Once there was “The King’s Dilemma”… Now, we look forward to the sequel, “The Queen’s Dilemma”. Both games are published by Horrible Guild and are co-designed by Hjalmar Hach and Lorenzo Silva.
“The King’s Dilemma” is a legacy narrative game that introduced a unique Dilemma Card System mechanism that is exceptionally original and engaging. The game gained a following of fans and was highly praised by critics.
Hjalmar Hach and Lorenzo Silva are the game creators of “The King’s Dilemma”. Both are well-known talented designers who have co-developed many games together, including “Dragon Castle”, “Railroad Ink”, “The Great Split”, and “Sound Box”.
Here, we will interview both designers about their work and their new game, “The Queen’s Dilemma”.
Note: The Queen’s Dilemma Kickstarter Campaign will finish a few days, so head over if you are interested in checking it out.
Why did you both choose to go into board game design?
Lorenzo: When I was a teenager I was an avid role-player. In my college days, with my fellow gamers we also started playing some board games…. Princes of Florence, Warrior Knights, Twilight Imperium. When I realized that my university studies were not going to lead me to the life I wanted, I thought “why not try to make a game of my own?” And so Horse Fever was born, as well as my first company, Cranio Creations. The rest is history!
Hjalmar: I have always had very eclectic interests, but my first (and still great) love was music. I was studying composition at the conservatory when I discovered board games… It was love at first sight and my mind exploded with ideas. I tried to pursue both careers for a while, but at some point, I had to make a painful choice. That’s how I became a full-time game designer.
What is the most valuable thing you have learned as a game creator? How did it impact your careers and personal lives?
Lorenzo: Learning to listen to people’s feedback and criticism and be ready to question the things I have done, accepting my own mistakes. This is a skill that proved to be useful also as the CEO of the company, in addition to the game designing part of my life.
Hjalmar: Empathy: to put myself in the shoes of others and to carefully listen to the feedback. It’s been greatly helpful for my game design life, but unfortunately, I was unable to carry this skill over to my personal life. 🙂
When and how did you start designing games together? Please tell me more about this journey you two have been traversing as a team.
Hjalmar: I can answer this one. When we first met, the more we talked, the more we understood that we could work together with great benefit for both, we were talking the same language, but we had different things to say which is an ideal combination. When I finally decided to move to Milan and work on games with Lorenzo full time, we got confirmation of what we thought. This team was going to kick-ass!
What inspires you both to co-design a new game?
Lorenzo: Working together, we learned to listen to each other’s suggestions and take the best of each other’s ideas. It is not important who had a certain idea first, what matters is that we both believe in it. That’s when the magic starts!
Please briefly describe the creative process of developing a new game as a team of two ingenious creators.
Hjalmar: It’s a dynamic process, since we both think about games without limiting ourselves on specific genres, there is no standard recipe for development. As a rule of thumb, we try many paths, so as to build up our confidence on the fact that we chose the best one.
Do you play the games you have co-created? Which one is your favorite?
Lorenzo: After a few years since its release, I’m getting the urge to play The King’s Dilemma again, and we will soon begin a campaign to play on our lunch break while at the office. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to enjoy the experience without spoilers since we know every card by heart. The King’s Dilemma is perhaps my favorite of our games, although I have to say that I really like the kind of emotions and decisions in The Great Split as well.
Hjalmar: We play our games so much during the creation process, that we tend not to play them afterward. My favorite game is always the one we haven’t yet finished, it’s the one that still has the potential to surprise me. Talking about the games that have already come out, I think my favorite is Railroad Ink: every time I play it, I get sucked into it, it just works.
What is unique and disruptive in the games you design together?
Hjalmar: I think that we manage to hit a sweet spot between simplicity and depth. Even our most complex designs try to be as inclusive as possible, without losing the characteristics that make them attractive to ourselves, that make them games we would play.
Lorenzo: We also try to make games where the choices are always tense, where there is never a single choice that is too obvious, all trying to not increase the complexity too much, as Hjal says.
The game industry changed a lot in the last decade. Where do you see the game industry ten years from now?
Hjalmar: With such global instability, I think there is hardly a way to make an educated guess on how things will look in the next few years, There are many countries that are potential markets for board games but still have to properly start developing in that regard. What I hope is that those markets will grow and that board games will continue to experience the success they have in the last years, or even greater success.
Is our current historical moment impacting the board games designed in such a disorderly period?
Hjalmar: I think that board games, by nature, create a space where reality is suspended, where the rules of our world get substituted by some tailor made new rules, to make you feel powerful, sly, lost… The Queen’s Dilemma, for example, also wants to talk about our society, about politics, and how your decisions affect the world. It’s a game set in medieval-like times that is as contemporary as you can get. How does it feel to hold the helm during times of crisis?
Once there was The King’s Dilemma, now there is The Queen’s Dilemma… What do you think about Diversity and Inclusivity being expressed in board game design and the overall game market?
Lorenzo: Both are very important values to us, and in our own small way we try to promote them through our games. However, we believe in a narrative, “show, don’t tell” approach: we want to normalize these values by simply adopting them in choosing what kind of characters to include in the games and how they look, or which of them to emphasize by putting them on the cover, etc.
Hjalmar: We firmly believe that this is the most effective way to promote inclusiveness and diversity. If you give the impression that you want to lecture someone, you are much more likely to get the opposite effect than the desired one.
You design games that can appeal from family-friendly to advanced gamer audiences. How do you choose what type of game you want to develop? Do you prefer to create for a specific audience?
Lorenzo: We want to innovate and explore new frontiers. We have done this from the very beginning and continue to do so: whether with physical elements like the marbles in Potion Explosion, with unique twists on established genres, or with very experimental things like the Dilemma games. We don’t want to impose limits on ourselves in terms of genre or target audience: when we have an idea we think could be successful, we pursue it, always with the utmost commitment. Specializing on a certain type of audience only implies precluding ourselves from slices of the audience in a very diverse world; with thousands of games releasing every year, the market has a very very wide range of offerings.
What is your “Elevator Pitch” for The Queen’s Dilemma? Can you convince our readers that this is the must-have game they have been waiting for since The King’s Dilemma?
Hjalmar: Everything you loved about The King’s Dilemma, and much, much more. Develop your character, live a secret story that runs parallel to the overall campaign, manage your territories, trade resources… all while experiencing a whole new adventure in the Kingdom of Ankist.
What inspired The King’s Dilemma and its unique and novel Dilemma Card System mechanism?
Lorenzo: I have always been very passionate about storytelling, from my early days as a tabletop rpg fan (I often was the Dungeon Master for my DnD groups). The inspiration from The King’s Dilemma came while playing the video game Reigns. The story there felt a bit inconsistent at times, and the tone in general was more lighthearted, almost parodistic. I wanted to experiment with a similar formula with binary choices, but with a much more elaborate and involving story, with difficult moral choices and interesting outcomes.
When you created The King’s Dilemma, did you already have plans for The Queen’s Dilemma sequel in place?
Lorenzo: Honestly, no. The King’s Dilemma was such an experimental game that we were not even entirely sure people were going to like it. We were so busy trying to bring this immense work to completion that we were not focusing on what would come next… yet.
Hjalmar: We poured our hearts and souls into it hoping that it would click with people… it was such a joy to see it receive such critical acclaim and commercial success At that point, we immediately started to think about how to bring the formula forward, of course.
What crossover can we expect for the new game, The Queen’s Dilemma, from the previous game, The King’s Dilemma?
Lorenzo: The Queen’s Dilemma is a direct sequel to The King’s Dilemma. The events of the new game start roughly a hundred years after the end of the campaign of TKD. Without going into spoilers for the players who did not play the first game yet, let’s just say that all the biggest events that happened back then are now part of the history of the Kingdom of Ankist, and their repercussions reverberate even 100 years later.
Hjalmar: At the start of The Queen’s Dilemma campaign, the Kingdom has just been rebuilt by the young Queen after the decades of turmoil that followed the climactic finale of The King’s Dilemma. This means that some memory of the events that happened during The King’s Dilemma has faded, some has turned into legend or myth… Ankist is a pretty superstitious world after all. The Queen’s Dilemma is perfectly playable as a standalone experience for newcomers, but returning players will immediately feel at home, too.
In The King’s Dilemma, you’ve introduced the Dilemma Card System mechanism, which was genuinely original. The Kickstarter campaign hints that we can expect new game mechanisms to be introduced in The Queen’s Dilemma. Please talk about them briefly, if you can, without giving any spoilers about the new game story.
Lorenzo: The core mechanisms of the Dilemma Card System, with envelopes that unlock unique dilemma cards that players need to deal with through tense voting sessions, are basically unchanged. With the experience we now have of making this kind of game, we were able to refine the mechanisms and make the game much more immersive. There are no more resource tracks going up and down, for example, what you’ll be influencing with your votes are the ideologies that are dominant in the kingdom: Tradition against Progress, Force against Diplomacy, and so on.
Hjalmar: Another big change is that now the campaign follows the life of the titular Queen, instead of having one King ascend to the throne at the beginning of each session and die of old age at the end. As a consequence, players will now be always playing the same character, not just the same family. Your favorite ideologies, your desires, and your goals will be mostly the same over the campaign, which improves your connection to the decisions you have to make during the game.
Lorenzo: Each character has a personal diary, a multi-page booklet that tells you your story and what you want to achieve, and where you keep track of your progress which comes in the form of different kinds of stickers. You can learn new abilities, or earn “keywords” as a consequence of your actions. For example, you make a law that causes the death of many people, and you earn the keyword “Scourge of the South”. After that event, some of the cards may have effects that only apply to the “Scourge of the South”… so you’re personally going to pay the consequences of your actions even many games later! The game can also reward you for your good actions, of course.
Hjalmar: On top of that, there is a big map where most of the action happens. Your character is directly responsible for certain regions of Ankist: when these territories are called into question by a Dilemma card, you will have to answer for it personally. Your lands give you resources, but you also have to feed your people. You can upgrade your territories by attaching Building stickers, too, and some game-changing events will also add new stickers to the map, changing the rules of the game from then on.
Do you think the “Legacy-Like Experience” makes a game more desirable and unique? What made you include a Recharge Pack in the Standard and Royal pledge levels of The Queen’s Dilemma Kickstarter campaign?
Lorenzo: I personally think that “legacy-like” mechanisms create an experience that is not achievable in other ways. If you know that your actions are irreversible and there is no coming back, this gives weight to your decisions, and you create an emotional connection with the game that is not otherwise possible. For me, Dilemma games are really meant to be played just once.
Hjalmar: However, the very existence of legacy games is still a hot topic in the board game community. I agree with Lorenzo that the best way to experience a legacy game is to fully embrace the experience and play it as a one-and-done affair, but when we launched the Kickstarter campaign for The Queen’s Dilemma the demand for a recharge pack was quite frequent, and we simply could not ignore it.
The Queen’s Dilemma is a 30+ hours campaign, while The King’s Dilemma was a 15 to 20 hours campaign. Why is the sequel much longer? And what does that mean to the players who commit to joining this adventure?
Lorenzo: There’s so much more stuff going on in The Queen’s Dilemma! Each character comes with their own personal branching storyline in addition to those shared by all players like in the first game. You have Agenda cards that give you secret objectives, and depending on whether you achieve them or not, your personal story will progress in a certain way, and you will be given a new Agenda card accordingly! If your goal is to keep a secret and you fail, you’ll have to deal with the consequences of your secret being revealed. If you succeed, your story will go in a completely different direction.
Hjalmar: Also, we added “Mystery Bags”, which are bigger kinds of envelopes that you open when the consequences of your decisions have such a big impact that simply adding new Dilemma cards to the deck would not be enough… this is heavy spoiler territory, though, so we can’t give you greater details, but you can expect rule changes, new components, and more surprises coming out of these bags… new resources, special events…
What does it entail to design a competitive narrative legacy experience of 30+ hours with forking paths and several possible endings? How do you compare it to creating other types of games?
Lorenzo: It’s like writing a “choose your own adventure” book and developing a board game, all at the same time! There’s so much more work needed compared to a regular board game that is difficult to tell. We certainly did not fully understand the scope of it when we started developing The King’s Dilemma!
Hjalmar: We have a narrative team working on the story aspects of the game, working in close collaboration with us in the game design team. It requires a lot of coordination, because even a small change in the game design can have huge repercussions on the narrative side, as we painfully discovered while developing the first game.
The King’s Dilemma is going digital with The King’s Dilemma Chronicles. What does that mean to the series? Can we expect The Queen’s Dilemma to follow the same steps as its predecessor?
Lorenzo: We put so much work and love in crafting the world of Ankist, that we wanted to expand its scope and bring it in front of a new audience who isn’t necessarily interested in board games. The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles shares most of its story with the original board game, but it is turned into a single player experience where you can explore all of the branches of the story through subsequent playthroughs.
We will need to see how this video game will be received before we can decide if The Queen’s Dilemma will follow the same route, but what I can definitely confirm is that I want to make more video game experiences that are not simply digital versions of our board games, and this is why I founded Big Trouble Game Studio, the developer studio working on The King’s Dilemma: Chronicles.
Please give us some hints on what we can expect for your future games as co-designers. Can we start getting excited about new “dilemmas” in The Kingdom of Ankist sometime in the future? Could that be a prequel or spin-off brand new stories?
Hjalmar: We are working on several new projects, but the past has taught us to keep a low profile until we’re really ready to reveal a new game… small games, family games, huge gamer games… expect the unexpected.
Lorenzo: We also have more plans for the Dilemma series… but our lips are even more tight on this front! Other fantasy universes, something sci-fi, maybe a horror setting? They are all just ideas and we won’t be any more specific than this, sorry 😀
If the Queen’s Dilemma sounds interesting to you, be sure to check out the Kickstarter campaign which ends in a few days.
This article was originally published in Roll & Mind.