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.

Kaijudo: Creatures Unleashed DVD Releases December 4

DVD Cover with Protagonists from Kaijudo: Creatures UnleashedEven though I have enjoyed playing Wizards of the Coast’s Kaijudo, I had never seen an episode of its tie-in TV show Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters on The Hub network. Shout Factory has changed that with the release of Kaijudo: Creatures Unleashed on DVD. The DVD, which hits store shelves on December 4 for $14.97, includes five episodes with three of them comprising the three-part season opener, “The Natural”. Inside the DVD case is also a single playing card of the Fire Civilization phoenix-like Kenina the Igniter, featuring alternative artwork.

The Show Itself: Kaijudo’s Animation and Premise

At first I found it hard to get past Asian protagonist Ray’s blonde mom, but Ray is quickly revealed to be half-Japanese, half-white. The imagery on screen is far less detailed than the card artwork and dominated by purple shadows, which was another little obstacle for me. The directing though is spot on with grand movements and powerful action. Creatures leap and charge with energy across the screen and the Duel Masters’ summoning movements are imitable. Kaijudo’s main title is reminiscent of the animated X-Men theme, but after watching the DVD’s episodes several times I’ve come to prefer it. The rest of the music on the show and the sound effects are always spot on too. Where Kaijudo really wins me over is its premise: weak nerd utters words of power and watch out bullies! It’s essentially Adam into He-Man from the Masters of the Universe, Billy Batson into Captain Marvel, and Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk. It’s quite an adolescent fantasy and it works. Who doesn’t want a Falcor the Luck Dragon from The Neverending Story to come help? For Ray it’s Tatsurion/Bob and I wonder how many children have tried to summon Tatsurion the Unchained to come protect them from a bully now thanks to the TV show.

Typical Duel Action in Kaijudo

Kaijudo’s Characters, Plots, and Comedy

Kaijudo Creatures Unleashed Protagonist Teenager Ray with Gauntlet

Protagonist Ray

Ray (and Kaijudo) won me over partway through the first episode. Ray is tormented at San Campion Middle School by Carny and his stoolies who bully him about his mixed heritage with taunts like “Or what? Half-Japanese, half-whiteboy is going to half-ninja me? Do you have half a black belt? Hey, he’s only half good at math, probably only uses one chopstick too!” Lines like that kept me riveted. There’s a little bit of comedy in every episode with Ray’s friends Gabe and Smellison (Allison) contributing heavily. Gabe’s creature Glu-urrgle occasionally steals the show with one-liner puns. While not as powerful with her kaijudo as Ray is, Allison is full of wit and sass and also has a Dark streak which the show might explore. Will she be tempted by the villains? Lord Choten’s character design is sinister and his awful hairstyle is downright creepy. He is an excellent villain to root against and is supported by the curvaceous Alakshmi, who is designed in a Baroness fashion. While Scott Wolf voices the protagonist Ray, none of the vocal talents really stand out to me, except for Tatsurion’s awesomely powerful voice provided by David Sobolov.

The writing on the show is also solid, gradually introducing more and more elements of the secret society of Kaijudo’s Duel Masters with some slight surprises and twists along the way. After the three-part “Natural” story arc, each episode revolves around one type of kaiju with Om Nom Nom in the fourth episode and Little Hissy in the fifth. “Little Hissy” is probably my favorite episode on the disk, but also strains the suspension of disbelief the most. Tatsurion flips a van and strides down a back alleyway in Michael Bay/Transformers fashion with no one noticing. Perhaps more incredibly the three protagonists later serve after-school detention with absolutely zero adult supervision, not to mention any other students around. The subsequent attack by Razorkinder and Alakshmi is just another day in the life for the teenage Duel Masters, but when the slightly adorable Little Hissy gets captured, things really heat up. The show’s writers pull on the heartstrings and remind the viewer that the Duel Masters are actually playing for serious stakes in their battle against the evil Lord Choten.

Where’s Something to Relate To?

Scaradorable of Gloom Hollow Squeaky from Kaijudo, purple mole creature beast

MIA from the DVD: Squeaky

For true kaiju fans, Kaijudo may be perfect. Instead of a kaiju just being a monster, Ray reveals in the first episode that a Kaiju is actually a “strange beast” and that Kaijudo is literally “the way of the strange beast.” Almost all of Kaijudo’s beasts are indeed quite strange from the twisted puppet Razorkinder to Tatsurion himself (whatever he actually is) to Master Chavez’s Gilaflame the Assaulter. Take the beasts and then mix in technology like rocket launchers or wrist rockets and the theme gets even stranger. Fortunately the hybrid tech is usually kept hidden away. Kaijudo is definitely not Pokémon with its lovable little Pikachu. There’s no Bulbasaur or Psyduck here. The closest Kaijudo seems to come is Squeaky, the koala-like Darkness creature who figures prominently in all of the marketing materials for Kaijudo. Squeaky, or Scaradorable of Gloom Hollow, is one of three kaiju featured on the DVD’s cover, but you won’t find her in the DVD’s episodes! Squeaky is omitted from the DVD because she doesn’t appear in the show until the sixth episode. Instead, would-be fans can catch Squeaky on the two episodes available for free viewing on kaijudo.com.

The Kaijudo Card Game in the Kaijudo Show

From the first invocation of “Rumbling Terrasaur!” to Ray’s last summoning of Bob, the DVD’s episodes stick to its playing card game roots. The first real kaiju on kaiju battle viewers are treated to is a Rumbling Terrasaur against Gilaflame the Assaulter!. The action deviates slightly from the card game; Gilaflame the Assaulter is definitely fast in the animated series, but Gilaflame is Power 5000 in the CCG just like the Rumbling Terrasaur, which should result in both being banished, instead of the Gilaflame “winning”. While the Razorkinder Puppet of Miasma Pit card is weak and uninspiring in play, Razorkinder’s presence on the show is never a laughing matter and spells terror for any who should behold its true face. Likewise while I might pass on the card version of Flametropus, on the TV show the creature is a true behemoth requiring the concerted efforts of all the Duel Masters to bring down. This is in keeping though with Flametropus’ Lava Stomp special ability, effectively doubling its power when it is the only creature in the battle zone and granting it Double Breaker to destroy two mana shields with every hit. All in all, the show is a great compliment to the card game, making the flavor text on the cards much more relevant and increasing my desire to play Kaijudo. Which is better, the TV show or the card game? Definitely the card game, but now I’m also hooked on the TV series.

DVD Bonus Feature: Look at Kaijudo

Kaijudo: Creatures Unleashed also comes with a six minute Bonus Feature “Look at Kaijudo”, which is aptly named. It’s really more of a marketing plug showcasing some of the talent from Hasbro Studios than anything for existing fans of the series. In it Hasbro Studios’ VP of Development, Michael Vogel says that Wizards of the Coast told Hasbro Studios, “We don’t need cards. We don’t need the characters from the old show. We literally need this emotional connection between kids and their creatures. ” Based on those criteria, I would say that Hasbro Studios has really delivered with Kaijudo.

Getting Schooled in Kaijudo at Comic-Con

Product box for Kaijudo BattleDeck revealing foil-embossed cards for Tatsurion and RazorkinderGame industry leader Wizards of the Coast’s main focus at the 2012 Comic-Con was its release of the trading card game Kaijudo. The card game goes hand in hand with the Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters animated children’s show viewable on The Hub TV network. At the booth, visitors could get their picture taken with one of the cartoon’s characters, try out the online versions of Kaijudo, and play a demo of the game using one of the already-released BattleDecks. As a reward for trying the demo, WotC gave out 9-card Dojo Edition booster packs of the cards, which will go on sale to the general public at gaming outlets on July 24. Wizards will be following up the July Dojo Edition release with a broader release at mass market retailers like Target in September.

Kaijudo is based on the Duel Masters TCG released by Wizards of the Coast in 2004, but discontinued domestically in 2006. Meanwhile Duel Masters has remained popular in Asia, particularly Japan. Comic-Con had a Kaijudo panel, “The Making of Kaijudo“, focusing on the animated series with voice actors Scott Wolf, David Sobolov, and Ryan Miller attending among others. While I skipped it, I did play through two demos of the game and interviewed the Senior Brand Manager of Kaijudo, Kierin Chase, about the game’s development and immediate future.

I also recorded my second Comic-Con demo of Kaijudo, playing against a friendly (and ruthless) Wizards of the Coast employee:

Initial Thoughts on Kaijudo

Cute adorable Koala-looking Squeaky from Hasbro Studios' Kaijudo, a purple mammal

Cute Kaijudo: Squeaky

Despite its Duel Masters roots, Kaijudo is a separate brand and is being treated as a new product line by Wizards of the Coast, one that has been in development for over two years. Hasbro, which owns WotC, has put a lot of resources behind Kaijudo, most importantly the well-received children’s show. Will Kaijudo be the next big thing for Wizards? I don’t know, but they’re certainly positioning themselves for a hit. For players who missed the starting eras of Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh, I think it can be daunting to get involved as a gamer, especially if you want to play competitively. There are so many cards to learn and/or acquire to be able to play effectively. At present there are only two sets of Kaijudo with the full set of 43 available in the $20 BattleDeck and 55 more cards with the release of the Dojo Edition. Also by having the electronic version of the game available from the start (or even before the main launch), Wizards of the Coast has another way of involving players and educating them on gameplay. No one wants the embarrassment of struggling with a game’s rules or coming off as too much of a newb and playing the computer version online can alleviate that. At the same time, is Kaijudo a truly fresh gaming experience? How many more collectible card games do we need where we summon monsters to battle? Magic: TG, Pokemon, Digimon, and Yu-Gi-Oh all have the same basic game premise. To me there is little novelty in Kaijudo. I am also indifferent to the game’s setting and artwork, but that might change after I watch the Kaijudo television show. No, for me, what sells the game is its low cost of entry and the actual gameplay.

Kaijudo’s Gameplay

For me, with limited experience playing TCGs/CCGs, Kaijudo is a cross between Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon. I have only played Pokémon a few times and the game seemed fairly simplistic; I have much more experience playing Magic in the early ’90s. While there are five colors in Kaijudo, there isn’t Life to keep track of; instead the game uses five Shields represented by regular game cards. Likewise while you do tap mana to summon its creatures, Kaijudo’s power-generation comes from regular cards and not special lands. Instead of attack and defense stats on creatures, there’s only one stat for power and it almost always comes in multiples of 1,000 (one card does have a power of 5500). Wizards of the Coast have boiled down a lot of M:TG concepts and made them very accessible to beginners. I wouldn’t call it Magic Lite, but Magic players will almost instantly grasp Kaijudo’s mechanics. Those unfamiliar with Magic: TG should still have an easy time picking up Kaijudo’s basic concepts. Gameplay is fast, but that could change with blocker-heavy decks. By not allowing creatures to block unless they have the special ability to do so, Kaijudo has a more aggressive tone than Magic. One thing that I absolutely love about Kaijudo is that even when you are losing by having your shields taken out, you still get something in return because the broken shield cards go to your hand.

The Kaijudo Dojo Edition and Battle Decks

At Comic-Con I asked my wife and brother-in-law to also try the game. Asked is putting it nicely. I begged and then harangued them until they had both completed their own demo and then was surprised to find that they had not enjoyed the game as much as I had. Most of this was due to their shared opponent who was not a WotC employee, but a CCG fan who told my brother-in-law, “I could have beaten you sooner, but I enjoy toying with my prey.” The know-it-all also confided to my brother-in-law that he did not want to embarrass him in front of my wife, as though this was any consolation or made him any less annoying than he was. For their troubles, I was able to get two more Dojo Edition booster packs. The 55-card set is divided into 11 cards for each Nation or color.

Inspired by my own enjoyable experiences with Kaijudo, I also picked up a Battle Deck from a local comic book store. Wizards of the Coast was not selling any product at Comic-Con, but had opened a pop-up Magic store in the Gaslamp District, which adjoins the San Diego Convention Center. At only $20, the Battle Deck boxes are quite appealing, giving two players each a deck of 40 cards, a playing mat, and a special code for the online versions of the game. The rules are teeny tiny and by that I don’t mean tons of small print, but instead clear and concise rules that govern most of the game’s interactions.

Here I open my 4th Dojo Edition booster pack, briefly thumb through my 36 cards, and open the Tatsurion-Razorkinder Battle Deck and take a look inside. I love the magnetic cases with their full artwork inside and out (and so did my wife):

Kaijudo Online

From the Battle Deck I received two online promotional codes and got one in each of my boosters. The next step was obviously to try out the online experience of Kaijudo at kajudo.com. Several hours of play later while videos compressed and uploaded, I am still not tired of Kaijudo, though I will leave my thoughts on the online experience for another day. In the meantime please feel free to add me so that I can duel a human opponent: VictoryEvader0330.