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How XCOM’s Julian Gollop improved on the board games he loved as a kid

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Positive Influence

PC Gamer Magazine

(Image credit: Future)

This article first appeared in PC Gamer magazine issue 354 in February 2021, as part of our ‘Positive Influence’ series, where every month we chat to a different developer about the inspirations and unexpected connections behind their work. 

Thank you to the 1980s schoolkids who wouldn’t let Julian Gollop join in. They were playing Warlock, a wizard-battling board game from a new publisher named Games Workshop, and Gollop was forced to watch from the sidelines. He consoled himself by picking holes in the game’s design. Warlock had cards, which represented player’s spells. But its board was wholly cosmetic—once the wizard tokens were placed in their floating arena, they didn’t move again. “What’s the point?” thought Gollop. “This board is useless.” 

And so he built Warlock for himself—unlicensed but better. In Gollop’s game, when a wizard summoned a creature, its card was placed on the board and moved around like a counter. Rather than simply playing the hand they were dealt, wizards directed units around a changing battlefield. Gollop called the game Chaos, and in 1985, he remade it for the Spectrum. The publisher? Games Workshop. 

For most developers, a game’s story would have ended there. But Gollop remade Chaos again in 1990, and in ’98, and most recently as Chaos Reborn in 2015. That impulse, to find the flaws in the games he loves and improve on them, has driven the XCOM designer throughout his career. “There’s always an element of unfinished business,” he says. “I could have done that better, or it would have been more interesting to have done it that way.”

(Image credit: 2K)

Gollop’s first love was Escape from Colditz, one of the many board games that cluttered the family home. While his dad preferred the abstract purity of Bridge and Cribbage, young Julian was won over by the historical tunnels and accurate layout of Castle Colditz’s map. “It tried to simulate the actual reality,” he says. “It wasn’t very good at it, but that was fascinating to me.” 

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