Combat Con’s Poster Child: Chad Light as Don Pedro Menedez de Aviles

What: Combat Con 3
Where: Riviera Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV
When: June 13-15, 2014
How Much: $65 4-Day Fan Admission – $200 4-Day Warrior Admission
Website: combatcon.com

When speaking with Combat Con and ISMAC founder Jared Kirby before Combat Con 2012, he mentioned that science fiction author Neal Stephenson could be considered a poster child for Combat Con. In his own literary career Stephenson brings the world of real life Western Martial Arts which he practices at least weekly into his widely-praised depictions of combat in his works like Snow Crash and The Baroque Cycle. Stephenson hopes to bring more realistic depictions of WMA fighting into the video game world as well and promoted the Kickstarter-funded CLANG at Combat Con. However I believe I may have found a better poster child for Combat Con in the form of Chad Light.

Chad Light re-enactor of Don Pedro Menedez de Aviles at Combat Con with bullwhip around neck in costumeLight, 49, is probably more familiar to St. Augustine’s residents and visitors as Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. Until a year ago, Light made his living as a re-enactor at the Fountain of Youth Archaeoloical Park. When describing his vocation, Light called himself “an actor who’s a re-enactor or a re-enactor who’s an actor.” What caught my eye when first meeting Light was his sword, which I recognized as a David Baker-forged recreation from its distinctive hilt. Many St. Augustine residents recognize the weapon when Light wears it, having seen another version of it displayed outside the St. Augustine City Hall.

Steel sword showing pommel and intricate flowing hilt designed by David Baker

Chad Light’s Distinctive Reproduction Sword Hilt

A veteran re-enactor of over 30 years, the original 2011 Combat Con was instrumental in changing Light’s re-enactment practices. One of the workshops he attended that year was Jack Dagger’s class on throwing knives and hatchets. Light already had a familiarity and skill in throwing weapons, but had not incorporated them into his role as Don Pedro. That all changed when Light returned to Florida. He began each tour with a silent demonstration, first throwing knives or hatchets into a round of wood and retrieving them. Then he would throw the weapons backhanded as the crowd quieted down. By the time he was throwing hatchets and knives between his legs, he had his audience captivated and spellbound. Using the theatrical and martial skills enhanced by Combat Con 2011, Light went from a full time employee at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park to a salaried full time employee and was quick to attribute Combat Con as a critical step in his employment elevation.

Light didn’t make as much of Combat Con 2011 as he would have liked owing to an injury sustained while doing a horse stunt at Drake’s Raid in Florida, resulting in a broken collarbone. Nevertheless he attended the inaugural Combat Con and the whip class taught by Anthony De Longis, but wasn’t able to participate fully in the motions. He did buy De Longis’s DVD on whips, watching it over 30 times, and building up his fundamentals. Light had his bull whip when I spoke with him and later attended De Longis’s class that afternoon. He was quite pleased when I caught up with him later explaining that De Longis had corrected a few minor movements and techniques that he hadn’t mastered yet. When I asked De Longis about Light’s improvements, he agreed and praised him as an excellent student.

The Dedication and Background of a Re-Enactor

Re-enactor Chad Light at Combat Con in Las Vegas in Fancy Dress

Light Showing Off Another Side of Don Pedro

Discipline and research are important to Light, a former Army Special Forces officer who served in Panama, Desert Storm/Shield, and Somalia. He doesn’t have a TV or a telephone and only uses a computer for research. As part of their contracts, Light requires the other re-enactors to spend at least three hours a week practicing their swordplay. When questioned about possibly living at the park, Light said that he would if he could. Light is pursuing his doctorate in ethnography, specializing in palaeography. His undergraduate degrees are in psychology and history and he has a Masters in Behavioral Psychology. Yet his studies are much more practical and mundane as well, as Light, like many cosplayers or re-enactors, does much of his own sewing himself. While his external garb was historically accurate, he also doesn’t turn his nose up to machine-sewed undergarments, but pointed out that for many re-enactors this modern compromise would be going too far.

You could say that re-enactment is in Light’s blood. His father is a professor of language at William and Mary and a member of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association, a black powder weapons group. Light’s mother grew up in Spain and Light lived there as well as a child, when not attending colonial events with a father “who could crack whips”. Light’s father also served as an advisor on the semi-historical films The Last of the Mohicans and The Patriot.

Playing Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and Others

Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés is Light’s main role and he leads the re-enactment troupe the Men of Menedez. Light has respect for Menéndez de Avilés and studiously researches the Spaniard. When asked whether he would have liked Menéndez de Avilés in his own period, Light responded that, “Those around him thought he was charismatic and capable of anything. That would be hard not to like if you were around someone like that when your life was on the line.” Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés was also wise in his own way, writing to the Spanish crown that, “There is gold and silver in Florida, but you can’t dig it. You need to grow it.”

Light also participates in the re-enactment of the sacking of Ft. Caroline named after the French king Charles IX. Fort Caroline had been settled by the Hugenots, Protestants fleeing France, but they were set upon by their Spanish neighbors in 1565. The French defenders of the fort were mostly massacred as heretics, establishing a bloody reputation for Don Pedro, especially among civilians. This was only furthered by his slaughter of bound Frenchmen who had been captured in their attempt to capture St. Augustine. Towards the native tribes Menéndez de Avilés was more gracious, writing edicts to protect them from Spanish settlers. A favorite of Phillip II, Menéndez de Avilés was made captain-general and governor of Florida. His downfall was curiously on account of some insects, the cochinille beetles, used to make red dyes. When Don Pedro sailed into a port he failed to declare the cochinille beetles and was prosecuted for it, his reputation slightly marred and his hopes of returning to live in Florida dashed. He caught typhus and died in Spain in 1574. Light travels to Spain multiple times a year, and has close ties with Spanish researchers and re-enactors as he conducts further research into the transatlantic leader.

One of Light’s other roles has actually been on-screen. Light is one quarter Native American and played a full-blooded Huron in Michael Mann’s 1992 Last of the Mohicans, serving as an extra. He participated in the field massacre of the English column and can be seen leaving Fort William Henry during its surrender. Additionally he doesn’t confine himself to the 16th Century for re-enactment; Light is part of the Historical Florida Militia American Civil War regiment. Besides re-enacting as Ponce de Leon, Light has also played the role of Navaraiz, a captain of Hernan Cortez’s. The 16th century was a brutal time: Navaraiz had one of his eyes put out by a pike. Light also plays another Don Pedro. Don Pedro Menéndez de Marqués was the nephew of Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and a subsequent governor of Cuba first and then Florida.

St. Augustine’s Attractions

The small town of St. Augustine hosts many re-enactment events with others close by. Light participates each year in the “School of the 16th Century” put on by the tourist development board in February. Re-enactors, primarily men, bring their families to enjoy a vacation on the Atlantic coast with their wives and children. Many children and wives join in the education with the children doing what their 16th century counterparts would have done. Many women participate in the combat-side of things, which is where perhaps the re-enactment ends. In another of Light’s activities, the monthly tercio of St. Augustine, there are at least 30 female college students out of a group of 150 re-enactors, Light estimates.

Drake’s Raid, which is one of the largest re-enactments that Light helps organize, is held annually in the first week of June. It commemorates Sir Francis Drake’s raid of 1586 in which the famed British captain sacked St. Augustine. Drake’s Raid attracts over 3,000 visitors annually. In September there is much pageantry surrounding the re-enactment of Don Pedro’s first landing in St. Augustine, which also draws thousands of spectators and participants. Another attraction is the Castillo de San Marcos, a stonework fort with firing cannon. For Light and others, the Castillo de San Marcos is also a bastion against Florida’s hurricanes. In an emergency Light plans to take shelter there.

Light Can be Seen As Don Pedro in Bruce Merwin’s Youtube Video of the Landing Re-Enactment

The Combat Con Connection

Anthony De Longis’s whips classes and Jack Dagger’s knife-throwing aren’t the only appeal of Combat Con for Light. He also attended Maestro Ramon Martinez’s sword class, pointing to him as the best Spanish sword master in the United States. Both Maestro Jennete Acosta Martinez (the wife of Maestro Ramon Martinez and a maestro in her own right) and John Lennox have come to the St. Augustine area for events, confirming that the world of WMA is indeed a fairly small one.

When Gaming and Re-Enacting Collide

Though Light was quick to point out that he is not a tabletop gamer (and certainly not a video gamer) and has never LARPed, he has played Wizards of the Coast’s cardstock Pirates of the Spanish Main game and got his “ass kicked” by his son. He spoke with pride about how the computer game Sid Meier’s Pirates helped his son with a presentation at school wherein his son drew an accurate map of the Carribean, labeling the chief ports, all learned through playing Pirates. Battle gaming or SCA fighting doesn’t interest Light, though he has had many LARPers join him as re-enactors who decide to “put the foam away and put on heavy metal”. In miniature wargaming oftentimes only the first rank or the first two ranks of a military unit are neccessary to fully detail; in re-enactment it is much the same with more detailed costumes like Light’s going into the first ranks and those with less historically accurate costumes able to fill out the rear ranks.

Kicking Off Kaijudo’s Quest for the Gauntlet with Drew Nolosco

Pentagonal box design for Kaijudo Collector's Set of Quest for the Gauntlet

Kaijudo’s Quest for the Gauntlet Collector’s Box: Stylish and Sturdy

Back at the 2014 GAMA Trade Show I had a chance to preview the all-new Kaijudo draft experience at the Wednesday game night on March 18. I also had the opportunity to interview Kaijudo Lead Designer Drew Nolosco about the then-upcoming Quest for the Gauntlet expansion, which recently launched on May 30. On May 31 I went to Little Shop of Magic here in Las Vegas and battled several other Duelists in a sealed event using the well-designed Quest for the Gauntlet Collector’s Box to construct our decks. While we did not draft, we sunk our teeth into the new cards and had a blast. I ended up winning the tournament (and six more Quest for the Gauntlet booster packs as well as four foil promo cards). Here’s what Drew Nolasco had to say about designing this awesome play experience.

Lead Designer vs. Lead Developer at WotC

CG: So how did you get started with Kaijudo at Wizards of the Coast?
DN: So I was hired as Lead Developer for Duel Masters, because Kaijudo had not been yet announced. So when I arrived at WotC, having accepted the offer, my boss said to me, “There’s something we need to tell you. We have this new brand called Kaijudo; we’re launching the Duel Masters rules engine in the United States under this brand named Kaijudo. There’s this TV show that we’re working with Hasbro Studios to create.” And I moved into the Lead Developer for Kaijudo. So at Wizards of the Coast, we have a two-step design process. Designers drive innovation and new mechanics. Their job is to unfetter innovation. Developers take the second half of the design process and they drive balanced, fun gameplay. So that was my job. I also ran the Story and Worldbuilding team, which I still do. About a year ago, I transitioned over from Lead Developer to Lead Designer and so now I’m driving innovation for Kaijudo.
CG: So do the developers and designers ever clash?
DN: We work collaboratively, but there is a very healthy tension in this design process. By separating out balance from innovation, it allows the designers to go off into these brave, new worlds and create brave, new worlds, and really come up with gameplay mechanics that are exciting that they don’t have to worry about the minutiae of balance. They have to innovate. And innovation is best when it is freed from concerns. We look, as designers, at player experience. What’s it going to be like to sit down and play our game? What is the surprise and delight that you’re going to get when you buy a new pack of Kaijudo or experience a new set? Or discover a connection between two different cards? And then the developers take – this is the back half of design – and they say, what’s going to make this fun consistently? What’s going to make this game have legs? What’s going to make this game be the kind of game you want to play 8, or 9, or 25, or a hundred times? And the successful marriage of these two parts of the design process is really what allows WotC’s games to have that long player experience. It’s why you come back to play Magic year after year after year. We’re hitting 20 years of Magic. It’s that two-step process that really gives our games the depth and the freshness at the same time.

Individual Card Design: Karate Carrots and Iron Chefs

CG: Now how does an individual card like Karate Carrot fit into process? Is that a designer or a developer?
DN: It’s some of both. Kaijudo utilizes some of the art assets from Duel Masters. Duel Masters is a longstanding WotC game that is currently the number one TCG in Japan. And it’s been a Japanese-only product. They have some amazing and really off-the-wall inspiring art, like Karate Carrot. It’s a carrot! It’s a karate guy! When a designer looks at that card, we have top-down design where we take a thematic element. This is a carrot and he knows martial arts and we design a card around that. It’s really exciting, because you have this off-the-wall wackiness and you have to translate that into the framework of a game system, Kaijudo. He has the ability Unsliceable; he doesn’t die, he goes to the Mana Zone, so we can take elements from this and create gameplay around it. And we get this evocative card. Karate Carrot is very clearly one of the most [laughs] popular characters in Kaijudo.
CG: Oh, it is?

Matching Card Art of a Karate Carrot on a Duel Masters Card in Japanese and English Kaijudo Card

Ever Popular: The Japanese Duel Masters Karate Carrot and Its Kaijudo Cousin

DN: Yeah, yeah. It’s because he’s so unusual. A funny Kaijudo anecdote: So we, WotC, worked with Hasbro Studios collaboratively to create the brand. The Hasbro Studios writing team was responsible for the story and plot line of the TV show and we were responsible for the story and plot line of the trading card game and we successfully merged them. But we would have a lot of back and forth, so for example, they came to us and said “We think we might want a robotic chef character.” And the WotC team was like, “We have that art ready for you!” And when we went through the Duel Masters library, sure enough, there was Iron Chef. And it was this crazy piece of art. He ended up not getting used in the show…
CG: Somewhere in R&D-, you would be considered R&D?
DN: I am in R&D.

Duel Masters Japanese card art for a robotic Iron Chef

Robotic Chef? Allium, Iron Chef from Duel Masters

CG: Who’s the real guru in R&D that knows all of the Duel Masters stuff, where you’re just like, “Do we have that?” and he’s like “Yeah, we have it.” I assume it’s a guy.
DN: So there is a Duel Masters team. Duel Masters is still in production. They hit their… 5 billionth card produced. So in my group, our boss is Charlie Catino, he’s the Director of New Business and Japanese Games. There’s Shaba [Masami Ibamoto]. He’s the Lead Designer for Duel Masters and Mons Johnson is the Lead Developer. He’s also the Lead Developer for Kaijudo. He does both and they know the ins and outs of Duel Masters like nobody’s business.
CG: So they feed stuff to you guys.
DN: They feed some stuff to us. All of that art is in a database, so we go pore through that database for amazing art. The rules engine for Kaijudo and the rules engine for Duel Masters are siblings; there are some differences. But they are close enough that we can take inspiration from Duel Masters as well as new innovation to create new Kaijudo mechanics.

Quest for the Gauntlet and the Draft Experience

Kaijudo Quest for the Gauntlet booster pack cover emphasizing Draft compatibilityCG: So if we fast forward to the Quest for the Gauntlet, coming out on May 30, what different things are we going to see that might surprise us?
DN: There’s some groundbreaking stuff that we’ve done. Many of the action TCG games that are like Kaijudo have 9 or so card booster packs and one of the things that’s new with Quest for the Gauntlet is that we’ve increased the number of cards in a pack from 9 to 14. And the MSRP is still the same, it’s still $3.99 per pack. The advantage that we get off that – and the advantage the players get off that – is that they can draft using three packs. That is a very affordable draft experience. And we’ve also added in draft as a design philosophy for Kaijudo. So we’ve taken all of WotC’s cumulative knowledge about how to make great draft environments and applied them in a uniquely Kaijudo way, so starting with Quest for the Gauntlet, you’ll be able to have this amazing draft experience out of an affordable three packs.
CG: So it’s basically a $12 experience?
DN: Yeah.
CG: Which is very affordable.
DN: It’s very affordable! Previously people were trying to draft with five or six 9-card packs, because you need a certain amount of cards to make a draft successful. Those are very expensive. And we went to the retailers, which is the customers, and they said “We’d really like Kaijudo for drafting.” They were hampered by this problem of it really is kind of expensive. So growing Kaijudo means responding to the needs of the players, responding to the needs of the retail community and we met that need.

Quest for the Gauntlet and Player Excitement

CG: Are we going to see any new abilities-, what’s your term as a designer for abilities that applied across several different creatures?
DN: Just mechanics, abilities. That’s a fine term for it. We haven’t started previews for Quest for the Gauntlet cards.
CG: Right. So what we were playing in there [the Kaijudo draft preview with retailers], I recognized most of those cards.
DN: Right. That was not Quest for the Gauntlet. The draft experience that retailers had at the GTS show is that we took the design philosophy of draft and we created a special set of cards using already-printed cards that has the number of Shield Blasts, and this mechanic, and that mechanic representative of what we’ll see in Quest for the Gauntlet, but using cards that have already been seen.
CG: I know. I was really hoping that I would be able to film my experience, here’s this card, here’s this new card, because when I interviewed Kieren Chase, I know from comments that people actually were watching it in high definition and they were pausing because new cards were being displayed on screen that these fans that run some sort of wiki-
DN: The Kaijudo wiki.
CG: Yeah, they were hastily transcribing them, so eager to update their list of what the cards were.
DN: Isn’t that excitement awesome?! The steps that the fan community goes through to suss out this information is very, very inspiring. We’ll be previewing Gauntlet cards soon. There will at least two new mechanics. One of them is something that players have been anticipating, hoping that they would see, so we expect a lot of exciting satisfaction for the players.

CG: How is it going to be supported with other products?
Kaijudo Evolution Swarm 40-card reconstructed deck packageDN: There will be a deck product that comes out with Quest with the Gauntlet. It is a rather competitive deck in of itself, which means that you can take this deck to your Duel Day which is our weekly Kaijudo organized play event at retail stores and without modifying it, you’ll do fine. It’s a good deck. Our philosophy for decks is more towards great play experiences right out of the package and not so much as an intro experience. Our intro experiences are free product, free sample decks, and the Kaijudo Duel Day deck. Sample decks are aimed at people who are new to TCGs, perhaps younger players or people who are learning Kaijudo as their first TCG. The Kaijudo Duel Day deck is aimed at players who are experienced TCGers who are just coming to Kaijudo as a new TCG they’re playing, so it speaks to them on their level and it doesn’t do things like tell you, “Here’s how TCG works.” It says, “You are already a player, you are already in the game. Here are the three or four things you need to know that makes Kaijudo unique and you can take this deck and start playing with it right away.”

The Initial Tatsurion vs. Razorkinder Decks

CG: Now going way back to the launch of the whole Kaijudo brand, you had the Tatsurion deck versus Razorkinder, what was the ultimate feedback on that? In my own playing the Razorkinder deck won so infrequently against Tatsurion. Do you have a number on it?
DN: It is extremely difficult to balance decks. However those decks were actually reasonably balanced. Do you perhaps prefer a more aggressive deck style?
CG: I don’t know? But it really came down to 80-20 [in percentage of the Nature-Fire Tatsurion deck’s wins]. It was so hard for the Razorkinder to beat the Tatsurion deck against many different opponents, no matter who they were. I would always be like “Oh, you’re new? I’ll let you play Tatsurion, I’ll play Razorkinder.” I did that in the hopes that they would enjoy the game and enjoy their victory, because that’s what it turned out to be a lot of the time, but uh, this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this or not?
DN: It’s not the first time I’ve heard this. I’ve heard of differing results from either deck. I think, in retrospect, the Tatsurion deck has an easier time getting a board presence established and can come in slightly faster than the Razorkinder deck. The Razorkinder deck has good draws that allow it to regain control, but aggression is good.

The Roll of Vanilla Cards and Games that Teach Themselves

Rumbling Terrasaur Kaijudo card 5000 creature for 5 cost

The Very Vanilla Rumbling Terrasaur Has Much to Teach Us

CG: Do you call a generic card a vanilla?
DN: Yes, yes we do.
CG: Who made the decision, let’s have vanilla cards! Or as to what percentage of vanilla cards should we have versus ones with actual abilities? I think a Rumbling Terrasaur is just a Rumbling Terrasaur, right?
DN: That is correct. It’s a Level 5 for 5K Nature creature. So, I’m part of that decision-making process. Especially when a game is new to the market, we need to segue players from one packet of information to the next to the next. If you provide too much information at once, it’s very easy to overwhelm people and then they have a disappointing experience. You and I as experienced TCG players can look at a vanilla card and find it wanting because it doesn’t have have that level of oomph or newness and freshness, but for someone who is coming into a game, vanillas serve a really important purpose. They show you the philosophy of each civilization in terms of creatures. So, for example, Nature gets a 5 for 5K, it gets a 3 for 3, a 4 for 4. It gets creatures that give you bang for the buck, whereas, say Darkness, does not have quite as good creatures in terms of Power to Level ratio. So you get a 5 for 3k for example. And that teaches you something. And then when you start layering in the next packet of information which is Keyword Abilities. So, you’ll say, “Well, ok, my Darkness creature is 5 for 3k but it gets Slayer, which is a really cool ability that basically lets me Banish anything.” That progression of information, which starts from the smallest amount of information we can present in one card, and then layers in and in, allows players to ramp up to the point where they can process a more complex card. So vanillas are really important. As Kaijudo has matured, the proportion of vanillas to non-vanilla cards drops a little bit, because we have a more experienced player base who don’t need as much hand-holding, but it’s extremely important for your first large set to have enough vanillas to ease people into more complex concepts.
CG: What taught you that? Is that coming from you or did some Magic designers say “Hey-”
DN: So, there is institutional knowledge, which is one of the amazing things about WotC. We are very good in R&D about sharing knowledge through generations of designers. We’ve been doing this for a … long time. That knowledge becomes institutionalized. We, as designers and R&D members, add to that institutional knowledge. So some of it, yes, comes from the experiences of those who’ve come before us. Some of it comes from personal experience; I’ve been doing this thirteen years in one capacity at a company or another. Learning how to teach without a rulebook. Teaching people by just handing them cards, seeing what they learn, how they progress one from competency level to the next higher competency level has been an important learning experience in my personal development as a game designer and I’m very happy with the way that I’ve been able to express that in Kaijudo.
CG: In video games, there’s a lot of the same principles. A well-designed video game, you learn the game-
DN: As you’re playing! Yes, exactly.
CG: So that was intentional with Kaijudo?
DN: Yes. Very specifically engineered into the way that we did the first several sets.

Drew Nolosco’s Excitement About Kaijudo Draft

CG: Now you’re here at GAMA Trade Show; is this your first time here?
DN: Uh, my first time as a Wizards employee, yes.
CG: Who were you here with before or what were you doing here before?
DN: Prior to working at Wizards of the Coast, I was with a number of other companies, so I’ve been here a number of different times in my professional career. [Drew did not elaborate, but among these were WizKids and To Be Continued (Chaotic TCG)]
CG: What are you most excited about being here? Is it the 14-card draft format?
DN: It’s specifically draft.
CG: Professionally, you’re excited to see it, draft, unleashed?
DN: So, taking a game and realigning it for draft as a native experience, built into the game has been an extremely challenging and kind of monumental professional experience. It’s not often that you’re able to take something and then add in such a complex layer to it and have it come out and still be recognizably that original core thing, but with this new level of texture in it, so I’m extraordinarily proud of what all the people at Kaijudo R&D have been able to do, very particularly Mons Johnson, Lead Developer, has…. we’ve really done something beautiful.
CG: Not to put that down. That’s a great quote that you’ve done something beautiful. Are you saying that if home users somehow had come up with the number 14 (for the number of cards) for draft and they somehow came up with their own random packs to simulate a draft, you’re saying that there’s been enough thought in [your] process to-
DN: It’s not just 14 cards. 14 cards allows players to get the quantity of cards you need to draft at an affordable price point, but we’ve actually taken Kaijudo and layered in draft play as an integrated part of the design for Quest for the Gauntlet. We’ve layered in draft archetypes. So, how do civilization combinations approach winning the game in a draft environment. Each combination has a different tweak on what their theme is in Quest for the Gauntlet.
CG: So it might be very subtle?
DN: Sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes it’s going to hit you over the head. And the advantage of doing that is that you get replayability in draft. This is important for retailers because players will want to draft over and over again as they explore the depth of Quest for the Gauntlet in a draft environment. It’s good for players because there’s a lot of meat packed into this and it’s good for constructed players because there are a lot of newly interesting, exciting cards for them to add to current decks and add some new decks. It is a very dense – dense sounds like a pejorative – it’s a lot of greatness packed into one 170-card set. So it’s not just increasing the number of cards. We’ve done significant heavy lifting in adding in new design philosophy into Kaijudo.

Quest for the Gauntlet’s Story Arc and a Little Magic

CG: Now you oversee the story as well, so there’s a story element to this 170-card set?
DN: That’s correct.
CG: This is going to be horrible to any Magic: TG fan, but I’m a Fallen Empires-era Magic player so that would be the strongest example I know, but it’s considered the worst Magic set, I think, so I don’t want to-
DN: Hey! So, think about the cards that have come out of Fallen Empires that are tournament staples.
CG: I guess a Tourach sort of card…
DN: There’s Hymn to Tourach, there’s a number of cards that came out of that set. That set was more successful than you think. However, I understand where you’re coming from, having been a player at that time.
CG: Because I can name most of those creatures, the thallids, the Icatians, and so on. Will this have that same narrative feel? Maybe you can look at all the flavor text and figure out something about the Veil?
DN: The world that you’re in. I believe very strongly that you can’t tell narrative with a trading card game in the product itself, because players experience it in a completely random order. A narrative is a series of events that lead from establishing characters to a setting to a crisis to resolution. What you can do with trading card games is you can provide worlds that stories are told in and see parts of them just like any journey that you take real lands. You see parts of that land in the particular route order that you go. Travel US Route 1 from beginning to end you’ve seen part of the United States in an order that is very unique, but when you open Quest for the Gauntlet and any other upcoming Kaijudo set you will see the world of Kaijudo in order-, kind of dictated by the packs that you open, but you’ll be able to explore that world and get an idea of what’s going on.

However, on top of that, there is layered a very particular story arc. So the set of game cards provides a setting and there is a story that-, actually an extremely detailed story layered out on top of that that various other outlets will be telling.

Duel Masters as Cards?

TCG Kaijudo card showing mutated humanoid Humangoru

The Only Mutated Human to Appear as a Card: Humonguru

CG: Now they’re called Duel Masters in the show?
DN: They are Duel Masters.
CG: Right, ok. I’m not familiar enough with all the cards, but will we ever see them, the Duel Masters, as cards, in a Planeswalker kind of way?
DN: You are the Duelist in Kaijudo.
CG: So we won’t see a Gabe.
DN: No, no. But you’ll see the creatures Gabe summons and you’ll have an opportunity to summon them and sometimes you’ll recreate the experiences that you saw on TV. But more often you’ll be creating new experiences and new stories as you play through the games using those creatures. We’ve made a very conscious decision that the human characters in the world of Kaijudo don’t appear on game cards and fans reading this will immediately point out the one exception, who is the one human character who became mutated… But, in general, no, you are the Duelist, you are a Duel Master as a player, summoning creatures, and creating your own stories with them.

CG: Ok. What in particular is most exciting to you about Quest for the Gauntlet, an ability, a card, anything? Even if it’s just a name.
DN: Gargle fans will be very happy in Quest for the Gauntlet. That’s about all I can say right now. [On March 18, 2014]

All images copyright Wizards of the Coast.

Belegarth’s Battle for the Ring VI Set to Rule Them All January 17-20

Belegarth foam fighters clash in dusty Battle Game at Battle for the Ring V in Chino CA

Battle for the Ring Brings out the Best of Belegarth

On January 17, a horde of over 400 foam fighters and battle gamers will descend on Prado Regional Park near the San Gabriel Mountains of Chino, California for three days of camping, combat, and camaraderie at Battle for the Ring VI. While Battle for the Ring founder and coordinator Anastasia Nagel says that all signs point to the event surpassing 450 in attendance, for Nagel the magic number to beat is 407, which was the attendance at last year’s Chaos Wars in Idaho. By comparison, the fifth Battle for the Ring in 2013 drew 378. When not dishing it out in massive field battles, Belegarth and Dagorhir fighters will compete in tournaments, attend classes ranging from Great Weapons to Brewing to Embroidery, and party like it’s 1099. In 2013 Nagel took Battle for the Ring VI to Kickstarter and was successful in crowdfunding $3,685 for the event, which may soon be the largest Belegarth event west of the Mississippi. For anyone who missed the boat on the special Kickstarter admittance, $40 will cover the three days and four nights of camping and fighting.

Battle for the Ring VI Activities

What: Battle for the Ring VI
Where: Prado Regional Park, Chino, CA
When: January 17-20, 2014
How Much: $40 Admission
Website: https://www.facebook.com/events/603470826342638/

At the heart of Battle for the Ring are the field battles and much like at SCA Wars, the prime fighting is reserved for the weekend. This year’s climactic, final battle is called the Siege of Barad’dur and will be fought on Sunday. It may feature a castle objective constructed out of patio posts and tarps to represent the Dark Tower of Mordor. Nagel, who fights under the game name of Anastasia of Chamonix, was a little hush-hush in describing the scenario, wishing to keep it a surprise for those attending, but elaborated that the final battle is a derivative of a bridge battle. The scenarios are the creations of Field Marshal Salvador Solis, or as he’s known in Belegarth circles, Darth Cheeseheart. To coincide with the fifth Battle of the Ring last year, Cheeseheart created a Battle of Five Armies scenario with forces fighting over Smaug’s treasure. Similarly the second Battle for the Ring featured a battle based on the Two Towers.

Even if they lack a thematic name or purpose, Darth Cheeseheart has been hard at work in planning all of the other unit battles that will unfold at BftR. He plans on staging other “castle-siege type games” as well as Capture the Flag with anywhere from two to eight teams. In another battlefield scenario, teams will work to transport an item across the field. With the short winter daylight hours and the limited time frame of only three days, for Nagel it’s important to get everyone out onto the field fighting at the same time, as opposed to Chaos Wars which is a week-long event that takes advantage of lingering summertime sunlight. Another highlight of Saturday will be the feast in the evening, which is included in the $40 admission. Catered by Porto’s Bakery, the feast will be a festive time to trade war stories over meat pies and chicken pies, not to mention stuffed potato balls, salad, fruit, and bread.

Bel Bowl and Aztec Football

While he’s not the creator of Aztec Football, Cheeseheart is particularly proud of his Bel Bowl Aztec Football tournament, describing it as his “baby”. Aztec Football features teams of 8-10 players taking turns on offense and defense, with the offense using a designated player as the “ball”. If the “ball” manages to make it through the goal markers (set approximately 15-20 feet apart), the team on offense scores a point. If he or she is thwarted, the teams switch sides, playing through three rotations of offense and defense. Fighters do not respawn when killed each turn, so careful tactical play is a necessity in the special battle game which allows armor, but not archery. And the Bel Bowl is popular! Salvador Solis expects 100-120 participants this year and describes Bel Bowl as “the most competitive fighting aspect of the entire event, with top-tier teams and fighters joining.” Part of the thrill of Bel Bowl is the pageantry of the parade that precedes the actual fighting with judges awarding points to teams in the parade based on costuming, intimidation factor, evocation of the Aztec/tribal theme, and originality. In keeping with its Aztec theme, the figurehead captains of the losing teams will be ceremonially “beheaded” at the end of each match. For the winning Bel Bowl team there is eternal glory… and belt favors. The belt favors will feature an Aztec design as well as the words “Bel Bowl 2014” to commemorate what will be a hard-fought victory.

The Dominance of Catalyst at Bel Bowl

The team to beat in 2014 already has Bel Bowl 2012 and Bel Bowl 2013 belt favors. With most members hailing from Oregon, Team Catalyst has won Bel Bowl two years in a row. In explaining their dominance Solis credited the unit’s leader Bhakdar as being “perhaps the best fighter in our entire region.” At 6’5” Bhakdar certainly looks the part of the ogre persona he plays in game. Teammate Jeremy “Remy” Brookshire elaborated on Catalyst’s past successes, “I guess our ‘secret’ is that the vast majority of us have been fighting together since high school or from the heyday of Babylon [in Bend, Oregon] where all of us lived or fought, sometimes two to three times a week. We know each other, our individual strengths and weaknesses and we know how to survive; it’s how we won every field battle at Chaos Wars XV, when we won the banner.” Staying true to their name, Catalyst has also catalyzed Aztec Football at the Bel Bowl through their heavy use of javelins, allowing them to strike at range.

Classes and Tournaments

Combat Class schedule and tournaments from Battle for the Ring VI

BftR VI Has Many Combat Classes and Tournaments to Offer

Nagel is also proud of Battle for the Ring’s expanded class offerings. Now attending fighters from the rest of California, as well as Montana, Washington, Nevada, and Wyoming can take classes in Embroidery, Brewing, Belly Dancing, English Dancing, and Traditional Hand Drumming. Combat classes include Amtgard 101, Imbalanced Skirmish Tactics, Introduction to Reds (which are great weapons capable of “breaking” shields), Offensive Shield-Work, and Fundamentals of Archery, all taught by volunteers. Ever since Battle for the Ring grew out of being a day event at the UC Irvine campus, Nagel has turned to a growing team of volunteers to assist in pulling off the event. Nagel estimates that she has about 25 volunteers in charge of particular areas, whether they be Arts & Sciences classes or Security. These 25 in turn will have over a hundred volunteers toiling under them.

One such department volunteer is Aizen of the San Diego realm of Andor. Aizen will be overseeing all of Battle for the Ring’s daily tournaments which have a very narrow time frame, running from 12:00 to 1:00 on Friday and Saturday and beginning at 11:30 AM on Sunday. Besides the aforementioned Bel Bowl, the tournaments will cover Florentine (two weapons), Polearms, a Newbie Tournament for fighters of no more than a year’s experience, an armored melee-weapon Champions tournament, a 4 Man team tournament, and an Alpha/Omega tournament which forces veteran fighters to pair up with newbies.

Camp Open Houses

Another innovation for 2014 that Anastasia Nagel eagerly anticipates are the Camp Open Houses, which will begin at 6 PM on Friday night. Established camps have been invited to host an activity or to provide food for visitors and will be denoted by lanterns hanging outside their camp entrances. As the Empress of the Anduril Empire of Southern California, Nagel will be hosting an Alice in Wonderland-themed bash within BftR’s castle, taking the roll of the Mad Queen. Visitors will be made to switch chairs, much like musical chairs, except in this case, when the music stops, there will be a symbolic execution for the slow and chairless. Not to worry, the “dead” will also receive a consolation bag of candy.

Char of Blackwater needs no consolation. Instead he’s excited about the Blackwater camp as well as Bel Bowl, which he calls “a great scrap every year!” The Blackwater household will be hosting a Resurrection of Disco party for its Open House and includes members from several different units throughout Belegarth. Members bear a Blackwater house sash adorned with the group’s device, the rook. But there’s a group within the group: the fighting unit of House Blackwater is the Cult of Blackwater. Cultists are further denoted by their voodoo doll sashes. Somehow disco does figure into all of this as the Cult of Blackwater will be performing a sacred reincarnation ritual and drawing a spirit into a host body who will perform something akin to the “Indonesian Sanghyang trance dance. But with disco.” As if that weren’t enough, Blackwater also promises to add Voodoo zombis and loads of Kool-Aid to the mix.

For those who prefer earthier and heartier entertainment, the Germania camp will feature traditional medieval German food at their Open House and drew praise from Nagel for their “entirely period camp” that the nationwide group sets up. Rather than sleeping in mundane nylon tents from REI, Germanians sleep in shelters fashioned out of canvas and cook all of their food in cast iron pots. The group has been rehearsing its version of the popular Viking drinking song “Life Blood” to teach to camp visitors, as well as the board game hnefttafl.

The Dragon’s Inn: Tabletop Gaming

Speaking of board games, from 7:00 PM to 1:00 AM every evening there will be tabletop gaming indoors at the Dragon’s Inn. Gamers can level up in Munchkin or play other board and card games like Settlers of Catan, chess, Bang! or Cards Against Humanity. This year there will be a Magic: The Gathering draft tournament called The Wizard’s Duel which will span the length of Battle for the Ring with players drafting cards for $7 on Friday evening and culminating final battles on Sunday night. The tournament and game room are the domains of Anastasia Nagel’s real life husband, Brian Marion, who fights in Belegarth under the name of Golem. As for Nagel, she’s not a big tabletop gamer and describes herself as “the brutal combat one in the family”, fighting with her preferred sword and shield or “sword and board” as it is known in battle gaming and LARPing. The Prado Regional Park holds a special place in the couple’s hearts because they were married there in 2011 with their wedding even being a Belegarth game event.

Battle for the Ring VI Feasting Fighting Schedule

A Portion of Battle for the Ring VI’s Extensive Schedule

Battle for the Ring VI “Celebrities” and BeyondGeek Documentary

In the real world he’s Dane Johns and a graduate student studying Medieval History, but in Belegarth his name is Sir Par. He’s also the president of the Belegarth Medieval Combat Society and has been playing Belegarth since 2003 and he’s very, very excited about attending Battle for the Ring VI. As a knight, Sir Par has five squires under his tutelage including Salvador “Cheeseheart” Solis and is especially looking forward to his Squires’ Trial which he will run on Sunday morning, “testing their teamwork, leadership, and adaptability against some of the best fighters in the sport.” Sir Par will be coming down from his home realm of Rath in Boise, Idaho. Besides overseeing the overall corporate welfare of Belegarth, chairing its legislative War Council, and setting the national standards for qualified marshals, Sir Par also does a good bit of fighting as well and pointed out that he is always a “tournament win possibility” himself. Sir Par confirmed that should Battle for the Ring reach Anastasia Nagel’s estimation of 450 people, that it will be the second largest Belegarth event in the world, trailing behind Octoberfest which draws between 800-1000 Belegrim annually.

Thomas Hegstrom Oakey shares Sir Par’s enthusiasm for Battle for the Ring. More famously known as Elwrath, Hegstrom Oakey hails from Provo, Utah where he is a member of Ered Duath and said of Battle for the Ring, “I can’t tell you how much I enjoy it each year; it’s a infusion of new life after a dreary winter. I will go every year if possible.” In 2013, Elwrath was a critical member of the winning four-man team in the Four Horsemen tournament at the War of Reckoning in Southern Utah. His Elite Blood Falcons unit has won the first unit battle at Battle for the Ring for the last two years running as well, but Bel Bowl victory has eluded Elwrath at Battle for the Ring thus far. The Elite Blood Falcons Bel Bowl team has come in second place behind Catalyst for the last two years, so he will come to this year’s Battle for the Ring with a score to settle. The Elite Blood Falcons tend to live up to the first part of their name and are composed of individuals who pride themselves on being or trying to be, in Elwrath’s words, “top-tier fighters. We have had (and still do to some extent) a policy of only approaching and recruiting ‘elite’ fighters.” Founded 21 years ago in Tennessee by Ivan Darkspear, the Elite Blood Falcons have members throughout the country with pockets in Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, Michigan, and Idaho. As for the Elite Blood Falcons’ chances in the Bel Bowl this year – and especially against Catalyst – Elwrath admitted that Team Catalyst’s members “will make for a challenge no matter what kind of team I can muster to fight them. I do think we’ll have a better chance than ever before though.” A part of that better chance will be the right gear for the fight; Elite Blood Falcons’ opponents can expect a lot more armor from the team this year as well as javelins being thrown at them.

Peter the Quick is another visiting fighter who is famous within Belegarth circles and will be traveling all the way from the Numenor realm in the Champaign/Urbana area of Illinois. He will reunite with Catalyst’s Bhakdar, who was his former roommate in college. Jeremy “Remy” Brookshire of Catalyst estimates that Bhakdar and Peter the Quick are “in the top 2%” of fighters in the three most popular battle games of Dagorhir, Belegarth, and Amtgard. Peter the Quick has certainly had time to improve his fighting style; he began fighting in August, 2001 at Tir Asleen in Ames, Iowa. Peter the Quick looks forward to seeing old friends at BftR as well as meeting a whole new host of fighters with whom he has yet to cross blades. As for Peter the Quick’s legendary reputation, his Numenorian ally (and Forged Foam owner) Sir Galin attributes it to both his unparalleled skill in one-on-one combat within Numenor and his social skills. As Sir Galin says, Peter the Quick “takes the time to teach and build relationships with so many younger fighters.” Sir Par also did not take long in vetting Peter the Quick’s skill at arms, pointing out that Peter the Quick, Bhakdar, Elwrath, and a fighter named Shy who will be attending Battle for the Ring “are four of the top ten fighters in Bel.” What makes Peter the Quick so good? It turns out that “the Quick” part of his name isn’t ironic; “Peter the Quick is very fast,” said Sir Par, who then added “But his overall approach really revolutionized two weapon fighting” as well.

BeyondGeek Battle Gaming Episode

Still shot showing foam fighters from Dagorhir's Mallenorod chapter in a fighting line with female in front

From BeyondGeek: The Camera Follows Dagorhir’s Mallenorod

A documentary film crew from BeyondGeek will be following the Mallenorod Dagorhir group from the San Francisco Bay Area over the course of the weekend for an episode dedicated to the emerging sport of battle gaming. The episode’s host, Sage Michael, has been training with the Mallenorod chapter where he learned how to create his own foam boffer, as well as the basics of Dagorhir combat. According to series producer Joe Gillis, BeyondGeek is intended to air on PBS and may eventually be available via DVD. Gillis’ credits include Yard Crashers and Turf War on the DIY Network, as well as a stint on America’s Heartland on PBS. Each of BeyondGeek’s first season’s six episodes will focus on a single geeky topic for 30 minutes from JP Aerospace to World War II reenactors to the battle gamers represented by Mallenorod. Gillis and his seven man crew will be capturing a lot of the action on all three days of Battle for the Ring.

Belegarth and Dagorhir? Battle Gaming? Jump right in!

Though heavily inspired by the Lord of the Rings, in both Belegarth and Dagorhir the focus is on martial prowess and skill at wielding foam boffer swords and shields, instead of cries of “Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!” The closest either battle game comes to magic is the seldom-used Healing Poem of Dagorhir, which Belegarth realms abandoned when they split off from Dagorhir in 2001. That’s not to say that there won’t be fantasy elements at Battle for the Ring. There will undoubtedly be players at Battle for the Ring who identify as goblins, trolls, and dwarves and though not every Dagorhim or Belegrim plays tabletop RPGs like Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons, almost every battle gamer has acted out an interest in fantasy by playing those games or World of Warcraft, League of Legends, or other fantasy video games.

The rules of Belegarth and Dagorhir have remained similar despite the Belegarth-Dagorhir split; in both rule sets, most battle games are over in 3-15 minutes and typically involve “killing” opponents by strikes to the torso. The head is an invalid target for melee strikes, while arms and legs count as limbs, lose two of them and it counts as a death. The rules of Belegarth are collected together to form the Belegarth Book of War, which is only seven pages long when viewed as a PDF. If seven pages are too much for any prospective fighters, Battle for the Ring will be offering three Intro to Belegarth combat classes throughout the weekend, providing ample opportunity for any new fighters to test their mettle and dive into battle gaming.

Chasing the Ovoid: The Cosmic Goodness that is Chaosmos

Hand of Equipment cards from board game Chaosmos with ovular Ovoid card on topCurrently on Kickstarter, Chaosmos is a cosmic chase played out via board game for the enigmatic Ovoid, a singular item of untold power. Produce the Ovoid card at the end of the game and you’re the winner, but along the way you’ll probably have to search planets, battle your foes with futuristic weaponry, and possibly even reverse time! Each player controls a unique alien race with its own set of powerful special abilities, as well as a hand of Equipment cards. By visiting a planet cards can be exchanged with those on the planet, represented in the game by an envelope. By paying attention to rivals’ interplanetary travels and opponents’ cards (revealed by being the victor in battle), shrewd players will begin to construct an understanding of their opponents’ strategies as well as possible locations of the Ovoid. If the Clue-like sleuthing isn’t enough to whet your appetite, Chaosmos features a 35mm miniature for each of its eight alien races as well as the Chaos Clock dial, which keeps track of game turns and can be reversed or sped up by use of the Temporal Displacer card, which can move the Chaos Clock forward or backward up to 8 turns!

The great news is that Chaosmos has already met its $40,000 goal. I spoke with game designer Joey Vigour of Mirror Box Games the day after the game’s launch, on January 3, when the game had just reached 50% Funded and he revealed a wealth of information about Chaosmos’ development, strategy, and Stretch Goals.

The Development of Chaosmos

Game designer Joey Vigour from Mirror Box Games at Chaosmos Board Game at GAMA Trade Show convention

(L to R) Danny and Joey Vigour at the 2013 GTS with Chaosmos

CG: Can you describe the process of the decision to Kickstart the game yourselves, because as I know, you had several serious nibbles from some game publishers at the GAMA Trade Show?
JV: Yeah, absolutely. We debuted our game at the GAMA Trade Show in March 2013 and our original goal was to meet a bunch of publishers and find out if the game was something that could compete in this current marketplace and it had original mechanics. We were pretty familiar with sort of the classic modern games, but we weren’t really sure if it was a marketable concept because it is pretty different from what’s on the market. We met with seven or eight different publishers at that show. We had lined up several interviews in advance and we met a couple people that let us pitch to them at the show. Three of the meetings went well and we followed up several times and there was some back and forth. One company actually requested that we develop the game with a completely different theme. But ultimately we just decided that this is a personal project so we really wanted to produce the game ourselves and the only aspect of producing the game that we didn’t think we could handle on our own was fundraising and so that’s why we decided to go with Kickstarter.
CG: Ok, now what was the theme that they were interested in?
JV: It was essentially a joke. I had jokingly said “Oh, and if you don’t like space then we could just make it pirates.” And they thought that was great and they wanted pirates, so instead of Hyperspace – which lets you teleport – they wanted Favorable Winds and you know… so it’s interesting.
CG: Yeah, I guess that in many ways it could still work. I don’t know about the countdown clock (Chaos Clock) and would they be chasing Davy’s Jones…?
JV: The Chaos Clock was going to be a Kraken. It was an interesting dalliance, but the honest truth is that I’m actually pretty married to the space theme. It’s a very personal theme for me; I love space. It was always conceived to be space. It was inspired by a bunch of different sci-fi books, especially one, Interstellar Pig, that’s a space book. It just seemed totally wrong to publish it with a pasted-on theme because so many mechanics are specifically designed secondarily to the theme and they work so well with the space theme. And so we were really stretching it. Why would you be able to remotely look at an island that was thousands of miles away in the pirate theme? It just wasn’t working; I didn’t like it. There wasn’t really a lot of money on the table anyways, so this was the right decision, to self-publish.

Early Origins of Chaosmos: Joey Vigour’s Childhood and an Interstellar Pig


CG: Right. So you mentioned conceiving the game, what was the original interstellar galactic event that spawned Chaosmos?
JV: I guess I would have to go back to my childhood. When I was a kid I designed a bunch of games and one of them was a paper-and-cardboard prototype called Interstellar Pig and it was inspired by a kids’ book [of the same name by William Sleator] that I still like to this day. Very rudimentary game. Roll and move, but the book was just great. Very inspirational. I thought a lot about space and a lot about the idea of flying around and looking for cosmic treasure essentially. So several game designs later, I ended up looking back at that prototype and reimagining it as a modern board game with an action point allowance instead of rolling and moving and a lot of, sort of, unique spins on existing mechanics and then some mechanics that I hadn’t seen before at all. So the initial game design started when I was a kid, but about two years ago, 2012 is when I buckled down and decided I was going to start working on this seriously. And it took about a year of development and then the past year since March has been almost exclusively putting my ducks in a row, building up to January 2, 2014 when we launched.
CG: Sure. Now have you read the sequel, Parasite Pig?
JV: Haha, I have read Parasite Pig; I think it’s terrible, haha. I’m not a fan of the sequel. I don’t think that it has the spark that the original has.

An Evolving Chaosmos

Fat multi legged alien species Drusu from board game Chaosmos

Concept Artwork for Drusu the Scryer

CG: You mentioned getting your ducks in the row, but what has changed about the actual game since the 2013 GAMA Trade Show in March? Have you changed anything about the game.
JV: Absolutely. I guess the primary advancement since that trade show is game balance and cutting down on player downtime, because when you playtest a game with friends and everyone knows all the cards there’s not a lot of analysis-paralysis. But when we actually took it to blind playtesting, we found that players really were uncomfortable making snap decisions that they didn’t fully understand the repercussions of taking certain cards versus other cards. There’s a lot of Race for the Galaxy style choices you have to make where you have a bunch of great cards and you have to discard some of them, or in this case, leave some of them behind on a planet. That just wasn’t working, for players to have to wait their turn, so to speak. So I would say the big change in the past nine months – and it’s a wonderful change – is that you’re now allowed to start your turn as soon as the previous player says he’s finished and he can continue adjusting his hand and the cards in his envelope and make changes between which cards are in his hand and his envelope even when it isn’t his turn. So that is a dramatic change. It allowed us to cut half an hour out of the gameplay and reduce the problems of analysis-paralysis to a negligible degree.

purple-fuschia plastic sculpture of multi legged alien Drusu miniature from Chaosmos board gameCG: Did any of the alien races change? Do they all still have the same names and the same unique game-breaking abilities?
JV: We balanced the races more. That was a major change, because some aliens had amazing powers that were really powerful, but new players couldn’t figure out how to have fun with them, because they are basically really difficult powers. So we just tweaked everything until each alien now has basically a simple power and a more interesting or complex power. And so you can use both powers together in some cases or just the simple power. That was great. The alien names changed a lot in that they have really really long names, but we gave them nice, simple, memorable names. Like Vroon is pretty easy to remember. And Guriwan is a pretty easy to remember planet. Melphyuri-Ghorshi got shortened to Mel-Ghor, so a lot of positive changes in that way. It doesn’t hurt the gameplay at all obviously. Mel-Ghor’s the same planet and it’s called Melphyuri-Ghorshi by the aliens that inhabit it, but the galactic record books shortened the word [laughs] to Mel-Ghor.

CG: Now what’s the deal with this Homesick alien?
JV: Oh, the Haghouhen. Yes, so, he’s a very sad alien. He’s the last surviving member of his race. His planet was destroyed by comets and raided by Atturnuk’s race, the Cphovic Empire, so he’s the only one left. And he believes – maybe correctly, maybe incorrectly – that the Ovoid is the secret to reviving his race so he won’t be alone anymore.
CG: Ok. He’s kind of emo.
JV: Yes, he’s the emo alien.
CG: Now did you ever think of leaving some of these blank and then have as pledge levels on Kickstarter that backers actually name some of these things? How important are the names to you?
JV: Most of the names were created by my friend William Tombs. He also did most of the art, not the 3D renderings, but the art that the renderings were based on. And he is, in my opinion, like J.R.R. Tolkien. He has a whole world designed and he wants to make a bunch of games set in this universe: miniatures games and roleplaying games and novels. I think it’s great. I don’t think this particular game requires that amount of alien research in order to enjoy it. You can have Alien A, the Green Alien, or the Blue Alien or it could be like Cosmic Encounter where you have very simple alien names like Mirror, but I like a little bit of flavor. I think it is part of the overall experience and narrative as you play the game. When you remember particular sessions later, it’s more fun if you had an epic battle on the toxic planet of Atturnuk and Atturnuk reveals his Respiration Worm which is a worm that lets him breathe on Guriwan. It’s just more fun. It allows you to enjoy the game thematically as well as mechanically.

Sword-wielding alien Brute Atturnuk the Brutal from board game Chaosmos

Player Card for Atturnuk the Brutal with Space for Hyper Tokens and Special Abilities

CG: Now any changes in the technology cards, the Equipment cards?
JV: There’s been some changes. One example is, there was a card called Cosmic Fear which forced your opponent to lay down all the combat cards that he was going to play all at once. That way you could decide whether you needed to waste that extra Ion Grenade in order to beat him or if you could save it. But that card ended up being too powerful, so it ended up being changed to a single-use card which goes to the Void after you’re done playing it. It was too powerful, because no card in the game should feel like a must-grab. Everything needed to be equivalent or equivalent in that they’re all good situationally. That was the biggest change, I would say, in the last six months, is weakening that card a little bit.

Mirror Box Games and Chaosmos at BoardGameGeek.Con

“BoardGameGeek.Con is a must-go. It was the greatest con I’ve ever been to.”

CG: I want to return to the must-grabs in a second. Changing topics just a little bit, what was BoardGameGeek.Con like for Mirror Box and what’s it like for the rest of us who have never been there? Tell us about it.
JV: BoardGameGeek.Con is a must-go. It was the greatest con I’ve ever been to. It was a convention for gamers; there was all sorts of gaming. I would walk around around and see Tom Vasel playing games with people that he’d just met at the table. I saw Rich Summer from Mad Men playing games. He’d walk by and sit down and he’d start playing a game. And he’s an actor, you know, and they’re not and no one cared. It was just amazing. We had a giant display in the main hall near the Hot Games section so we got a lot of traffic. Over a hundred people signed up to our email list and probably a 120 people played our game so almost everyone who played our game jumped on to our list. That’s a big deal. When you’re going to other conventions, a much smaller percentage of people are interested in backing your game later. We went to the right convention for our game.
CG: So at Gen Con, attendees buy tickets to play in events, does BoardGameGeekCon have a similar mechanic or do people just come and if there’s room they play?
JV: It’s expensive. It’s 80 or 90 dollars for the con, but you just walk into the board game library and they have every game ever and you check out whatever you want and hopefully you return it in a timely fashion and they don’t have to chase you down. And you play and you just play all day. And you can check out the Hot Games table(s) where all the cool games from Essen are being demoed. There’s a lot of prototypes. There’s a special section for prototypes and then there’s a lot of events, special events, that are going on. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to get outside of my exhibition hall that much, but it was just an amazing experience.
CG: Ok, so you definitely want to go again?
JV: I will go every year from now on.

CG: Ok. So how many demos and play tests do you think you’ve done now?
JV: Well, let me see. I would say it has definitely been, in the last year, we’ve probably played something like 1,000 sessions, because we had three and sometimes four copies of Chaosmos being demoed simultaneously at BGGCon for the entirety of the con. So, yeah, probably 1,000 games and quite a few blind play tests. We’re now testing a 5th-player expansion and we haven’t done our blind play tests for that at all. So that’s our next big hurdle, is to find the time to do blind playtesting with a fifth player.

CG: How many prototypes are there now?
JV: In this final version – we changed our board, that’s another change, that’s another thing that changed since the GAMA Trade Show is we reduced the number of stars between the planets – this version, there’s seven copies and they’re all checked out by reviewers right now. And there’s probably twenty prototypes. Then there’s three original prototypes where we 3D-printed the aliens and got them hand-painted. So hopefully we’ll get those all back. We used a company called Sculpteo for the 3D ones. And then all the other copies, as soon as I get those back I’ll probably chuck them because you never want to go back to your old version. The worst thing is when you show up to do a demo and you realize you packed the board from six months ago.

Must-Have Aliens, Equipment Cards, and Strategy

CG: You mentioned must-grabs and so on, is there a particular alien race that everyone seems to envy or want to play?
JV: A lot of new players like Atturnuk the Brutal because his miniature features a giant sword. A lot of people choose him. People who like backstory and who actually read the flavor text on the alien character sheets choose the Haghouhen a lot. A lot of people like Clokknid. They like robots for some reason. He’s a series of interlocking robots connected by an artificial intelligence that governs them all. A lot of people like that for reason.
CG: Has anyone started talking in a robotic voice for him?
JV: We have found that certain players do the voices and they do the voice from the moment they see the art for the character to the moment the game is done. That has been a strange experience. One guy is actually a voiceover artist. He was at our playtest we did just prior to the GAMA Trade Show in early March and he invented a voice for all eight aliens plus some other bonus aliens that we’re tweaking. And he recorded a little intro with all the different aliens. So I think we’re going to release alien profile videos using his various voices for the aliens. That’ll be fun.

Equipment card Telethwarter Trap for board game Chaosmos says Booby traps when Face UpCG: The Equipment cards break down into Traps, Bases, Weapons and?
JV: So, yes, there are different types of Equipment cards. There’s Advanced Weapons; there’s Primitive Weapons. There are counters to all of the Advanced Weapons. Most of the cards are unique. There’s a 70 card deck and most of them are unique. There are Tactical cards which actually go face up on a planet. It could be face down just like any other card and you could take it into your hand and move it to another planet and come back for it later. But if you set it face up, then when another player lands on that planet, if he doesn’t have the Signal Jammer, he’s going to get trapped and the Trap would banish him back to his home planet and his turn would end. But there’s only three Traps in the game and they’re valuable, but you have to be careful how you use them, because they fill up your hand if you carry them around and then if you Trap a planet that doesn’t end up being important you’ve sort of wasted your time and your Trap. Vaults are interesting because they don’t protect a planet from prying eyes, in that if you land on a planet that’s Vaulted, you can still look at that envelope, but you can’t take anything. It’s a Magnetic Vault. You can’t take anything unless you reveal a Key. So you can hide the Ovoid on Pendra and if I land on Pendra I’ll announce “Ok, there’s a face-up card.” I’ll get to peak inside and see the Ovoid and I’ll know that you left it there and you’ll know that I know that it’s there, but if you hid the key on a different planet, then I’m gonna go on a mini-quest to find the Key, so I can come back and open the Vault. But by then, maybe you’ve figured out another way to get the Ovoid back. So a lot of second-guessing of what other people are doing. And then there’s also Bases that protect the envelopes with the combat cards that you store inside the Base.

Equipment card of cubic Vault that reads Locks when Face Up from board game ChaosmosCG: So do some players forego playing Bases and Traps and just choose to play with Weapons? Is that viable? Are you able to play the whole game and beat it just choosing Weapons to use or can you be totally defensive and just collect Counters?
JV: This is, I think, the element of the game that I’m most proud of. People often ask, “What mechanic are you most proud of?” I think figuring out a way to the balance the game to a degree where we’ve yet to figure out an automatic game-winning strategy, that’s the thing I’m most proud of. Some players collect Weapons and Weapons are important because when you beat somebody in combat you get to look in their hand and take a card so that’s a way of discovering the Ovoid if somebody’s carrying it. If somebody isn’t carrying the Ovoid – if they’ve hidden it somewhere – you could beat them a hundred times and not get the card you need to win. Some players play with Vaults, they love setting Vaults up and deactivating the Vaults and moving them to other planets and then reactivating them. Some players like sticking all the Weapons they can get inside of their Base and then finding more Weapons and teleporting those Weapons into the Base using Hypertube cards. I personally think that the reason the game is so balanced in regard to strategies is the psychological element is more powerful than the mechanical element of which cards you have, because if I think that you are setting the Ovoid inside a Vault on Guriwan and I spend the game looking for something to break in there and steal it, and you’ve actually outsmarted me and you moved it earlier to a different planet that I hadn’t even thought of, then you’re going to win and I’m going to lose even though I might have all the Weapons in the world, and a Key, and a Signal Jammer that breaks Traps. It’s all about the Ovoid. It builds, and builds, and builds over the course of the game and it comes down to who has the Ovoid. So yeah, it’s a battle of wits.

Chaosmos Stretch Goals: Player Shields, Components, and Miniatures

Player shield with alien Drusu used to shield information from other players in Chaosmos board gameCG: So we’ll be talking about some other stretch goals in a bit, but what will players do if the Player Shields remain locked? What’s the role of the Player Shields?
JV: When you’re opening a planet, first of all, it’s important that no one knows what cards are there. If you’re not sitting far enough away from the person to your left and right, there’s a chance if you’re not accessing your envelope under the table or off to the side that they could accidentally catch a glimpse of some of the cards. Anytime that you’re manipulating cards face up as well as face down, there’s the chance of accidentally revealing information and information is key in this game. Part of the concept of the Shields is it’s more just a matter of do players want them? Is it something that they want to tell their friends to back the project so that we can get to that level? I don’t think that it’s a critical game element; we’ve played the game for two years now without playing with Player Shields. We did make some recently as a test and it seemed like people were responding to it. It adds an element of three-dimensionality to the tabletop. Because you can look across the table and see what race I am and what my special abilities are quicker than just looking at my alien sheet.

CG: Ok. Onto some stretch goal stuff. Your first few stretch goals, can you explain the differences in components, between the 1.5 millimeter tokens and the 2 millimeter tokens?
JV: Sure, so, all of the Hyper Tokens are cardboard chits. So thickening them to two millimeters would be great because it makes them easier to pick up and it has some weight to it. I think it’ll be fun to thicken basically all of the cardboard in the game. In addition, there’s Landing Markers. Every time you land on a planet you’re going to be leaving your flag behind to remind people that you were there last. So all these 56 markers in the game – rather than just putting a thin sliver of a flag on a planet, it’ll be fun to have a nice, meatier meeple to leave behind.
CG: What can you think of that’s a comparable 2mm product?
JV: I don’t know the exact size of other games. Fantasy Flight uses a lot of 2mm cardboard in their expensive titles. Descent, Twilight Imperium. The flags in Twilight Imperium are great. So we want to upgrade components to that. Right now we’re working with Panda GM. In my opinion they make the best components in the industry. They make Merchants and Marauders and they make Eclipse: great component quality.

CG: So also for component quality, which is your second Stretch Goal, for the playing cards you have this upgrade from greycore to bluecore. Can you explain that to us?
JV: When I was a kid I had Magic cards that went through the washing machine and then dryer and you could still read them and play with them and those are bluecore. It’s a level of cardstock where there’s actually a core inside the paper which keeps it sturdy to a degree where you can play with the cards for years and years and years and they’re still playable, they’re still readable, they’re still in good quality. A lot of games, especially Kickstarter games, come out with greycore. It’s just a significantly lower quality paper. So greycore is still playable, it’s still great, but if you’re going to love a game and be proud to own it, you’re going to want to have bluecore because that’s the Magic: The Gathering quality.

The Chaosmos Miniatures

Grey plastic sword-wielding miniature of Atturnuk the Brutal for Chaosmos board game

35mm 3D Plastic Sculpt of Atturnuk the Brutal

CG: Also, I’m always a fan of miniatures in board games, but how important are the minis to Chaosmos?
JV: I think it comes down to the thematic experience. It comes down to when you’re a kid and you play with miniatures it’s something that’s meaningful. I don’t remember any of the hex and counter games that I played when I was a kid. I mean I owned Starship Troopers and Diplomacy and I don’t really remember those games, but I remember the games that had miniatures, even the bad games with miniatures, so it comes down to does the game inspire the thematic in us? So I guess you could play the game with little pawns or cardboard player stands, but to me, it’s a miniatures game. It was always intended to be a miniatures game even when I was a kid. My brother, who is the primary sculptor in the family, would make little Play-Doh creations that we would put in the oven and we would play with those miniatures, so to me it really comes down to theme. The game is a thematic experience and my favorite thematic games all have miniatures.
CG: And why the 35mm scale?
JV: This is not a 4X game and you’re not going to be moving large armies around. You have a detailed, single alien that you are playing the role of. Warhammer 40K would use 28mm for the size of a figurine, but 35mm it gives it enough attention to detail so you can easily see that the blue alien has a bunch of extra arms and his special ability allows him to hold extra cards and Vroon the Adventurer has a jetpack and he can move an extra movement action. Each alien’s miniature relates to their special ability in a way that even kids who play the game, instantly remember what they’re special ability is because of the miniature. So the 35mm, the larger size miniature, I think, adds to the fun.

CG: If we can imagine, right now you’re sitting at 50 percent funded. Let’s say you were at 3 percent. Would you ever ditch the miniatures if you needed to?
JV: Well Kickstarter is an interesting thing because when somebody backs your project, they’re believing in you and you can’t undermine them later and say, “Well, we’re keeping your money, but we’re not going to give you what you backed for.”
CG: Right. So you’re saying that maybe that’s why they backed you in the first place, because they want the miniatures?
JV: I think it depends on the backer. I think the family and friends who backed the project really probably don’t care about what they get in the end. I think the important thing is keeping our word. If our Kickstarter was a disaster but we could maybe figure out a way to make it work, I think you can always relaunch a project, but I had total faith that the project was complete and the miniatures were a critical component of that and as long as we’re honest with people about why we love miniatures and the component quality of the final product… I think everybody who’s backed us, loves the miniatures. We haven’t had anybody really say that they wish they could have the game without miniatures.

CG: Yeah, don’t you have Kemet behind you in your video?
JV: Yeah, probably! I love Kemet. I just played Cyclades recently as well and those have awesome miniatures. To me, I would rather play either of those games over any hex encounter game even if it had superior mechanics. It just excites my mind for whatever reason!
CG: Right, I share that with you. It’s also exciting to see the miniatures in this. Of course, you also have Twilight Imperium back behind you and you must love those figures and those ships too.
JV: I love Twilight Imperium. I play it more than anyone I know on the internet. We played six or seven times last year. My goal is to play at least six times again in 2014 and I think I worked it out that if I play at least six times in 2014, it’s one fifth of one percent of all my free time.

Hyper Tokens, Strategic Advice, and Chaosmos’ Dice

CG: Is the number of Hyper Tokens you have public knowledge or would you shield that as well?
JV: No, that’s public knowledge and you only have three and you don’t get them again. So you wouldn’t be able to hide it even if you wanted to. Hyper Tokens are a very valuable resource. It’s sort of like when you’re out of other options and you’re like, “I got to get to that planet before he discovers my entire cache of weapons or he gets the Ovoid,” or something like that, then you can expend the Hyper Token. But it’s generally really dangerous to do that, because when you use one, it’s such a big deal. It’s an immediate red flag. So this is another way to deduce what’s going on in the game and why it’s not a complete fog of war, because when you Hyper Token over somewhere, you’re probably not bluffing that there’s something good over there. You might be; there might be an amazing, clever reason that you’re bluffing. Generally speaking it’s a red flag that something awesome is going down on that side of the map.

CG: So you can just discover right at the beginning of the game that you have the Ovoid, right?
JV: Absolutely. You might start the game with the Ovoid, but it doesn’t necessarily give you an advantage. In fact, in many ways it gives you a disadvantage. If you carry it with you, it just fills up your hand, it’s a completely useless card until the last turn. Not to mention the fact that if someone suspects that you have it, they are going to come after you in such an aggressive way, it will be hard for you to gather items on planets because there will be people trailing behind you. So having the Ovoid… I don’t think it’s an advantage at all in the early part of the game. In the mid-part of the game, yeah, it’s nice to know where the Ovoid is, but I personally don’t carry it with me because it’s just too dangerous. They’re so many super-powerful weapons that are only good for one battle – so most of the cards are permanent; they go back to your hand after you use them. But some cards, like there’s Nano Fabricators that duplicate weapons and there’s Ion Grenades that are +3 in combat, but then they’re discarded. So if you really want to, you can probably win any single combat just by using these special cards, but you have to be tactical as to which combat is the one that you really need to win, because losing combat in this game, it really doesn’t matter that much. The other person will take one of your cards. He’ll get stronger and you’ll get a little bit weaker, but then you’ll land on a planet and you fill up your hand again and move on. It’s not a big deal. But if he takes the Ovoid from you because he won a battle, that would be a critical battle.

Two dice, one red one blue with numbers on them and a circular mirror for Chaosmos board gameCG: What’s the Ovoid on the dice mean?
JV: So, it’s actually a Mirror. The Mirror mirrors the other die. If you roll a 3 and a Mirror, then that’s a 6. If you roll a 5 and a Mirror, that’s a 10. If you roll two Mirrors, then that’s Infinity and you would instantly win that battle.
CG: Oh wow. But do you get into Infinity +3 versus Infinity?
JV: No. Somebody asked me that. I don’t think that it’s ever happened. Maybe it’s happened once. But if you both roll Infinity then both players are immediately banished back to their home planets and their turn ends. I was thinking about this because I saw the movie The Avengers and at one point Thor’s hammer strikes Captain America’s shield and bad things happen. And I thought that was a pretty funny moment, so that’s what happens when both players roll Infinity.

CG: Ok. Alright. Good luck with Kickstarter!
JV: Thanks!

All game images and artwork copyright Mirror Box Games and used with permission.

Deadfellas – The Zombie Mobster Card Game

Deadfellas Zombie Mobster Card Game box cover with designersEver since picking up Deadfellas at Comic-Con back in 2012, I have brought the game with me to any sort of gaming or geeky event: Gen Con, Vegas Game Days, Wasteland Weekend, and various SCA Wars. It’s that good and is my backup go-to game for passing 10 or 15 minutes enjoyably. On a flight back from Gen Con I taught the guy next to me to play in under two minutes and soon enough horrible Italian-American accents were trading back and forth as we talked about whacking this mook or that one with cries of “Hey, I Know a Guy” and “Fuhgeddaboutit!Exile Game Studio has a real winner with the Kickstarter-funded Dead Fellas and at only $19.99 MSRP, it’s a pretty good value. For its solid game play, fast pace, simple mechanics, and cool style I give it a 9 out of 10 on BoardGameGeek.com .

Ease of Play

Cheerleader Uniform card art from Exile Game Studio's Deadfellas Zombie Mobster Card Game

Cheerleader Uniform: +2 to a Mook’s Strength

When game artist Brian Snoddy explained the game to me on video at Comic-Con 2012 in about three minutes, he really covered 95% of the game. You get three random undead mobsters called Mooks. Each has a point value represented by a bullet icon, ranging from one to three. Collect 10 points of Mooks by whacking them and you win. In order to whack your opponent’s Mook, you need to equip one of your own with a blue Vehicle card, a red Weapon card, and a yellow Disguise card. Each of these pieces of equipment has its own strength (from 1-3) at the top. Add those together with your Mook’s strength and if you equal or exceed your target’s strength you win, successfully Whacking him. As a small price, you have to Ditch a piece of evidence, one of the three Equipment cards.


Gameplay comes down to Mook and Equipment management. At the beginning of every turn you draw a card from the Equipment deck, which also contains Special cards. You can play as many of your cards as you are able to and then you need to decide whether you 1.) draw another Equipment card 2.) do a Whack action on an opponent or 3.) recruit a new Mook. Special cards like Fuhgeddaboutit! allow a player to cancel a Whack action or another Special card, like an opponent’s Boost card, which could potentially allow the opponent to steal a piece of your Equipment. Another Special card called Dying Wish allows a player to keep his Mook’s Equipment cards if his Mook gets whacked

With three or four players, the game gets even better with more targets to whack. Just make sure to play up the bravado, add a little antagonism, and a lot of accents, and you’ll be in for a good time. I strongly suggest narrating every Whack and attempted Whack, to create an atmosphere of vendetta after vendetta. Let ‘em know that “Big Dump don’t like seeing Joey “Coco Pops” Cotroni in his Boosted Monster Truck, so Big Dump’s gonna Whack ‘im wit’ da Rolling Pin…”

Dead Fella’s Theme: Zombies, Mafia, and… Tutus

Tiny Bug-Eyed Zombie Bug Eyes from Deadfellas Card GameI’m an unlikely advocate for Dead Fellas because apparently unlike the majority of Western males, I’m not a fan of the mafia or Tony Soprano. You could say that I’m Team Elliot Ness even. I’m also not particularly fond of zombies, but Brian Snoddy blends the two themes humorously well in his art for the Mook cards. My favorite Mook has to be the diminutive Bobby “Bug Eyes” Deluca who barely clears three feet on the lineup chart which serves as each Mook’s background. Most of Deluca’s criminal peers have eyes falling out or missing, cuts, gashes, and the occasional squid or mutation. Because Dead Fellas is such a good game, I can say without any reservations that both organized crime fans and zombie fans will get a kick out of this game, though what they’ll make of the other half of the game’s theme is beyond me.

Card art illustration of Sock Monkey for Deadfellas Zombie Mobster Card Game

The Humble Sock Monkey

What I enjoy the most about Deadfellas’ theme though is the absurdity of the Equipment cards. I still get a chuckle when I announce that Pauly “Bed Head” Bonasera disguised in his Tutu and riding his Unicycle is going to whack “Bug Eyes” with the Egg Beater. I have even foregone a more powerful piece of Equipment just for the delight of using the less powerful Biplane, Maid Uniform Disguise, or Sock Monkey. Again, without any narration, the humorous imagery of these cards is lost.

Deadfellas’ Few Choices Are Another Hit

Deadfellas also goes to show just how powerful using only a few gameplay mechanics can be when combined with quality artwork and a fun theme. While Deadfellas can play with anyone young or old, the tactical choices in it are so limited that it’s a good game for gauging how strong a grasp other players’ have of the game itself and board gaming in general with the following in particular standing out:

1. Equipment Dispersal and Disposal
The first choice any player will have in Deadfellas is which of their Mooks to Equip. There is the temptation to possibly bolster weaker Mooks with Equipment to make them less susceptible to weak Whack attempts, but it’s hard to argue with stacking 3-Bullet Weapons, Vehicles, and Disguises on your most powerful Mook to try to get as close to 12 as possible. This doesn’t reveal much about the player, but what they choose to Ditch does.

A player can have a Disguise in his hand already and choose to Ditch the existing Disguise from the Mook who just capped someone. If that Mook survives the round, it’s a simple matter of equipping the new Disguise from hand and repeating the beatdown. This is an effective tactic, but one which I have seen a number of opponents neglect.

The Special card Fugazzi poses its own choices, both in how to pronounce it (Brian Snoddy insists that it’s Foo-gay-zee, while many English speakers go for Foo-gah-zee) and how to best utilize it. The card takes the place of a piece of Equipment, but is a fake, having zero strength. After successfully Whacking an opponent’s Mook do you ditch the zero-strength Fugazzi because it adds no strength to resist opponents’ Mooks or do you ditch something more powerful because the Fugazzi is versatile and allows you to possibly meet the three-Equipment variety condition for a Whack action more readily?

Zombie Mobster Hugo The Hat Nitti playing card missing brain

No Brainer: “The Hat”

2. Target Selection and Elimination – One of the few other choices in the game is which Mooks to target. Most of the time, this is a no brainer (which is fortunate for Mooks like Hugo “The Hat” Nitti): always try to get as many points from each Whack as you can. The exception is targeting a weaker Mook who has Equipment cards on him just to kill him preemptively and waste your opponent’s Equipment cards.

3. End of Turn While there’s nothing tactical about ending a turn, it’s another good clue to just how attuned a player is to the game’s rules. As soon as your opponent’s drawn a second Equipment card or a new Mook or performed a Whack action, he or she’s done. That’s it. Because of this the game’s designers were being quite generous when they list game length at 30 minutes. Cut throat zombie mafiosa can get it down to 10-20 minutes easy.

All card images are copyright Exile Game Studios and used without permission for review purposes.

Big Angry Monsters From LVCE 2013 to Kickstarter NOW

Board game prototype of Big Angry Monsters with creator Anthony Carillo at Las Vegas Comic Expo

Carillo with a Prototype of Big Angry Monsters at LVCE

One of the unique opportunities the 2013 Las Vegas Comic Expo afforded its attendees was the opportunity to play a brand new board game, long before the public will get a chance to play it. Las Vegas resident Anthony Carillo brought Big Angry Monsters to the Expo on Saturday and has now brought the game to Kickstarter. Big Angry Monsters will be familiar to any kaiju fans: rival monsters rampage through a city, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake. It’s been done before by Privateer Press’s Monsterpocalypse and this new game’s Big Angry Monsters sure have the look and feel of IELLO’s King of Tokyo characters, but Carillo has managed to combine other gaming mechanics and crisp character designs from Jared Moratis of BeastPop Artworks into one cohesive package. The game is fast, furious, tactical, and fun.

Carillo is seeking to raise $20,000 on Kickstarter to fund the game’s manufacturing from Panda Game Manufacturing in China with a deadline of December 16. For $50.00, US backers get a copy of the standard edition of Big Angry Monsters, plus a Kickstarter exclusive monster, the Pollo Mutado, as well as all stretch goals. Several top-tier pledges allow for the creation of new Monsters designed by backers with $1000 to design an exclusive monster and $1500 for a monster that will ship with every copy of the game.

The Big Angry Rules of Big Angry Monsters

Giant purple Ape monster named Dave with handlebar mustache for Big Angry Monsters

Big Angry Monster Dave the Ape, A Former Smog Technician

As for the rules of the game, at its core, Big Angry Monsters is a game of grid-based combat using six or seven dice to resolve movement, attacks, and defense for the cardboard monster standees. The various kaiju battle in a randomized island city and can only regain health by destroying the surrounding environment. Unlike King of Tokyo, the dice in Big Angry Monsters do not allow a monster to heal, but do allow for a drain energy attack on your opponents’ monsters. And also unlike King of Tokyo, there is only one path to victory: a player wins by knocking out all of the opponents’ monsters.

Along the way though monsters gain experience and can actually level up, which unlocks special Super Moves attacks like Suplexes and Throws. With a Suplex, gained at Level 2, your monster can lift up an opponent’s monster and smash it down onto a neighboring building for additional damage. Attaining Level 3 opens up the option of Throwing a rival monster up to 2 squares away. Additionally when a monster maxes out its level, the player then gets an additional d6 to roll.

The Rulebook Prototype and Art Direction

Monster artwork of mutated chicken with sharp razor talon hands and large tail called Pollo Mutado for KickstarterWhile the rulebook prototype brought to Las Vegas Comic Expo back in late September had a number of typos, it provided a short selection of solid rules. Carillo turned to Erik Pepper to co-author the game’s introduction and Pepper and Carillo have knocked the ball out of the park. The introduction is light, humorous, and will get any players quickly into the spirit of the game. As for the game’s artwork, while the base monsters were designed by Jared Moratis, Anthony Carillo has turned to another monster creator, Squeedgemonster, to fill in the remainder of the game’s artwork including Power Cards and Location Tiles, as well as the Pollo Mutado Kickstarter Exclusive.

All Big Angry Monsters artwork copyright Anthony Carillo and used with permission.