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The Suns Are On Fire (An Interview with Emil Larsen)

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This boxcover, as well as all other art and components pictured are not final and subject to change

If you’re like me, few things sound better than setting aside a good chunk of time to explore the galaxy, expand your galactic empire, exploit the resources of dozens of planets, and exterminate your enemies in epic space combat between massive fleets of ships. With some fantastic entires in the genre of 4x space exploration – Twilight Imperium being one of my favorite games of all time, and the popular Eclipse attempting to bridge the divide between thematic gamers and eurogamers alike.

So the prospect of a new 4x sci-fi game is an intriguing one.  But is Burning Suns, a new game on Kickstarter, going to fill a gap in styles of 4x games, or is it just noise beneath the games we already have?  The task of creating a great 4x game, given the scale and complexity in the very nature of such games, is a daunting one.
I had a chance to “sit down” at least virtually with game designer Emil Larsen and talk about his new game.  Hit the interview after the break and visit the kickstarter page here and judge for yourself whether Burning Suns is worth backing.

Futurewolfie’s questions are in bold italics.  Emil is the other guy.


First question; I always like to start off with learning more about the interviewee. Which is you. So, tell us a bit about yourself.  How did you get into gaming? What sorts of games do you play and enjoy? 

Thank you so much for taking your time to interview me, that super to be part of 🙂 About me, well.. I’ve been gaming all of my life, though it started out mostly in form of computer games, that’s back in the early Amiga 500 days.. It wasn’t until I move out to my own apartment I started to learn about board games that went a bit deeper than Monopoly and Chess.
While computer gaming had me in an iron grip – I still got to explore more and more board games, until it suddenly hit me that these were the games I wanted to do myself (up till then I’d been working on getting into the computer gaming industry, which was severely crippled after the crisis of 2008).I’m mostly into strategy games – I’ve always been very fascinated by tactics, strategic planning, heroic victories and iconic generals from the ancient world and up till now.

Yes, this looks like a 4X space game

On to some more basics.  Tell us about this game, Burning Suns. Actually, start by summing up the game in 1 sentence.

Burning Suns is a really intense tactical sci-fi game that puts you in charge of one of the over 500 empires, from which you’ll try to conquer the galaxy.

Now give us a brief overview of what the game is all about, some of the core features, etc.

Burning Suns brings a lot of new stuff to the table. Besides the whole combination factor of empires, that gives you a staggering number of empires to play around with, it’s what these different parts do that makes it truly special.Your ideology defines your empire’s abilities and power alignment, which are unique features for each empire in play and affects your effectiveness when dealing with agents or recovered artifacts. Your empire’s race gives you different stats on your ships and leaders compared to other empires and furthermore gives you access to powerful one-time abilities unique for the race, but also usable in alliances with other players. The final part of an empire is the structure, which tell you how effective you’ll be able to carry out the 12 different actions that makes up your tactical option in the game.These 12 actions make up the 4X core of the game. But were most games look at 4X from a strategic viewpoint, Burning Suns takes it to the tactical level. Because the 12 actions are shuffled each round and leader placement are essential the order of execution, you’ll be focusing on immediate threats and opportunities and not hour-long buildups.

The replayability of Burning Suns has been further increased by creating the galactic map through circles instead of classic hexagons, this allow for a truly free map setup and an almost endless amount of player created maps.

The art completed so far is pretty fantastic, actually

Wow, 500 Empires is a lot.  Honestly, my first impression when I hear that number is “there is no possible way a game could have that many empires and there be any chance of that being balanced.  There’s just no way you could playtest each empire against each other empire enough.  Then, I saw that each empire was a combination of 3 elements – Ideology, Race, and Structure.  500 as the number of possible empire combinations sounds a lot more reasonable when you look at it that way.  Still, that’s a lot to balance.  How many of each element of an empire are there in your game?  Is it possible that some combinations of those elements are more powerful than other combinations?

Haha, yea I know – it sounds insane and like a complete mess, though as you also point out – once you get the “combination part” explained it makes sense. There’s 8 different ideologies, races and structures as of now – making it a total of 512, and if everything goes as planned we’ll hit 9 of each very soon – giving us a staggering 729 possible combinations.

There’s an immense balancing workload on this game – more than more games I’m sure, but as you can see in my update #15 >http://kck.st/14VmJgX > where I talk about the pointers given by Richard Garfield, there are ways to counter balancing issues. It’s still too much work if I had to balance everything and this is why my Kickstarter campaign includes backers in the process, like you’d normally do on a computer game, with beta testers from around the world. I expect that we can get maybe 400-500 people to test the game before it’s released, which would really ensure a high quality in the game.

I actually just played a game with my sister yesterday and though I could have sworn, that she had the weaker empire, when I looked at her stats, she ended up winning *sigh* 😀 and she had no favor of the dice. It just shows that what might on paper look unfavorable can be turned around. This is one of the reasons why I really love my game.

What inspired you to make the game?  Tell us where you started.

My inspiration came from the computer game “Sins of a Solar Empire”, which is a very war heavy 4X game, where you control vast empires and huge fleets in epic battles. This was my sole starting point – I wanted to do a board game interpretation of this computer game.

Some sort of spacey shenanigans going on here

Can you give a little background on the game’s development?

Trying to acquire/work together with an IP with no record isn’t possible. So I fairly quickly abandon my initial goal and gave the game a new life. I merged it with games like “Rebellion” (old Starwars strategy game), I started to dissect games like Eclipse, TW3, Cyclades, Empires of the Void and took from them what I thought worked and tried to fine tune it into something a bit simpler, more tactical and in some cases more thematic. While some aspects of the game actually came more or less out of the air, the Dieships was “invented” when I was playing around in my 3D program, putting some dice together with different robot parts. Suddenly a die had legs, and the rest is Dieship history 😉

You mentioned several other epic space empire games.  Which existing empire games are your favorite, and why? Then, tell us how Burning Suns stands apart from those games.

I’m very fond of the atmosphere in TW3, and how it truly has this epic 4X feel to it. With Burning Suns I tried to imitate this feel, but shorten the game done, like if you took the Lord of the Rings movies and cut off 40-45 minutes, I personally believe it could be done and still portray the epic struggle.

Eclipse is another nice game, which has a lot of cool things going for it. But it falls a bit short of 4X theme, with only a few races and a very heavy focus on economy. I still love many of the dynamics in the game, and this is why it also served as inspiration. Burning Suns just turns these factors around and focus more on different strategies and empires, and not so much on economy. On my KS page >http://kck.st/1d2sRN6 > I did a table for comparison, and though I’m of course biased in this matter, I’m sure you can get the gist of where I’ve tried to place Burning Suns compared to the other great sci-fi games.  

Tell us more about the Dieships you mentioned.  What does that mean?  How does that come into play in the game?

The Dieships are unique units that any empire can only maintain 3 of at any given time (1 of each type). These heavy units have some powerful abilities and can sustain a lot of damage in combat, and this is where the die on top of them comes into play, it’ll display the amount of hitpoints it has left. It also makes for a very thematic setup, since the die is build into this futuristic design.

A few of the “die ships” mentioned. CG Renders, not final.

Give us a quick, clear overview of what comes in the box. Then tell us about some of your stretch goals – what might get added to the core game, what is promotional and on the side, what is expansion content (that might be available down the road for non-kickstarter backers)? *phew* there’s a lot of content coming in the box 🙂 It’s over 400 components in total.

  • 8 + 8 + 8 empire components.
  • 64 race cards (8 for each race).
  • 22 + 22 agent and artifact cards.
  • 24 leader tokens.
  • 34 systems + 14 small systems to create the galaxy with.
  • 60 upgrade items.
  • 100 other components like crystals, NPC tokens, dice and so on…
  • and then… we have the different units… 21 per player for a total of 105 different minis and Dieships. 

It’s a fairly big box of core components! 🙂
About the promos. I have decided to do them maybe a bit differently compared to other games.Promos are unique in design/layout, but not in game play impact. Since I want Burning Suns to be a potential tournament game, I believe promos shouldn’t be something exclusive since that would ruin the purpose. But you’ll still be able to see that you’ve been a backer of the game and some of the promos might be diverted into expansions on future prints if need be.

The stretch goals are all about turning the generic minis into unique minis for each race. We’ve hit the Templar stretch goal, which means they’ll have their own ships and designs, and we’re well on our way to hit the Cyborg’s ships 🙂 People can purchase even more of these if they want to upgrade other games, or want to have some figures for painting etc.

Do you have any final thoughts? Any thing you think our readers need to know that hasn’t been mentioned yet?  This is your last chance to convince people to buy in to your kickstarter.

As we speak – we just passed £50.000 ($75.000+). This means that the Cyborgs will also have their own unique models. It’s truly awesome to be able to bring this to people around the world – being an up-and-coming game designer :)I’ll have to stress that this game is being balanced, finalized and produced with the help of my backers – they are super supportive and it wouldn’t happen with out them. I really hope you’ll join us!
Thanks a lot for interviewing me Jonathan, I really appreciate it 🙂

Thank you, Emil, for your answers.Again, you can check out the Kickstarter page here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/suntzugames/burning-suns. The game is already funded but as you heard, increased funding will increase the quality and variance of the components included in the game, plus you have a chance to get some cool promos and be a part of the playtesting process.

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. Really glad to see this got funded. I was unaware that this was Emil’s first game. What an ambitious project! And it looked so professional that I assumed he was just a big company. I’m going to go have a second look at his Kickstarter Page.

  2. Hey Kayosiv,
    Thanks a lot 🙂 Very kind words! I’m happy to hear that, then my campaign have made a good first impression… I’m sure my game will follow that up with a nice impression too 🙂

    Have a good day, that comment just made my day!
    Best regards Emil

    And a big thank you to Jonathan for interviewing me 🙂

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