Marco Arnaudo has recently released Four Against the Great Old Ones, a pen-and-paper solo game that pits intrepid investigators against Lovecraftian cults and entities in the 1930s.
But who is Marco Arnaudo? Marco is a scholar of history and culture, a family man, a martial artist, a carnivorous plants enthusiast, and a big time solo-player!
Now, let’s see how good professor Arnaudo is at answering questions.
1 Hello Marco. Tell us about Four Against the Great Old Ones as if you were trying to sell it to your aunt!
My aunts are all dead or insane, so it’s perfect; it’s like they played the game already. FatGOO (also known as “Fat Goo”) is a solo and cooperative narrative game set in the world of H. P. Lovecraft. It is based on the core engine of Four against Darkness, but it is a standalone game, and contains significant deviations adopted to fit the theme. The players start controlling a party of four investigators, and may recruit many helpers along the way. A great ritual is rumored to take place in 40 days to summon one of six possible cosmic horrors. The players must discover the clues to identify the location of the ritual, and must rush there to prevent the completion of the ritual. Happy now, aunt Pina?
2 Let’s talk about design. How long did you work on it? Was it a night job? How would you describe your creative process?
I’ve been playing FaD for a long time, and I had been toying with the idea of a Lovecraftian version for almost as long. Originally I thought of a dungeon crawler in which you’d explore a modular temple, but it felt too derivative, and did not really capture the spirit of Lovecraft’s cosmic dread. In the last year I reread basically all of Lovecraft’s works (including the collaborations), and made notes about the elements I wanted to include. Once I did that, and I was inspired by Four against the Titans to use an outdoors map, I started filling up encounter tables for different locations using my notes. I probably started doing this last January. At that point, I playtested it furiously to tighten and smoothen all parts, create connections between locations, ensure that it was balanced (by which I mean: lethal), and most importantly check that it was fun. By May I had a solid draft, which I sent out to external playtesters. They gave me further recommendations but overall said they really enjoyed the game. And here we are!!
3 Let’s get deeper into design. Four Against Darkness is a dungeon crawl game, and you adapted it to become a more story-driven game. Which was the hardest part of designing FAtGOO? And which was the easiest?
A big change I implemented from FaD to increase the narrative sense is that most events can be resolved only once per game. In FaD you can encounter hordes of goblins over and over again, and that’s ok, but how does it make sense to keep meeting Herbert West or Keziah Mason multiple times, always as if for the first time? I think by making most encounters unique I vastly increased the narrative element of the experience.
The hardest part was to fit all the most fascinating locations from Lovecraft’s world in a single map. I could set the story in the U.S. only, but then how would I include the settings of At the Mountains of Madness, Under the Pyramids, or The Temple? or I could use a world map, but then I would miss the original focus, which still is the U.S. The solution I found manages to hold together these two perspectives (I think!).
The easiest part was where to place most of the content. I wanted to be as faithful to Lovecraft as possible, so things generally speaking are in my game where Lovecraft placed them in his works. In some cases the location is undefined or underdefined in the original works, so I adopted my personal interpretation, and that was fun to decide.
4 Let’s talk about the publishing side of it. How did you get to publish FAtGOO with Ganesha Games?
Since my game was based on FaD, it was a natural choice to approach Andrea Sfiligoi and ask him if he’d be interested in publishing it. Which he did, hooray!
5 Are you satisfied with the reception it got so far?
It has only been 2 weeks or so, but all the reception has been very positive. Early players have spotted some mistakes that had escaped proofreading, and that we were able to correct before we produced the first printed copies. People seem to be having a good time with it, which is the point of course!!
6 Are you thinking of making more games? Are you already working on something game-related?
I am working on the first expansion for Fat Goo, Carcosa Rising, based on elements of the mythos coming from Bierce and Chambers. I also recently had a skirmish miniature game accepted by a major publisher. It is called Pulp!! and it is set in the fabulous world of the pulp fiction of the 1930s. It should come out in 2021, or 2022.
7 You are quite fond of solo and of historical games. Can you suggest a beginners-friendly game, and one for expert players?
For beginners, any game in the States of Siege system. For advanced players, D-Day at Omaha Beach.
8 You frequently play with your kids. How old are they, and what games have engaged them the most? Any tips for playing with kids?
They are 8 and 10. They both like fantasy games and eurogames, and the 8yo also likes historical wargames. The trick to playing with kids is: let them win the first game, to get them hooked, and then play honestly. Also, get them started ASAP, and ignore the age indications on the box. They have zero value.
9 Now let’s get back to your aunt. Please explain to her your book, Storytelling in the Modern Board Game: Narrative Trends from the Late 1960s to Today!
Ok aunt Pina, you haven’t read a single book in your life, and you only speak Piedmontese, but you are really going to enjoy this book in English. Also you hate games, so this is really an opportunity for you to branch out and discover how games learned to tell stories between the late 1960s and now. First wargames influenced the invention of role-playing games, and RPGs in return lent their narrative perspective to board games. The book tells the development of narrative trends in tabletop gaming in the constant interaction between board games and RPGs.
Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. It may make me sound basic, but it is what it is.
11 I know, they were supposed to be 10, but I have one more question before we say goodbye. Please point us to a song you think we should listen to.
Too Many Friends by Placebo!
Great song. Thank you Marco! Bye!