Star Wars Force Grab: Here’s Where the Fun Begins

Go behind the scenes of a new board game -- and prepare to let the Wookiee win.

Star Wars Force Grab is an exciting new family game from the fast-growing game company Wonder Forge and I was thrilled to help bring it to life. I’m Jay Wheatley, executive producer, and I supervise a Seattle-based game development team of product designers, graphic artists, writers, sculptors, and engineers. Force Grab carries on the Wonder Forge tradition of offering experiences that bring favorite characters and stories to life in new and innovative ways through quality game play. Here’s a behind the scenes look at the making of this game.

We’ve been designing award-winning board games for years and had always talked about how great it would be if we could create games based on Star Wars. When the opportunity came our way, we were all so jazzed. Everyone was buzzing about the possibilities. We had made a game a few years earlier called Spotcha in which you toss these rubbery sculpted objects onto the table and they land in funny ways and, based on how they land, players race to grab scoring tokens. It was a blast to play and the objects were all random nonsense we came up with. We always knew it would be great to make the game with a familiar brand so all the objects would be recognizable things people would want to own and feel in their hands. Star Wars was a perfect match and the game was a great way to combine a bunch of different iconic characters, ships, and props from the six movies.

Lucasfilm was on board with the idea and we got going on developing a list of possible objects. Well, that’s pretty hard because there are literally hundreds of cool elements from the films and of course everyone has their opinion! Not to date myself but I saw Star Wars for the first time in a drive-in theater, and this was before it was referred to as Episode IV or A New Hope — it was just Star Wars and the whole world was flipping out. The most iconic elements for me came from those first three films. Meanwhile, many of the designers in our studio are younger and were throwing out characters and vehicles from the prequel trilogy that I had to go look up more often than I’d like to admit. Apparently my mind wasn’t storing every nugget like it was when I was an obsessed kid and could name every creature in the cantina.

The objects had to fulfill a bunch of other qualities to work for the game, including landing in different ways, so that ruled out a couple of items that would always land the same way, like the holographic chess game from the Millennium Falcon or, as with the Death Star, would just roll off the table. We had a few ideas that may have grossed some folks out like Luke’s hand or the tauntaun with its guts spilled out — we knew a lot of fans would appreciate that but many consumers wouldn’t. And some ideas would have required way too much deco paint details — we had a budget to stick to (R2-D2 made it in the game — how could he not? — even though his deco is super-complicated).

Sculpting the objects was a little rough going at first. We got a hold of 3D computer files for a lot of the objects and tried to use them, but it turned out they were intended for use in video games, which presented a bunch of different challenges. For one, they were missing the details we needed, presumably because that was handled with a texture map (a picture with all the details like pipes and vents skinned onto the rather simple framework to make computer processing faster). The other issue is that the different surfaces of the model were not always attached. Often, they just floated near each other in space! That’s okay in a video game apparently but doesn’t work when trying to make a real thing out of plastic. So after trying to wrestle these files into shape by repairing them and adding details, we mostly just re-sculpted everything, very carefully. Our contact at Lucasfilm is, of course, a Star Wars expert and made sure we got every curve and every proportion as perfect as possible because, as she pointed out, Star Wars fans will know the difference. That’s how iconic these things are. We felt a tremendous responsibility to deliver, so we were game to get it right.

With 15 objects, it made sense to group them up in the molds at the factory rather than having them all separate, so that meant a couple had to be molded in white, and a few others in the same gray, and then it got into tricky stuff like green and brown. Could the dewback and Boba Fett’s helmet be molded in the same green? In the end we squeezed in more colors, which required extra effort but was worth it, in order to hit the right authenticity (and the dewback and Boba Fett helmet each got their own perfect greens!).

The name of the game came at the very end of the development process — just a few weeks before we shipped all the files to the factory. We had been calling the game Star Wars Spotcha for months and though we knew what Spotcha was — the game upon which this product was based — virtually nobody else did, including retailers or consumers. So we had some misgivings about that name. During game-play testing we noticed how players would sit on the edge of their seats with their hands clutched in the air waiting to be the first to grab the scoring tokens once the objects were rolled. This reminded us of the way Jedi are seen using the Force, holding their hand out, tense with energy. (If Luke were playing the game he’d just grab a scoring token by pulling it into his hand with the Force like he grabbed his lightsaber in the wampa cave on Hoth!) The name “Force Grab” seemed to capture it perfectly.

The final game is something we’re really proud of. It’s incredibly fast-paced (a game can be completed in about 15 minutes) and our testers claimed it to be quite addictive. In a family game night scenario, we noticed that kids often beat their parents — their reflexes and short-term memory skills being sharper! Everyone plays each round, so no one is ever waiting for a turn — which keeps everyone in the action. I hope Star Wars fans enjoy it as much as we did making it!

For more on Star Wars Force Grab, visit Wonder Forge at wonderforge.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

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