PAC-MAN meets Quoridor: Hachette’s Rory Kelly on the stunning licensed board game

Rory Kelly, Hachette, PAC-MAN, Quoridor

Welcome back! Am I right in saying you’ve been at Hachette for over a year now?
Hi Deej, thanks for having me back! Yes, that’s right. I’ve been with Hachette 18 months now – crazy to think how quickly that’s gone.

And what’re Hachette all about, Rory? What’s their history?
We’re part of the overall Hachette group which is over 200 years old. It’s one of the world’s largest publishing businesses. On the boardgames side, we’re a younger business… Our General Manager, Flavien Loisier, began the boardgames operation in the UK – we’re in our third year of operation, but we’ve enjoyed sustainable growth, and we have an ever-growing team.

I think you were the third when you joined – how many now?
You’re right, I was the third, but we recently celebrated becoming a team of six… The two most-recent additions – Rob Trounce and Rheza Louis – join us to help add to our marketing and digital strategy. It’s very exciting for me to be part of Hachette Boardgame and, in many ways, we’re still only getting started.

Alright! So it’s a younger part of an older company, expanding nicely… For which products might people know the company?
If I had to say one title that we’re mostly recognised for it would have to be Quoridor! It’s consistently our number-one lead game – and it enjoyed continued success in 2023 with well-known retailers like Waterstones, Toy Town and others.

Rory Kelly, Hachette, PAC-MAN, Quoridor

Indeed. Quoridor is a beautiful looking game; it looks like a work of art. And it did suddenly seem to be everywhere last year…
Yes, last year in particular saw more continued popularity of Quoridor across social media. TikTok helped propel the game further into the public consciousness. It’s really helping us grow our wooden abstract-games range overall… The fans are now really engaging with the games – which is a joy to see.

Great! Let’s park Quoridor for a moment; I want to come back to that because I think it’s absolutely terrific! Tell us about some of the other games you have…
Thank you, Deej. First, though, one thing I should say about the range is that we’ve been proud of how we’re making sure we have a diverse offering across multiple segments. We really try to embody the ethos of having a game for everyone.

In terms of other titles, Akropolis is instantly recognised as a perfect entry-level game from us. Stomp The Plank became not just a family favourite in 2023 but actually found a home with the kiddult market! Adults love the dexterity concept as a party game, and the demand for our Japanese imported range of Oink Games like Scout and Deep Sea Adventure has never been stronger.

Fantastic. Which title just scooped an award?
Oh! We’ve just picked up As d’Or awards at the Cannes International Festival of Games for Faraway and My Puzzle Adventure… Two of the most-hyped releases of the year, which we’re proudly bringing to the UK. And actually, as you saw at London Toy Fair, we have ambitious plans for 2024 with a number of games leading the range… It’s an exciting time for us – and a very busy one.

Rory Kelly, Hachette, PAC-MAN, Quoridor

And what’s the ethos behind all those titles? What makes those games Hachette games?
We believe games can promote quality social time, and we strive to ensure that every game we select to be part of our portfolio is adding not just value to the range and our retail partners but also creating better experiences for those who play them. We believe that games are a powerful vehicle for connection, and that connection can even foster a happier society.

Nicely put! Is there a criterion, then, by which you’re choosing the games?
We pride ourselves on the fact that every game we add to the range has been play-tested countless times. This allows us to really understand how to evolve the range and tailor it for our customers. It also lets us demo the games to the wider UK gamer market at live consumer shows.

Yes! That’s something I’ve noticed about you: you pop up at so many trade shows!
I do! And, for me, that’s one of the highlights of working with the Hachette team… The energy that our demo teams bring to live events. We make everyone feel welcome on our stands. Trade halls at live shows offer a serious amount of fun so we’re always humbled when gamers step on our stand… And we see it as our mission to make sure they leave happy having learned a new game.

And on that point, back to Quoridor… You’ll recall I was very excited to see an early prototype of a new licensed version back in 2023… and I’ve been hounding you for this interview ever since! Tell us about it!
Ha! That’s right, you were very excited – and very persistent! But I’m delighted to confirm that we’re bringing our fully licensed Quoridor PAC-MAN to the UK market this summer. This has been on our radar for some time while our publishing partners at Gigamic International worked with in association with BANDAI to produce what we feel is a stunning new addition to the Quoridor legacy but also to our abstract games range.

Rory Kelly, Hachette, PAC-MAN, Quoridor

Stunning is absolutely the right word. What’s the feedback been like?
We launched the game to our buyers at London Toy Fair making sure to have our pre-release demo copy on the stand! The response has been even stronger than we anticipated.

I’m not surprised! One of the reasons I was so pleased about this is that it looks amazing and feels VERY organic… The Quoridor gameplay and the Pac-Man theme just feel so congruent. How did the deal come about?
That is such lovely feedback to hear Deej, thank you! We know the passion and commitment that the Gigamic design team poured into getting Quoridor PAC-MAN just right. Gigamic’s chief editor, Alain Mihranyan, is a self-professed disciple of Quoridor! He wanted to ensure that any licensed version was developed sympathetically to the original to ensure that fans old and new can enjoy it in new formats. In growing up as a fan of the PAC-MAN franchise as well, the synergy between both Gigamic’s Quoridor and Bandai has led to a fresh string of ideas to come up with this all-new version.

How different is the gameplay?
Good question! The PAC-MAN version still allows you to discover the core rules of classic Quoridor. But using the wooden 3D-sculpted PAC-MAN – and the fan-favourite ghosts, of course – you can also discover an entirely new, unique, and asymmetric game for two to five players. The style of the game has had a fantastic makeover to give it that video-game vibe and retro feel.

Yes – and yet it still looks very recognisably Quoridor!
Oh, I think you’re right! In fact, retaining the visual identity of Quoridor and ensuring it’s made as a fully sustainable wooden playset has been hugely important. The end product is gorgeous to look at; it’s not just a fantastic game but also a wonderful collectable; a piece of memorabilia for retro-gaming fans.

Rory Kelly, Hachette, PAC-MAN, Quoridor

Agreed. Excellent! It took a while to get this to market. What were some of the challenges putting it together?
I think everyone just wanted to deliver the best possible version! Merging a family favourite like Quoridor with cult favourite PAC-MAN means the delivery had to be just right. It needed to not only have the visually pleasing aesthetic but also make sure the gameplay combined the complexity of the original Quoridor with added elements… That meant lots of playtesting and collaboration! Since the publishing team’s been ready to green light the game, we’ve been massively excited to get behind developing it for the UK and Irish market.

Great stuff. Let’s start wrapping things up with a big old plug! When might people be able to buy this; when’s it out?
We’ll be launching Quoridor PAC-MAN at this year’s U.K Games Expo in Birmingham… We’ll soon be announcing our retail partners, and we’ll have it on our own stand in the halls. The following week, it’ll be available in all our normal stockists.

Excellent. Tell me, Rory: what other titles might be suitable for licensing at Hachette?
Ha! Well, if I answered that I’d be giving away all our secrets!

Yes. Worth my trying, though, wasn’t it?!
Ha! What I can say is one of the highlights of working with our numerous publishing partners in the Hachette group is that we’re continually partnering internationally to develop new titles that add to our global range… So I’m confident there’ll always be new and innovative titles ahead from us.

Alright. Let’s finish things off, Rory, with this: what’s the one question I could’ve asked you today but didn’t?
Will there be an XL version of Quoridor PAC-MAN available?

Oh, my days! Don’t toy with me man! What’s the answer?!
Of course! Ha! We know all good coffee tables deserve one!

Absolutely right. And if someone doesn’t have a coffee table, I’ll tell you this… The game’s so beautiful, it’s worth buying a coffee table for!

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