From digital to physical: Cities Skylines – The Board Game designer on the art of adapting the video game

With four months left to cross off the calendar until the release of Kosmos Games’ board game adaptation of the hit video game franchise, Cities Skylines this October, it’s fair to say that excitement is already bubbling.

The co-operative title will mark yet another notch in the post for video game/board game crossover titles, finding itself in the ever-expanding company of runaway hit tabletop games such as Dark Souls, Fallout, Assassin’s Creed and many more.

Kosmos’ own entrance in to the fray will arrive this October in the form of Cities Skylines, a collaboration with Paradox Interactive for a tabletop game that has been designed by the renowned designer and name behind the already popular Tribes: Dawn of Humanity, Rustan Hakansson.

The board game adaptation was first unveiled at a behind-closed-doors demo at UK Games Expo earlier this year, where a lucky few were privileged to a first glimpse. Among those was Kosmos’ own board game marketing manager, Stephen Lyssejoko, who took the chance to ask the prolific designer some pressing questions about the game…

Can you talk me through how you design a game? Do you have a process or does this change from game to game?

Each project differs in how it begins and in all the details, but the overall process is similar. There are three main phases, experimentation, focusing and tuning. A game can be in one phase for a long time, or go back to a previous phase depending on how it proceeds. The phases are most easily described by their goals.

Experimentation: The goal is an interesting and new prototype that play-testers ask to play again and again. Most of the testing is done by me alone, often testing parts of the game separately, trying out performing the tasks players will perform, for example holding cards in hand and playing them in the way they should be played, even if the cards are blank.

Focusing: The goal is to find the core of the game. I want to cut away the parts that do not fit or are not needed, to make sure the game is the best it can be and that all parts contribute to the whole. I test to cut away everything. The parts that cannot be cut are the core of the game.

Tuning: The goal is to make the game the best it can become. Testing variations within the core, tweaking, and a huge amount of play-testing is needed.

For this design (Cities: Skylines – TBG), did you start with the theme and build the game mechanics around it, or find mechanics that work together first to fit the theme?

This game started with the goal to make a board game adaptation of Cities: Skylines, it should be true to the computer game in as much it can. It is such a huge and sprawling computer game, where the computer does so many things that cannot be directly translated into board game form, that I needed to dig deep into finding the core of the computer game.

So, it started with research and experimentation to find out what can be represented, what must be represented, how to represent the parts, how should player interaction work, how to win/end the game etc. So I definitely started with the theme.

How important was getting the right ‘feel’ for the game, being based on a popular franchise?

Extremely important. It was a clear goal for all involved, and it goes both ways. A computer game player coming to the board game should feel at home, and a board gamer who plays the computer game should feel at home too. The details will differ greatly, they are very different mediums, but the experience should match as closely as it is possible.

The switch from a competitive game (how the development started) to fully cooperative was a very important milestone.

Is there anything else you would like to add about Cities: Skylines – The Board Game?

Do not play the complete game immediately, it will be way too hard. There is a reason the scenarios exist to introduce all the elements. A very experienced player might skip every other scenario though, it will likely be ok. Choosing any of the scenario levels to continue playing on, using new map setups, will provide a fresh experience for a long time.

You do not have to add everything to get a complete experience. However, the complete game is the one that most closely matches the computer game.

One of the parts I am really happy about is the emergent behaviour of the city as it grows. The players choose every single placement of buildings, but what players have available and choose to do varies so much between games that you feel you experience the growth of an organic city.

This matches the feeling of how the computer game city grows, and is much more strongly represented in the board game than any other board game I have played.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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