Interview with Galen Ciscell, designer of Atlantis Rising

Galen Ciscell…you probably haven’t heard of him before, but you will very soon. He is the designer of an upcoming Z-Man Games release called Atlantis Rising and this has “hit” written all over it! Don’t feel bad if you know nothing about this game, the only reason I’m aware of it is because of a quick but friendly email sent to me from Galen himself. Basically he noticed that I posted an article about a couple cooperative games and how I’m very fond of that genre. So he just thought I should take a peak at what he’s come up with. And luckily for me, I obliged. Sure enough when I dug into the details about the game, it started checking many of those “things that I like in a game” boxes. Co-op, check; 2-6 players, check; beautiful artwork, check; engaging theme, check…well, you get the picture. Then it hit me, I don’t think I’m the only one that would be interested in a game like this. So I asked if he would be willing to spend some time and answer a few questions about the process of designing the game. He was also gracious enough to pass along some never before seen artwork from the game.

Without further ado, here is my conversation with Galen Ciscell.

Front/back box cover, artwork by Karim Chakroun

Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about your upcoming game Atlantis Rising. It is really looking like something you can be proud of. Would you mind just briefly describing the game for people who are just now hearing about it?

Component cards, artwork by Karim Chakroun

Components cards, artwork by Karim Chakroun

Sure. As I’ve posted on the BGG page, Atlantis Rising is a fully cooperative board game in which the players must race to create a cosmic gate before all of the island tiles have been destroyed (the gate’s components are variable and determine the difficulty level of the game – Easy, Normal, Hard, or Cosmic difficulty). Each turn players can choose to place their Atlanteans in any of eight different areas – with placements closer to the sea being more rewarding, but subject to a higher risk of flooding (and the subsequent loss of the associated action). The players must also contend with the continually escalating threat of their Athenian enemies, who may destroy one or more island tiles each turn if insufficient Atlanteans are allocated to the island’s protection.

You have been releasing “Design Journals”, rather frequently, outlining how you came to decide different aspects of your game. What was the thought process behind wanting to write these and do you think people enjoy looking “behind the curtain”, so to speak?

I actually had several different reasons for wanting to publish my (semi)weekly Design Journals. The first, to be very honest, was to generate some publicity and interest in the game. The second was that *I* enjoy these types of articles. In addition to being an avid board gamer, I am also a roleplayer and I really enjoy the Design & Development articles on the Dungeons & Dragons web site. Finally, as a member of the BGG community, I have always appreciated when designers are active on the boards answering rules questions and discussing design decisions with other members. I figured I’d get a jump start on that interaction by posting a few of my design decisions before the game was released, as sort of an open invitation to other members to engage in conversation about the game.

Misfortune cards, artwork by Karim Chakroun

Misfortune cards, artwork by Karim Chakroun

Where there any games and/or designers that helped influence the design of Atlantis Rising?

A couple that spring immediately to mind are Stone Age and Kingsburg. Stone Age is a wonderful worker placement game and the mechanic for collecting resources in Atlantis Rising is based on the mechanic for collecting resources in Stone Age (also, one of the uses of mystic energy is based loosely on the “tools” mechanic in Stone Age). The winter battle in Kingsburg was the inspiration for the Athenians Attack phase in Atlantis Rising – the idea of an increasing threat that forces players to dedicate a (growing) number of their resources to defense is one I thought worked perfectly for a game like Atlantis Rising. I’m actually planning an entire Design Journal about influences on the game, so I’ll leave the rest for that article!

There are a lot of people who are designing games these days, but many never get the funding to publish the game on a large scale. You are fortunate to be able to have your game published by one of the hottest companies going these days, Z-Man Games. Can you describe how you and your game got noticed by Zev?

I have actually known Zev since Z-Man Games first started, through a mutual friend, but aside from maybe getting him to actually look at Atlantis Rising (instead of just rejecting the game outright), I’m not sure our acquaintance really had any bearing on the game getting published. Essentially, I followed the guidelines for submitting a game posted on the Z-Man Games web site. I submitted a letter summarizing the game and game play. After reading the game summary, Zev asked me to send him the prototype (which I did) and playtested it with his in-house playtesters. He liked the game and we hammered out a contract. Unlike several other major publishers, Z-Man accepts unsolicited game submissions so anyone can propose a game to Zev and potentially have it published by Z-Man Games!

What are some of your favorite modern games to play and do you look at games any differently after going through everything to designing your own game?

In terms of new cooperative games, I’m really looking forward to Yggdrasil (I have it pre-ordered from my FLGS). Ghost Stories is my favorite cooperative game, although I always enjoy Battlestar Galactica when I can get it to the table (I find it’s really much better when all the players have seen the series). Kingsburg (with the expansion) is probably my favorite board game of all time and Stone Age is probably my favorite worker placement game (and worker placement games are my favorite type of game). My girlfriend just got me Cargo Noir for my birthday, which may become my new go-to gateway game to introduce non-gamers to the hobby.

I don’t think I really look at games much differently after designing Atlantis Rising, although I suppose I am more knowledgeable now. I have a better understanding what mechanics I like and don’t like in a board game, from researching mechanics to include in Atlantis Rising, so it’s easier for me to know at a glance if I’m likely to enjoy a game or not. I’ve always tinkered with house rules and homemade expansions to games and that hasn’t changed, but I don’t think I’m any more critical of games than I was before.

What’s next for you? Any other games being designed that you can talk about?

I’m currently working on a competitive, area-control game based in ancient Babylonia – the premise is that the Tower of Babylon is crumbling and you must spread the Speakers of your particular language as far and wide as possible before the last foundation of the tower falls. It has been a challenge for me, because unlike Atlantis Rising the game is not as near and dear to my heart, in terms of incorporating mechanics that I personally enjoy. I am actually not a huge fan of area control games in general, but the core mechanic of the game is something I am excited about and hope people will really enjoy.

It certainly looks like Atlantis Rising has the potential to be a huge hit. Thank you very much for your time and I wish you nothing but the best for you and your game!

Thanks Ian! We’re planning a few surprises leading up to the release, so keep watching BoardGameGeek, the Atlantis Rising facebook page, and the Z-Man Games site.

We thank Galen Ciscell for taking the time to answer a few questions. And if Atlantis Rising sounds like a game you are interested in, then you’re in luck! Up to its release some time this summer, I will be posting even more artwork and hopefully one of the very first reviews to be published online. So keep your eyes out for more Atlantis Rising goodness!

Bonus artwork

Knowledge cards, artwork by Karim Chakroun

Knowledge cards, artwork by Karim Chakroun

3 Comments to “Interview with Galen Ciscell, designer of Atlantis Rising”

  • Chris K. April 6, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Nice interview! Good stuff – I’m particularly looking forward to seeing what Galen has in store for his Babylon game. It seems like an interesting theme and concept.

    If he likes Kingsburg, he should probably check out Alien Frontiers. Just, you know – nudge nudge. ;)

    • Galen Ciscell April 7, 2011 at 9:37 am

      And if you like the look of Alien Frontiers, Chris, you’ll love the look of Atlantis Rising, illustrations and graphic design by Karim Chakroun (of Alien Frontiers fame)!

  • ianoble April 6, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Dude, I need to check out Alien Frontiers, too!!

    I have 2 board game regrets, 1. Not getting in on the Eminent Domain Kickstarter project and 2. not ordering a copy of the first edition Alien Frontiers. Oh well, I have it on pre-order, so I will get my hands on it soon enough. :D


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