One of our 10 Most Anticipated Board Games of Gencon, Charmed & Dangerous was a must-see for our trip to GenCon. Located at the capper of a one of the aisles and heralded by a lovely cosplayer of iconic Candy Barbarian Gretel, Th3rd World Studios was not hard to find. And not only was Dan able to sit down and get a demo of the game, but he was also able to score an interview with Th3rd World’s head honcho and the game’s lead designer Rob Gallerani, who’s debuting into the world of tabletop for the first time after a long career with video games (where he worked on Destiny 2, Guitar Hero, and more).
Dan Arndt: I guess the first thing I’m curious about is the genesis of [Charmed & Dangerous] where did the idea come from?
Rob Gallerani: So me and David worked together, we’ve worked together for a very long time, and my background is actually video game design. And I’m going on like 20 years, I worked for Activision and Blizzard.
DA: Oh, okay.
RG: But I love card games, I love board games and all that. And we wanted to do a princess game and we wanted to make them a little bit more badass. And then really it was “princess game” and the mechanic for using Charmings as a disposable resource.
Dan: That is—well, that is the second-best part of the game.
RG: And so, that was pretty much it when I started with working on the rules. And originally, it was a competitive game. We knew that we wanted a game that we could expand upon and that could be modular. So the way that I kinda designed it was like, okay, we need some system where we can mix and match who you’re fighting, who the big bad guy is and who your players are. And that kinda gave me two good things: one, when it came to us releasing expansions, they just plug right in, and two, it makes it different every single time you play it—like let’s try it with this variable and let’s try it with this variable. So…the other thing that I have is a pet peeve of mine from game design. A lot of times a game will be different just because the stats are different.
RG: And that really is boring to me; and so one of the big things I really want to do is I wanted things to have really big, meaningful change. And so when we designed all of the cards, all the princesses, all the powers it was like…So for example, one of the villainesses (EN: The Dark Fairy), she triggers when your stats go too high—when you’re too strong.
DA: That’s what we did—we did it deliberately, just for fun.
RG: Whereas the other villainess that comes in the pack is the Candy Witch. So in addition to making them be very different, I wanted to have a good story that you can tell by playing the game. So for example, the Candy Witch’s power, because in the myth she likes to fatten kids up and eat them, the way that her mechanic works is if ever you have too many cards in your hand, she puts you in a cage. And then what happens is while you’re in the cage she actually force-feeds you. So instead of drawing two cards a turn, you’re drawing four and you’re like “Oh, that’s great!” But the problem is is that you literally draw through your deck and lose. And so we get scenarios where it’s like, okay, Sleeping Beauty got put in the cage and so we made her put herself to sleep so she drew less cards and then she got the deck then she was drawing from the discard pile. So people were coming up with strategies that, from a mechanic standpoint, worked really well but also from a storytelling standpoint.
DA: Yeah, that’s actually pretty cool that this mythology works.
RG: And so then we just did lots of playtesting, changing numbers. Originally the game was super hard, like all the monsters were double the stats, so I mean that’s bad. And then we flipped the other way and then everything was too easy and so we were trying to figure out where to go with difficulty, and in the end just talked with people. Because it’s co-op, we erred on the side of more difficult and then we just wanted it to be really fun whether you win or lose, you’re still having a good time.
RG: Because especially like at a con and something like that, it really shows that people like a game that’s a challenge because you’re like “Oh cool we beat it, that was easy.” So yeah, that was a big deal. Also, actually the biggest challenge I had looking back is with a game that’s co-op, you get that quarterbacking problem where it’s like “Okay, Phil’s played this game a million times, he’s gonna tell us what to do.” And then, oddly enough, because everyone is fighting something but you’re all kinda working together to fight it but there’s still RNG, you really can’t overly plan.
DA: Yeah, that’s really good, cause that is a pet peeve of mine. I am not as good at strategy as other friends of mine so they tend to quarterback me. So that’s really good. Now, when it came to—the art’s beautiful—when it comes to the character designs, you definitely went to interesting places with the character design relative to the theme for fairytale princesses. So outside of the Dokkabi?
DA: I hadn’t heard of it until this game so these are all Western European myths but you’ve made Sleeping Beauty Hispanic-Mexican, Snow White is Chinese, and Cinderella is…
DA: Okay. So, was that just sort of a thing you wanted to do?
RG: So, we really wanted to be super mindful of diversity and inclusion, especially with a game that’s predominantly women. The other thing is we were very self- aware that it was two men working on it and so we’re like “Okay, let’s not do this in a bubble.” And so Sorah Suhng is our artist and we actually gave her a lot of free reign. So what happened was I think almost two years ago we had an initial meeting with her and I kinda set down the basic structure of what we wanted to lean into. And I was like, “Look, I have a rough idea of I want to base these off the myths but also depending on what direction you take the art style, we’ll lean more into that.” And so with Gretel, I was like, originally she had this thing where she never got lost because in the myth it was like she had her bread crumbs and everything. But when Sorah came back with this picture I’m like “Nope, she’s the barbarian now!”
Dan: Yeah, that’s fantastic.
Rob: And so we totally redid it and kinda let the artist go that way. We also were originally like, “Hey, you know, it’s a princess game, let’s gear it towards very young kids and everything like that.” And then we got the art back and we’re like “No this is more like teenager level.” And so we had a choice, we could either have Sorah change it or be like, “Sorah, what do you think?” and she was like “No, I love it, this is how we’re doing it” and we’re like “Alright!” and we just aged up the game a little bit. So kinda giving her the freedom to do that and just trying to reimagine certain things. So we’ve had some even more extreme ones, like we want to do Captain Nemo but as transgender. There’s so much open source material, Like, for example, a lot of people are like, “How do you get the rights for Dorothy Gale?” Well, you’ll notice our Dorothy Gale has silver slippers cause the book is public domain.
Rob: If we put red slippers on her, we would’ve been in trouble, but little things like that. So we obviously, we can have the Little Mermaid but we can’t have Ariel.
Dan: And that’s one benefit of doing the changing around is that’s very clearly not Disney’s Snow White, you know. Sleeping Beauty, I should say, but also Snow White.
Rob: Sleeping Beauty was super awesome in that it was just a whim that Sorah started playing with. She was like “I really want to do Day of the Dead” and I’m like “You know, we could make her a necromancer and instead of walking with the dead she puts herself to sleep” and I was like, that’s just perfect. Cause I was kinda like just happy with the collaboration.”
DA: I love that you went with a style and a kind of game from the get-go—I mean you see people who are taking these fairytales and stuff, they tend to go hard to the other end of things with the grimdark and the edgy and the blood. And while it’s violent and it’s dark in some ways, it’s not over-the-top. It’s Y-7, PG13, it’s not R like what people tend to do.
RG: So I have two daughters, they’re five and ten. And so I was—I wouldn’t have felt comfortable putting anything on a card where i’m like, “Okay.” Now I’m all for like, oh, my wife is an art historian so we know tons of paintings where it’s like “That’s a boob” but there’s also a tastefulness to it.
DA: Oh god, yeah.
RG: And so, sure yeah, fighting scary monsters but it’s not like we’re having things being eviscerated and like that.
DA: Yeah, I think the most fanservice you have is Gretel’s biceps, so…
DA: That kinda fits. So it Kickstarted very successfully earlier this year.So you’ve got the base set and then you have the two new princesses, Cinderella and Dokkaebi.
RG: Yes. So, essentially, we did the Kickstarter and we originally had it planned to all be, like we wanted everyone who had Kickstarted it to get it in the mail before we hit GenCon. Cause then we don’t run into that problem of people who Kickstarted it get it later. Unfortunately, getting things from across the world, no matter how much or well you plan, doesn’t always go that well. So most of all the Kickstarter games are actually on a boat. But we paid extra to kind of airdrop just a small subset so we’d have something to sell here. What you’re seeing with the fact that these are candy-coated ones is you can actually—in stores you’ll be able to buy the base game. In fact, the candy one is kind of a limited edition so whoever Kickstarted it got it and then we just got a couple extra for GenCon. But there’ll be a base game and then the expansion pack will come out later this year.
And so in the expansion pack, you’ll notice on the play mat there’s actually a villainess that doesn’t star in the game yet. She’s the Evil Queen from the Snow White myth and so in the expansion pack you’ll get the Evil Queen as well as Cinderella and Dokkaebi. The five-part pack that we have, that’s the alt variants of all of those characters. So that’s why you can actually get two characters those two princesses you get in the variant pack are actually variants on the original. There’s now way to get the original Cinderella or Dokkaebi. Dokkaebi is also fun cause like you said you knew all the other ones but not that one. Same with me, so the art on the Dokkaebi is actually a self-portrait of Sorah, our artist.
DA: Oh, nice!
RG: And she really wanted to do a fairy tale from her heritage and she picked a Korean myth. And I’m like “I have never heard of this” and so literally for like two weeks I’m doing all this research on this—and so it’s really cool for me, I get to do that and I’m like okay, they’re tricksters, they’re very bizarre like, how do I turn this into a game mechanic? But yeah, she’s actually the only princess that can also be a villainess.
DA: Oh yeah, that’s fun!
RG: Yeah, cause they myth is like sometimes they’ll help you, sometimes they screw you over so it’s very cool.
You can pre-order Charmed & Dangerous through CrowdOx, with the base game retailing for $20.00 and the “I Want Candy” Premium Edition (with holofoil sleeves and holofoil tarot cards) for $30.00.