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Swpocketmodels.com Interview with Mike Elliott


Swpocketmodels.com is proud to bring you the first in a number of interviews with the minds behind Star Wars PocketModels. First up, is the Lead Designer Mike Elliott.

Q: First off, I think the community would be interested in getting to know how you came to work where you do now, and more specifically on SWPM. How have past products you have worked on influenced your design of this game?

I have worked on a lot of game systems. I did design or development on close to 30 Magic expansions and I designed a number of trading card games such as Duelmasters, Neopets, Hecatomb, and Harry Potter. I am probably most well known for the Duelmasters TCG, which has done close to $500 million in Japan but which was not as successful here in the US. I’ve done a few single shot card games, a board game, and even a game for 10 to 14 year old Japanese girls. I have been with Wizkids a little over a year and my major projects here have been Star Wars and the new Halo miniatures game that is debuting this week at Gencon. I have done a lot of work on making games accessible to new players. My general mantra these days is make the games simple and the strategy complex. When I am learning a game, if I don’t feel like I am getting the game in the first five minutes, I go on to something else and since I am obviously normal despite what everyone else says, everyone else must give up after 5 minutes as well. So simple, fast and fun it is.

Q: Many of us are unfamiliar with how a game like SWPM is developed. Can you give us an idea of the steps and revisions a design idea goes through before it makes the cut?

The game actually started as a much more complex game with movement and a hex grid. Eventually we decided that the game would be better served going after the casual core hobby gamers and not after the hardcore simulation gamers so we started over from scratch using Ethan’s original brilliant concept of a hybrid constructible game/trading card game. There are already a lot of games serving the hardcore game player that wants to measure every shot, flank the opponents, and keep track of damage to various portions of the units. I can’t go into the specific details of how the game morphed over testing partly because our design methods are a mystery wrapped in an enigmatic conundrum and there are spies everwhere, and partly because I don’t want to reveal some of the silly variations were attempted because it would blow the brilliant designer image that I strive so hard to maintain and I would lose all of my groupies.

Q: Could you give us an example of any ideas that were ultimately unable to be put into the final design for the game?

Because it is an open ended system, we can basically layer elements on top of the game system and can ramp up the complexity a little bit as the game goes on. I can’t really comment on elements we left out since some of them may appear in later sets and again, spies, everywhere.

Q: During development, how did the game design arrive at the concept of 5 star allotments for actions?

We wanted a very fast paced turn structure where each player was engaged and thinking about their actions. The dual attack system was a key part of this as each player is engaged in the combat actions. The 5 star rule was basically to limit the scope of each players turn to be about what could be processed in a minute or less.

Q: In developing a star value for a ship, are there point value designations for the individual attributes of a ship that are used for some sort of calculation or is it more an estimate of the power of the particular ship?

The star point classes are broken down into 5 groups. Within each group, the units are relatively even. We have a base level costing formula but I can’t go into detail on the specifics of it as that would only encourage the spies more. We attempt to put each ship into the where we feel it would go for power and flavor, but obviously we are forced to get the best fit we can on some of them.

Q: With the announcement of Ground Assault, some players are wary of the implications of the inevitable Tauntaun vs. Star Destroyer battle. How much does flavor vs. playability concern you when creating new cards, units, or mechanics?

The stories of a Tauntaun taking down a Star Destroyer will be fairly rare. It is always difficult to have the exact flavor represented in a game while still having the game “work” as a game. If you put a bunch of restrictions on what can and can’t interact with each other, you end up with a maze of rules and a fairly uninteractive game. The basic rule is try to fit the flavor where you can, but if it ends up making the game worse, either don't do it or bend the flavor to make the game more playable. People want a realistic simulation, but they also want a fun game and if the simulation bogs down the game and no one plays, you get to take your game to the land of misfit games, which is oddly nowhere near the land of misfit toys as you might think.

Q: What are your thoughts about the power level of common, uncommon, and rare ships? In designing the ships, do you envision “ultimate” teams needing to include some commons and uncommons?

We generally leave it to the players to come up with the ultimate decks. In general the more unusual and swingy effects tend to be uncommon and rare since you don’t want them coming up all the time in limited environments. We will have formats that restrict the number of rare/named ships and rare/holo cards in a build. We will have sealed formats where you can only play with the contents of 3 to 5 booster packs. We may also run formats where you are limited to ships and cards from a certain set or sets. In all of these, you will play quite a few commons and uncommons.

Q: A lot of players have expressed interest in a rule that limits a team to one faction. How has the faction element on the ships evolved in development, and do you foresee the inclusion of gameplay mechanics that either restrict teams to one faction or otherwise promote faction play (ex. cards with faction requirements)?

It is never worth having a rule that limits the faction choices as a base rule. If the players want to play a specific faction or build their force/deck in a certain way, they can do that within the global rule of play anything. It is a huge barrier for a new player in a game with multiple factions to require them to buy enough product to get enough units of a certain faction to play. The faction decks are obvious builds in the game, but restricting the deck types to just the 4 faction builds would make for a very dull overall environment and then you would have players that had adopted a certain faction suggesting that their faction was weak or we didn’t put enough rebel ships in, and so on. We will do cards that reward you for playing a faction deck, but we will also do cards that punish you for playing faction decks, just as we do cards such as Obiwan that are designed to be an answer to strong droid decks. The overall goal is to have a healthy environment where certain builds go up or down in power as newer sets come out.

Q: Finally, I'm sure everyone wants to know what you think about including a Death Star in this game....

I can’t really comment on that. Also I am not that familiar with the Death Star as I have only watched the one episode with the goofy guy with the long ears. I forget his name, but he was really funny, at least meesa thinks so. And if Ethan tells you I often lie and that I have watched all the movies a zillion times, don’t believe him. I suspect he might be a spy. They are everywhere you know.