This is Part 2 of a 3 part interview with the designer of the War Co. Expandable Card Game Brandon Rollins. Here is my review of the game: An Early Review of War Co. Expandable Card Game by Pangea Games as well as a mini-review by my friend Tim: Mini Review of War Co. by Pangea Games Also check out Part I of our interview that was posted on July 14th.
Now, back to the interview:
Grant: I enjoy the puzzle aspect of the game where you have to figure out the proper way to beat your opponent’s field and ultimately their overall strategy. Can you give some advice to how best go about this process?
Brandon: When I designed War Co., I used something I call the objective-constraint method. Each card has an objective – an optimum way to be used – and it has a balancing constraint that is its Achilles’ heel. Find the constraint or constraints. It’s different for every card and every situation, so you have to develop a feel for it over time.
Grant: What is your favorite faction to play?
Brandon: Conspirator, hands down. It’s weird how much that deck grew on me, actually. There’s so many cards I like in there: Fatehammer, Crystal Aeroplane (not pictured below), Shark, Oceanica, Blockade Ship. I could go on for a while. The deck doesn’t have a lot of raw strength, but there’s so many weird cards in there. It can make your game very unpredictable.
Grant: I have played the Conspirator deck and I agree that there are many eclectic cards in it, that at first might seem underpowered but when played with other combinations become deadly. What is your least favorite faction to play?
Brandon: Despite recommending it to beginners as it is very straightforward, Bruiser is my sixth place choice. While raw muscle is a legitimate tactic in War Co., I’ve played this game so many times that I’ve gotten tired of just bludgeoning players to death.
“While raw muscle is a legitimate tactic in War Co., I’ve played this game so many times that I’ve gotten tired of just bludgeoning players to death.”
Grant: One of my favorite parts of the game and its design is the choice of art for the cards. Where did you find James Masino who does your art? He is fantastic and his drawings really bring out the size and scope of your machines.
Brandon: When I was 19, I played a lot of Minecraft while it was still an underground college trend. (No, don’t click away, I’m going somewhere with this!) I played on a server with my friend Alex Nuttle, who I kept in touch with over Skype for the next four years. He knew James through Club Penguin when they were kids. In short: I know a guy through Minecraft who knew a guy through Club Penguin.
Grant: That is a pretty interesting way to find your artist! However you did it though was fortuitous as he is very talented. Talk a little bit about the playing cards facedown mechanic, which I think is one of the best parts of the game. What was the genesis for this strategy idea?
Brandon: To be honest, I think I got the underlying idea from watching Yu-Gi-Oh! on TV as a kid. I had no idea how to play the game, though. Part of why the facedown mechanic works, beyond just the simple element of surprise, is its effect on energy management. Facedown cards don’t use your limited energy until they’re turned face-up. It leads to a lot of bluffing, intimidation, and even prematurely putting cards on the field to clear up hand space. That said, I had none of that in mind early on. I just said “facedown cards don’t use energy because that would ruin the element of surprise.” The heavy metagame that came as a result was what Bob Ross might call a “happy little accident”.
“Facedown cards don’t use your limited energy until they’re turned face-up. It leads to a lot of bluffing, intimidation, and even prematurely putting cards on the field to clear up hand space.”
Grant: The machines are central to not only the theme of the game but the game play itself. How did you come up with this concept or huge machines? Are there other machine types that you are saving for a possible future expansion? If so, what are those?
Brandon: This has roots in the game I made as a child. However, the basic idea behind the modern version of machines and technologies came from the way I wanted to represent the dichotomy by which I see the future developing: hardware and software. Machines are hardware. Technologies are software.
Grant: Each deck has 50 cards. How hard was it to trim that down to just 50? How many cards did each deck start with and how many cuts did you have to make? Do you regret taking out any of the cards you did?
Brandon: I initially made a game of 500 cards. Then I trimmed it down to 300. I don’t miss a single one. When you create a big idea, you also create a ton of garbage. Destruction is necessary for creation sometimes. Decks were originally going to be made in random packs of 55 cards, but I didn’t like that idea the more I thought about it. I thought “why not split it evenly between 6 decks?” So that’s what I did. Randomly. Then I played the decks and gave them names based on their specific strategies. Some were overpowered and underpowered – not because of the individual cards but because of their strategic cohesion. I shuffled around the cards between the six decks using a special secret saucy algorithm. Then I tested this about 100 times before moving to the next stage.
“I don’t miss a single one. When you create a big idea, you also create a ton of garbage. Destruction is necessary for creation sometimes.”
Grant: One of the decks that I was able to play was the Conspirator deck which had some great energy manipulation and control cards in the deck such as Ironic Siphon. These card types are powerful and control the field. Does each deck have a similar “power” card? What are they for each deck?
Brandon: Every deck has powerful manipulators, but they come at a high cost and they’re highly controversial. These cards can win you the game OR royally screw you. I’ll use one example from each deck.
Bruiser: Toll Booth – 56 strength and 4 energy. That’s insanely powerful and the energy use isn’t even topped out! And yet it makes you discard a card from your deck at the beginning of each turn.
Conspirator: Ironic Siphon – takes away 40% of your opponent’s energy! Yet it also does the same to you PLUS you lose a technology slot. That doesn’t sound like an awful deal, but it can be a significant time waster if you have to back out. (I used this card to defeat Tim in our playtest and can attest to its power! -Grant)
Guerilla: Project SARDINE – play as many cards as you want. Oh, but it uses 3 energy units and if it gets knocked out of play when you have a bunch of cards out, well…
Militant: Ghost of a Chance – draw 12 cards from your scrapyard…under extremely specific conditions and discard 2 extra cards from your hand each round until the end of the game. (Card image art is not yet completed)
Trickster: Slippery Slope – one opponent has to discard 2 cards from the top of their deck every turn! It takes HALF your energy and it takes two rounds before its effect does anything.
Wildcard: Essence of Time – simulates the passing of three rounds, which can greatly magnify certain combos. Great in theory, but really hard to execute in practice.
Great information from Brandon Rollins on his upcoming War Co. Expandable Card Game. In Part III of our interview, which should be posted Friday this week, we talk about the Kickstarter process and what Brandon has learned from a previous attempt, the date of the planned Kickstarter launch (there is a not-so subtle hint in this post) and the evolution of the game through the playtesting process. Until then, check out his website at www.warcothegame.com for more information on the game’s great backstory and the process.