Words by David C. Obenour
Some of the greatest adventures can be had between the covers of a book. Even more exciting are the adventures that you and your friends can have between the covers of a Wonder Book!
Starting play on the outside front cover, the chapters of Wonder Book literally unfold as they popup to surprise and delight. This inventive and evolving popup book game board is central to the six chapters of classic cooperative dungeon crawl adventuring. Forge your party, find your story, and get ready for three dimensions of folding fun!
Off Shelf: Pop-ups are a fascinating art form. Did you have much experience with them growing up? Do you have favorite examples from then or from your research for Wonder Book?
Martino Chiacchiera: Back in the days I had a dinosaurs pop-up book and even though growing up I lost track of it, I still remember it as one of the coolest things I had. When we came up with the idea of Wonder Book, I purchased many modern pop-up books and found out the amazing work of 3 contemporary artists: Robert Sabauda, Matthew Reinhardt, and the paper engineer that collaborated with us, Dario Cestaro. My house is now full of their books and we use them as references in order to come up with original pop-ups that also handle gameplay-relevant features.
OS: In writing about your process for creating Wonder Book you talked about not wanting to build pop-ups around a game but a game around pop-ups. How do you think Wonder Book is a different game because of that focus?
MC: We think that a gimmick is just a gimmick until it becomes core to the experience. This is done by implementing a gameplay that leverages on the gimmick specific features, so that what you do can be done only through it, thanks to it and how it is done. That’s what we pursued in the making of gameplay-relevant pop-ups in Wonder Book.
OS: One of your earliest introductions to paper engineering was through Duncan Birmingham. Did you ever correspond with him directly or share the finished game with him after its production?
MC: Not really, he is a legend and we owe him a lot for his dedication and patience in doing such great tutorials. I’m a proud owner of his book, and I wish one day to meet him and thank him for his work.
OS: Eventually you connected with a paper engineer directly, Dario Cestaro who helped develop Wonder Book. Were there any unexpected things that changed or evolved as he was brought into creating the game?
MC: Sure! We presented to Dario a dummy with some finalized pop-ups, and others which were only half drafted. Eventually he completed the work, adding new features and ideas, and then we started from this to come up with even newer and cooler ideas than our original ones.
OS: Production costs are obviously a consideration for a game so unique and ambitious. Were there any elements from prototypes that had to be left out that had excited you?
MC: Actually no. We managed to slip into the game all the cool things we wished for. This is something that you can read through the lines of who played the whole chapter, as they are totally surprised by how full of stuff is an apparently simple book of 1 page… though, is it really just 1 page?! [laughs] Of course, in the making we had new ideas that would not make much sense in Wonder Book but we diligently saved for a new game on the series…
OS: You also talk about the story and gameplay having to evolve with consideration for production – what sort of changes had to be made there?
MC: Many. We wanted a game where story, pop-ups, miniatures, and gameplay were perfectly timed and aligned to work together side by side. Therefore, each of these aspects was first drafted freely but then tuned and tweaked to reinforce the other elements. In a nutshell, this is what I call “holistic game design”.
OS: Dungeon Crawls are a staple of gaming. What excited you about exploring it for Wonder Book? Were there things you knew you wanted to do differently or things you knew you wanted to include?
MC: Yes, we wanted the game to feel alive thus we created creatures out of pop-ups, not just locations. Also, we wanted a game you can play right away thus we put special rules and complexity in decks of cards that will introduce the story and the challenges along the way, with branching paths and moral choices that the group of players will face.
OS: Having spent so much time on so many elements of Wonder Book by the time he came onboard to the project, how much direction did you have for illustrator, Miguel Coimbra? How did his art change the game?
MC: We gave him a detailed list of what every element should look like, but eventually we changed stuff according to his artworks. For instance, he drew a statue where we had never thought could be one. At first we thought to remove it, but luckily soon after we asked “what if we keep it?”. And this gave us the idea to use it to strengthen gameplay and story on spot, liking that new element to what we had already built. Again, we followed a holistic game design process.
OS: A literal unfolding story, was it always your intention to have the gameboard as a book? Do you have any books that helped to inspire this concept or the idea of exploring story through play?
MC: The idea of a board game book came soon after the idea of a game with just pop-ups, and we therefore studied many pop-up books. But none of them is a game, nor a story about a magical book. What we instead had were years of experience in the design of of Deckscape and Decktective series. Games with just a deck of cards that unfolds a story with riddles, puzzles, clues and mystery, not to mention plot twists and different endings. By combining a solid yet accessible gameplay of dungeon crawling, a pop-up book with majestic creatures and locations, and the Deckscape system, we found out a new recipe, and it’s working very well for us since then!
OS: Now that you’ve explored and learned so much about pop-ups, would you revisit the medium for other games?
MC: We are already, so stay tuned!