Lander is a 2-4 player strategy game published by Intrepid Games. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Alexander, Lead Game Designer, at UK Games Expo. I also had the chance to play the Kickstarter prototype version that will soon be available to play in 130 board game cafes and stores around the world, as part of their ‘Play before you Pledge’ campaign.
What’s your background, and how did you come up with the idea for Lander?
I studied geological oceanography at university and learnt all about our climate system, and all the science behind climate change, and a lot of the knowledge I have is crucial to the backstory I created for my game. My friend and I are also hugely into sci-fi and on Boxing Day, 2014, I was at his parent’s house and we wanted to play a game and they didn’t. We found we were surrounded by games we couldn’t play because they were all 3-4 player games. And he just turned to me and said “shall we make a game?” and suddenly we were planning our own game. It was about six months or so later, working around day jobs and after taking bits of the game we liked and getting rid of the rest, that Lander came into existence.
What was your inspiration for Lander?
Mainly Catan for the side missions, Carcassonne, and Battlestar Galactica for the events that occur.
What is the backstory of Lander?
Between now and 2092 climate change has destabilized our society and caused several wars. Corporations become more powerful than governments, and the sixth largest corporation funds a spaceship to travel to the first planet outside of our solar system found to have liquid water on the surface. The main ship is called The Intrepid, carrying 5,000 pioneers, and on the front of the ship is a forward landing craft, which is affectionately called The Lander. Its mission is to set up a beach-head on the planet for the arrival of the main ship, but it crash-lands and half the crew die. And that is where the gamer’s story begins.
Who do you play as?
The 50 crew members are split up into three groups: engineers, operations and science staff, and each member has unique leadership abilities. At the start of the game you deal out six crew members into a single pile, and they are the ones who perished when The Lander crashed. Of the crew you have left in your deck, you might have an even split of roles, or you might find that a whole class is missing, which makes the game more challenging. Each player starts with two crew members revived from stasis, and they claim three sectors (areas) on the board, which is the crash site and The Lander sits around the crash site.
Tell me more about the design and layout of the board.
One of the great things about the board is you can place a sector into it and you can move it, you can nudge it, and it won’t disturb the counters or the sectors you’ve placed down, because you’re putting pieces into a sunken area. Gameland have been fantastic to work with because it’s taken a while to get to this design, getting all the millimetre adjustments absolutely perfect.
How do I win at Lander?
The main objective is to complete missions assigned to you to gain mission stars. To do that you need to raise income, in the form of energy, food and titanium, in order to expand your area and buy new crew members and equip them with tools, and it’s the player with the most mission stars that wins the game.
This strategic play sounds like it could be quite solitary – are there opportunities to interact with your fellow players?
Yes, in fact, one of the most exciting features of the game is the Action Card deck, which enables player interaction. These cards give you things to do, such as gain extra missions or get free upgrades. You can even kill another crew member. It has to be said that, even though this is an immersive game that requires some serious thinking, we do like to inject a bit of humour. If you look at how you kill your crew member, for example, you can give them a cup of tainted tea or claim it was their incompetence that caused them to fall into a huge river! You can tell a story to your fellow players and make the action more fun. The Event Deck furthers the storytelling – this took me two months of work around my day job to get it right. It tells a little story and allows players to make choices.
What other features are there?
When we visited UKGE in 2017, we came with a 50 minute per player game and we were saying “hi guys, come and play our game”, and people were like “we’re in an expo, we’re not having three hours taken up by one game, bye”! So we had to create a quick version for people to have a demo with and after we came away we looked at playing times in more detail. For Lander, we’ve created three unique game styles: 20 minutes per player, 30 minutes per player and the full Lander experience of 50 minutes. It makes Lander more approachable – I’ve played it with non-board gamers who can understand it, and experienced gamers who want more immersive gameplay. There is also the opportunity for gamers to trade with each other while the active player is making decisions about their turn.
Are there opportunities for an ‘expanded universe of Lander’ i.e. into graphic novels?
We want people to enjoy the world we have created – love has gone into it and we hope people get love out of it – so if someone approached us to something like a graphic novel, we’d love that because board games bring us together. I would like to actively create a community of people who ‘play it their way’, meaning they bring their rules to the game and open up a dialogue among other gamers about how people could play differently.
What can people check out on your website?
You can go to https://www.landerthegame.com/ and read the full backstory, information about the planet and the crew members, and about the corporations. There is also more information about ‘Play Before You Pledge’ and the locations of the shops you can play Lander in.
Thanks for your time, Dan!