Interview Oct 2, 2013

Today’s interview is with Emil Larsen, designer of Burning Suns which is presently 150% funded on Kickstarter!

GDC: Give us an overview of your game and how it’s played.

Emil: Burning Suns is a tactical science fiction game, which 3 core aspects are “replayability”, “atmosphere” and “tactical depth”.
Burning Suns can be customized beyond most other games out there. Build your own galaxies from scratch, pick or randomly hand out the empire combinations, and you’ll be able to play as any of the currently 512 different empires available. In other words – the replayability is very high.
The two other aspects I really wanted to go hand in hand, meaning that every tactical option should be thematic, relevant and have an impact on the game.
I want people to get involve on both levels, feeling an epic sci-fi story unfold while they outmanoeuvre their opponents, using their different attributes and bonuses in the most effective way.

GDC: What innovative mechanic or creative idea distinguishes your game from others?

Emil: Actually there’s a quite a few new mechanics or ideas in Burning Suns.
1) We have the 3 empire components that relates to 3 separate aspects of the game. You’ll have to combine these components into your empire, meaning you’ll get 8 x 8 x 8 different viable empires (512).
2) Your empire will be fuelled by either a light, dark or neutral power in the galaxy, meaning that this will affect your artifacts effectiveness when used, and agents will be more easily persuaded towards empires of the same power.
3) Each race have unique race cards that give the players abilities to use throughout the game. These cards are also used to form alliances, meaning that you’ll have to strike a balance between using abilities or ally other empires, you can’t have it all.
4) I use circles as systems/planets in this game. This gives you the option to use hex, square or triangular grid when building your galaxy. Circles are much more versatile than hex counters.
5) All the tactical actions are being resolved in a worker-placement manner. You have complete freedom in where you place your leaders, but actions are executed in the current order they are placed in, meaning that the tactical situation changes from round to round.

GDC: Tell us about the spark or inspiration for this game.

Emil: I’ve always loved strategy games on the computer, and I’m also very fond of Starwars. So when I decided to do some board games for fun in my spare time, my choice quickly fell on doing a board game version of Sins of a Solar Empire (4x sci-fi computer game).

GDC: Let’s talk about the design process. Tell us a bit about the iterations the game has gone through and the refinements you’ve made along the way.

Emil: Yea, let me just continue from the question above – After a year I think, Burning Suns started a life of its own. I took the auction mechanic from Cyclades and gave it a more tactical layout. I took the upgrade idea from Eclipse and toned it down. In general I tried to learn what made other games tick and improve on it while I coated it in a thick layer of theme (Dark vs Light side from Starwars and so on).
All these steps were taken one by one, meaning that I had to develop new prototypes each time. Usually I started out by overdoing the things, like having a million different options, and then I just started to cut of everything that didn’t make sense, or had an impact on the game.

GDC: What has been your biggest challenge in designing this game?

Emil: The scale!
By far it was the scale of Burning Suns that almost killed the project several times. I mean, every time I thought up a new aspect it usually affected around 20-40 pieces of the game.
Since I wanted the game to feel as a complete experience, many of the factors are interacting with each other. E.g. when I wanted to add the powers to the empires, I had to redo the agents and artifacts and so on.

GDC: Let’s shift gears and talk about you. How did you get into game design?

Emil: I have an education in New Media Design, and was primarily doing project management and webdesign. I got into some computer game development, but quickly found out that board games was more my thing.
It started by developing things like a cross-over between Trivial Pursuit and Risk, Plants vs Zombies and improved versions of Monopoly… and before I knew it, I was doing a science fiction game.

GDC: What is your greatest moment as a game designer?

Emil: While there are many fun, great and challenging moments while designing. I can only imagine how it’ll feel to tear open the shrink wrap of your finished game. There’s no question this must be it! :)

GDC: Tell us a little bit about your life outside of game design and gaming: family? work? other interests?

Emil: I’m working as a Lieutenant in the Danish Artillery Regiment, meaning that I’m usually educating conscripts in basic survival, combat or shooting. It takes up a lot of my time, so it’s really hard work to run a Kickstarter next to that. We’re easily talking 9+6 hours a day.
Besides gaming, I like to go to the movies, visit historical stuff like museums and spend time with my wonderful wife.

GDC: Do you have any works-in-progress or game ideas you would like to share?

Emil: Let me put it this way – If Burning Suns becomes a success, it’s not the last thing you’ll see from Burning Suns nor me ;)

GDC: What games have you been playing lately? What have you liked, what have you disliked, and why?

Emil: I try to get as many different games played as possible, when I get around to Cons and so on.
Very recently though, I played some more Cyclades with my wife, and that’s really why I like this game – because it’s easy to jump into and my wife gives me quite a challenge. I’m looking forward to try out Utopia (same producer) that she bought for me.
I’ve also enjoy quite a bit of X-wing miniatures lately, thematic and great fun.

GDC: Share your favorite game you haven’t designed and why?

Emil: There are many favorites on my list. But I think I’ll go with Settlers of Catan. Not because it’s my personal favourite to play, but because of the many people I’ve been able to introduce to the hobby through this game.

GDC: One word of advice to your fellow game designers?

Emil: Start small, don’t jump into something like a 4x style game to begin with, it can really break your neck.

GDC: Anyone you’d like to give a shout out to? (playtesters, design mentors, your friendly local game store, etc.)

Emil: I give my backers and fellow game designers shout outs every day – so I’m sure they know how much I appreciate their involvement.

My shout out will be to my parents for always being supportive in everything that I do, I have a hard time imagining this would ever have been possible without their support!

GDC: Tell us how (and where) we can find you (social networks, BGG username, website, cons you plan to attend).

Emil: People can always go to or find me on BGG under the alias “Emilarsen”. And I’ll be at SPIEL (Essen) this year – showing of my Burning Suns prototypes.


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