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Sean “Fletch” Fletcher, Senior Game Designer at The Op | USAopoly, tells us how the team translated a hugely popular mobile gaming experience into an exciting new board game brand.
The popular mobile game Disney Sorcerer’s Arena is getting a tabletop makeover courtesy of The Op | USAopoly.
The app game, which sees Disney characters go head-to-head in strategic battles, has garnered millions of downloads since launching in 2020, and The Op’s official board game adaptation – Disney Sorcerer’s Arena: Epic Alliances – lands this Spring.
We caught up with Sean “Fletch” Fletcher, Senior Game Designer at The Op, to find out more about the design process behind the game – and why the future already looks bright for it.
Fletch, it’s great to catch up. Let’s dive into this exciting new game. Disney Sorcerer’s Arena is a popular app game. What made it ripe for the tabletop treatment?
Well, there are a bunch of answers to that question, but I’ll start with this. At its heart, the app is a tactical strategy game with a nearly infinite number of ways you can configure a team. That means there’s a lot to explore, and a lot of replayability baked in.
As a board gamer, those are things that I look for when I dive into something new to play. I knew that if I could capture that aspect of the app, the board game could be something really special. I think we hit a home run in that regard.
Second, the app does something that had never really been done before in Disney-licensed board games. It allows for heroes and villains from vastly different stories and properties to interact directly with each other, both as teammates and as rivals. Being able to bring that element of the app to the tabletop game made this a very exciting endeavour.
I imagine with these kinds of adaptations, you have to walk a fine line between being respectful to the app, while also creating something new. How did you approach walking that line?
Once I’d played the app for a while and gotten a feel for what it did well, it wasn’t too challenging for me to see places where the app mechanics could translate fairly seamlessly to a tabletop model. By steering into those elements, I knew I could create a game that felt faithful to the things players loved about the app.
I’m also a huge fan of Disney and Pixar movies, so going into this I had a good feel for the personalities of the different characters we wanted to include — and when I felt that I didn’t know the character as well as I could, I had a great excuse to watch some movies with my family!
Yes, as far as research goes, that doesn’t sound like too great a chore! Are there things that worked in the app that proved tough to translate into the board game?
The app has something of a “last man standing” flow to it, where, for the most part, once a character gets knocked out of a battle, they’re gone for good until the next game starts. That works well for a digital game where matches are meant to last three minutes, but it wasn’t going to work for a board game experience where people wanted games to feel more substantial.
Of course! So how did you crack that nut?
The solution was twofold: first, I had to let characters return to the Arena after getting knocked out, and second, I needed something that made those knockouts matter over the long run rather than just in the moment. The answer was to give each character a “Victory Point” value that would be awarded to an opponent whenever that character was knocked out.
It gave me a lot of design space to play with too, as it meant that characters could be individually balanced by giving them different Victory Point values. A character that had a smaller impact on the game could be worth fewer victory points, while a really dominant character could be worth more.
That in turn opened up some really cool depth of strategy, where a player could intentionally pick a team of characters that didn’t hit as hard as their rivals, knowing that the other player would have to knock their characters out more times to score enough points to win.
The collectability of characters is a big draw with the app game. Are there plans to lean into that and welcome more characters to Epic Alliances down the line?
I don’t want to spoil too many details, but yes, expansion content has been part of the plan from the very beginning. The app had about 50 or 60 playable characters when we began this project, and today it’s got over 140 of them. There are so many characters that we can pick from to adapt for Disney Sorcerer’s Arena: Epic Alliances that it’s often difficult to narrow down who we’d like to design next!
What I can say is that we’ve worked hard to ensure that the variety of characters joining the battle is always exciting. We’ve got some popular fan favourites lined up that we know players will be thrilled to see, and we’ve got characters that I think a lot of people will be surprised by. We’ve had a couple where – when I proposed them to our team internally – I got some funny looks, but as soon as the external playtesters got to see what we’d done with them, they were instant hits!
Speaking of characters, each has their own set of skills, movements and actions. What was the process like ensuring these elements felt authentic to each character? Like the Travel By Door skill for Monsters Inc’s Sulley!
The app gave us plenty of actions and abilities to build our characters around, so some of that foundational heavy lifting was already done for us. Between that and my depth of knowledge of Disney IPs — I totally geek out over this stuff — designing the functions of each character just sort of flowed. It was usually more a matter of making sure the game needed a character of a particular archetype at any given time.
You mentioned Sulley; he’s an awesome ‘tank’ character in the app, meaning it’s his job to be the guy on your team who draws all your opponent’s attention away from more fragile characters. It was easy to see how the tabletop game could use a character like that in the overall balance of the Core Set. For that, I carried over everything I could from the app to our game that kept Sulley focused on that role. When I needed to design additional cards and skills for him, I made sure they stayed true to Sulley’s ‘job’ in the game and his personality as a heroic, selfless protector.
Something that you’ll find in Disney Sorcerer’s Arena: Epic Alliances that wasn’t as present in the app is the element of movement and board position. In the app, characters are arranged in certain configurations from the start of each match, and they don’t move from those positions during the fight. I really wanted movement to be something that mattered for a few reasons.
Movement made many actions more (or less) effective at different stages of the game; being close to a character made this card more effective to use now, while being further away made a different card more useful. Additionally, having an element of movement gave us a reason to physically put the characters on a game board. If the relative locations of characters wasn’t important, then there would have been no need for the movers, and those acrylic movers are some of the coolest components of the game!
Down the line, and without giving anything too top secret away, is there a particular character or film that you’d be excited to bring into the game down the road?
That’s quite a rabbit hole to dive down!
I’d mentioned earlier that we’ve got expansions planned, so some of those future sets already have characters that I chose because I was personally excited about including them. Some of them actually came about by me wondering: “Will Disney let us do that?” And in most of those cases, the answer was “Yes!” We have some great partners at Disney who’ve been very on board with our vision of making a game that constantly surprises people in awesome ways.
The app just recently added some characters that I’ve loved for years. I’d be thrilled to find a place in the board game for Milo Thatch or Emperor Kuzco, though I think it’ll be a while before I find a set where they’re perfect fits.
I’d love to see the app add characters from Encanto so that we can reimplement them into the tabletop experience; there are just so many vibrant characters in that film with great abilities that would make them really compelling parts of Disney Sorcerer’s Arena: Epic Alliances.
All in all, making this game has been an absolute joy. From the internal team at The Op, to the partners at Disney, and all of the playtesters I’ve built a community with, I couldn’t be any happier about the road that’s gotten us here. The only thing that I can imagine will beat this is the day I get to see people playing it at home or in gaming shops, and hear the reactions they have to the game as they explore it for the first time.
Fletch, a huge thanks for taking time out for this. And good luck for the launch of the game.
Thanks for your questions, this was great!
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