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    • Owlbear

    My Seemingly Obsessive Quest to Bring More Fun to More Tabletops
    By Ryan Miller

    Back when Magic first came out, I took a stab at my own dueling card game. You had your character card, a bunch of move cards, and lots of cool weapons. My brother was my first (and only) play tester, and we played on handwritten cards I had cut out of index cards.

    The game was fun, but flawed – attacks were way too easy to block, causing my beleaguered brother to drop his hand on the table and say “this game is never going to end!” The game was quickly shelved, but the idea is something that has stuck with me for the last 20 years – ever since then I’ve really wanted to make a great fighting card game.

    Flash forward a couple of decades, and I’m still kicking around ideas. Last year, I was meeting with Luke for some game design work, and pulled out a game I had been working on. He wrote up the story in the last designer diary, so I don’t want to rehash too much, but I will say that those first playtest were a blast! I had the basic game mechanics down, but as he usually does, Luke instantly had some ideas that made the game far better.

    The core mechanic is the aggression system. Each turn, you gain 2 aggression, in the form of two face down cards from the top of your deck. Aggression is the resource of the game, so the more aggression you have, the more attacks you can sling at your opponent. Once you have gained aggression, you may then decide to draw any number of cards – but you must draw them from your aggression! This balance of hope and drama really adds a lot of excitement to the game.

    Do you play risky and draw a bunch of cards in the hopes of getting that one card you need to finish your combo? Do you let your aggression pile up until you can drop a massive attack? There are a lot of tactical decisions you must make based on what you’ve got in front of you as well as what’s in your hand. It all combines to make a really fun and fast bashing card game.

    ranger5The attack mechanic is also a lot of fun. Most cards are moves, which you use to not only attack your opponent but to block your opponent’s attacks against you. During their turn, your opponent will play one or more moves against you – and you’ve got until the end of your next turn to block them. This becomes a huge part of your decision on how many cards to draw! If they’ve gone wide and played a ton of moves, you may need to draw more cards to defend yourself. On the other hand, if they’ve only got one or two, you might hold back and take some early damage so you can build up your aggression.

    My favorite aspect of the game is the character building. Early on, Luke and I discussed ways to make the game have more of an RPG feel. My initial idea was to have class and race cards that you could mix and match. These cards would then give you some base abilities that would alter how the standard deck played, but wouldn’t alter the deck itself. Eventually the idea of having one standard deck, and then class and race “boosters” of about 15 cards each came up – you would shuffle those cards together and have your character’s deck.

    After lots of brainstorming, we finally decided to just do race and class decks. That way, we could make the cards much more tailored to the characters. And we knew from Paul Peterson’s brilliant Smash Up that shuffle building was something players enjoy. Since our game mechanics are miles away from Smash Up, we felt like if we could make this work, we could offer players a very different shuffle-building experience. We did some quick mockups, and the idea was a winner!

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