I interviewed P.O.W.E.R. creator PK Torretto on May 24 and will be reviewing the modern military card game soon. It should be on shelves in stores as early as late June.
PK Torretto’s Background in Gaming
CG: So you came up with the idea for P.O.W.E.R. in 2009 on a car drive from LA to San Francisco, what had you been doing prior to that in terms of gaming?
PKT: In short? Nothing official or professional, but I give myself my own personal trophy for logging in over 465 hours in Oblivion IV. I am, and always have been, an avid gamer. Specifically PC, not console. People have the Commodore 64, Atari or Apple IIe memories, but I can one-up those with this: my family had a TV gaming system that would move a pong-like white dot on the screen and the way you would change games is to apply a different see-thru sheet of a map that would stay onto the TV by the static! Each game would have a different color and maze, but I digress.
CG: But this wasn’t the actual Pong?
PKT: No, no. The white dot was like that of Pong and we had several games, Haunted House, Treasure Finder, which were different themes on a see-thru plastic sheet that would stick the TV and stay because of the static. Then you would play with the pong-like dot through these stick-on maps/games. That must have been 1975? I have no idea on the name of the manufacturer. [The Magnavox Odyssey from 1973.] Genius for the time. Of course I played Magic when it first came out 1994ish and revisited it around 2008. I played all the popular board games throughout my youth, like Life and Monopoly, and pen-and-paper D&D big time. Our DM wrote a thesis at Cal Berkeley about the learning/teaching opportunities of D&D!
CG: Do you remember his name?
PK: Dennis O’Flaherty from Ancient Dragon Comics in San Rafael, CA. Clerics had to cast spells in German, Mages in Latin, to name some examples. Man do I miss those days!
The Development of P.O.W.E.R.
CG: Wow. I’ll have to look him and the thesis up then. You played Magic in the 90s, but you went with a non-collectible format. Was that inspired by your Magic-playing days?
PKT: The booster pack-buying, luckier guy gets the better card? I just didn’t like it. When I would play with the Magic professionals they would get a circular combo and just win, period. I didn’t have access to these cards as a casual player and that’s why I made certain the U.S. Core Pack’s game ranks Private to Master Sergeant must be played using only the Core Packs. Thus? “The richer player doesn’t win” as in Magic (assuming one buys enough boosterpacks that money spent supercedes luck). The Air/Sea expansion and Officer Game Ranks lifts this restriction and you can play with any card you own when deck-building.
CG: What has the retailer reaction been to that idea? Magic: TG arguably puts a lot of money into their registers because of its collectible nature.
PKT: They love it. Apparently the thought of buying boosters over and over again to get the cards you want just leaves a “bad taste in their mouth” and for a new game? They just will opt not to buy-in and play it from the get-go. Hence the LCG market was born. And I developed this game prior to FFG’s trademark of that term, widely used nowadays. Moreover, the online selling and purchasing of individual cards really upsets the business model in my eyes. The richest player truly wins at that point. Remember, P.O.W.E.R. is a deck-building tactical card game “where the cards are pieces with movement and range.”
CG: You came up with the game in 2009, some of your copyrights are listed as early as 2010, so what’s been happening in the interim, if you could give us an overview of P.O.W.E.R.’s development.
PKT: In the first half of 2009 – competitive research on wargames. How many? What type? What era? No board game was modern warfare… and all the video games were! Even by namesake. So first, there was nothing like it. There was a niche. After the I-5 drive? I laid out all the pieces in Excel. They looked like Monopoly cards.
Since the cards have movement and range and take up space, I experimented with different sizes to shorten the field of play, but the amount of info and legibility became an issue. Pricing too at the end of it all, actually. Then playtests started in the last half of 2009. Once the name was decided? I started the trademark process to protect it. Both word mark and design mark with help from a college buddy, Sho Higuchi.
Then 2010 was all patent. The crazy thing is if you know about it because you look it up? That’s “willful infringement” and three times damages. Talk about ignorance is bliss! [That] led to a complete redesign and the birth of the Build Queue, which I may patent if possible. I also set up my LLC this year and all that company stuff, like taxes.
I started finalizing the design in 2011 and looking for printers/manufacturers and the like. I decided to go with less information on the card and more icons and logos which led to the major info redesign of having buzz words or traits not a paragraph explaining what each card does over and over. So Immobile Fire is when a card can’t move and shoot the same turn. instead of writing that on every card, I can just list it, in hopes that in the future I can just say “Immobile Fire” and not define it.
P.O.W.E.R.’s Build Queue and Future Mechanics
CG: You mention the Build Queue. I know that it was, in part, inspired by Real Time Strategy games, what are some of your favorite RTS games?
PKT: Here’s the thing, I don’t like them. I think they are broken (or I can break them) mathematically (my major at UCLA). Starcraft, Dawn of War II, you name it. There is a sweet spot of either wait and pounce, or steadily chop down the tree, that is always there. Always. Maps/terrain restrictions can change this, but there is an exploit somewhere in the video games, not in P.O.W.E.R. however.
CG: So it’s really just the mechanic of the BQ that you take away from RTS?
PKT: I love, love, love Homeworld by Relic Entertainment and Alex Gardener. Best game ever in my humble opinion, but I don’t know if that’s strictly an RTS. I’d have to say that my favorites are Company of Heroes and World in Conflict, but yes, the wait for the bigger/stronger pieces, or immediate smaller/weaker forces is the foundation of RTS and their Build Queues. The math has to be right and to do this? I used a 6-way rock/paper/scissors mechanic – which RTS games don’t.
CG: Speaking of mechanics, will we see more cards like Body Armor that affect the entire army or units in the army? Improved Munitions? Environmental Battlefield Conditions?
PKT: In short, yes. I have a whole matrix of buffs to be made as an expansion pack to include in your deck. Many say those are the enchantments, sorceries, and equipment cards, and yes, well, sure they are.
The Direction of P.O.W.E.R. Expansions
CG: You had our American military helping you out with images for the game, I think. Have you started looking into where you’ll get your other images for any other nations’ militaries and so on?
PKT: I have one buddy to help with the Chinese. I forgot to add that in my timeline by the way. I spent over six months and many IP lawyers to get rights to all of the images. But that’s why I don’t have multiple nationalities… yet. The different laws overseas. And the nostalgic packs like the “British Schooner Navy” must be graphically rendered. So, when big enough, I hope to hire. Not to mention the puppy dog packs for the anti-military. That was a joke sort of. We joke that our next expansion is going to be stickers that you would just place on the cards! Tanks would be werewolves and helicopters would be vampires. Infantry? Zombies, et cetera. Makes the wargamers chuckle and the fantasy players snarl. But? Then again, what tank can match an Abrams? And do you know how hard it is to find an in-service land-based SAM? All of the US’s are on ships now. All of my units are in service by the way.
CG: I think you’ve mentioned Chinese Infantry, animals, now the British Schooner Navy, what will most likely be the first non-US pack of cards we’ll see?
PKT: Technology Development (Tech Dev, the grey ones) and Politics & Population (P&P the purple one) – but that’s not your question is it…
CG: No, because those would go along with the US military. Or is it still up in the air whether it’ll be Canadians, Russians, Chinese, or Terrorists?
PKT: See, you are bringing up a good debate. As the developer, I don’t want the reenactment so much and I don’t want the “bad guys”. A military board game is a hard enough sell as it is. Flames of War is fantastic and I hope they play POWER in their off-time or a 30 minute skirmish, but it’s about the area of influence and control – and math – less about the theme to me. In fact? I can go ahead at this very moment and say after the A/S Expansion? I would like to make the Pacifist Packs – think Tiananmen Square. Captures more market. And could lead to good trash-talking banter either way, if the math is right. Though we are in talks about going alien invasion/cyberpunk/futuristic versus the US now.
CG: I know the Air/Sea Lane Expansion has been in the works for a while, what all will that give players, besides lifting the restriction on Core cards. Does that cover it?
PKT: The gameplay changes immensely with your Submarines ducking under Aircraft Carriers and Jet Bombers refueling in the air. And remember the Air/Sea Lane Ranges are in rows across the entire Battlefield.
CG: Is it hard to adjust to going back down to the Core set after you’ve been playtesting and working on Air/Sea?
PKT: No, that’s where the game is played and won and I wanted it to be that way. Though at times you wish you didn’t flip over that card, because it must enter the battlefield, you know? The Air and Sea doesn’t inhibit or take over the game, much to playtesters’ surprise. Much to my surprise is that the increased number of cards per side, up to 20 each in Admiral instead of the 8 cards now, does not increase gameplay duration because of the strength of those units. Having said that, there is a lot of balance in the Air and Sea units.
P.O.W.E.R.: In Stores Soon
CG: What are your personal favorite cards in the game?
PKT: Of the ones in the U.S. Core Packs? The Cayuse – a BQ1 C.A.S. that can do 1 dmg in the current square. People don’t see it now, but when you have to take out the Seabees that are building the naval or air base that will launch Destroyer Class ships or F16’s? Better believe they are stacking Cayuses in their BQ. Take out the Construction Battalion? No bases, no sea, no air: lots of cards turn into sore thumbs.
CG: Duly noted. How well do you tend to do at playing P.O.W.E.R. yourself?
PKT: Actually, not that great. I make little mistakes that seem to add up against the expert gamers that play games more than design them. But? There are times I see the end quicker than they do, so I win decisively, just not all the time. And that to me is a sign of a good game, come to think of it
CG: Where can gamers find P.O.W.E.R.?
PKT: At Origins next week…. and SoCal Smackdown at Disneyland Sept 21-23… check http://www.powerthegame.com/news/ and http://www.facebook.com/powerthegame and http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/113456/power for upcoming details.
CG: What’s this Disneyland one?
CG: When will P.O.W.E.R. be in stores? Do you have a date yet?
PKT: Alliance Distribution is taking pre-orders now… and I have found sites on the net already taking orders. End of June, methinks
CG: Awesome. Thanks, PK.
PKT: Thank you!
P.O.W.E.R. card art and board game picture copyright PK Torretto, used with permission.