Let’s build a medieval Abbey – Interview with Randy Rathert about the Boardgame The King’s Abbey

Im Zuge der Arbeit am Sammelband “Von bierbrauenden Mönchen und kriegerischen Nonnen – Klöster und Klerus in analogen und digitalen Spielen” enstand ein Interview zwischen Lukas Boch (LB) und Randy Rathert (RR), dem Autor von The King’s Abbey. Im Mittelpunkt stand die Frage nach der Entwicklung und Umsetzung des Themas Kloster im Brettspiel. Das Interview wurde auf Englisch geführt.

Das Spiel in der Ausstellung “Mönch ärgere dich nicht – Kriegerische Nonnen, trinkfeste Brüder und geheimnisvolle Klöster im Spiel.”

LB: Dear Randy, in 2016, you were able to realise the game The King’s Abbey through a successful Kickstarter campaign. In the game, players have to build an abbey in the 11th century, defend themselves against Vikings, and go on crusades. How did you come up with this comparatively unusual theme and what prompted you to make a board game out of it? Do you have a special connection to the topic and the era of the Middle Ages or did economic factors also play a role because history sells?

RR: I don’t have any special connection to the topic or era of the Middle Ages, however, I have always been intrigued with that era, and at the time I had not seen many games out there with this particular theme, so I thought it would be a great way to bring out this part of history, and at the same time have fun playing a game.

LB: Eurogames are generally said to be not very thematic. That seems to be different with your game. Herb Levy, for example, described the game as “woven together like a spectular medieval tapestry.” What were your aspirations in the realisation of the theme? Was it important to you that The King’s Abbey brings the life in a medieval monastery closer to the players? How did you find out about the subject of the Middle Ages and abbeys?

RR: Well, I have always been drawn to eurogames, and at the same time I like to play something that is thematic and tells a story.  That is what I wanted to accomplish with The King’s Abbey. To be able to play a good worker placement game, and at the same time experience the thematic details of history.  Abbeys were a part of the Middle Ages, so I knew I needed to do a bit of research on abbeys since it is the central theme of the game.

LB: Well, there are various ways to present a theme in a game. Starting with pictorial representations and texts, through the design of the game material to the linking of rules and theme. Let’s start with the visual level, how did you try to create a medieval atmosphere through aesthetic elements?

RR: I worked with an artist that helped bring that theme out in the artwork she produced. Just like people say we eat with our eyes, I believe the same is true with gaming; we game with our eyes. Meaning, you could play a very abstract game, where the mechanics work well and you have a good time playing, however the added theme will always make the game more of an experience. That is what I enjoy in a game, the experience. If I am going to spend a couple hours of my time playing a game, I want to not only have fun, but allow the theme to take me back to a place I have never been before.

LB: I noticed that you also create a reference to the Middle Ages through the use of certain motifs. For example, the Crusades and Vikings are also a theme in your work. Vikings seemed obvious to me with the theme of monasteries. But why did you decide to integrate crusades as an element in your game about a medieval abbey?

RR: The crusades were something that I had the idea about later in the game development, and I wanted to put something in the game that would enable some player interaction. Most the time with euro games, there is not much player interaction, and so I wanted to have some of that in The King’s Abbey, and crusades open the door for that. Crusades are one of those mechanics in the game that players can be open to interpretation.    

LB: To what extent did you try to capture the medieval theme in the material of the game, for example the buildings, and where did you get your information from?

RR: When developing The King’s Abbey, I wanted to put as much theme from medieval historic abbeys as I could, however I did not want to get bogged down with having to be so literal and precise historically with every component that is in the game.  With that said, I did do much research to find out what kinds of buildings there were during the 11th century that were connected to an abbey, and buildings that would be in a town close by.

LB: The supreme discipline is certainly to make the theme of a game tangible in the rules. Here, too, the question is how did you go about it?

RR: Rules are always the most difficult to write, because you not only have to make the game seem easy to get into, at the same time make players feel attracted to the theme as they read the rulebook. I feel like this was accomplished through the presentation of the artwork throughout the rulebook and adding explanations of how the certain mechanics of the game represented something from the era of the 11th century.

LB: As a medievalist, I notice that you repeatedly refer to a religious dimension in The King’s Abbey. For example, the peasants have to be baptised before they can work in the abbey buildings. Also, the darkness that threatens the players can be stopped not only by walls and fighters, but also by building a cloister or erecting an altar, what was your idea behind that? To what extent is your religious belief reflected in the game?

RR: Although I am a Christian, I did not set out to design this game for a “religious” audience.  With abbeys being a very central religious icon in that day, that had much power with people, so I wanted to manage that theme, being somewhat historical, without being too hysterical.  So, the baptism was just thematic element that seemed to work for a peasant working in the church.

LB: I just have a last question which interests me very much! How did you come up with the designations of the clerical levels? I was expecting something more like lay brother, monk, prior and abbot in a monastery setting. But you chose postulant, deacon, priest, bishop and cardinal. What was your reference level here? Did it also have something to do with your own work as a pastor?

RR: So the clergy levels were based upon the catholic church. I am protestant, so I don’t know a lot about how that works in the catholic church, so I had to do some research to come up with those clergy levels in the game. Abbeys back then were mostly catholic, and so the clergy levels in The King’s Abbey were not meant to be literal, but a broad approach to the steps a monk may have taken in their ministerial training.

Again, I must inject that The King’s Abbey this is not a literal representation of the working of abbeys, Vikings, peasants, and even the monks going on crusades.  Although these were part of the history, I wanted the game to be engaging, fun, and give people a sense of history, because I think we all need a good dose of history at times. And what a great way to be introduced to an era that someone may have never taken time to even think about.  I believe games like “The King’s Abbey” tells a story, and get’s people talking, and engaged with a time in history they would not have otherwise even thought about.

LB: Thank you for your time!

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Lukas Boch (2024, 25. Mai). Let’s build a medieval Abbey – Interview with Randy Rathert about the Boardgame The King’s Abbey. Boardgame Historian. Abgerufen am 16. Juni 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/11px2

Lukas Boch

Lukas Boch ist Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Seminar für Historische Theologie und ihre Didaktik an der WWU Münster. In seiner Promotion forscht er zu Brettspielen als (kirchen-)geschichtskulturelles Medium und untersucht hierbei kirchenhistorische Motive des Mittelalters im modernen Brettspiel. Lukas Boch ist Gründungsmitglied des Boardgame Historians und mitverantwortlich für die Website Mittelalter Digital.

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