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Filmmaker Diary: The Story of Arnak, and The Finale of CGE’s “Making Board Games”

by E. Papadopoulou

Czech Games Edition‘s docuseries “Making Board Games” just launched its eighth and final episode with the story of Lost Ruins of Arnak.

To celebrate the finale of the series, Gus, a member of CGE’s team, interviewed Eleni Papadopoulou, CGE’s in-house content creator behind the series, to discuss the process of creating this ambitious, history-spanning project.

Youtube Video

Gus: Now that you’ve reached the end of the series, I’m curious what you learned. Did your approach to the project change over time?

Eleni: Well, I didn’t know the story before I started. I started filming at a company retreat in the summer of 2022, with the idea that the interviews I was doing would tell me the story of CGE. I knew I wanted to focus on those who had been with the company for the longest periods of time, and this was a good opportunity to get everyone together at once. I came with questions in mind, but I wanted the driving force of the series to be the words and experiences of CGE’s designers and company members.

It was only later, when I sat down to watch the interviews in editing, that I reflected on my own role in telling the story. Each interview I did would eventually be segmented across some or all of the eight episodes, and the editing decisions I had to make changed the story I was telling. I had always wanted the series to be about people telling stories, but the way I thought about my own role in getting those stories told evolved as I edited all the interviews I had shot into cohesive episodes.

Gus: In general, what do you feel like you learned about the subjects that you interviewed?

Eleni: Learning that CGE came out of this larger gaming culture that existed in the Czech Republic fascinated me.

One of the regrets I have about the series is that I couldn’t spend more time digging into the context and the history of the hobby’s footprint in the country as its influence seemed so present across everyone I talked to. The key lesson here for me was how significant of an influence this culture of gaming had on everyone I interviewed, how games shaped not just the professional part of these peoples’ lives, but the personal as well.

I was very moved by the fact that each subject found what they were looking for, in one way or another, in board gaming. For everyone at CGE, board games really did become more significant than a career, and I think that’s something that anyone in the hobby can relate to.

Gus: The last episode focuses on Arnak, a game that has resonated with a lot of players. What do you think makes the game so special?

Eleni: With Arnak, the designers — Mín and Elwen — and the developers took care of all the small details, and it shows. The length of the game, the amount of downtime that players experience, and the emotions that drive the gameplay are so finely tuned.

A great example of how precise those emotions are is how the game incorporates a sense of exploration. At a thematic level, you find new things all the time — but then, at a mechanical level, that feeling of exploration is there to tell you that the game’s not going to restrict you. If it turns out you can’t do plan A, you can do plan B or plan C, and plans B and C might evolve from a new card appearing or a new site being discovered.

Image: Krzysiek and Karolina

And of course, the game’s engine building is spectacular. The game progresses steadily, and in the early rounds, you can’t do a lot, but the game reaches a climax in the last round, and it’s exciting for a player to see how far they’ve come and realize how much they can do.

Gus: Do you see Arnak as a logical extension of what has come before at CGE? Or as an evolution?

Eleni: I see Arnak as an evolution. The art and the world building in the game were done very differently, and having an expert development team, alongside expert artists, makes a huge difference to how the game plays and feels. CGE has always been good at world building, and with Arnak, it’s on another level. You’re not spending time reading lore; instead, every component of the game communicates the story and the history of this place. The detail and love that’s been put into all of that is just astounding.

And that detail extends to the development. Being able to test the game with a wide audience online, the designers got a lot of feedback. CGE’s process has always relied a lot on feedback, but it can be difficult to filter through all those voices at once. You have to be able to keep at it and find the right answers, and the team at CGE has learned how to do that over the company’s history.

Image: Wouter

Gus: What is the appeal of watching the full series, instead of just videos about the games in which you have interest?

Eleni: I wanted to tell the story of CGE because I think it’s very special. At the same time, its story has similarities to those of other companies that make games.

CGE didn’t start because the people involved wanted to make a company — they just wanted to find someone to publish a game. Really, that’s not too different from what we still do, and how we still think about getting our games out there.

Learning CGE’s whole story, you get to see them evolve from a group of people who wanted to publish a game to a publisher with an ethos that extends to each and every game they publish. Most of the designers I talked to would say that they wanted to bring something to board gaming that didn’t exist yet.​​ Over the course of the series, you can see the way CGE takes that search for innovation and makes it a part of their process. The company doesn’t really follow “best practices” as they are always trying to discover how to do parts of their process better. Through the story of their games and the people who made them, you actually get to see the evolution of CGE’s own development process.

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