Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Traveller Customizable Card Game

Traveller Customizable Card Game: An Interview with Jeff Yin of Horizon Games

First off, congratulations on meeting your initial funding goal on Kickstarter. What are your next steps?
Right now, our primary focus is on finishing the campaign.  Traditionally, the two most active funding periods for a Kickstarter campaign are the first 72 hours, and the last 72 hours.  Since we have had the good fortune to fully fund before the closing date, it's tempting to try to look past it, but we expect to be fielding a large number of direct messages and emails, responding to comments, and otherwise administering backer relations during the last few days of the campaign.

Once the campaign has concluded, we'll shift all of our attention to our production milestones.

I'm an old school Traveller tabletop player and I've never played a customizable card game before. Why might your product appeal to someone like me?
While I recognize no game can be all things to all people, I do think there are reasons to believe our product could appeal to an RPG fan with limited or no card game experience.

Our Traveller adaptation, at its heart, attempts to capture the spirit of life on the mains at the helm of a small merchant vessel.  Although some of our cards do depict elements of wider galactic influence, mostly we're focused on delivering the feeling of speculative trade and adventure in the Third Imperium.  Players get to captain a free trader.  Hire crew with unpronounceable Vilani names.  Get into trouble at Startown Bars.  We think that could appeal to fans of the RPG, even if they've never played a card game before.

At the same time, gaming has a lot of cross pollination.  Perhaps you've never played a customizable card game before, but I'd bet you've at least heard of some of the more famous titles, like Magic: The Gathering.  We harness the strengths of a constructed deck card game, but eliminated the high cost of entry inherent in having to purchase cards randomly.  Our sets are fixed.  Every Scout deck comes with the exact same cards.  You don't have to keep buying booster packs hoping for that one great rare.  So maybe you're a Traveller fan who has always wanted to try card games, but you've been wary because of the cost involved, or because none of the existing titles appealed to you thematically.  In that case, our game may work for you.

The Traveller Customizable Card Game is also playable solo.  Now, I want to be clear that our product is primarily a multi-player game.  We designed the rules for multi-player, we make cards with that environment in mind, and it will always be our main focus.  However, we realized early on that our mechanics inherently supported solo play.  I think it's fair to say that the Traveller fan base skews a bit older than that of tabletop gaming in general.  Perhaps you just don't see yourself playing card games with youngins.  Maybe you don't live around other gamers, or you don't have the time or interest to join a group.  You can still enjoy our game on your own.

Finally, I'd say our game will be a wider artistic interpretation than any other previous Traveller product.  Card games require a lot of art.  Each card represents a distinct concept.  An individual person.  A specific location.  An unexpected event or heroic action.  Fans of the Traveller universe may appreciate our artistic interpretations, and might find inspirations to use in their RPG sessions, even if they never play the card game.  One of the interesting things about Traveller is how various products have found utility outside their initial intents.  There are people who no longer play Traveller RPGs (or perhaps even any RPG), but they enjoy High Guard as a system to create ships, and as a perspective to use in thinking about various aspects of starship design and technologies.  Our game may very well appeal to someone of a similar mindset.

For those who have played CCGs before, are the game mechanics similar to anything that is already out there? What have you done to capture the feel of the tabletop Traveller game?
Traveller was certainly not created ex nihilo.  I'd say that customizable card games are among the most dynamic and innovative forms of tabletop gaming available, and there are definitely inspirations and antecedents to our own title.  The three most significant influences on our game are probably Game of Thrones, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, and Babylon 5, and I think anyone who has experience with any of them will find some familiar elements.

Capturing the feel of the Traveller RPG is both one of our primary goals, and also one of our greatest challenges.  When we started development, one of the philosophies we had is that we wanted the card game to feel "like" the RPG.  But exactly what that means can be quite subjective.  No two people think Traveller is the same thing (take a gander at some of the Traveller codes on Citizens of the Imperium, for instance), and no two gamers will have had the same RPG experiences.  So we had to settle upon a particular interpretation of what Traveller would mean to us, and after some consideration, we thought the iconic free trading paradigm worked best.

Once we had that frame of reference, we could think about what those campaigns were like, the sorts of jobs that set the initial plot, the encounters that happen along the way, and the NPCs and villains that make life interesting for the party.  Creating the Traveller experience grew from adapting those elements into cards.  Sometimes the inspiration is seen on the mechanical side, where what happens is distinctly Traveller.  For instance, a card may represent a misjump, so its mechanics are an attempt to model a Traveller concept.  In other cases, the effects may be mechanical elements common to all CCGs (like drawing cards), but the art and/or name provide a Traveller aesthetic. 

How is the playtesting going? Are you running into any challenges?
Playtesting has its encouraging elements, and of course has highlighted some areas of possible improvement.  On the positive side, we've been encouraged by the fact that the underlying mechanics are sound and comprehensible, even though we currently only provide a "Play Sheet," essentially an outline of steps that, if followed, leads to playing the game, rather than a formal rule book.  Where we've improved the most has been in terms of clarity.  Our playtesters have done an excellent job of indicating areas where we could be more consistent in our approach, or how we could present the same material in a more streamlined manner.

Assuming two player games, how much replay value will the two player starter set have?
As our game is a customizable card game, players are able to build their decks from the entire available card pool.  One of the factors most significant to the enduring popularity of constructed deck games, like Magic: The Gathering, Game of Thrones, or Traveller, is the deck building aspect, where players have the opportunity to experiment with different concepts.  Now, if our card game were never to expand beyond the initial Starter Set, I do think such a restrictive card pool would run the risk of becoming stale or inhibiting creativity.  But we have the additional Trouble on the Mains expansion, that, among other things, adds and augments Piracy.  There's also currently five promo cards available for purchase, and a sixth exclusive to the Collector's Edition.  We've also announced two Stretch Goals that would each potentially add to the card pool available at launch.

Anything else you want to share?
I'd like to take the opportunity to thank the Traveller community for their comments and support.  Whether or not you've backed our project, if you've looked at the page, sent an email, posted on a forum thread, or even just generally kicked the idea around in your head, we appreciate that.
Check out these links for more information:

Traveller Card Game Kickstarter Campaign Page
Traveller Card Game Play Demonstration Video
Interview with Jeff Yin on Crowdfunding Cast
Interview with Jeff Yin on Your Table's On Fire

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