Designer Spotlight: Eric M. Lang

Eric M. Lang has risen to fame in recent years and has become a very hot property.  His game releases always generate a lot of buzz in the industry.  So much so, in fact, that CMON have employed him as their Director of Game Design.

He is known for big Ameritrash games.  In case you’re not familiar with the term Ameritrash, just realise that it isn’t derogatory in any way: I love Ameritrash games.  They’re typically games that have huge dollops of theme.

I like clever mechanisms as much as the next guy, but sometimes you just want to lose yourself in an engaging theme and chuck some dice.  If that’s you, then Eric M. Lang’s games will be right up your street.

Eric M. LangName: Eric M. Lang

Age: 45

Nationality: Canadian

Year of first published game: 2000

Highest ranked game on BGG: Blood Rage

Known for:

A Game of Thrones: The Card Game with Nate French, Christian T. Petersen (2008)

Chaos in the Old World (2009)

Quarriors! with Mike Elliott (2011)

Star Wars: The Card Game (2012)

Kaosball (2014)

Arcadia Quest with Thiago Aranha, Guilherme Goulart, Fred Perret (2014)

Marvel Dice Masters with Mike Elliott (2014)

Blood Rage (2015)

XCOM: The Board Game (2015)

Arcane Academy with Kevin Wilson (2016)

The Others (2016)

Bloodborne: The Card Game (2016)

The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire (2017)

Selected Awards:

2013 Origins Best Family, Party or Children’s Game (Quarriors!)

2015 Origins Vanguard Award (Marvel Dice Masters)

2015 Dice Tower Best Strategy Game (Blood Rage)

2016 Kennerspiel des Jahres “Recommended” (Blood Rage)

2016 Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming

As well as Ameritrash games, Eric M. Lang has also developed a significant number of collectible games.  Some of them follow the CCG model where the booster packs have semi-random contents and some of them follow the LCG model where the expansion packs contain a set collection of cards (which I much prefer).

While I can’t deny that Eric M. Lang has developed some great games and incorporated some ingenious ideas, I find his track record to be a bit spotty personally.  Some of his games are a lot better than others.

While always incorporating lots of theme in his games, he has nevertheless developed a fairly wide range of games.  I’ve tried to select three games that give an indication of the breadth of his style.

Marvel Dice MastersMarvel Dice Masters

Players: 2

Time: 60 mins

Marvel Dice Masters owes a lot to Quarriors! (the exclamation mark is part of the name), which was also designed by Eric M. Lang in conjunction with Mike Elliott.  Quarriors! did something pretty original off the back of the deck building idea, made famous by Dominion.

It was a ‘bag builder’: the idea being that you draw dice from a bag each turn (instead of cards from a deck) and you can use those dice to buy more dice (that get added to your bag) and ultimately use those dice to fight the other players.

It featured lots of custom dice and while the game was a bit clunky and the quality of the dice was mediocre at best, it really made an impact.  It just felt very different from any other game.

Marvel Dice Masters took that idea and combined it with the duelling mages idea (think Magic: The Gathering), but set in the Marvel superheroes universe.  It was a stroke of genius.

It was massively popular when it was first released and sold out pretty much everywhere.  Wizkids (the publisher) couldn’t reprint it fast enough.  It was essentially a CCG: after you had bought a base set, you had to buy booster packs that might have rare or super-rare dice in them.

The game itself was really solid and I played it a lot with my son when it was first released.  The theming was great.  Each dice represented a superhero and when you rolled your dice, some of the sides had energy on and some of them had the actual hero.

You had to spend the energy from some of your dice to play the heroes you rolled on the other dice.  Sometimes you had too much energy and not enough heroes and sometimes you had too many heroes and not enough energy to pay for them all.  It provided lots of difficult tactical decisions.

There was a changing meta-game as people experimented with different combinations of characters and an ongoing tournament scene.  I burned out pretty quickly on the CCG nature of the game, but there was lots to like.

Blood Rage Box FrontBlood Rage

Players: 2 – 4

Time: 60 – 90 mins

Blood Rage looks like a quintessential Ameritrash game.  Lots of miniatures fighting battles for control of key territories on the map.  Except it’s a Euro.  Along with controlling areas, dying gloriously in battle (in line with the Viking theme) can grant victory points.  So you don’t necessarily want to win combat.

It’s strange.  It even feels like an Ameritrash game when you play it (at least, to me it does).  However, you get about half way through your first game and realise you’re not going to win by conquering everything.

“Wait, what?  I have these armies of Viking warriors, I’m trying to spread out and control areas and yet the guy who I keep beating is winning?”  It really messes with your head.

There’s a nice card drafting element at the beginning.  The cards allow you to upgrade your Viking clan and provide objectives for you to try to achieve during the game.  The different clan powers along with the upgrades make you feel sufficiently different from the other players.

You’re deploying troops, moving around the map and fighting, but you constantly need to bear in mind what scores you points or you’ll do badly.

One of my favourite bits is the Ragnarok phase.  The game is played over three ages and at the end of each age, one of the territories is destroyed (along with all the Vikings in that area).  Now this might sound like a bad thing, but it’s actually one of the main ways to get points.

You need warriors on the map to accomplish your goals, but at the same time, you want them to die (at the right point and in the right place!) in order to score lots of points.  It gives you lots to think about and you really have to plan ahead to score well.  Hence the Euro.

Being a CMON production, the miniatures are gorgeous.  Combine that with interesting decisions and lots of Ameritrash theme in a relatively short time span and you’re onto a winner!  I really enjoy it.

XCOMXCOM: The Board Game

Players: 1 – 4

Time: 90 mins

I loved playing XCOM the computer game.  It was a turn-based tactical assault game.  Aliens kept landing around the world and terrorising the local population and your crack commando squad had to go in and take them out.

Each unit took turns to move and then shoot.  It really felt like a boardgame.  After each mission you could upgrade your troops, train new recruits, research technologies and prepare for the next alert.  It was incredibly engaging: the kind of game where you lose track of time.

XCOM: The Board Game attempted to take an overarching approach to the theme.  Rather than focussing on the individual assault missions, you have to manage the big picture.  It’s a co-operative, app-driven game.

Players take on the roles of various divisions within the command centre.  One player researches technologies, one player manages the budget and deploys aircraft around the world to areas under attack, one player equips the troops and sends them on missions, etc.

The actual nitty gritty of combat is abstracted out into a rather simplistic dice rolling system where you’re trying to roll a certain number of successes.  It’s a shame because so much of the game is so good.

The app provides real-time segments to the game where threats keep popping up and you have to allocate your resources appropriately to cope with the varying threats as they occur.  After that finishes though, you resolve each of the areas by rolling the dice.  It’s anti-climactic to say the least.

It does a good job of simulating the running of the XCOM command centre and the app integration is great.  The sense of increasing danger as more and more aliens start invading different areas of the world comes across really well.

I just can’t get over how lacklustre the dice rolling is.  That element of the game really needs more strategy.  It just feels totally out of your control.  You do your best to prepare, but then you can be completely done in by the dice.  I don’t mind dice rolling generally, but I don’t want to feel so dependent on them.

I feel like Eric M. Lang has grown from strength to strength in recent years, despite the odd hiccough.  I think his best years as a game designer are ahead of him and I very much look forward to his future releases.

Which Eric M. Lang game is your favourite?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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