TOUR DE FRANCE BOARD GAME? PERSEVERANCE FROM THE PELOTON LED ME TO THE REALIZATION, SAYS THE AUTHOR OF THE PROJECT
A bicycle race in the form of a board game defined his life's journey. As a schoolboy, Roman Čermák spent hours with his brother and friends in imaginary road battles. They sparked his love for the bicycle, in the saddle of which he reached the World Championships or the Olympic Games. And now he's behind the Tour de France Board Game, licensed by the organiser of the most famous stage race on the planet!
How did the idea for a Tour de France themed board game come about?
My dad was an engineer. He could draw perfectly, construct perfectly. And he rode a bicycle at the amateur level. When my brother and I were kids, he invented a lot of sports-themed board games. He was trying to get us to understand the nature of sports. All the games were educational, so we could understand the rules. And the most elaborate was cycling. Friends would come over and we'd spend hours playing. Cycling was not only about throwing dice, but also about tactics.
Why wasn't the game marketed, albeit under a different name, at the time your father invented it?
Because there were only two game companies at the time. My dad discussed the possibility of production, but ran into problems such as the fact that the standard dice had numbers from one to six. And when he tried to change that, everyone laughed at him... When the World Cycling Championships were held in Prague in eighty-one, the then Mladá fronta published a game plan with a velodrome on one side of the sheet and a road race on the other. But it was a very rough half-finished sheet. Five years later, units of the board game for the Peace Race were produced. And that was the end of it.
So now the foundations of the new Tour de France Board Game are based on the game your father made decades ago?
The game principle is the same. The rules have been tweaked a bit. Moves are made, converted to times. The racers, or the pieces, achieve real times like on the track. Individual cyclists have bonuses for mountain bonuses, sprinter bonuses or stage wins. The most significant change is the app that comes with the game. It facilitates the conversion to final times. Back in my childhood days, my dad used to write everything down on a square piece of paper and count it at the end. I don't think people would want to do that today. Plus, the basis of the whole recalculation is the hexadecimal system, so the app makes everything much easier.
Was the app essential to bringing the board game to market?
It's still possible to calculate stage results and absolute standings on paper. Individual, climber, sprinter and team rankings are all counted. Just like in a real race. But this is a major simplification for the user. However, the principle of the game has been preserved. Its purpose is to bring people together and have fun.
Is the Tour de France Board Game for anyone, or do you need a basic understanding of cycling rules?
My brother and I started playing when we were 10-year-old boys and were unenamored with real cycling. It's a great way to learn the basics of the sport. We teach kids the rules of the sport and I believe we can get them into real sports. In our case, that was the case. When I got on a bike at 16 and started flirting with racing, I knew all the terminology like breakaway, spurt, anchoring an opponent, riding in a hook thanks to this game... And later in my career, I remembered situations from the game plan that I then often experienced in a real race. I can confirm that our board game faithfully represents reality.
Today's time is associated with applications, social networks, computer games are flying. Is it a big risk to try to make it big with a board game, even if it's a strong brand like the Tour de France?
There was a definite flight from computer games during the covid-19 pandemic. And board games became a great alternative. I'll use the music industry as an example... At one time, people were throwing away vinyls and praising music on CD. But today, vinyls are making a comeback and are a hit, while CDs are on the back burner. People are going to be over-saturated with digital. Record plays are now experiencing an upward trend again.
Did you have any doubts about whether you would be successful with a board game in today's world? Were you discouraged by your surroundings to not venture into a segment that was flying thirty years ago in today's online age?
Emotions played a very big part! Gradually, I ran into obstacles. And how many times did I beat myself up about what I was getting into. But a board game with a cycling theme got me into cycling. I went to the Olympics in the saddle, later coached a pro team, ran a bike shop, founded the Bicycle for Live series, the Prague Steps race ... So it's also a kind of thank you to my dad, who is no longer alive. I've been trying to get the game into the shape that he dreamed of. If he were alive, I'm sure he'd be thrilled. And the fact that we're officially under the Tour de France banner, that's a very big deal.
Was it very difficult to get the Tour de France license?
The negotiations with the A.S.O. actually took two years. It was not an easy process. There was a bit of mistrust from the French side at first. Everything was subject to their approval. They had to have everything approved by the partners. Their approach was very professional. Now that we've renewed the licence, everything went smoothly. The game will be sold in the official e-shop alongside T-shirts, caps, jerseys.... And it will be presented during the Tour de France itself. We are invited to the Grand Départ 2023 in the Basque Country, which is a great honour.
How long did it take to develop the game?
I worked on the Tour de France for about three years. I didn't want to make another game. Actually, we primarily started with the licensing to make sure we could associate the game with the name of the famous race. Then the production quality, the graphics, the app development.
Did you spend a lot of time personally testing?
A lot. Mostly within the company, then we played with the kids at Christmas. The basic game version has four plans. One stage from Denmark, where the 2022 Tour de France starts. One game plan is Alpine, one Iberian, and then there's the final stage to Paris. You can play for two hours and be done. Or, thanks to the app, you can save the game and then continue. I'm currently working on developing new stages, so in theory a client could eventually have twenty game plans, but they can put together their own stage race from as many selected stages as they want.
The launch, albeit in the immediate post-Covid era, went smoothly? Or were you expecting more interest?
We ran into some problems. Vendors are afraid to sell sports-themed board games. There are a lot of fantasy games on the market, economic games. I would never get into that business. It's easier for a developer to come up with a fantasy game. But in the case of sports, you need to understand the industry, capture the essence of the sport. And there are very few people like that. We were at the Essen Game Fair in October 2022, and there are minimal sports games on the market. We still have a tennis-themed board game on offer, and we sold out of that at the fair. And there was also a lot of interest in Tour de France, but it is a novelty and needs time. Moreover, I expect the main interest to be in countries like France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, where there is a strong cycling history.
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome during the three years of the project?
I can't even name them all... But cycling has taught me perseverance. On the bike I learned not to give up, because after a long and very difficult hill, there is a downhill and you just ride again after the hard work. The bike just gave me unbreakability. From defeats come later victories.