Q&A: Designing the low-key, but highly engaging Wintermoor Tactics Club

EVC founder Ben Walker discusses the design decisions behind Wintermoor Tactics Club.

It's turned out to be a bountiful spring for turn-based strategy game developers. While Firaxis Games and Splash Damgae have gone head to head with XCOM: Chimera Squad and Gears Tactics, the developers at EVC have released Wintermoor Tactics Club, a quieter, but no less fascinating experience. 

Wintermoor Tactics Club stood out to us because it trades the high stakes of most tactics games for a novel-esque high school drama. It's as if the snowball fight scene from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance were spread out to an entire game. 

To satisfy our curiosity about this major choice, and answer a few other questions, we reached out to EVC founder Ben Walker to discuss the design pillars of Wintermoor Tactics Club. 

Wintermoor Tactics Club neatly merges a visual novel with classic turn-based tactics. Both games require lots of different types of content, but for different reasons. What was your strategy for managing a full game incorporating both key systems?

It was a team effort. The turn-based tactics were handled by our combat designer Ryan, while the visual novel portions were handled by our narrative team, Kyla and Mike. Our strategy was to have clear design pillars, and a culture of cross-discipline communication and playtesting. We really wanted both sides of the game to feed into and support each other, rather than being two separate games packaged as one. And we had to do it on a very low budget. It required a lot of cutting.

You’ve chosen to make a tactics game based around a relatively low-key setting! Unlike the world-threatening stakes of Gears Tactics, or XCOM Chimera Squad’s cop shenanigans, your heroes are in snowball fights. What design decisions did you make to still make this format choice compelling?

The most resonant narratives aren’t necessarily the ones with the most at stake. We wanted to make a game that was relatable, while still feeling like goofy fun — I really didn’t want to make another Metaphor For Depression. Plus, smaller stakes can be represented on a smaller budget. We were lucky to have a great narrative team in Mike and Kyla, whose writing was snappy enough to carry players’ interest without needing to introduce Secret Government Agencies or World-Destroying Pillars Of Energy.

As a small team, what do you think you and your colleagues did well in making Wintermoor Tactics Club? What do you wish you could have done better?

The superpower of being a small team is, we’re able to iterate fast and there’s no “adult in the room” restricting our design decisions. We were able to push the envelope, playtest fast and often, and do whatever we wanted without external friction. What we could have done better? That’s probably mostly money-related: it would have been nice to have more person-hours devoted to some tasks.

Wintermoor Tactics Club is unfortunately releasing under the shadow of a global pandemic. What’s it been like to finish this game in these particularly tough times?

Thankfully, we were already nearly done with development before the pandemic started. Our launch plans were definitely hurt when all the conventions we planned on showing at got cancelled. I have a beautiful light-up Wintermoor Tactics Club sign in my garage that got used exactly once (at PAX East, right before everything shut down). It may seem odd, but it was nice to have something positive to focus on while there was so much uncertainty. But we hope that Wintermoor Tactics Club can give people a cozy experience to snuggle up with in these tough times.

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