Wondering why you'd play The Elden Ring board game? Think of it like new game plus

Elden Ring: The Board Game miniature up close
(Image credit: Future)

There's an uncomfortable sort of question that always comes up with adaptations like Elden Ring: The Board Game. Why would you play this tabletop version when you can simply turn on the video game you (probably) already own? Having worked on and shipped multiple reimaginings for Steamforged Games, it's a problem lead designer Sherwin Matthews has had to grapple with multiple times. For him, the answer is simple - it should be a remix of what you already know, both surprising and familiar in equal measure. A 'new game plus', if you will.

"It's a celebration of your favorite game. It's a new way to interact with that game," Matthews tells me when we catch up about Elden Ring: The Board Game. "My experience was very much a solo one. Yeah, all my friends are talking about how much they love this game. 'Oh my God, I love this moment when XYZ happened'. But for the most part, I'm sitting in my room, I'm playing solo on my TV. The board game allows you to really embrace a collaborative experience. At that point, it's a whole different experience, because now we're working as a team to overcome this game. That's a significant shift in how to interact with this property. And I think that's always key because of the social contract that's really important about sitting around the table. You're hanging out with your friends, you're interacting with this game, enjoying this world that you love."

A different kind of pioneering

Elden Ring: The Board Game miniatures and boxes

Elden Ring is the latest of a dozen Kickstarters that Steamforged has run, many of which were also video game adaptations (Image credit: Future)

For the team at Steamforged, Elden Ring (which is nearing the end of its campaign on Kickstarter) is like coming full circle. The studio began its journey with a Dark Souls adaptation in 2016 that raised a record-breaking £3.7million, and now it's returning to a From Software IP once again.

However, Matthews reveals that the team has learned some hard lessons since then.

"I'll address the elephant in the room," he says. "We know that Dark Souls wasn't necessarily the smoothest of deliveries on Kickstarter, which is, sadly enough, I suspect something that's become quite the norm now. But if I genuinely look at the Dark Souls campaign, and I'm certainly not trying to cast shade anywhere else, or be revisionist in the understanding of it… [but] it is something where it's the worst kind of pioneering. That was our first big Kickstarter, and since then we've done, I think 11 more. We've learned a whole bunch about how to space [content] out, how to approach it, how to make it more concisely deliverable, how to make it something where it's just more manageable from a logistics perspective."

We don't want this to feel like you're rushing through the greatest hits

Sherwin Matthews

This is demonstrated by Elden Ring: The Board Game's focus. As we mentioned in our hands-on preview, it's just the first of many installments and zooms in on the starting area rather than trying to cram everything into one box. While that might seem like an odd decision at first, it ties into Steamforged's emphasis on capturing how its inspirations make you feel.

"Elden Ring is very much about attention to detail," Matthews observes. "It's a lavish journey. You spend hours exploring the landscape looking for really obscure details and obfuscated lore and diving into the gameplay, completely immersing yourself. And the more that we discussed it, [the more we decided] that's what we want. We don't want this to feel like you're rushing through the greatest hits. We want you to play this and really savor the experience."

Less remake, more remix

Elden Ring: The Board Game miniatures and cards up close

Although a lot about Elden Ring: The Board Game will be familiar, how you engage with it should feel very different (Image credit: Future)

Part of the Elden Ring video game's appeal is the very personal journey you'll go on, upgrading your character and forever looking to the horizon in search of a new challenge. Translating that to tabletop was a big focus for the team, but it raised problems of its own. Namely, how to keep everyone engaged when it's not their go - a problem seen even with the best board games.

"We've all played those games where it's like, 'OK, you're in combat. Cool. I'll go make a cup of tea'. Or someone grabs their phone and starts updating their socials," Matthews says. But Elden Ring is different. To be precise, "you're arranging the initiative while someone else is playing their exploration stage, then it comes to a quickfire round of combat, then it goes back around to the exploration. And turn time changes very little. You're looking at your turn lasting somewhere between one to two minutes, whether you're exploring or whether you're in combat, and oftentimes a lot less than that. Players don't have downtime at the table and everyone's constantly engaged, which is really important to us. Everything does kind of overlap and feed into each other. So that way, there's a sense of a very holistic system, rather than lots of discrete bits that are going on in different areas."

With those changes in place, was it ever tempting to shake things up and wield the editor's pen on certain sections of the game? According to Matthews, not really - but that doesn't mean things will play out beat-for-beat.

We can introduce some characters that you meet perhaps a touch earlier to give you those quests which then carry on throughout the entire campaign

Sherwin Matthews

"One of the reasons I think we work so well with our licenced partners is because we're incredibly respectful of their property," he tells me. "We certainly don't want to be something where, because of something that happens in our game, one interaction is very different when you play the video game because you know some backstory that you didn't [or shouldn't] know before. You're more likely to, well, maybe you won't see Patches in the same cave as when you first encountered them. For example, you might find them out on the beach, or, you know, outside the shack somewhere else, that sort of thing. That works fine, purely because these are things where you want to have that level of interaction, you want to have that randomized, because that's actually quite cool and interesting to engage with. But key moments we're not going to be changing. 

The most we've talked about is perhaps introducing a couple of characters a touch earlier in the game. Because obviously, one of the things we've talked about is that our game is something you could carry on playing [with other installments]. So we can introduce some characters that you meet perhaps a touch earlier to give you those quests which then carry on throughout the entire campaign across several different boxes."

This is what gives Elden Ring: The Board Game its 'new game plus' feel. The blend of exploration and tough-as-nails battle is one fans are well-versed in, and that's certainly present here. But as Matthews points out, the land of Limgrave won't feel exactly like it did before - it has some new tricks up its familiar sleeve.

We'll have to wait until it joins other board games for adults in 2023 to see if Steamforged has been successful in this reimagining of Elden Ring, but considering the Kickstarter's popularity, it seems like fans are very keen to re-enter that world.

Until Elden Ring comes out, you can get busy mastering the best cooperative board games, these must-have board games for 2 players, or perhaps even the best tabletop RPGs.

Benjamin Abbott
Tabletop & Merch Editor

As the site's Tabletop & Merch Editor, you'll find my grubby paws on everything from board game reviews to the latest Lego news. I've been writing about games in one form or another since 2012, and can normally be found cackling over some evil plan I've cooked up for my group's next Dungeons & Dragons campaign.