John Zinser, President of Alderac Entertainment Group, led his staff’s presentation in the afternooon on March 13. With him were Dan Brisco, Jeremy Holcomb, Bryan Reese, and David Trudeau among others. They would be staying in Las Vegas after the GAMA Trade Show for their game development meeting for 2013.
Legend of the Five Rings and AEG’s Development
After querying the seminar attendees about how many of them sell the Legend of the 5 Rings (L5R) card game with a strong response, Zinser announced that AEG has never done better on a product than they had on the Emperor Edition of the game, calling it the best L5R product in 20 years. At the time of presenting, Zinser stated that the Emperor Edition would be sold out within 3 weeks from AEG, creating a lag time of 6-8 weeks until it would be back in stock again. AEG admitted that “L5R is not easy”, but “it is long money”. Out of the collectible card game market, Zinser estimated their customer base as maybe three to five percent of the collectible card game market, and even as low as two percent, but AEG has no intentions of leaving the market.
Last year Zinser discussed AEG’s history at the previous GAMA Trade Show; at this one he explained AEG’s process in developing new games. First, they have a brainstorming meeting where they list all the things they want to happen with the game. Then theygo back through and take the crazy ideas out. They thought of vampires and werewolves and came out with Nightfall. Zinser explained a bit more of the process at a manufacturing seminar on a different day. They cited Thunderstone and L5R as games which were easy for them to playtest and detailed a bit more of their process on games like Monkey Lab and Abandon Ship.
What really stood out to me (as well as a few other attendees I spoke with later) was AEG’s commitment to customer service and excellence, as well as their candor in discussing some of the company’s mishaps. The Kolat Edition of L5R came about because of shipping delays. Rather than leaving customers unfulfilled and waiting for the Emperor Edition, AEG made the delayed Emperor Edition cards available online for free as part of the Kolat Edition. They explained that the Kolat are an evil shadowy faction in Legend of the Five Rings determined to overthrow the Emperor. In an odd turn of events, the AEG staff asked what would the Kolat do if they were in the position that AEG was with the Emperor Edition delays and they decided that giving away the cards would be the way the Kolat would undermine the Emperor. Zinser signed off on the idea which the fans took advantage of. The cards were still available online for free up until March 19.
Several other growing pains that AEG covered were an odd shipment of smelly boxes caused by the inks’ drying times and a mix-up involving Spanish cards mixed in with English. As they said earlier in the seminar though, if it is a reasonable request from a retailer, Customer Service will fix it. I have to imagine that this same ethic also extends to their customer base.
Returning to new products, AEG mentioned that Embers of War is on a boat and will be arriving very soon. The expansion to the L5R line will introduce some new mechanics as well as heralding the arrival of the Imperial Herald. Senseis will also return to the game. Embers will come out in the middle of AEG’s Kotai Season, a special global tournament season for Legends of the Five Rings players. A “Learn to Play L5R” set will also be coming out this summer.
The Oracle of the Void
Bryan Reese discussed the Oracle of the Void, an incredibly detailed online database cataloging every single card from L5R’s 20 year history. AEG just got it up in February and the database will store players’ card collections, allowing them to put together haves and wants. It’s also all entirely free. The database is up to almost 10,000 cards and was a mammoth undertaking, taking over 3 years to develop and thousands of hours of labor. Reese summed it up well, “My wife hates the Oracle.”
Other features include making public or private decks and being able to print out cards a player doesn’t have. Members of AEG’s Imperial Assembly enjoy special benefits on the Oracle. The printed cards allow players to playtest decks, but are not legal for organized tournament play. Nevertheless, to me it sounds like a massive amount of value to L5R players and is more of an incentive to try the game out.
Returning to Thunderstone Advance, AEG pointed out that it will still be compatible with every version of the game. AEG introduced Smash-Up, a “shufflebuilding” card game featuring 8 factions with 20 cards each. The factions include Ninjas, Aliens, Pirates, and Dinosaurs. A player can “probe” his opponent with an alien card and then toss a throwing star at him.
They also announced Mercante and Dominare which definitely had a Eurogames look to them. Mercante seems to be a resource-trading game, while Dominare is about poltiical control and influence. Both seem to be set in a Renaissance Roman setting. They also announced the development of a third game in the same setting with the working title of “Courtier”, though I think “Consiglieri” would be more in keeping with the Latin-Italian theme. At the end, an attendee shouted out his question, asking whether the long-delayed Art of War board game would be coming out and I believe the answer was along the lines of “Not yet.”