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Press [Chaosium] Horror on the Orient Express: The Board Game Design Journal #3 – Analysing Expectations

Michael O'Brien

HotOE Design Diary

Call of Cthulhu's Horror on the Orient Express has long been revered as one of the most iconic and acclaimed horror campaigns in tabletop roleplaying — so we're very excited that a new board game adaption is coming! In this design journal series, co-designers Adam Kwapiński and Michał Gołąb Gołębiowski share insights on the development of the new game, which is to be launched on Kickstarter in 2024, and released in early 2025.
Post by Michał Gołąb Gołębiowski

Analysing Expectations​

In the previous Design Diary entries, Adam told the story on how everything started. Now, let me take you through the initial phases of our design process.

Both Adam and I have created many games over the years, so when we first sat down to work together we had many differing ideas on what a proper board game design process should look like. But fortunately our dieas on the first step was very much the same: answering the question of what the game should actually be? This is where we asking ourselves: if someone told me about the game today, what would it be about? If I bought the game today, what would I expect to see in the box? If I got to play the game today, how would I expect it to go? Now you can see the pattern: analyzing expectations, as they are guides to making an exciting board game.

We appreciate we are standing on the shoulders of giants - the Horror on the Orient Express TTRPG campaign is a magnificent theatrical experience, building off both the supernatural world of Cthulhu and the amazing tension of Agatha Christie's train-confined mystery. So we thought: let's have our first first prototype represent everything that fulfills these obligations!

So, firstly, the passengers: a proper story needs the protagonists, the antagonists and the supporting actors. This last group is key – while most board games do feature the players and their opponents, it is very rare for the game world to be actually populated. Here we placed on board the train some 20 passengers the players can interact with, each with their own attitude! There are three types of people: investigators, controlled by players; suspects, a small subset of passengers, each hiding secrets (and some of whom are the cultists); and the unsuspecting fellow travelers who have yet to realize what is happening.

Next, the train – and I mean THE TRAIN: the stage for the dramaturgy of events in the game, and the physical bounds for characters to move around. Obviously we want to evoke the Orient Express is as seen in the original HotOE campaign. And the Train does not go through a void. Actually it sort of does, as we've based the story around the Dreamlands part of the campaign journey, but that's even better! We've created a long set of tracks going by a long line of ever changing landscapes that the train encounters on its unstoppable way forward.

Then the obligatory Mythos creatures, the stuff of nightmares lurking around in the darkness outside the train, waiting for people to stumble.

And the last one, but very important to the game and the story: the evil antagonist (who we shall not name here), moving from car to car unhindered with its own agenda.

Putting all these elements together, we knew there was an amazing game somewhere in there. But we also understood that the devil is in the details, and so now it was time to start the real work – turning our vision into a reality, and making this board game true to its legacy.


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