With World Book Day upon us, and London Book Fair only around the corner, it stands to reason that March is a month in which to celebrate the written word and the lengths to which it has shaped and influenced the entertainment space of modern day.
It’s common at this point to fall upon the classic IP of children’s literature that has, over the generations, had such a profound impact and presence within the children’s market; whether it’s the Guess How Much I Love Yous or Winnie the Poohs of the pre-school sector, or the Oi book series or Usbourne’s That’s Not My… book collections that have gone on to form the foundation of many a licensing programme of modern day.
But it isn’t just the children’s market that continues to draw inspiration from literature. Increasingly – and as it has been drawing stronger parallels with the licensing scene in general – the tabletop gaming space has been turning its attention to many of the classics, too. Cartamundi recently launched its compendium of Gruffalo games, while it was one year ago that the British independent games publisher, Modiphius launched its first tabletop card game under license from the Agatha Christie estate.
Called Agatha Christie – Death on the Cards, the game is designed for two to six players who must work cooperatively to solve a murder, use their detective skills to unmask the culprit, and prevent their escape. The twist is that one of the players is the murderer and must work against the group to remain hidden.
Now, as we gear up for this year’s literature-fest, ToyNews talks to Modiphius Entertainment’s co-founder Chris Birch about working with a literary icon.
So, Chris, what attracted you to the Agatha Christie license in the first instance?
I was working with the game designer, Tomas Rawlings, on a licensed video game adaption of our Achtung! Cthulhu World War Two horror IP for his company Auroch Digital, and he mentioned he’d also come up with a card game based on Agatha Christie. He had the estate interested but they needed a publishing home for it.
It was an odd one at first for us, it wasn’t the sort of thing we’d typically seek out but it was 90 per cent developed and just needed a polish. Card games are generally low risk and it presented an interesting way to reach a new audience. Given the enormous market share of Agatha Christie in the book trade and revitalisation of the brand I felt it was a really strong opportunity.
Julia Wilde and the team at Agatha Christie Ltd have been really fantastic to work with. They’ve been really supportive of the project, providing lots of marketing help and connecting us with their publishing partners to help promote the game. It’s refreshing to have so much extra support from a licensing partner.
And what success have you seen with the card game since its launch?
Asmodee North America and UK took the English distribution rights and did really well selling out the first production run in Europe and the US and have already re-ordered for the spring. We’ve been selling on our webstore and it’s been one of our best sellers, given we’re usually known for sci-fi / fantasy roleplaying games and miniatures games, that’s a great first step for us in to a more mainstream tabletop offering.
Why do you think the brand has translated so well to this format? What was the process like in developing this IP – a classic literary IP – for tabletop gaming?
Everyone seems to love a good murder mystery as Agatha Christie’s books continue to be best sellers around the world. Whilst classic Cluedo has been a stalwart household friend, murder mystery games haven’t been represented much on the tabletop so with the rise of quick to play card games like Exploding Kittens, Dobble, and Cards Against Humanity I think the entry of a quick to play murder mystery contender with a such a familiar name has drawn in a big audience.
Many innovative games have some form of ‘traitor’ style mechanic like Werewolf, Secret Hitler and the Resistance. Tomas the designer pulled on some of the classic structure of the Agatha Christie novels.
A secret murderer amongst polite society, who in the best possible traditions of the novels, all have secrets themselves to reveal, made for great gameplay and particularly round-the-table banter as players often have to decide who to point the suspicion at leading to much hilarity as they profess their innocence and reveal embarrassing and amusing secrets.
At the end of the day developing a game is much the same whether it’s about aliens or village murders – there’s play testing, review, development, editing, artwork and so on all to handle. Tomas’ team actually handled all the artwork, and we did a layout polish for playability so it worked really well – having an almost finished project come in the door like this is really helpful especially with the number of projects we have cooking at any one moment.
What do you think the Agatha Christie brand itself brings to the not only the gaming space, but the wider licensing space?
I think the familiarity of Agatha Christie with an older and younger audience is one of it’s strengths. The older audience have grown up with a consistent diet of TV series and new editions of the books, but the Agatha Christie team have worked really had to make the brand relevant to a younger audience without losing it’s roots.
I think Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express gave us a sophisticated new look for Agatha Christie that was a million miles away from what I remember of the Poirot and Miss Marple shows as a kid, yet felt like it fitted right at home amongst the competition.
I was never a fan of the old TV shows but I’d watch more movies like that, it was rich, and exotic and very polished yet still felt like it came from the same mind.
Have you got any further projects with the brand in the pipeline?
We’re looking at some concepts for possible follow ups, you can see how far the Agatha Christie brand has gone with great characters and stories and I think there’s plenty of room to explore more game formats.