Words by David C. Obenour
Whirling cauldrons full of toads and mandrakes and all other matter of magic’s raw elements – however, can you wield these without having them blow up in your face? In Whirling Witchcraft, players reach into their resources – and those of the spell casters within arm’s reach – to create all sorts of magic and mayhem.
Off Shelf: Whirling Witchcraft is your first published game. Can you talk about when you started to realize that you had something more – something that could see a commercial release – with this game?
Erik Andersson Sundén: I can certainly tell when I realized that I was onto something. It was when I shared the first prototype with my family and every. single. one. of them asked me if they can play the game again.
When it comes to commercial realization, the honest answer is: I never really realized myself. It was after I won a game design award – best board game of Fastaval 2019 – that I started to realize that the game had potential outside of my group of friends. And then the supportive community of Fastaval gave me all kinds of tips and ideas on how to approach publishers. And, maybe most importantly, they encouraged and supported me as a designer in a way that I will be forever grateful for.
OS: I’m always interested in the initial genesis of games. With Whirling Witchcraft, did the theme or did the gameplay first start to materialize for you?
ES: The mechanics came first to me with Whirling Witchcraft. In fact, for a long time, the game was called cube construction and was almost themeless. You gathered factories that transformed cubes from 1 color to another.
OS: “Whirling” is a really fun concept that shows up in a lot of aspects in the feel and gameplay with passing cauldrons to the right and recipe hands to the left. When did you first identify that as a core of the game and how did you lean into it?
ES: The whirling of the resources was a part of the core concept from the very start. Early on in the game design, the cards were drafted from a common pool of cards. The 7-Wonders like drafting was suggested to me by some designers. I was skeptical at first but I quickly realized that this leaned into the whirling and the quick fun that the game could be.
OS: I’m increasingly impressed by games that can create a “wow” factor without the big pricetag that comes with lots of miniatures. Can you talk about how the Cauldrons came together? Both in concepting and then logistically in pulling it together for mass production?
ES: In the version of the game that I pitched to AEG, there were no cauldrons. The cubes were simply handed over from one workbench to the next one. The cauldrons were added to the game during the development by AEG. At first, we envisaged the cauldrons as cardboard pieces. It was the graphic designer, Luis Francisco, who relatively late into the development process suggested the 3D cauldrons. And oh my, I really love them. The way it makes the game stand out is wonderful and it is not uncommon that it is the first thing that players notice about the game. It just tells me again what a team effort this game is. Thank you, Luis!
OS: Were there any gameplay concepts that you had to leave on the cutting room floor, as it were? Things that may have excited you but didn’t end up working with the final game?
ES: Let me first say that I really love the end product! But of course, there are things that have been tried and was discarded to make the game as clean as it is right now – at least I think it is clean. [laughs] There were lovely small crystal balls in the game before with special effects added to them. I loved these crystal balls and I might suggest putting something similar to that into possible future expansions. I’m also looking into making use of the drafting system in the earlier version of the game in a new more meaty game.
OS: Weberson Santiago did a beautiful job on the art for the game in a way that reminds me of some of Walt Disney’s earlier animations – particularly Sleeping Beauty. How involved with the art direction were you? What stood out to you about his work for your game?
ES: I have loved the work of Weberson Santiago for years. I adore his use of colors and textures. When Neil asked me what illustrator I wanted if I could have anyone, Weberson was my top choice. When he accepted to take on the job I was so excited! The main job of the art direction has been handled by the developer, Neil Kimball. I have given feedback along the way too. But the main credit of that should go to Neil. Again, teamwork! And I might just have to say that this is my dream team.
OS: Do you have any favorite stories with witches of your own from growing up? Did any of those tales find their way into your game?
ES: I loved Roald Dahl’s Witches when I was a kid. Or I guess I was kinda scared of it and fascinated at the same time. Also, I had terrible nightmares from a witch that once occurred in a Swedish cartoon called Gnuttarna. If you google that, it is hard to believe that they gave nightmares, the mind of a child can be hard to predict from time to time… none of these witches made it to the game. However quite a few witches have sneaked into the game here and there, but I prefer if the players discover these themselves…
OS: In the special thanks for the game you mention the “game might not be a haiku anymore” – what does that mean?
ES: During playtesting my two main testers – and design friends – compared the game to a Haiku. The game was very bare-boned back then with only the recipes and the cubes going around the table. They concluded that the game was as distilled as it could be – i.e. very Haikuesque. During the development, some things were added to better fit the audience of AEG. And I couldn’t be happier with the end-result.
OS: You also mentioned that the passing of materials was inspired by a real-time 3D brick building game – can you talk any more about that?
ES: The 3D brick building game was made by my friends at Uptime Games. It is a game about building 3D buildings based on a blueprint. In real-time. These 3D buildings are passed around the table and it is what originally inspires me to build Whirling Witchcraft. I played this for the first time at a Swedish con, Lincon. It was a fantastic game where players were rapidly building 3D structures and passing them on to their right neighbor. And I was so fascinated.
The thing is, I really suck at real-time games. [laughs] But still, I couldn’t get that game design out of my head. What was it that truly triggered me to love that game despite the fact that I was awful at it? Firstly, it was easy to realize that the real-time aspect of the game had to go for me. Secondly, it was not the 3D structures themselves that triggered me but the idea of the building blocks traveling from player to player, from one neighbor to the next.
So the idea came to me the very next day after that con – let’s try the simplest possible version of that circular machinery that I could imagine. Let’s replace the 3D structure with resources. Resources come from your left neighbor and you use them to produce more resources which you send to your right neighbor. How to win? Well… what if there is a cap on the number of resources you can have in your storage? I built a quick prototype based on these basic ideas.
By the way, the 3D brick building game is still unpublished – publishers take notes!
OS: Are you currently at work on any other games? What mechanics or themes excite you for further exploration?
ES: A card game of mine will be published by HeidelBÄR games in 2022. It is a family game that takes about 15-30 minutes to play. Collectors is a game that was one of the finalists of Fastaval 2020. I am rebuilding it to better fit my vision of it: a worker placement game that plays in 20-30 minutes.
In addition, I have several games in prototype form at the moment that I’m working on when my daytime job permits. They are either exploring a steam punk game with collaborative building in a competitive game play – I call the game Wonders of Steam at the moment – or simultaneous worker placement.
Furthermore, I am trying to build a UNOesque card game that I refer to as Åtta – eight in Swedish.