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.

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.

Paizo Overview Premier Presentation at the 2013 GAMA Trade Show

Paizo Publisher Erik Mona with pleased expression at GAMA Trade Show

Paizo Publishing’s Publisher Erik Mona at GAMA Trade Show

Erik Mona headed the Paizo Publishing leadership at the Paizo Overview Premier Presentation on March 19 at the GAMA Trade Show, flanked by Pierce Watters and Paizo’s new head of marketing Jenny Bendel. Mona explained that prior to Bendel’s arrival he had handled all of Paizo’s marketing himself, but had recruited Bendel into the company four months previously. Later Mona also explained that Paizo’s name originated with the company’s first publisher Johnny Wilson, who discovered the ancient Greek verb paizo, to play, while in seminary.

Jenny Bendel and Pierce Watters stand side by side at the 2013 GAMA Trade Show

Lvl. 20 Marketing Assassin Jenny Bendel and Pierce Watters

Mona began the Paizo presentation with even more history, explaining that the company acquired the licenses to publish Dragon Magazine and Dungeon in 2002. In 2007 Paizo released The Rise of the Runelords, its first in a series of Pathfinder Adventure Paths and has been an RPG powerhouse ever since. Pathfinder has been the #1 selling game in the RPG category since 2010 according to ICv2 with more than 100,000 Core Rulebooks sold worldwide. Paizo also boasts the largest RPG Organized Play program in the industry and produces monthly releases in several product lines. As of the GAMA Trade Show in March, Paizo’s Pathfinder Society program had over 45,000 players in 23 countries and will have 133 available four-hour Pathfinder Society Scenarios for home or in-store play at the end of the current season, Mona shared. Another revelation from Mona: the Pathfinder Beginner Box was tested extensively with Erik Mona and Paizo geniuses watching behind a one-way mirror to better understand and improve players’ experience.

Third Party Licensing and Releases: Diamond Select & SJG

Goblin art image on stone Granix display slab showing Pathfinder imagePathfinder has a “growing metaverse” in licensing and third party releases, Mona said. Sales of Diamond Select goblin plushes have been strong and Paizo had the prototype of a goblin plush backpack from Diamond Select available in their booth. The backpack will be coming out later this year. Zach Oat of Diamond Select provided further, limited details about the backpack. A rough prototype was shown of it at New York Toy Fair in February, but the product is still very much in development, with pricing still to be determined. Pathfinder Mini Mates are also still in development at Diamond Select, but pictures of concept artwork were snapped at New York Toy Fair. Diamond Select is also producing two Granix display plaques for Pathfinder. A Granix piece uses a roughly 7.5 by 5.5 inch slab of rock as the medium to display artwork, with each piece weighing in at over four pounds.

Pathfinder Munchkin

Red dragon cartoon and pathfinder goblins battle Munchkin players on cover for Pathfinder MunchkinPathfinder Munchkin is another licensed release for 2013, trading off of both the Pathfinder brand and Steve Jackson Games’ iconic game of treachery and greed. Announced in 2012, Pathfinder Munchkin has been playtested, but is still in development with card art submitted by artist John Kovalic. Steve Jackson Games is aiming for a release this fall and plans on bringing early copies of the game to Gen Con in August.

2013 Key Paizo Releases

While Paizo posts a near-constant stream of updates to its customers via its own website and through Pathfinder Society emails, this was Paizo’s chance to share specific products with retailers.

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

Cover of Rise of the Runelords Pathfinder Adventure Card GameAnother new product that Mona introduced was the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game which will be composed of 500 playing cards, dice for 4 players, and be supported by 110-card adventure decks. Each card will feature iconic Pathfinder artwork of characters such as Seoni and Valeros (who are themselves referred to as iconics by Paizo). Mona said that the game would be going to the printer in a week when he spoke to the GTS attendees on March 19. Its release will most likely coincide with Gen Con where it will retail for $49.99. Mona detailed that the Burnt Offerings Adventure Deck features six scenarios from the Burnt Offerings adventure, which was originally the first adventure in the Rise of the Runelords campaign. The mention of the Thistletop setting seemed to spark some recognition among attending retailers, if not cheers of approval. According to Jenny Bezel, two scenarios in the Burnt Offerings deck will involve Thistletop and feature “many classic foes and monsters” pulled from Rise of the Runelords.

Pathfinder RPG Releases

Mona moved through the Pathfinder release schedule at a brisk pace, constrained by the hour-long session, and listed future releases of:

  • Mythic Adventures: – Specifically designed for players who favor a more epic or demigod experience for Pathfinder, Mythic Adventures will be released in August for $39.99. The product was first announced after Gen Con in 2012 and any would-be Achilles, Theseus, or Gilgamesh can test its mechanics out using the playtest PDF available on Paizo. Mythic Adventures will be supported the releases of Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Mythic Realms, as well as the Pathfinder Player Companion: Mythic Origins.
  • The Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign Book: For GMs who want to craft the most immersive setting possible, the Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign Book will provide guidance in fleshing out background choices, creating taverns, and building kingdoms. It will retail in June for $39.99.
  • Demonic beings on cover of Pathfinder AP Wrath of the Righteous adventureWrath of the Righteous Adventure Path: With a front cover painted by Wayne Reynolds, the first adventure in the Wrath of the Righteous Adventure Path will release in August. Adventure Paths are composed of six interlocking thematic adventures that build upon one another and take players from Level 1 to Levels 15-18, depending upon the AP. Character death is also a distinct possibility in the challenging adventures which form the basis for entire Pathfinder campaigns. The Wrath of the Righteous will be expanded upon in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The Worldwound as well as the fantasy novel Pathfinder Tales: King of Chaos by Dave Gross. GMs will also be able to hand loot cards out to players via the Pathfinder Cards: Wrath of the Righteous Item Cards. The Wrath of the Righteous begins with the destruction of a magical wardstone which has helped to keep the demonic denizens of the Worldwound entrapped and at bay for centuries. It will be up to the PCs to stem the demonic tide and prevent Golarion’s absolute annihilation. After attending the GTS, Jenny Bendel subsequently identified the six adventures making up the AP, as well as their authors:
    1. Pathfinder Adventure Path #73: The Worldwound Incursion by Amber E. Scott
    2. Pathfinder Adventure Path #74: Sword of Valor by Neil Spicer
    3. Pathfinder Adventure Path #75: Demon’s Heresy by Jim Groves
    4. Pathfinder Adventure Path #76: The Midnight Isles by James Jacobs and Greg A. Vaughan
    5. Pathfinder Adventure Path #77: Herald of the Ivory Labyrinth by Wolfgang Baur
    6. Pathfinder Adventure Path #78: City of Locusts by Richard Pett
  • Skull and Shackles: While the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path debuted last year in April, in Paizo’s experience, it takes up to two years for playgroups to play through an adventure path, so Paizo and WizKids have been supporting the adventure path with pirate-themed Skull and Shackles miniatures.
  • Cover of Pathfinder Bestiary Box 2 with pawns out front on white backgroundMore Pawns! – Anyone who questions companies releasing overlapping products (such as Reaper selling the same miniature sculpt prepainted, in metal, and in plastic) should take note! Mona said that the Pathfinder Pawns has been the fastest-selling new product launch for Paizo since the Core Rulebook. This is happening at the same time as WizKids is producing the equally popular Pathfinder Battles prepainted miniatures. Pathfinder fans apparently can’t get enough of the double-sided cardboard standees, causing the Bestiary Box to sell-out. Paizo will also be releasing the much-anticipated (and much-delayed) NPC Codex Box set later this year as well as the Bestiary 2 Box. Mona also took note of retailers’ complaints about the Bestiary’s box design, which has the list of included monster pawns on its back. The design makes it difficult for GMs to easily check to see if they have a particular creature when the box is open and still contains pawns, forcing GMs to either raise the box overhead above themselves or crane their necks awkwardly to check the contents. Ideally this helpful list of monsters would be replicated on the box’s sides as well.
  • And Even More Pawns! Mona went on to add that Paizo has also released collections of its pawns (minus the bases) related to particular Adventure Paths. Joining the existing Rise of the Runelords and Skull & Shackles Pawn Collections will be the:
    • Reign of Winter Adventure Path Pawn Collection
    • Shattered Star Adventure Path Pawn Collection
    • Wrath of the Righteous Adventure Path Pawn Collection

  • Encounter Packs – Mona also revealed that he helps to make the decision of what to put in Pathfinder Battles Encounter Packs from WizKids such as the Champions of Evil Encounter Pack. He said that there will three Encounter Packs released a year going forward. Rather than a random selection of miniatures, each pack has a designated set of miniatures using pre-existing sculpts from the main line of Pathfinder Battles miniatures.
  • Pathfinder Modules: There will be changes to future Pathfinder Modules as well going forward. Previously they had no spine and were 32 pages in length. Now they will be 64 pages and include a doubled-sided tactical map. Pathfinder Modules are longer than one-shot adventures and are instead intended to be played over multiple gaming sessions.

We Be Goblins, Too!

Paizo gave Pathfinder fans a chance to play as goblins in 2011 in the “We Be Goblins” adventure released for Free RPG Day and gamers’ reactions were so positive that Paizo will release We Be Goblins, Too!, allowing the opportunity to adventure as the demihumans again as a tie-in with Free RPG Day on June 15. WizKids will be releasing the associated Pathfinder Battles Builder Series We Be Goblins set on May 29 to coincide with We Be Goblins, Too! The small range of 12 figures is exclusively goblin-themed and features five news sculpts, while the remainder will be repaints of previously released figures and are all viewable here. The figure boxes are random and will retail for $2.49, with a case going for $75.

Little goblin Warchanter miniature from Pathfinder Battles We Be Goblins Too

Goblin Warchanter: 1 of 12 Sculpts for Pathfinder Battles Builder Series We Be Goblins

Paizo Continuing Releases

The popular Combat Pad, which allows GMs to keep track of player’s initiatives and key stats during combats, has been out of print for some time, but Paizo plans on changing that and will be restocking the item. Initially sold by a licensee, Paizo bought back the rights so the company can sell it themselves. It should be returning to the market early this fall in 2013 according to Jenny Bendel. Mona mentioned another perennial favorite of both Paizo staff and customers, the Critical Hit Deck, which has been reprinted four or five times due to its popularity.

Game Mastery Map Packs -> Pathfinder Map Packs

Mona also announced that going forward Paizo would be retiring the Game Mastery logo on its marketing of the modular map packs and flip maps.
Paizo will instead be using the Pathfinder name, but Mona pointed out that the gridded playing maps will still be usable to track movement for any other fantasy RPG.

Retailer Reactions

Mona did take several questions, with one retailer asking how he is supposed to sell the Pathfinder Core Rulebook for $49.95 when Amazon sells it for $30. Mona conceded, “I think that’s a challenge,” but did not elaborate on how the challenge could best be overcome by retailers. He did point out that when Paizo has its products distributed to hobby stores, the shops receive them on the release date and said that Amazon doesn’t have them until two weeks later.

This would seem to be the case as at the time of this article, April 26, Amazon only has the latest Pathfinder Map Pack, the Army Camp, up for pre-order with an availability date of May 14, whereas customers can already order the 18-card set from Paizo directly.

Pathfinder banner behind Jenny Bendel and Erik Mona at Paizo table in convention center

Paizo Publishing’s Erik Mona and Jenny Bendel Interacting with Attendees in the Exhibitors’ Hall

All product images copyright to their respective owners. Used with permission.

GAMA Trade Show: Customer Service Seminar

Redhead smiling beauty Joann Gain from Jester's Playhouse at the GAMA Trade Show

GTS Speaker Joann Gain from Jester’s Playhouse

Joann Gain, head of the GAMA Retail Division and owner of Jester’s Playhouse, kicked off the GAMA Trade Show on Monday night, March 18 with a seminar on Customer Service. With Amazon and other internet retailers waiting in the wings with lower prices, retail stores must have the best customer service, Gain exhorted. With excellent customer service Gain has sold Jenga for three times as much as mass market retailers. Her simple advice? Treat customers with a friendly attitude. Leave your baggage at home. “Don’t just sell vanilla ice cream,” she advised. Provide customers with the products that mass market retailers cannot. Have a thorough knowledge of your inventory and what’s available; make sure your employees do as well. On this point, a retailer chimed in and shared that he has a Monday training meeting from 8-10 AM for his staff of nine so they can familiarize one another with new products.

While Gain made several other points, the seminar shifted into more of a roundtable with retailers sharing their problems and eliciting solutions from the other 22 retailers in the room. When the topic of customer reviews on sites like Google and Yelp came up, the general consensus was to ignore the negative reviews, but several retailers spoke up and said that they personally respond in a professional manner to negative reviews. Marcus King, head of Troll and Toad’s retail, responds to everything except Yelp. As someone who might know a thing or two about trolls on the internet, he pointed out that “Yelp is a swamp.” and that “Some people will hate you for absolutely no reason.”

Problem Customers

Unfortunately from attending the seminar it would seem that Magic players are hated for some very specific reasons. Joann Gain finally tired of one Magic player who had been a “pain in the butt” for over six years and hasn’t regretted banning him from the Jester’s Playhouse. Another retailer spoke up, describing his partner at his store as “an asshole” and said that his partner hates Magic players and is getting more and more aggressive when booting MTG players out of the store. Keeping it positive, Marcus King suggested “Have you tried to show him what percentage of sales are Magic?” A retailer in the back also keeps it positive in her own way and shared that at her store, she gives employees a paid break when she notices that they are getting too hostile with customers, asking them to take the time to rethink their employment and attitude. John Coviello from Little Shop of Magic revealed that he had to call the police recently to get a patron out of the store for the first time in 19 years. The gamer would not follow directions and became belligerent with store staff, Coviello said, but banning him has been worth it due to an improvement in the store’s atmosphere. Just as in Dave Wallace’s Building a Better Manager seminar, retailers agree that retaining troublesome patrons is seldom worthwhile. Retailers also revealed that NPCs are not necessarily Non Player Characters in game stores, but instead Non-Paying Customers.

Airing the Dirty Laundry: Body Odor

What happens when two dozen retailers come together? They complain about their customers’ body odor! Amazingly game store owners confirmed the gamer stereotype shared in every online discussion about what to bring to a gaming convention: deodorant. It’s such an issue that one game store owner keeps both his and hers spray deodorant (and has to replace them on a regular basis because they are being used). Another owner spoke up and said that she keeps Febreeze around for such cases, while a third owner said that he takes such smelly customers aside, out of anyone’s else’s hearing, and explains the odor problem to them. He reports that these conversations have never been disastrous and that the offending customers get the hint.

Customer Service for Customers’ Transactions

Talk switched back to a less odiferous conundrum: customers buying, selling, and trading within game stores. In general, the consensus seemed to be that most owners ban such transactions, with many of them moving to the parking lot instead. Other stores take a more proactive stance such as Little Shop of Magic. LSoM regularly hosts well-attended flea markets where customers can trade through the store with Little Shop taking three to four percent to cover credit card costs. Sellers receive a gift certificate for store credit for the agreed-upon price of the game or miniatures sold to another customer. At Troll and Toad, Marcus King does something similar, using gift coins instead of gift certificates, specially crafted by Reaper Miniatures. It’s a win-win situation with both retailers and their customers benefitting.

Smiling Joann Gain and Dean Kao at the GAMA Trade Show in Bally's

Relaxing After a Busy GTS 2013: Joann Gain (Jester’s Playhouse) and Dean Kao (Eudemonia)

GTS Press Conf. 3 – Gen Du, Bin’fa, Let’s Have Church, Major Me Baseball

After Dave Doust from Cool Mini or Not spoke, we still had a number of other presenters to hear from at the GAMA Trade Show Press Conference, beginning with the brains behind Gen Du, followed by the creators of Bin’fa, Let’s Have Church, and Major Me Baseball. Scott D’Augustino and Jerome Gonyeau also spoke from Wizkids, but what they had to say will be included in a later article on the Wizkids Premier Presentation.

Gen Du: The Gentleman’s Duel

Eytan Benichay introduced us to the concept behind Gen Du, the Gentleman’s Duel. Most of the cards are player-created with two blank cards coming in each starter deck of 50 cards. Players create both mechanics and art for new cards, submit them online, and the best cards enter play with the next set. It’s an intriguing marketing strategy that could result in players buying more cards to get duplicates of the card that they designed themselves. So far Gen Du is on its Beta set of 136 cards, with 136 cards released in the Alpha set at an anime convention in August, 2012. With a current total of 272 cards in print, Gen Du is available in local stores in the Miami area and at the Gen Du website. While at the GAMA Trade Show, Benichay also secured distribution with Mad Al Distributors and Magazine Exchange. Starter decks sell for $10, while boosters of 15 cards are $4.

Eytan Benichay stands with Jack-in-the-box style Gen Dun head in front of poster displaying cards at GAMA Trade Show

Gen Du Co-Creator Eytan Benichay in the 2013 GAMA Trade Show Exhibitors’ Hall

Gen Du in the Exhibitors’ Hall

Miami resident Eytan Benichay had more to explain about Gen Du at the tail end of exhibiting on Thursday. In his own words, Gen Du “is a perfect hybrid between card games, board games, and table top war games. Both players build dungeons and then try to conquer each other, which makes for an intense experience.” Despite being called the Gentleman’s Duel, Gen Du is a game of deceit and destruction, with players’ dungeon room cards being concealed. For Benichay, Gen Du’s innovative approach to card creation is a major focus. As he puts it, “Never has there been a game where card creation and game play can be so heavily impacted by the players.”

Stay tuned for a review of Gen Du on cravengames.com, as well as news of Gen Du’s third card set, which could feature YOUR player-created card. With any luck and skill, it will also include one from Craven Games.

Bin’fa, the Tao of War

Game Designer Ken Hodkinson and daughter Erika Bird in front of Bin'fa poster at GAMA Trade Show

Ken Hodkinson and Erika Bird with Bin’Fa, Tao of War

Another presenter was brimming with both character and personality. Kenneth Hodkinson is the creator of Bin’fa, the Tao of War, which began in 1971, when he was working in a Massachusetts factory on a Davenport machine. He got to thinking and devised a strategy game with furious cavalry charges, promising that once a Bin’Fa game begins, “soon there’s blood on the floor.” Hodkinson got some friends to invest and had 500 copies of the game produced, submitting one to Avalon Hill after the creator of Mastermind, Roddy Sampson, said he loved the game. While it was initially rejected, Avalon Hill later picked the game up, releasing it as Hexagony, so-called because of the hexagonal nature of the playing board, and perhaps for the agonizing deliberation that confronts the game’s generals during gameplay.

Six triangular pieces of Bin'fa playing board with army markers on them showing how game can be easily changed

Endless Variety: Bin’fa’s 6 Playing Surfaces Can Easily Be Reconfigured in Multiple Ways

Hodkinson provided an even richer, and more in-depth history of what would become Bin’fa, the Tao of War via a five-page handout passed out to the attending press. Fast forwarding to the present, the game is now played on six board tiles that can be arranged and re-arranged into a near-endless series of combinations. No game need ever be the same. Bin’fa has the look and feel of a classic abstract strategy game like Chess or Go, but also includes mechanics for supplies/logistics, terrain, and a general. In another modern twist, Bin’fa can also be played with vortex markers, allowing an army unit to teleport across the battlefield, further adding to its complexity.

Let’s Have Church

Randolph Myers from Gotta Have Games was similarly charismatic and bubbling over with enthusiasm for Let’s Have Church. Let’s Have Church originated back in 2008, but launched in 2011, and has since sold over 2,000 units. Developed by husband and wife team Randolph and Nichole Myers the game is already available in seven retail stores in the Detroit area, as well as in Atlanta. The game has three main parts, with the first two including the performance round, during which players act out, draw, or describe scenes or passages from the Bible. Another round poses multiple-choice questions, such as “Which name is NOT found in the Bible? A. Joanna, B. Lydia, C. Eunice, or D. Shaniqua ” In the third round, a statement is read and then the following question is asked, “Church folks or Bible phrase?” Let’s Have Church is so great, Randy Myers says, because its content is non-offensive. Myers has played it with “literally 100 people” split into teams of fifty and the game is also played at youth retreats and marriage retreats.

Game Designer Nichole Myers raising the roof for Let's Have Church at the GAMA Trade Show

Nichole Myers of Gotta Have Games Raising the Roof for Let’s Have Church at GTS 2013

While the game box puts the player age at 13 and up, Myers says 16 to mid-forties is their sweet spot. Personally he likes to say the game is for anyone, 8 to 88, but he’s had a 92 year old tell him, “I like it too.” Randolph and Nichole Myers plan on at least two expansions and say that this is just the beginning for Let’s Have Church. His presentation came to an end when, as he put it, he began “getting the Chuck Woolery sign.” Later, Myers was able to tell me that four retail stores picked up Let’s Have Church at the GTS. Gotta Have Games also signed up with a smaller distributor and is thinking of switching manufacturers, all because of attending the GAMA Trade Show.

Major Me Baseball

Raymond Keith holds up game box for Major Me Baseball with can earrings at GAMA Trade Show

Keith Raymond Pitches Major Me Baseball

Keith Raymond was similarly energetic when he outlined Major Me Baseball’s selling points, boiling the game down to movement. He promised that “anyone can figure this out in two innings,” because the game’s playing cards are self-explanatory. Raymond calls the game three games in one because it has variations for Major League, Little League, and Home Run Derby play. The game uses dice for offensive and defensive plays. In describing a runner approaching first base, Raymond detailed that one die has four sides with “Safe”, one side “Pick Off”, and one side, “Take a Base”. This is because it is very rare for a defensive player to throw the ball to first and pick off the runner, according to Raymond. But since it does happen in a game of baseball, he has incorporated it into Major Me Baseball. As for stealing a base, the die has three sides “Out” and three sides “Safe”, reflecting only a 50% likelihood of stealing a base. In the Major League version of the game every play is included in the game’s cards from a Triple down to a Balk. Raymond’s Home Run Derby is played by the hitter rolling three dice with each die split between an equal number of Outs and Home Runs. Each variant of Major Me Baseball only takes 10-12 minutes to play.

Trademark logo Major Me Baseball 3 Games in OneKeith Raymond’s Major Me Baseball competed with another gentleman’s baseball game, Homerun Baseball, in the Exhibitors’ Hall. From this, as well as a presentation on an Olympics board game and the designers of the football game Yards: The Game of Inches attending last year, it would seem that sports games make a perennial appearance at the GAMA Trade Show, if not retailers’ shelves.

GTS Seminar: Building a Better Manager

Having written about David Wallace’s Competitive Edge seminar at the 2012 GTS and transcribed his debate about Online Retailing with Jon Huston from Troll and Toad from later at the same show, I had high expectations when I went to Wallace’s Building a Better Manager two-hour retail seminar on Monday, March 18. Wallace didn’t disappoint and even brought another guest speaker with him in the form of Mike Brodeur, whom Wallace had promoted to General Manager overseeing his four Midwestern gaming stores. Wallace prefaced his seminar by pointing out that it’s one of the most difficult talks he’s worked on, due in part to the topic being such a “vague notion.” Before getting into the heart of his talk, Wallace also mentioned that he recently had to let go of one of a longtime employee and manager, but said that he owes the employee, “a debt of gratitude. He forced me to become better at management.”

What is Management

What is management, Wallace asked the crowd and waited as retailers slowly began to respond. He clarified, “If management is good for the company, why?” There were scattered answers that a manager is involved in teaching, coaching, and supervising. Wallace agreed that in general, management is confused with supervision. But Wallace pointed out that a supervisor of a plant is not supposed to change anything. He or she is to maintain the plant and keep its production going.

Wallace: Management IS Change

Instead Wallace proposed that management is change and further defined management as continuous improvement. Do we have different expectations for employees in their first week on the job and ones who have been working for several years? We expect employees to improve with experience, Wallace pointed out, before mentioning visiting stores where nothing has changed in five years. Getting employees to do the bare minimum is not management, but instead treading water.

He then brought up retailers spending 40, 60, or even 80 hours working their stores, cleaning, ringing customers up, handling product and finances, and dealing with employees. This is not actual management according to Wallace. The mechanics of running retail are just job skills, Wallace said, but “who’s managing when you’re busy working your store?” Wallace acknowledged that many retailers also work their own stores, but they must find time to manage them in order to improve.

David Wallace stands with brothers in red shirts at GAMA Trade Show

David Wallace Talks with Clifford and Chuck Robbins of The Game Empire Stores

If you don’t do it… it doesn’t get done.

“Management is not natural. It’s unnatural,” Wallace opined. It has to come from a person imposing his or her will and creating the change. He warned the attending retailers, “If you don’t do it – and it doesn’t get outsourced or delegated – it doesn’t get done.” Retailers wishing that they had more attractive displays or better in-store play for customers will do just that, wish. Management is getting those changes made and it’s not easy. Wallace also advised retailers not to bite off more than they can chew when it comes to making changes. Instead, they should pick one or two things to improve on at a time.

When Management is About People…

Wallace is adamant that friendship cannot be used as a substitute for management, nor should an effective manager be swayed by familial ties. Five years ago Wallace fired his General Manager, his brother, during a dark period when his company was saddled with debt and facing bankruptcy. Within a short period of time, Wallace says, he was “debt free, back in [the] black.” Wallace was clear in his advice to retailers intent on implementing change: “If you have someone who refuses to go along, just get rid of him.” In the long run, being able to achieve continuous improvements is worth the loss.

gamatradeshow2013thefantasyshopgeneralmanagermikebrodeur

The Fantasy Shop General Manager Mike Brodeur

Wallace, who at one point had nine gaming stores but is now back down to four, also brought up interpersonal and communication skills as necessary to an effective manager. Knowing his audience well, Wallace smiled and said, “I’m going to guess that a few of you play World of Warcraft?” He compared employees’ love of feedback on their job performances to gaining points in the Fishing skill. We all love to see immediate feedback on our improvement. Brodeur agreed, but framed negative management as hearing “the Imperial March” when a manager walks in the room and employees dreading being “Force Choked” by their management. Brodeur’s Star Wars references didn’t stop there. For Brodeur, the allure of management by authority is akin to the Dark Side, brutal and expedient. Instead, Brodeur says managers should be patient and cultivate their employees much as Obi-Won and the Jedi Council would do with their padawans. It can be hard for managers to resist this “seduction of authority”, Brodeur admitted, but ultimately if they want to invest their employees in the company, they must. It’s the difference between a manager telling an employee to empty the trash, compared to one who asks the employee “What should you be doing now, John?” The nurtured employees begin to suggest and make their own improvements.

The Effects of Wallace’s Changes in Management

Wallace’s sales are “going up, up, up” and his business is enjoying 20% growth. Now his employee “turnover is next to nothing” at his Fantasy Shop Comics & Games stores in Saint Louis, Missouri. There have been other benefits as well. Mike Brodeur chimed in to point out that management meetings “used to be a courthouse; now they’re a classroom.” Wallace echoed the sentiment, saying that “meetings have become a joy for him.”

“The only thing I do well is learn from my mistakes,” Wallace said with no trace of irony. After 32 years in the business he is still learning, but his success has also enabled him to live more on his own terms. While Wallace and wife Kelli spend most of the year in Colorado Springs, they enjoy traveling around the country. David Wallace plays World of Warcraft when he wants to and was pleased to say that he doesn’t have to have a phone.