One of the projects I was most excited to see at Playcrafting’s Fall Expo was Sumer by Studio Wumpus. I had the opportunity to talk with developer Geoffrey Suthers about his interesting digital board game. Mr. Suthers and I were both suffering from a case of notenoughicus sleepicus, a pervasive condition that affects both game developers and journalists. Still, we were able to soldier on and have a productive conversation about his game.
Sumer is a difficult game to describe. It has a lot of mechanics similar to a board game. Four players (either human or AI) make moves on the game board in real-time over a short period. At the conclusion of a resource-gathering round the players are faced with an auction where they bid for various buffs and power-ups that can give them an edge. Studio Wumpus has smartly prepared a a short video describing the basics of Sumer which can probably explain it far better than I can with just words.
TechRaptor: Tell me about [Sumer]. I get kind of like a Carcassonne/Settlers of Catan-esque kind of vibe. You’re trying to get resources and get towards a certain goal. That’s what spoke to me first. Gather resources, make it up to the top of the temple, and beat out the other players?
Geoffrey Suthers: Sumer is a real-time digital board game. It focuses on bringing the cool mechanics from board games into the digital space. You play a Sumerian noble. You have two workers and you are placing those workers in different shops and gathering resources. As you’ve said, you bring those resources up to the top of the Ziggurat. You sacrifice [those resources to the gods].
The demo screen shows a game in progress.
TR: Is this the game or is this a video of people playing [Sumer]?
GS: This is AI playing right now.
TR: You have the AI playing against the AI right now?
GS: Yeah. So this is the only time this game will ever happen this way.
The screen then shifts to what appears to be a scoreboard of sorts.
TR: So this is like the game’s over and the score is [being counted] now?
GS: This is an auction. What happens is there are two phases. There’s a harvest phase which you just saw where each player…
TR: You gather resources?
GS: Yeah. You gather resources, you bring them up to the top of the ziggurat, you put them on the altar, and you get points for that. And then during that time you’re also collecting goats. You get goats for going to sleep early and you get goats for going to a goat farm. [A] goat farm expands as other people use different shops. When a goat farm’s not used it will grow, the goats will breed, and so they’ll become more valuable. You’ll want them to [enter into] an auction with a bunch of goats. Every auction there are six items available. Items include personal buffs like a hired hand who you use for a year.
TR: [Like another worker?]
GS: Yeah, he is just considered an extra worker. Precisely. You get to do more actions.
TR: And players bid on these things.
Geoffrey gestures to the auction currently in progress in the demo and indicates some of the items for sale.
GS: These are all statues. There are rooms and things like beds. Basically buildings you can place on the ziggurat.
TR: That’s not pre-determined board pieces? Those are all placed by players?
TR: Can anybody use [those rooms] once they’re on the board?
GS: Most of these [rooms], yes. The bed is your personal bed. But yeah, all of these buildings…
TR: [These squares] on the board, those are the buildings basically?
TR: That’s to your credit, it’s very easy to pick up what’s going on [in the game] by just looking at it. A lot of games surprisingly have a hard time getting that right.
GS: Thank you.
TR: What platforms is this gonna be on? Is this out now or is it [in development]?
GS: No, it’s still in development. It’ll be on Steam and most likely PS4. We’ll have it for Mac and PC, likely Linux as well.
TR: Control it with a controller?
GS: Controllers are probably the best experience but we do have mouse support and keyboard support as well.
TR: [Can you do local multiplayer] on PC?
GS: What you could do is if I want to play on the keyboard you can play with the mouse. So you can have two people locally without controllers. But it does support PS3 or PS4 and Xbox 360 controllers.
I then asked a question about the possibility of a hot seat mode. In a real time, multiplayer game. I immediately realized how tired I was at this moment, apologized for asking a nonsensical question, and asked Geoffrey to continue.
GS: The input about games like Carcassonne. We’ve played those games. We’re a bunch of board game players who love board games but also love video games. [We love] multiplayer games. And we decided we really wanted to take those awesome things in board games, those mechanics that you never see in video games, and give [applying them in a video game] a try.
I’d like to thank Geoffrey Suthers for his time and for letting me check out Sumer. I’m fond of board games in all forms, and this one looks like the kind of thing I’d really be into!
What do you think of Sumer? Do you enjoy digital board games, or do you prefer the real thing? Are there any board games that work better in a digital environment as opposed to a physical product? Let us know in the comments below!