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TGN Interview with Alessio Cavatore, creator of Loka: Fantasy Chess

Loka: Fantasy Chess, from Mantic, has 12 days to go up on Kickstarter. The creator of the game, Alessio Cavatore, recently sat down with TGN and had a chat about his history with Chess and a bit of the history behind his relation with Mantic Games.

And so here we go for another TGN Interview!

TGN: Can you go detail about your personal experiences with Chess during your> life and the influences it has had? 

Alessio: My dad has given me a wooden chessboard as a present when I was very young... I'm guessing around ten. I still remember the smell of the wooden pieces in their wooden box with the sliding lid. I also had a great book teaching chess to kids with lovely cartoony illustrations showing each piece as a medieval knight/warrior/character as it taught you how to move them. For years I thought that the classic shape of the bishop represented a knight's helmet's visor. Only much later in life (and with some disappointment!) I learned it was a bishop's hat! I think that part of the confusion arose from the fact that I was living in Italy, and the names of the pieces are quite different there: the bishop is called 'alfiere' (literally: 'ensign, in the old meaning of 'standard bearer'), and the knight is called a 'cavallo' (lit. 'horse'). So you understand why I imagined the bishop as the armored foot knight carrying the king's standard...

Anyway, I played chess as a kid, up to a point of playing in a few tournaments for the school team, but never with great results. My picturing the board as a medieval battle was helped a great deal by the Battlechess computer game on Commodore 64. And then I started collecting chessboards from all over the world. My favorite has to be the hand-carved one my granddad brought me from a trip to Bali, which depicts Indonesian traditional deities in two different colored sandal wood... aaaaahhhh the fragrance of that chessboard! Funny how a lot of my chess memories are connected with the sense of smell... I also have a Russian one where the pieces look like traditional Russian Matrioska dolls. And one hand-painted in a mission in Africa, which a girlfriend bought for me at a charity event in Turin...

Anyway, I never became really good at chess, as I was scared off by the too much studying that one must do to be really competitive, and I lapsed into a normal 'play with friends now and then' kinda routine. A few years later I discovered wargaming and became quite good at it, to the point of making it into a career... and one night many years ago I remember thinking about chess exchange theory, and the fact that normally all pieces are measured in terms of 'how many pawns they are the equal of'. Well, the thought struck me, but isn't that just a points value system? Pawn is the unit, worth 1, and everything else a multiple of it... and so it begun. I wondered: if a chess master was asked to pick an army with points, what would he go for? Since then the idea of creating a chess-wargame has been a consuming thought, as demonstarted by the birth in 2008  of River Horse games, my company, created with the very objective of making Shuuro, my first attempt at bringing that idea to life. Shuuro (and its 4-players expansion Turanga) have been great fun, and more importantly, have served as testbed for Loka, which is one step closer to fantasy wargaming, and with the resources of Kickstarter behind it, is getting a lot closer to the coronation of that dream that was born so many years ago, in a distant land...

TGN: How did the formation of the game happen and how did you pitch it to various companies to make?

Alessio: Actually, it did not quite happen that way. My approach to Shuuro/Turanga/Loka has always been a little more entrepreneurial – I really want to own these games, you see. So I founded River HOrse with a few friends, and we made Shuuro and Turanga literally under our own steam, investing our own cash (and turning our garages into warehouses!), but Loka needed a considerably more massive investment, as we wanted to produce the pieces in plastic, and that process has very high starting cost, as the tools for casting in plastic are extremely expensive. So we saw an opportunity in crowdfunding, which would have allowed us to raise the cash to produce those plastic tools. So we teamed up with Mantic, which bring to the joint venture their Kickstarter expertise, their community and their manufacturing and distribution/sales network. In return, of course they get a product already designed, which means they can keep their studio focused on developing their own games, like Kings of War, Warpath Dreadball.

TGN: How did your relationship with Mantic evolve over that time?

Alessio: Well, after leaving GW in 2010, River Horse has designed Kings of War for Mantic, one year later we've written Warpath, and more recently we were involved with the high level design of Dreadball.

TGN: Fair enough. How did your relationship with Mantic actually start, anyawy?

Alessio: It started at Salute 2010, actually. We were in the hotel bar (I was having depth charges to celebrate my turning full-time self-employed...), and Ronnie was buying me the next drink, when we were approached by a very drunk Irishman (...Warren from Beasts of War!), which spluttered something like: "Ronnie, this guy is good, you should really get him to write you some rules for Mantic! Hic!". The rest, as they say, is history...

TGN: We've got the various factions coming and the standard Chess characters, but what about 2 or 3 years down the road. What place does Loka make for itself in the gaming community in the long-term? What will its legacy be?

Alessio: Well, clearly Loka is going to replace chess as the most played game in the world. Or maybe not quite... but if the game proves popular enough and gets its own following, I would love to add armies to it... and yes, as many have asked, eventually the armies will have their on powers I suspect, as an optional rule, either at the end of this Kickstarter or as an expansion. The one thing I'd really love to do was to create a version of Loka with a map of the world of Loka divided in territories that people can capture by moving armies around the board. When two armies clash, that battle can be resolved with a game of Loka, allowing for campaign games that link battles together in order to conquer an Empire. A four-player variant is also high on my agenda, as I think that, like Turanga, it'd make a really really excellent team game. The game is played by two teams of two players, you see, and you cannot talk about the game about the game once it starts... creating the funniest and most exciting of team dynamics... and there is potentially a link with another project that will follow Loka as the next River Horse game... but that's another story...  ;-)

As always, our thanks to Alessio for his time in answering our questions. I'd also like to thank Chris Palmer for setting up the interview.