launch on the game’s official website.

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