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.

Jason Engle on Downfall, Illustration, Pathfinder, L5R and More

Jason Engle is the visual half of the creative team behind the science fiction comic Downfall which finishes its Kickstarter campaign on Friday, October 26. Written by fantasy author Maxwell Alexander Drake, Downfall has strong narrative hooks, striking visuals, and a gripping plot. It also marks a departure for Engle who can usually be found painting fantasy novel covers and illustrations for CCGs and RPGs in Jacksonville, Florida. Engle shared his thoughts on Downfall, illustration, and gaming on October 19. More info on Downfall at downfallthecomic.com and more on Jason Engle at jaestudio.com

Downfall and the Downfall Kickstarter

Post-apocalyptic sci-fi Downfall cover and open comicCG: How does drawing for Downfall compare to doing your fantasy art?
JE: Well, it kind of doesn’t. That’s one of the things that I like about it. It’s so completely different in pretty much every way. For starters, sequential artwork is fundamentally different from illustration, especially for like card games or role-playing games. You have to think in more storytelling terms. Sometimes they ask to illustrate an RPG and the image may involve a story of one type or another, but it’s more implied and it’s more simplistic. It’s more to illustrate one concept at a time rather than a character throughout a sequence of events in a story like you do in a comic, so it’s very different. I mean the approach is, by itself, something that gives me a lot more interesting challenges than I’m really accustomed to. It’s definitely fun by comparison. It’s a different visual style too. I’m trying to make it more graphic and less painterly, because if I painted every single frame of every page, I might have one issue of the comic done in ten years. So that doesn’t seem like a reasonable production timeline.
CG: Did you go back to any kind of Understanding Comics or anything like that about doing sequential art and refresh your memory of how to do sequential art?
JE: I’ve kind of been dabbling in comics for years. I’ve done a lot of work here and there on a lot of projects that got started that didn’t go very far. [Laughs] I’ve done some work for compilation books, where you just do a small story and it gets included with a bunch of other small stories, stuff like that. I’ve kind of always been into drawing comics in one way or another, so I didn’t really go back and start from square one and go “Gee, what do the experts tell you to do to tell a story?” I kind of already have a handle on all the basic concepts. It has been a lot of fun to put that knowledge to use in a consistent way. It’s been fun. It’s definiely a lot different.

Ramshackle city and buildings built onto cliff from Downfall comic

CG: What’s it been like working with Maxwell Alexander Drake?
JE: Absolutely terrible. He doesn’t turn anything in on time, he swears a lot, I can barely get him to pick up the phone, he spends most of his time with drug dealers and prostitutes, as far as I know. Yeah, it’s been good. He’s a fun guy to work with. He’s really, really easy-going. One of the challenges I’ve had getting into comics is that I’ve never really gone after it as a professional objective. It’s never been my main target. Professionally I do very well as a fantasy illustrator. Comics I really enjoy, but I’ve never felt the need to put them first and completely deep six my illustration career. I really like illustration and if comics didn’t work out, I could always go back to it. It’s just not something that I ever really want to put in first place, but one of the problems I’ve had is finding an author who is reliable. And Drake is a novelist. He does a lot of words at a time every single day of his life. He’s very reliable, he’s very professional and he’s production-oriented. When you don’t take comics very, very seriously like I haven’t in the past, you end up partnering with people who also don’t take comics very seriously. [Laughs] When that happens it usually doesn’t go very far. It’s always been a matter of I do a lot of art, I come up with a lot of great ideas and have a lot of fun doing it, and the writing never really gets past one issue. Comics are about quantity. You’ve got to produce a lot of work in a short amount of time. When a comic writer can’t produce a quantity of work reliably, it’s hard to understand but there’s a lot of people who get enthusiastic about a project at the outset and then lose that enthusiasm pretty quickly. It’s one of those things. Some people can be professional creatives and some people can’t. It’s just a matter of whether you can treat it like a job and still have fun doing it. I’ve not had to worry about that with Drake. He already is kind of a self-made, creative professional just the way I am. That’s kind of the great thing about it: we both have the self-drive to do a project on the side and still treat it like a professional goal. It’s worked out really well so far; I’m hoping it continues to.

CG: Now have you read Farmers and Mercenaries or Mortals and Deities?
JE: Yeah, I read both of them! He gave me Farmers and Mercenaries at Gen Con the first year I met him and this was a couple of years ago. He said “Here! Read my book.” And I was like “Sure, guy! I’ll read your book.” But he gave it to me for free so the next year when Gen Con was coming around I was like “Man, I bet I’m going to run into that guy, I should probably read this.” About a month before the convention I picked it up and finished it before I could get on the plane. That way I could meet him at Gen Con and say “Hey! You don’t suck as a writer.” I could actually say that truthfully. When he finished the second book I made sure to get a free copy from him. [Laughs] You know, it was actually better than the first one.
CG: Now you’re waiting just like everyone else for the third, yeah?
JE: Yeah, pretty much. I’m looking forward to it. It’s an interesting fantasy series. It’s got a lot of elements of traditional fantasy in it, but the world he set it in is completely new and original, which is a rarity these days. You know, a lot of fantasy authors try to play it safe and Drake sees very little value in playing it safe and that’s one of the reasons that I wanted to work with him on a comic. When you’re doing a comic, especially fantasy or science fiction, you have to have a certain open attitude to new ideas.

CG: On your promo video for the Kickstarter campaign for Downfall, am I right that you came up with brand new artwork for it? It’s not stuff from Issue 0 or the first series with the scientist?
JE: When we first started talking about doing a Kickstarter video, he started talking to me that he was going to do a script for us and we’d both do like a little webcam thing. He’d say a few lines, then the screen’d split, and I’d say a few lines. It’d be like we were talking to each other, only we weren’t. I was like “Yeah, that could work.” I’d seen a lot of the Kickstarter videos people’d done, it’s all talking heads staring at a camera, saying “This is me. This is my project.” I knew I could do something better than that. I didn’t actually have the technical knowledge to do it, so I went out and found some software and learned how to do a little bit of basic animation. So I threw together a basic concept that was about 30 seconds to a minute long, something like that. It was art that we already had at that point, a logo shot, some music in the background. I was like “Look, here’s more of what I had in mind. It’s more of a TV commercial/video game thing. It’s got a little bit more slow motion drama to it. It doesn’t have to be just us staring at a camera telling people what we’re trying to sell them. Let’s show them the story. I don’t think seeing us ask them for their money is really going to convince people that we have a good idea. Let’s show them the idea.” When he saw that, he got really enthusiastic. He ended up laying in bed thinking about ideas. He got up out of bed and started writing a script. That’s how we ended up with a seven minute video. [Laughs] I’d really only intended for us to have an animated piece maybe a minute long, but he got so into the script he was writing and telling the story about this character. I thought it was such a neat idea, I just didn’t have the heart to shoot it down. In the end, I started out laying out the scenes, doing the animation, and doing the art. I think when I went over the script originally and I wrote down the different ideas of what it needed visually, I estimated probably 30 percent of the art that I ended up doing eventually. It went from being two or three weeks of work to two or three months worth of work.
CG: Yeah, that’s what I was wondering. This isn’t stuff that you’ve recycled, this was all brand new just for the video.
JE: Yeah, it was all custom done. We are going to use it for other purposes. [Laughs] Because we like how the script came out so much we’re going to do a comic version of the video itself and break it into panels and word bubbles and all that because we already have the art and it’s such a neat story. After the Kickstarter’s done, no one’s going to be able to see it really, so we want to put it into print form and make it part of our Issue 0 that we’re doing to catch people up on the background of the story.

Fantasy Artist and Illustrator Jason Engle

Fantasy Artist Jason Engle at his table at Gen Con

Fantasy Illustrator Jason Engle at Gen Con 2012

CG: Where does card art fit into things versus doing a cover versus interior artwork?
JE: As a freelancer, you take what you get pretty much. You hope you get enough art directors offering you enough jobs to fill up your schedule month to month. There are periods in my career where I’ve done nothing but collectible card games for a couple of years at a time. You get a lot of work doing card games. That’s the great thing about ’em. Some of them pay better than others. Some of them pay really well. Some card games you can only get one or two cards at a time. Other card games, you can get ten or twenty at a time. They usually come out with expansion sets on a pretty consistent basis. If you get your name out there and get prominent and do a few cards that are important in that game then you become one of the face artists of that game and you basically have guaranteed work for the lifespan and popularity of that card game. If you get a few of those on your roster at once then you get a lot of work coming in the door. As a freelancer, that’s a good thing.
CG: Would you consider that to be true for yourself? Were you ever one of these “face” artists for a company?
JE: Uh… yeah. I was the main artist for AEG’s card game Warlord. I was one of the big ones on their game Legend of the Five Rings and I’ve done some promotional stuff for Magic: The Gathering as well. I wouldn’t say that I’m one of their main artists just yet, but they’ve used me a lot on a few of the sets that they’ve done, which is what they tend to do. They have access to so many different artists that they tend to pick a few guys for the different sets that they want to kind of represent and define the look for that set and they use that person much more on that set and then maybe they don’t give them any cards on the next set. I mean they’re a little different from most companies in that they tend to bounce around a lot. But it’s good. They keep a nice, varied look for their game that way.

Female sorceress holding skull on card art for Legend of 5 Rings Moto Rani by Jason Engle

Artwork for Legend of the 5 Rings Card Moto Rani by Jason Engle

Warlord is the game that I was the most prominent artist on for a number of years. L5R I’m still one of the more prominent guys on that game. Warlord was a good example back in the day, but it doesn’t exist any more. [Laughs] Yeah, it’s always been great because you go to the conventions and you get to meet a lot of the fans. A lot of the people that go to game conventions these days are people that play collectible card games because it’s a place for them to play in big tournaments and get together and just play nonstop card games for the entire weekend.
CG: Even on that note, the guy behind me on the plane on the way out to Gen Con was and is a huge Warlord fan who’s trying to revive the game, so the chance to meet you would probably be big to him.
JE: It’s got a huge, huge fanbase. It’s one of those games that was sizable enough for a number of years that it still has a number of fans around the world. And a company purchased it, based in Germany, which is where it actually was much more popular ever: in Germany rather than the US. They kept it going for a couple of years. They did their best to kind of revive it, but in the end I think they weren’t quite able to pull it all together and make enough money to keep it around, but there is still quite a fanbase out there for it.

CG: Now when did you really know, I’m going to be an artist?
JE: I never really thought of being anything else, I think. When I was probably four or five years old people would ask, like they do to most kids, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” At the time I didn’t really have an answer. I thought about it for a while and realized I liked art and decided that that’s what I’m going to do. So I started doing that pretty much all the time and then from that point on whenever I was asked that question, I’d say “I’m going to be an artist.”

CG: What was your training once you were out of high school?
JE: My training once I got out of high school was… [laughs] I pretty much went right into a web marketing company rather than going into college or art school. I got a job and I was building websites for a living during the dot-com boom.
CG: So you were doing more graphic design?
JE: Yeah, logos, brochures, websites, anything that people were willing to pay our marketing company to create for them. I mean it was fun. I was able to learn Photoshop and all the wonderful things it could do, but I started applying it to fantasy illustration. When I first started doing it, it took me forever to complete an illustration. Gosh, it was probably two weeks or so to do a single image. All my graphic designer buddies in the office would go “You’re still working on that thing? Photoshop’s not good for that, man, it’s for graphic design. You’re never going to be able to make money doing that. It takes too long.” And now, of course, everyone in the business uses Photoshop to paint, so it turns out that I was just really, really much more correct than they were. It was a fun way to get started.

CG: Are you actually self-taught then?
JE: … Yeah. I kept building my fantasy portfolio and eventually a group of us at the marketing company split off and started our own company which was kind of half-marketing, half web company, and thirty percent game publishing house and I did all the art for that book and all the layout for it and all the graphic design and we launched our RPG book at Gen Con that year. It was callled Shards of the Stone, which is a long title, but it did really well at the convention that year because D&D 3rd edition was also launching. It was like any fantasy RPG that came out that year sold gangbusters even if nobody had ever heard of you. But the advantage of that was that I had done all of the art in that book and it got in front of all the major art directors in that year all at once, so I kind of got my portfolio out there all at the same time. It wasn’t too long after that that I was able to start freelancing full time and leave the graphic design and marketing business behind me.


CG: What’s been your favorite piece of your own fantasy art so far.
JE: Well, I don’t know, man. They’re like kids: you love them all. I would say… Gosh… this is a tough question. Probably The Dark Knight, it’s an image I did for my first art book that I got professionally published back in 2004. I did it for the cover specfically. It’s kind of an homage piece to Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer. It’s kind of a silhoutted dark knight character on horseback. He’s got spiked armor and looks menacing and all that, but it just-, it’s one of those pieces that seems cliche, but it just came out really well and I was really happy with it and it went on the cover of my first art book so it holds a little nostalgia for me because of that I suppose.

Engle’s Inspirations

CG: Ok, yeah. Who inspires you artistically? Other fantasy and science fiction illustrators? Fine artists?
JE: Anything, yeah. All kinds of fiction and science fiction media is inspiring to me. I get probably more inspiration from other fantasy artists than any other individual source though, but that’s something that I’ve always been a fan of just in general. I grew up with tons and tons of fantasy art books sitting in my closet and on my bookshelves and all around. It’s one of those things where when I got to be part of the business myself, I never really stopped loving the work of other fantasy artists. And now that I know a lot of them, it’s even that much cooler because I still have the books I grew up with and used to copy out of and all the prints that I purchased from them and now I go drink beer with those guys when we go to conventions together. That’s pretty neat.
CG: Is there somebody you’d still like to meet?
JE: Well, gosh, that’s a tough question. I don’t know. I think I’ve gotten to meet just about all my heroes at this point.
CG: So I know Larry Elmore is the kind of guy who would be at Gen Con, so you probably hang out with him?
JE: Yeah, I’ve hung out with Larry a number of times. He still has no idea of who I am. He’d probably know me by face and not my name. That’s one thing you start to realize: some of these guys that have been in the business for 30 or 40 years, they’ve met so many people over that period of time that they get to know people visually more than they get to know you by your actual first name. But no, I’ve spent time hanging out with pretty much all of them. I’ve hung out with Brom and Michael Weylan and Todd Lockwood, Larry Elmore and yeah, you name any of the big name guys in the business and I’ve at least shook their hand.
CG: Yeah, you’ve named two of my favorite artists, Brom and Elmore.
JE: Oh yeah. No, those were probably two of my biggest influences growing up. I think Elmore for a long time and Keith Parkinson were my two major influences when I was younger. As I started getting a little older, Brom started to become more prominent on the scene and as soon as I started to see more and more of his stuff I instantly just loved him more than anybody else.

Engle’s Speed as an Illustrator

Flaming skeleton in armor card art for Warlord card game by Jason Engle

Warlord Card Art: Spirit of the Burning Sky

CG: Changing topics just a little bit, how long did something like Spirit of the Burning Sky take?
JE: Um… well, it really depends honestly. If a piece is really really complex it could take a few days. But if it’s just a single character, it really isn’t that bad, I mean that particular image, took me maybe four or five hours.
CG: Wow. Ok, so you’re very quick?
JE: I mean yeah, that’s always been one of my advantages in the freelance business, especially when I was starting out. I had a lot of art directors that would come to me for last-minute, emergency jobs. If another artist dropped out or when they needed a huge amount of work in a very small amount of time, I’m quick enough that they could come to me and say “Hey, can you do me a favor? Can you do me a rush job?” And I can say “Yeah, absolutely.” So I kind of always built myself that way and developed my style around both quality and speed.
CG: You work now just purely in Photoshop?
JE: A lot of the time, yeah. I do still like to sketch things out in advance. I do thumbnails and work out the compositions. I do a bit of a tighter sketch. I usually do several of those and send them in to get approved. And when those get approved, I just pick the one that works and start painting the rest in Photoshop, but I still do like to do everything in pencil first if I can, if I have time. It just allows you to play around with a lot more ideas and kind of niggle around details. Photoshop’s great for painting, but it’s one of those things that some people can use it for sketching. For me it doesn’t quite have the same organic feel that real pencil has.
CG: And you’ve tried tablets and things like that?
JE: [Laughs] I have them all, man. I’ve spent I don’t even know how much money on equipment that’s sitting in my closet. It’s all about the process that works best for you. The shortest amount of difference between your imagination and the finished image is always going to leave the better stuff. If a tablet works really well for you and it feels really natural and easy and you don’t even notice it’s there, by all means go for it, but I’ve never played with it enough to where it’s gotten to that point for me. It’s easier for me to use pencil and a piece of paper and then I use a mouse from that point forward.

CG: Have you kept track of how many separate pieces of art that you’re at?
JE: Oh god! I don’t have any idea. I’ve done a lot of games where I’ve been the only guy producing work on that game and you know when that happens, you’ve done or you do hundreds of pieces of art. And you know, I’ve been working on the L5R card game since, gosh, almost since the start of my career, so what? Probably twelve, thirteen years. And when you’ve worked on a card game that long there’s no telling how many pieces you’ve done for it all in total. So I’ve probably done over 10,000 pieces.
CG: Oh wow. How old are you now?
JE: I’m about to turn 32. I started when I was 18. You start early, it gets you a lot more time. I was hanging out with Todd Lockwood at Comic-Con this year and he was like “So how long have you been at this anyway, I’ve seen your stuff for years.” And I was like “About 14 years.” And he was like “14 years! You don’t even look 14!” But you know, you get started early it gives you a lot of time to build up your portfolio. Art’s one of those things that really doesn’t require a college degree to be more successful. It’s more a matter of skill. Portfolio, man. If you’ve got the ability to do it, it doesn’t matter if you spent four years in school.
CG: Well are you involved in anything any more where an art director hasn’t heard of you or you need to prove anything?
JE: Oh sure! You pretty much always have to, I mean, there’s sides of the business I haven’t spent much time in, like comics for example. Probably almost every art director in the comic business hasn’t heard of me unless they’re into fantasy games specifically or read fantasy novels. They probably have no idea of who I am so if I ever do comic work as a freelance gig, that’s somewhere where I really have to prove myself. Novels, it’s the same way. Every time I’ve worked on a video game it’s the same way, these guys don’t really know who you are, they don’t really know how long you’ve been around, and honestly they tend not to care. On the higher end of the pay scale, the art directors know that they’re paying for the absolute best of the best. That’s pretty much what you’ve got to bring to the table. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been at it, it’s just a matter of what you can do. So you never really stop having to prove yourself in that way.

On Art Direction

CG: Does art direction vary much from gaming company to gaming company?
JE: Oh, absolutely. It’s definitely different. And it’s not neccessarily every gaming company so much as every art director. Different art directors have different styles of dealing with freelancers and some know how to do it better than others and some are very controlling in the way they want to do it and those are usually the ones I prefer not to work with, because they’ll be intentionally vague at the outset, let you do a lot of work, and then basically tell you to change it all because you didn’t do it the way that they were hoping you would do it telepathically. [Laughs] That’s usually not something I like to deal with very long because simply put, when you’re a freelancer time is money. When one art director wants to cost you twice as much as time or three times as much time as other art directors do for what boils down to the same amount of paying work, that’s not a job that I really have a lot of enjoyment for.

“If you get a compliment for the work you’ve turned in that’s three words word or longer then that means that you just blew it out of the water! It means that they’re probably going to use that piece for promotional purposes and stuff like that.”

– Jason Engle

So yeah, I mean they definitely differ. Every art director’s different. You know like the art director for Magic: The Gathering for example. He will give you a job and it will have a few paragraphs of detailed description and a style guide which is usally over a hundred pages long with lots of reference art in it. Then once he gives you that, that’s usually the last you hear from him. [Laughs] I mean usually you turn in the final art and you get a one word answer when you turn it in, where he goes “Awesome.” or “Good.” He’s pretty hands off when it comes to art directing. He hires people that he knows can do the job and doesn’t worry about it and he’s one of the best art directors in the business.
CG: Were you being literal about the awesome vs. good?
JE: [Laughs] We like to joke about him because he has these one word responses to almost everybody. If you get a compliment for the work you’ve turned in that’s three words word or longer then that means that you just blew it out of the water! It means that they’re probably going to use that piece for promotional purposes and stuff like that. Yeah, most art directors I’d be exagerrating but with Jeremy [Cranford] it’s literal, yeah. But it’s because he has to art direct so many pieces of art all at the same time. It’s unbelievable how much art Magic puts out and how many different expansions they work on at the same time. It’s pretty nuts. He does what he needs to for time but it also means that it kind of decomplicates the issue for the rest of us. Some art directors will give you a response to an image and have you do little fixes or little changes here or there. And if he sees something that needs to be changed, he’ll definitely let you know, but honestly most of the time if it looks good and it works, that’s what he cares about. And that kind of frees an artist really. You don’t feel as concerned about doing the job and getting every little detail to be just the way the art director wants it. You just try to do the job as well as you can. It’s a purely pscyhological approach. It gets all the BS out of the way.

Woman with bare midriff in Jason Engle's Soma painting

Jason Engle’s Soma

CG: You have a work, Soma, it seems like it was drawn from life or a photo, was it? You usually work from your own sketches though?
JE: Yeah, that one was actually drawn from reference. That was a piece for a website that basically had a competition. They had a promotional character that they had a bunch of artists do different versions of and that was actually from well back in my career. I did that piece probably nine or ten years ago at least. But the time frame on it was so short and it wasn’t really a paying gig, I was doing it as a favor to the guy who ran this site, so I needed to streamline the process a little, so rather than making it a really actiony/illustratish you have the drawn image. But I went and found a good bit of reference photography and kind of pieced it together and then I painted it from there and really streamlined the process, it kind of ended up giving it a different style and a different look, which I like, but it also took a lot less time than just noodling around until the lighting gets right and all of that. Having a reference is great; it really streamlines it. If you’re working on the kind of project where they want something that’s photorealistic or just realistic, it’s a great way to go.

Zephyr Guard Artwork by Jason Engle for Paizo's Pathfinder

Zephyr Guard for Paizo’s Pathfinder by Engle

CG: For all your other work just in general though you’re working from sketches?
JE: I’d say about 80-90 percent of it. It’s just a matter of doing work for the client based on what their visual style is, based on the brand and the product. Everything has to have a different look. If you’re a working artist, you’re creating art for a brand. They’re a lot of guys that have their own signature style, stick to that, and won’t do anything outside of it, and yeah, I have kind of a signature style, but I’m capabale of doing a lot of different styles and I enjoy doing a lot of different styles. That’s another reason that I enjoy working on Downfall so much, because it requires that I come up with a totally new style from anything I’d done before.
CG: You can see that visually that it is different, just like you can see that Paizo illustrations are kind of different than other fantasy art.
JE: Yeah and Paizo is another good example. I tried to draw a little bit more in the style of the main artist they had used on their Pathfinder game in the past and stick close to their visual brand that way. I’ve done the same thing with D&D and a number of the RPG’s I’ve worked on.

Jason Engle’s Cartography

CG: Another one of the things that you’ve done for a bunch of gaming companies is you’ve done cartography, so is that a nice break from illustration for you?
JE: Oh yeah. Like I said, I like to do different styles. When it comes to doing a different style, there is no different style that is more different than cartography. It uses a totally different side of your brain almost. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a little bit more relaxing. With illustration you kind of build it up, piece by piece as you go. Sometimes it can be a struggle, sometimes the pieces don’t fit together the way you thought they would, but you don’t know that until you’re already haflway through the image. It can really really kind of devolve into a fistfight with the image. But with cartography that never happens. It’s so straightforward and so simple that it’s just a matter of putting all the pieces into place, making it clear and making it look good on top of that. And if you can do all that, then you can do cartography and it’s a lot of fun. Because I’m also an illustrator it’s given me the ability to do different kinds of cartography from what a lot of the guys working today can do. I can do cartography that’s more illustrative, that’s a little bit closer in, that’s more attuned and actually has an illustrative element. That’s why Wizards of the Coast used me for a lot of the battle maps that they’ve done, their Dungeon Tiles product line, their Fantastic Locations product line. They just came out with a new board game called Dungeon Command where I did all the board pieces for that. It means I kind of straddle both sides of the business, but I love them both equally so it’s a good way to get out of your comfort zone.

CG: Do you have any tips for GMs at home making their own maps on ways to improve?
JE: My biggest tip is learn Photoshop, because once you learn that, you’re not as limited in as many ways. I used to make maps when I was a kid playing Dungeons & Dragons and I used to get my hands on as much graph paper as I could find and it worked for what I needed to do, but today if you’ve got a copy of Photoshop, there’s really no limit to what you can put together in terms of a map. And the tools are so powerful that you could make something that’s very very concise very easily and very quickly.

The Gaming Side of Jason Engle

Crossbow wielding Inquisitor pencil sketch character art by Jason Engle

Sketch from Gaming: Inquisitor

CG: So for gaming, you just actually mentioned it, when did you start gaming?
JE: I’m not even really sure what the age was, I think it was eight or nine. It’s a pretty normal story as far as that goes. I had a friend that got really into gaming and started telling me about it. He got me and my brother into it. We just pretty much loved the hobby from that point forward. That was the time that I was kind of building my illustrative skill so I was able to use gaming as a way to grow those skills. There’s a lot of times where you’re sitting around the role-playing games table where you want to draw your character or you want to draw someone else’s character or you find a cool sword and you want to draw what that looks like. So it gave me an excuse to build my skill set.

“…when people would ask me what I was going to do, I wouldn’t just say I was going to be an artist, I’d say I was going to be an artist that worked for TSR.”

– Jason Engle

CG: Did you start on D&D then?
JE: Uh, I did, I did. I moved on from there to Role Master and RIFTS and Shadowrun. I’ve played most of the big ones from one time or another. In the end I’ve always come back to D&D. That was the game that after I started getting into it and after I started getting good at drawing, when people would ask me what I was going to do, I wouldn’t just say I was going to be an artist, I’d say I was going to be an artist that worked for TSR.
CG: Ok. Yeah. Awesome.
JE: It turned out to be not as accurate.
CG: So you grew up admiring the Elmore illustrations in the Player’s Handbook.
JE: Oh yeah. I’d say one of the pivotal moments for me was right when I was getting into role-playing games I got a copy of a Dragonlance artbook. It was basically, I think, the first one that they’d done, the Art of the Dragonlance Saga. It kind of introduced me to a lot of the artists that I’d seen their work, but didn’t know them by name and it introduced me to a lot of that stuff in quantity and I was able to just pour over all the art. I just wore the pages of that book out looking at the art day after day. That’s one of the reasons that I fell in love with so much of the art in the gaming business and kind of why I drove my skills in that direction.

Pencil sketch by Jason Engle of a sorcerer from an RPG game session

Engle’s Sorcerer Sketch from Pathfinder Game

CG: Now are you still gaming today?
JE: I do, I do! [Laughs] When I have time! I would say I manage to get a game in probably every month or three. It’s not something that I manage to do all the time. And all the guys I game with now are all my age or a few years older and they’ve all got kids. Everybody’s schedules don’t always work together easily enough to get together for a six or eight hour session, but when we can, we absolutely make it a priority to do it. And I don’t play D&D anymore, I play Pathfinder, but that’s basically the same thing.
CG: So you’re playing on Game Mastery map packs right, that you helped to illustrate?
JE: Yeah, I do. The guys like to make fun of me when they spot something like a little mistake or could be a softer shade. They like to needle me about that kind of stuff. Usually when you do work on a game for one of the bigger companies they give you a complimentary copy of the product which means that we basically never have to buy anything, because I work on so many different games I get tons of free books. Honestly, I try to keep one copy for myself for my book shelf at home, but if they give me three copies of something I just show up to the game table and go “Here, guys! I got some free stuff.”
CG: You’re a couple of years younger than me, but this is all stuff that we would have loved to have growing up, the Map Packs…
JE: Absolutely. It’s all stuff that’s really taken the game and made it so much more visual. It just really makes the game more three-dimensional in a number of ways. Even as a kid I used to use miniatures, but it was always kind of challenging. You had to use a lot of your imagination and it didn’t always work all that well. The fact that they started introducing that as the main component of the rules set, building visual products to go along with it, I mean it’s really improved the game immeasurably in my opinion, not just because I work on it.
CG: Even there, how are you as a miniature painter?
JE: Oh, I’m terrible. [Laughs] I try not to get into the actual real life paint if I can avoid it. It’s a very very time consuming process. For some reason when I’m working on a two-dimensional piece of art that’s original and I’ve spent all that time and effort in creating myself, I can spend ten hours at a time doing it. But when I’m painting someone else’s sculpture I just have very little patience. It’s not a hobby that I was ever able to really get into.
CG: So, it doesn’t translate?
JE: Yeah, you’d think it would, but for some reason it doesn’t click for me. But thankfully I have a number of friends that are very into it. I let them do all my miniatures painting for me and I draw their characters for them.

Collectible Card Games

“The sad reality is that I used to play Magic and after I got old enough to have disposable income I was able to stop playing Magic and get in a recovery program and kick the habit.”

– Jason Engle

CG: Going back not to RPGs, but to card games, did you play L5R or still play it?
JE: I’ve never played a single game of L5R. [Laughs] I should lie about that or I should go out and start playing it, one of the two, but I’ve never actually gotten to play a game of it. The sad reality is that I used to play Magic and after I got old enough to have disposable income I was able to stop playing Magic and get in a recovery program and kick the habit. I haven’t gone back into that area since with collectible card games because I know they’re something that I absolutely love and will sink a lot of time and money into if given the opportunity, so I try to keep myself from getting back into the hobby. Because I know I would love L5R if I started playing it like that and I’d be playing it all the time. It’s a wonderful game from what I understand. I know lots of people in the community. Like I said, I’ve been working on it for so many years that I’ve had the chance to meet most of the players that are really big in the community at the conventions and I got to say that L5R is different from a lot of the games out there in that players are so tight knit and they’re so nice, which sounds weird to say. But like, for example, you go to one of the Magic tournament and they’re very different in mind set because it is a broader scope of playerbase. There’s a lot more people that are more mainstream and less into the whole geek hobby which means it’s a lot more competitive, a lot more aggressive mindset. It’s not a very tight knit community in that sense, whereas L5R a lot of the people know each other. It’s just more of a real community of players which is kind of neat and unique in my experience.

Walking Ominous Stone Golemesque Magical Being

Engle’s Magic: TG Card Art for Ominous Statuary. Prints available at buyfantasyart.com

Board Games

CG: And what about any board games, you delve into that a little bit or are you more of an RPG guy?
JE: Yeah, I’ve done a couple of board games. I did Thunderstone. I did all of the art for that one. That came out a couple of years ago and I think it’s gosh, I don’t know how many expansions they’re on now, but it’s done pretty well. The first board game I did was called Tobogans of Doom. Yeah, that one you’re probably not going to find on too many shelves.
CG: And I was just actually asking if you’re a player of board games, haha. Wasn’t expecting that you’d done some.
JE: Well, I used to. I haven’t really been into too many of those for a few years either. The things about board games in particular is that they’re sort of similar to card games in that you have to be around a certain amount of the gaming community in order to get introduced to new ones and have people to play them with and all of that and I just don’t really go to that many gaming stores these days. There really aren’t that many in Jacksonville that are worth going to visit. The sad truth is that they’re kind of a dying breed and even ones that do have a bustling community built around them, if you don’t know where they’re located in your town, you’re pretty much out of luck. If there was a play to do that sort of thing in Jacksonville, I’d be absolutely into it. I do still enjoy board games when I get the chance to play. But without a real community to be a part of, it’s not something I spend a lot of time doing.

More on Engle’s RPGs

Pencil and paper sketch of a Paladin by Jason Engle

Jason Engle’s Paladin Sketch from Gaming

CG: So when you’re playing RPGs like Pathfinder now, are you the player or the GM?
JE: I’m a player. I’m a total player. I’ve dabbled at GMing. It’s fun to do, but here’s the problem with someone who’s overly developed their visual aesthetic: when you start designing an adventure, you start designing everything from a more visual standpoint than you need to and you end up spending way too much time in all the wrong areas. And when it comes time to play the game all that preparation work is generally not all that useful, so it’s a great thing to do, it’s really enjoyable, but GMing just takes too much time for me to really put into it. But I love playing and it allows me to both play my character and draw scenes from whatever is going on at the time. And the other players don’t mind having that so it works out.
CG: My last question for you then is what kind of characters do you end up playing?
JE: Um, well I’ve played them all, man. [Laughs] I’ve played the giant barbarian, the thief that usually ends up getting blown up first, I’ve even done the cleric, you know the healer, because no one else wants to play it. I usually like the fighter characters more to be honest because yeah, when you’re playing a combat game – which is what D&D and Pathfinder essentially are – your main skill set is going to be much more useful as that kind of character. Even though the guys I play with, we’re a little older, we try to integrate a lot more story and a lot more role-playing into our game, but in the end when your character’s really going to be bested and all the chips are down, it doesn’t hurt to have a fex extra hit dice.

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.

Las Vegas Board Games Meetup – June 6, 2012

I got a taste on June 6 for what happens at the Las Vegas Board Games Group when founder Stephan Brissaud is in attendance. He circulated with name tags printed out using Meetup users’ icons, dispensed them, and then also sold raffle tickets for the drawing for Carcassone or one of four Kosmos Games on offer. Tickets were $1, but by buying them ahead of time on-line, attendees could obtain a re-roll of one of the dice. The winner won with a roll of 18 on 3d6.

Lemming Mafia

I had played through Lemming Mafia from Mayfair Games twice before learning that the game was actually called Lemming Mafia and not just Lemmings. Somehow, even though the spaces you land on have a mafia motif of bricking up the lemmings’ feet in concrete and gambling on the outcome of the race, I had missed how important Italian crime families are in the game. Basically you have a race between 6 lemmings. Each turn 2d6 are rolled and on the faces of each die are the six lemming colors. If you get two different lemmings, you can choose which one advances past the next hurdle. While the Juke Joint has dimmer lights than most play environments, I had a hard time associating the red lemming on the dice with the Maroonish Lemming that was supposed to be Red. The Grey and the Purple also confused me just a little, but it could have been the effects of the Guiness I was drinking.

We played it a second time after stumbling through a first game marked by a lot of confusion as there were very few experienced players. One player wisely abandoned ship for the second go-round. I thought the game would be easier and quicker the second time, but increased understanding of what we were trying to do possibly lengthened the game from players taking the time to think about the outcomes of each move.

Lemming figurines start a race on the Mafia Lemmings game board at a bar

Pink Takes the Lead: The Start of a Lemming Mafia Race

While points can be gained from completing random mission objectives, up to 6 points can be won by correctly betting on which lemming will end up in first place. In our games, the “correct” bet seemed to play a large roll in determining the winner, but it also seemed more coincidental than intentional. Only certain spaces on the board allow the bets to be made and the more bets you have beneath your winning lemming color, the more points you gain. The missions have variable points. You might get 2 points if Purple places higher than Pink and then 2 points if either Purple or Green get “concreted” out. At the same time, since they’re random, it’s possible for one player to just get lucky and have a good hand with high values that get fulfilled. For each mission you don’t complete, you lose 2 points. There is also the opportunity for all players to ditch a mission card at several of the spaces on the board, if a lemming happens to land on one.

Even if the subject matter of Mafioso lemmings is questionable, its cartoonish style does seem geared towards children, as well as its basic play mechanics of how to move a lemming and the few choices of actions available each turn. On the other hand, scoring and actually winning at Lemming Mafia will be harder for a child to grasp. I will probably give Lemming Mafia/em> a pass in the future for the same reasons.

Colonia

Besides having never played it before and wanting to try it out, I was also taken in by Colonia’s large playing surface. Made by the German publisher Queen Games and designed by Dirk Henn, the game also features German and English text on the cards. Essentially Colonia is a mercantile resource management game. It also is a strong exercise in odds, predictions, gambling, and variables. The game has a ton of variables. In each of the game’s 6 weeks, someone flips a card which determines how many goods are distributed to the market stalls, how many artisans are willing to turn your raw goods into finished products, and how many ships leave the harbor. The roll of a die further randomizes what the crafters are willing to make for you on Market Day.

The variables go on though. At the beginning of each week, new Edicts are revealed to be voted upon by the players. Each of the four ships in the harbor can have very different cargo orders they want to fill and each ship is owned by a separate country or city, paying the player with their own currency. The game is won by relic purchasing in the market on the seventh day. The cost and victory points awarded from the relics, again, are random with each of the relics only purchasable in a particular currency. What I would have given for a money lender in Colonia! Our game actually did provide us with the opportunity to exchange currency twice through the successful passage of an Edict granting currency conversion.

Game board for Colonia showing Meeple playing pieces and random cards

Colonia Game In Progress: Meeples Gathering on the Streets

The game is further complicated by the changing play order among the players, which happens on the second day each week at the alderhouse or town hall with the election of a new mayor. Players bid a hidden number of Meeples to send to the town hall, varying from 3 to 8. Woe betide the player who bids a higher number of Meeples than he has in reserve! Yeah, woe betide me. I think I was the only person who failed to correctly foresee my neccessary number of Meeples. I did this three times. The penalty is that you don’t get to vote on the Edicts and you go dead last throughout the week. This penalty is actually fairly large, since the game is shifting each week and going last you may not be able to rush your Meeples to a particular locale and wind up sitting on a mass of raw goods as I did one week.

When not electing a new mayor, the Meeples are trotting out to buy things at market for you or to go get your orders fulfilled. One of the things that I really liked about Colonia was that your raw goods and finished goods were represented with markers and they are persistent until they are used. On the other hand, I spent a good portion of the game frustrated because I didn’t have the right raw goods to bring to a crafter or the right finished goods to load aboard a ship. I really would have liked a Cataan-style allowance for trading with the other players. Instead in Colonia you kind of have to sit there and take it. The game isn’t quick either. Ours lasted 2-2.5 hours with three experienced players and two newbies. In the end, the scores seemed fairly close. The winner boasted 21, while second had 17. I had 15 along with a veteran and last place had 11.

Mathematically the game probably has 10-15 variables going on at the same time; it’s complex. Queen Games could easily say that no two games will ever be the same. I am slightly interested in playing Colonia again and this time really slowing any play decisions down to try to understand what effect my action will likely have. However with such an investment of play time, I would like to feel a greater sense of accomplishment at the end of the game. Having a few relics worth 10 points or getting 2 points for having the most of a country’s currency is just not the same as having constructed buildings and wonders in 7 Wonders, expanding your galactic colonies and spaceship in Starfarers of Cataan, or completing quests and constructing buildings in Lords of Waterdeep, as I discovered next.

Lords of Waterdeep

I nearly leapt out of my seat when the chance to play Lords of Waterdeep presented itself and soon was embroiled into its Quests, Intrigues, and making my mark on its game board. Wizards of the Coast have really come up with a great board game that was engaging from start to finish. My actual opponents during the game, much like the ones I had discussed Waterdeep with two weeks before, had no role-playing knowledge of the city of Waterdeep, but enjoy playing the board game. Amidst my enjoyment of the game, I was a little disappointed that having the Forgotten Realms City System and having read Waterdeep in the Avatar Trilogy didn’t give me any advantage in the game. Aside from being able to recognize some of the cards’ references, the game requires zero knowledge of the Forgotten Realms or D&D to play and enjoy.

Completed quests and active quests for Harpers for Lord of Waterdeep Board GameHaving wound up with Mirt the Moneylender as my secret Lord of Waterdeep, I started trying to get and finish as many Commerce quests as I could. I also could receive bonus victory points by completing Piety quests, but I seldom had many clerics, which are represented by white cubes. Fighters are orange cubes, wizards are purple, and rogues are black. After learning that there are no green range cubes I mostly gave up trying to make inferences about the game from my D&D knowledge. Early on I completed the Bribe the Shipwrights Commerce quest allowing me to get a free Thief/Rogue every time an action gave me gold, which proved to be very useful.

Much like Munchkin, when Lords of Waterdeep finished, I was still wrapped up in all the possibilities of play. It was only a third of the way into the game before I grasped the special place that Waterdeep Harbor holds. By visiting it, a player can play an Intrigue card. That is half of it. At the end of the round after all of the pieces have deployed, any piece on one of the three Waterdeep Harbor spots can move again. Playing with three opponents though, there was usually a rush to get onto that location. Also while not as intrinsic to the game or as prevalent as in Munchkin, there are offensive actions you can take in Lords of Waterdeep such as stealing away 2 gold and an adventurer from an opponent via an Intrigue card or forcing them to lose pieces or gold. Without having seen all of the cards in play, it seemed that there are many more cards or buildings though which provide some benefit to your opponent(s) as well as whatever boon they provide to the player using them.

A Lords of Waterdeep game in progress with most of the pieces on the board

The Bustling City of Waterdeep in the 7th Round of the Lords of Waterdeep Game

I jostled for the lead throughout the game with the game’s eventual winner, Robert. He scored 134 playing Khelben “Blackstaff” Arunsun, while I scored 129. Now I regret not having really tried to finish any of the remaining quests I had in the game’s last turn, despite clear notice that the game was ending. I got caught up in the possibilities of what cool new ability I would have to play with, even though at the end of the game there was no more play time, of course. I wish the game went on longer past eight turns, but I will just have to sate my curiosity and appetite for it by playing it again and again in the future. Personally I would never purchase an abstract Euro game for over $30-$40 and Lords of Waterdeep has an MSRP of $49.99. That said, Lords of Waterdeep provides such a good play experience that I will add it to my Christmas wish list and hope to see it under the tree.

WotC Magic: the Gathering – Make the Best of Your Magic Events

“Magic has never been such a strong brand.”

Helene Bergeot from Wizards of the Coast addressed retailers at the 2012 GAMA Trade Show. Her background is in trademarketing and she is Director of Organized Play for Magic: The Gathering and her talk was titled “Moving from Good to Great”. According to Bergeot there were more than 130,000 players for the pre-release for Dark Ascension and “Magic has never been such a strong brand”. The reason, according to Wizards of the Coast, is that Activity drives Activity. WotC has found that the best stores are the ones running the most events. “The size of the event doesn’t matter,” instead, according to Bergeot, the frequency and number of events is what counts. In stores where Magic is highly successful, on average no more than 24-36 players are playing in tournaments or release events.

The response from most retailers was glowing. One retailer crowed that his February sales were big, like his “second-best Christmas”.

Wizards of the Coast to Retailers: “We are here to support you.”

Getting new players to events and engaged in them, Bergeot emphasized, is necessary in order “to grow the community.” Wizards has found that players new to OP balk at participating in their first organized play event. Even their second exposure to OP is no guarantee that they will continue, but after their second time doing organized play, Wizards has seen its “level of retention” among players remain very steady. Twice a year, WotC conducts surveys and spends hours and hours going over them to improve customers’ experiences and their retailers’ sales. Helene affirmed to the attending retailers “We are here to support you.”

A Canadian retailier pointed out that “a lot of gamers have no life” and takes advantage of that by giving them one in his store. He does sealed $25 events and “it just packs the house,” getting 82 players with his last sealed event. For Valentine’s Day he had a special event with girls playing free and wound up getting 22 female players, 15 of them in the store for their first time. Trevor McGregor from the Gaming Pit shared his store’s Full Moon events on the full moon of each month. The special event provides a bonus for including a Werewolf card in the decks, which could be an extra booster pack of cards or whatever the door prize is for that particular night.

I was intrigued when I learned that one of the background images during Bergeot’s presentation was a chandelier made out of Magic: the Gathering cards. Most, if not all, of her background images were taken at Card Kingdom in Seattle. This Magic chandelier was designed by Stacy Lewars from Studio Metro Design. Card Kingdom seems to have a very cozy environment to play in.

Magic: the Gathering lands are strung together to form a chandelier of cards

Magic Chandelier in Card Kingdom in Seattle, image courtesy Card Kingdom.

Magic Supply Easily Tapped and Problem Players

The seminar flowed into supply issues that retailers expressed with obtaining enough Magic cards to meet their customers’ demands. The Canadian retailers present either were particularly vocal or have increased difficulties in obtaining enough product. Wizards will be eventually placing a cap on the total that a retailer can order, but it will be a year before they implement this cap, which prompted some retailer complaints about the cap’s existence at all. A very popular product seems to be the Magic “fat packs” which Wizards only intends to be on shelves for a maximum of 30 days; instead some retailers pointed out that they go through them in “2 days!”

The next sub-topic was another problem faced by retailers, over-enfranchised players who scare off new players and create bad play environments in stores. One attendee pointed out Wizkids’s Fellowship award as a positive step WotC could take to curb problem players. Trevor McGregor again spoke up, saying that store owners or managers “have to be honest and upfront with” the players creating the bad environment. Another attendee uses a token system in his or her store to correct player behavior, which sounded more like elementary school behavior management, but it works according to that retailer. More and more retailers chimed in. A Canadian store owner has called the police on one of his Magic players before which sent a strong message to the rest of his players about how seriously he takes player conduct. This elicited laughs from the room. Another retailer explained that when he confronted a bad sport in his shop, the player said “This is all I’m good at” as to why he enjoyed crushing his opponents so much.

The seminar returned to Helene Bergeot’s presentation where she reviewed FNM, Friday Night Magic, and there were suggestions for events store owners could hold, such as deck building workshops or conduct trading forums. Wizards will be having an improved store locator on their website available in the next few months allowing players to do advanced searches for specific event formats. Wizards will be looking into rotating stores for the Pro Tour Qualifiers. As the seminar wrapped up, a retailer complained that he doesn’t have enough DCI cards for new players with several others agreeing. There is particularly a difficulty in the turnaround on cards for players younger than 13.