This Interview with Tim Ellington was hold by Neal and was published first on "Decipher's Website (decipher.com)" at Mar 16th, 2009.
Neal: We are here with Tim Ellington from Decipher to talk about their new game Fight Klub. Fight Klub is something new to ccgs with both its "cross culture" theme and the way it is being sold and distributed. In this interview, Tim is going to tell us a little about how FK started and what went into making it. Hi Tim, thanks for giving us your time to talk about Fight Klub.
Tim: No problem, Neal. Happy to do it.
Neal: So let’s talk about how this game started. What is the story behind the origin of this game?
Tim: Well, there’s always been the theoretical question of "who would win?" between famous characters. Captain Kirk versus Darth Vader, Rambo versus Predator, that kind of thing. So the premise was already there, it was just hard to pull off in a traditional TCG because of the nature of licensing individual properties for gaming. With no obviously strong individual licenses on the horizon, Decipher decided to pursue a multiple license deal to allow a game to be built around that classic question of who would win. We were able to get some studios to buy into the concept, and the game became a reality. Now we have the platform, and players get to find their own answers through matchups of various characters.
Neal: I was always a fan of the "What If" comics, and when I first heard of Fight Klub, I thought that had some real potential; to test certain characters against each other. Now, a lot of haven’t had a chance to try the game yet. for those of us who don’t know much about the mechanics of FK, tell us a little about how the game plays.
Tim: Each player has a specific character, and that character fights another character through a series of fight cards. Characters are divided into two categories... hero and villain. However, there’s no restriction on who fights who. Heroes can fight villains or other heroes. Villains can fight heroes or other villains. The only restriction is that heroes can’t use villain cards, or vice versa. There are hero and villain templates and two card backs to help keep cards separated.
Each turn consists of characters facing off over three fight cards that come from your fight stack. Each fight card has three skirmish numbers across the top, and these numbers are matched up with the opponent’s skimish numbers. Each skirmish is resolved separately, and the character winning the most skirnishes out of 3 on a fight card scores the fight card and inflicts damage to the opponent’s life. Once the opponent’s life is zero, game over. Of course, there are lots of cards that modify and manipulate the skirmish numbers, and that’s where most of the strategy comes in.
Another interesting component is The Drop. The Drop changes hands each turn and gives the holder the ability to dtermine phase action priority and other bonuses. It really makes the game control swing back and forth among the players.
Neal: Interesting, sounds a little like Young Jedi or Magi Nation with the multiple rounds. One thing nice about that set up is it opened up both rush and stall decks, as you could either try to overwhelm an opponent early, or plan on conceeding a round so to speak to set up an invincible character down the road. I think we’ll all agree that deck variety is a good thing. So then how has the game play been received?
Tim: I’ve been very pleased with the feedback we’ve had so far. Before we had product out, we released information on the website about the game’s development, and the mechanical pieces we were putting in. Players had a favorable reaction to the concept, and when we posted some demo decks before release, the reaction was similarly positive. Product has just started shipping within the last two weeks, and initial reports from players has been very good, both from the gameplay and the qualty of the product itself.
Neal: Nice, I know I have heard the cards look great. For whatever criticisms I have had of Decipher, I have always considered them outstanding image makers. Now, One thing I have never seen in a ccg before is this "cross culture" theme with heroes and villains of different genres. How is that being received so far?
Tim: Wonderfully. It’s the backbone of the product. It’s been interesting to see which characters appeal to different players. The beauty of the cross-property concept is that there is almost always something you want in each set. With single-property products, it’s hard to get someone to sample if they just aren’t into the property. If you’re not a star Trek fan, or a Lord of the Rings fan, it can be hard to get you sample a game with nothing but that story, but with multiple properties over multiple genres, there’s usually somebody from a film you like. That gets your attention, and then the gameplay keeps you in the game, encouraging you to try different characters and different deck styles.
Neal: Yes, the more I think about it, I like the idea that you don’t have to be a "fanboy" to appreciate the charaters. I always found that a bit annoying in Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, that some minor character like Watto would be more useful than a main character like Padme. Along the same lines, since you have so many personalities to choose from with disparate characteristics, what does the "cross culture" game theme allow you to do creatively?
Tim: The fact that we have to "break some walls" does give us some creative liberties. In a normal game it would be hard to balance such different characters as Superman and, say, Tank Girl, because the game usually has a single "scale" of character strengths to work with. There has to be a certain "suspension of belief" in Fight KLub because of the fact you’re pitting characters from different universes together. The way we have handled this was the creation of the fight cards, and that’s the way characters fight. If it was just Superman, with Superman stats against Tank Girl, with Tank Girl stats, it would be hard to make the gameplay balanced. But through the fight cards, which represent such attributes as physical, mental, spiritual and fate skirmishes, we make the "fight" more representive of the strengths and weaknesses of different characters, rather then just raw power against power.
Neal: I think that’s in keeping with a lot of the super hero battles. If you didn’t have Batman’s craftiness and never say die attitude, he really couldn’t beat anyone, could he? Let’s shift gears a little. Who was involved with the creation of this game, and what did each person bring to it?
Tim: Several people have been involved since the game’s conceptual beginning. A few former Decipher employees were involved in the initial concept design before moving on to other companies. I started on the project about 15 months ago, and have worked closely with Kendrick Summers on the gameplay development and the Decipher art team since then.
Neal: Ah... Kendrick Summers ;-) He’s an old friend of DeckTech, lol. Seriously, he is very popular with most of the old skool Decipher supporters. This is something I’m always interested in, what type of concepts and themes were you trying to get across in game play?
Tim: I wanted to build around the concept of making good in-game decisions and managing the table from turn to turn. That’s why there’s three fights per turn instead of one, and all three fights are "out" on the table for you to see. You have to be able to read the table, so to speak, and manage your resources to get the best results based on what you see coming. And what your opponent is trying to do, of course :-)
Some games rely heavily on deck-building. You almost have to write a program with your deck, and hope it "runs" correctly in the game. In some cases (and I think Star Trek 1E is an example of this), it was almost without regard to your opponent. Rather than have a game where player A takes his turn and then Player B takes his turn, we wanted Fight Klub to be a game that had active participation among the players. The Drop helps give one player a nod over the other each turn, but both players are drawing, playing cards and scoring every turn. It’s very interactive in that respect. Deck building skills are certainly important in Fight Klub, but I’d like to think we’ve put the bulk of "winning decision-making" on the table.
Neal: Chalk me up on the "decisions make the game fun" category. I like Magic and other games where you get to see a combo go off, but to play time and time again, making those decisions is what gives you the rush and reward of the game.
Tim: Thematically, we wanted to create a game that made it possible to pit different kinds of characters against one another. Fight cards do this by creating a vehicle for the fights, rather than just comparing stats on the characters. The different kind of skirmishes help this. For instance, when Rambo is fighting Jigsaw (I’ll use their signature fight cards in this example), Rambo’s physical skirmish lines up against Jigsaw’s spiritual skirmish. The other matchups are Rambo’s survival vs. Jigsaw’s mental, and Rambo’s spiritual vs. Jigsaw’s grisly. So instead of having two characters with static numbers of power/life/etc. to compare, you are putting Jigsaw’s twisted spirit for his brand of "justice" against Rambo’s physical strength. Rambo’s strong spirit of "right" vs Jigsaw’s capacity for grisly torture and fear. Rambo’s survival spirit vs. Jigsaw’s mental acuity for clever tricks and gadgets. This way the fights become more about the characters themselves than just comparing simple stats head-to-head. It also makes the fights a little more "conceptual," which helps the player make the leap into the realm of Rambo fighting Jigsaw.
Neal: Although you have never played it, this idea worked very well in what I consider one of the best modern CCGs: Fullmetal Alchemist. The ability to change fights to say a fist fight in the middle of a magic duel was very exciting. Sounds very fun so far. What about the future? What are some game play concepts that didn’t quite make it into this expansion that might be in a future expansion?
Tim: There has been a lot of specualtion about what the "dominate" function will be. I can’t release that just yet, but it’s coming in THREE. Other stuff that was touched upon in the first two sets and will be fleshed out more in coming sets will be putting more emphasis on the skirmish types (rather than just the skirmish numbers), and developing more cards that take advantage of the cards on table, keying off the different skirmish matchups that occur each fight.
Neal: Well that’s a start, you can keep us posted on what new mechanics are in the pipeline as they become available. Shifting to the corporate side, we here at DeckTech have followed, bought, discussed and probably overanalyzed Decipher’s products since Dt’s inception now 10 years ago. Surely a lot has changed in that time with Decipher. What is it like to work at (or with) Decipher these days?
Tim: Well, it’s certainly different than 10 years ago. Not as many people, not as many games in production. I think at one point we were producing 5 games simulataneously. Currently Fight Klub is the only game we have in the market, and as such, it gets the full attention of the staff, from design and development to marketing and support. It’s also a different environment when you think of going from such hits as Star Trek, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings to a single game with a whole new concept and marketing strategy. But I think it’s a good model for success, and one that gives us the best chance of creating another successful game.
Neal: I think that keeping a small, but dedicated and focused product line is a great mechanic for corporate success. Do only a few things but do them right. That’s one thing that hurt GM over the years; a whole bunch of underperforming brands. Decipher isn’t the only one to make that mistake, as you can see, but it is good to know that Decipher has learned. I only wish that they had started that philosophy with Lotr. That game had a lot of potential, and I feel that all the rush of new games only split the interest in Lord of the Rings.
Finally, just so we can get a chance to know a little more about you, I assume you try many of the card games that come down the pipeline. Give me two of your favorite ccgs, one classic and one modern, that aren’t Magic or a Decipher product and why?
Tim: Way back in the day, I was fascinated with the Middle-earth ccg from ICE. One, I was a big fan of the property (who knew at the time we would end up with the LotR property). Two, I was intruiged by the adventure motif of the game, and how it captured the feel of the story. I have to admit, I was never very good at it, but I still have a few cards and my One RIng still sits on the shelf with my foil Vader and Future Enterprise. I’m still waiting for Mike Reynolds to autograph it for me :-)
Honestly, I haven’t played very much over the last couple of years, so I really can’t speak about the newer games on the market. When I decided to work on Fight Klub, I made a conscious effort to avoid existing games, because I wanted to come into FK fresh, and not be influenced by the current mechanics.
Neal: I think the ICE Middle Earth game still has a follwing. I know Scott Church at Category 1 Games has been considering selling it even. I have never tried that, I will have to track down someone with some decks and try it out.
Awesome Tim, that was a fantastic interview. I really learned a lot, and it means a lot to Decipher’s fans and potential fans to have you over here at DeckTech speaking. Thanks so much for being here, and we look forward to hearing from you and Decipher more about this game.
Tim: Thanks Neal. My pleasure.