The next expansion of the sprawling League of Legends universe is something unexpected: a board game called Tellstones. This isn’t developer Riot’s first foray into tabletop games — that would be 2016’s Mechs vs. Minions — but what makes Tellstones interesting is that it’s a game set within the franchise’s expansive fantasy realm. “We portray Tellstones as a game that’s actually played in Runeterra, as part of their history and culture in the same way that chess or mancala have ancient roots in our own world,” explains Greg Street, Riot’s VP of IP and entertainment.
The developer isn’t talking too much about how the game works just yet, but you can get an idea in the teaser trailer below. Tellstones appears to be a game about strategy and subterfuge, where players have to remember the order of tokens and also trick their opponent into forgetting. It’s a far cry from Riot’s previous board game, which was a huge and complex affair. But the smaller scale also fits with the story Riot is trying to tell. Tellstones is meant to be an ancient game, the kind of thing people would carry around with them, ready to pull out and play whenever.
That created an interesting design problem: how do you make a new game that’s meant to be ancient? “We portray a lot of that feeling through the artwork and the materials,” says Street, explaining that though Tellstones has few pieces, the team at Riot made sure they were high-quality, the kinds of items that could last for a long time. That includes a hefty, engraved metal case to keep it all together.
The team also used those pieces as a subtle storytelling tool. In the trailer, for instance, you can see Tellstones being played with white and blue tokens. That’s what will ship in the final version, but it’s also a regional variant of the game. “The version that we’re shipping is the Demacia version, and we talked a lot about what the symbols that Demacia put on their tokens look like,” Street explains, in reference to one of League’s more militaristic kingdoms. “Presumably in Ionia or other parts of the world they might look different.”
This focus on worldbuilding is something that has become an increasingly large part of League of Legends over the last few years. A decade after League of Legends first debuted, there are multiple in-universe projects in the works, including an animated series, comic books, and several games. Even new character reveals have turned into elaborate narrative events. According to Street — who joined Riot in 2014, after, among other gigs, serving as lead systems designer on World of Warcraft — there have been essentially three phases to the storytelling of League. In the beginning, it wasn’t a focus at all; instead everything was in service of the game. Then, the team at Riot started to slowly build more narrative elements into the experience.
“Then we got a little scared, honestly,” Street says. “We have this great IP, now there’s nowhere to go but down. We can screw this up if we make bad products, if we tell bad stories, if we’re inauthentic. So we were nervous for a while. I think we’re getting our confidence to the point where we’re OK experimenting now. That’s why we have plans for comic books and novels and games and our animated series, all telling the world outside of just the League of Legends and Legends of Runeterra games.”
A project like Tellstones fits perfectly within this philosophy. For existing players, it’s an intriguing piece of lore, a way of adding depth to a fantasy world they already know and love. But much like, say, a K-pop song or an animated series, it’s also an entry point for those who have never even played game. “We think that there are a lot of people out there who would love League of Legends, and love Runeterra, and maybe a MOBA isn’t for them,” says Street. “We want to make sure there are ways for them to enter the world.”