“I’m no prophet, but I’m guessing that comic books will always be strong. I don’t think anything can really beat the pure fun and pleasure of holding a magazine in your hand, reading the story on paper, being able to roll it up and put it in your pocket, reread again later, show it to a friend, carry it with you, toss it on a shelf, collect them, have a lot of magazines lined up and read them again as a series. I think young people have always loved that. I think they always will.”
– Stan Lee, (Interview for Brandweek), May 2000
I created my first official “comic” in a 5th grade creative writing class. It was an interesting project, where we drew “cells” on a roll of adding machine paper, (an “adding machine” for those of you under 50, was like a cross between a calculator, a typewriter, and cheap, uncomfortable toilet paper), and were allowed to project our finished product via an overhead machine, (an “overhead machine” for those of you under 40, was like a cross between a giant rolling light-table, a magnifying glass and an R2D2 Holo-projector device), for the whole class. Given my interests at the time, and the artistic freedom we were allowed to create anything we wanted, I chose the obvious as the subject of my visio-literary conception: Godzilla.
While the fondness of my memory for this creative fete perhaps outshines the actual execution of the task, the medium was from the start destined for obscurity. I am not sure I kept the reel which was shown to the class amidst much fanfare and hilarity, I assure you, but, even if I had, it would not deliver the same punch in the world we live in today. The semi-permanent-felt-tip marker faded and the paper edges frayed. The script, in my unsteady 10 year-old hand, (no doubt replete with misspellings), would be awkward. Action? Hell yes. Comic stylings? You bet. But lets face facts, we are so spoiled with rich color, frenetic movement and constant stimulus, that it is hard to even watch movies from the 80s like Blues Brothers or The Terminator anymore, and not think to ourselves, “Eh, that kinda sucked.” (Editor’s note: Bill is DEAD wrong here. Blues Brothers will always rule)
Comics, like anything else, have also come of age, and expanded digitally beyond everyone’s expectations, even Stan Lee’s. Recently, we saw the launch of day-and-date releases of both print and digital issues of most of DC’s line. Marvel has also come around with a few of its more popular titles coming out along side their likely soon-to-be-antiquated paper versions. Stan “The Man’s” dream of us carrying comics around in our back pockets in the future will only be true if he thought they were saved on the hard-drive of our mini-computers. But many artists have been self publishing their works live on the interwebs for years, including the creative team behind the “Commissioned!” web comic. And now, they are hoping to publish a card game based on their work, which is on Kickstarter in the final hours of its campaign. With a tag line like: “Zombies, gnomes, ninjas, cats, and nerds in a combat card game that mixes humor and fast action,” how could the staff at PSS not get behind this enterprise?
I reached out to game co-creator, Darren Gendron, whom many of you may have met at this year’s GenCon, (they had a booth and were demoing the game constantly), and he provided me with a demo kit of the game, and also some background behind his web-comic, people’s reaction to the game at GenCon, and his plans for future expansions and directions of the game.
But first, a little explanation of the source material and game itself. (You can view an actual game from GenCon on the Kickstarter page). The “Commissioned” webcomic is created by Obsidian, or “O,” real name: Sergio Villa-Isaza, who is based in Columbia, South America. Teaming up with Darren Gendron, creator of the “Hello with Cheese” webcomic, the two created 3v3, a card combat game which, plays like its name, with an innovative tripartite card decision tree in every hand.
The rules of this two player card game are very simple. Each player builds a deck of 30 cards. Each card has an Attack Value (AV), a Defense Value (DV), and many have a special ability. At the start of each turn, both players draw three cards, then they must decide which of their three cards they will assign as their AV, DV, and which one they will use for its special ability. The players simultaneously reveal their cards, and compare AVs to DVs and play their special ability. If the AV meets or exceeds the DV, then the losing player (and both can lose) must chose one of the three cards they played, and remove it from their deck, placing it on their “Scoreboard.” When a player either runs out of cards in their deck, or has 10 cards on their Scoreboard, they have lost the game.
Simple, elegant, yet with strategy, the game requires both players to make quick decisions that will impact future designs and also has depth with its card-memory and deck-building elements.
We interviewed Darren about the game and his Kickstarter campaign.
PSS: I had not previously heard of the Commissioned webcomic, but find it quite funny. I assume the characters are inspired from real life. Can you give me a little more background about the story and how it has developed over the years?
Darren: Obsidian is a webcomicker living in Medellin, Colombia, and his friends Carlos, Batey and CJ are all based on real people. While there’s been some events from O’s life that have stayed very true to reality, including his recent flashback explaining why he doesn’t ever drink, there’s other parts that are somewhat… enhanced. He probably doesn’t get shadowed by ninjas, we’re pretty sure he’s not actually at war with Santa, and we’re not even sure about the existence of Cthulhu Ninja Zombie. The possessed eraser Erasure and Very Manly Bunny are 100% true.
PSS: How did you draw the theme of the comic into the card game?
Darren: O and I were kicking around a couple ideas of what to do with the Commissioned game. And one of the things that he really wanted to do was have it be a fighting game. We had a cast of over 100 characters to draw from, and it would be fun to mix it up with them in silly, absurd ways.
PSS: I saw your booth at GenCon, and assume you had a bunch of people playing the game. How was it received there? How have fans of the comic taken to the game, and likewise, how have people who have never heard of the comic taken to it?
Darren: GenCon was a huge, surreal test for me. As the game designer, I quickly found out that I’m terrible at giving game demos. My booth staff of Ralph Pripstein and Alex Chambers saved me big time, there. They were able to show off the game in a more detached manner.
So most of the show, I was sent over to my corner of the booth, but was constantly looking over the table like a nervous parent. The reviews tended to be about 95% positive to extremely positive. It doesn’t take long to figure out if you’re going to like 3v3 or not, really only about five draws. However, almost everyone that played it went to the full 10 points, and a lot of people wanted to play it again right away. Given that when play-testing it we usually play best out of three in about 20 minutes, I totally understand the desires for rematches.
Fans of Commissioned have taken to 3v3 extremely well. We get a lot of questions like “Will O’s cats be in it?” or “Will O’s toilet be in it?”, and usually the answer is yes (especially on the toilet and the cats). For long-time fans, there’s cards that refer all the way back to that first strip in 2004, as well as most of the greatest hits. We even got some of our celebrity cameos to sign off on letting us use their likeness – Veronica Belmont, Jennie Breeden and Lar deSouza all have cards based on them. I mean, we didn’t get everyone we wanted – for example, Dean Cain won’t return our calls. But we did try.
Meanwhile, for those that have never heard of Commissioned, we wanted to make sure they got that this is a fun, insane world. Some of the prototype cards we showed off at GenCon involved a skeleton flipping people off, an NPC showing off his “ID Card” status, and a wizard casting “fireballs” through his legs while mooning villagers. I probably should have mentioned it, but Commissioned isn’t terribly mature in its silliness.
PSS: The mechanic of the game is simple, elegant and yet strategic. What was the inspiration for that system?
Darren: The inspiration was two-fold. Initially, we were looking at having an attack deck, a defense deck and an ability deck. And after a while, we realized that was incredibly clunky. It got us to that initial point of streamlining fighting games to take away things like resource rows, but it also took out all of the strategy.
By putting the three powers on the card, it made the game all about a series of choices. First, you need to choose which cards to put in a deck. Then you need to choose what array to play the cards in. And if you get points scored on you, you need to choose what cards to put on the scoreboard.
The flipping of the attack and defense cards was something that we came up with when working on our other game, Scurvy Dogs. Since that’s a pirate-based game, cannons are pretty important. But we made cannons count as either valuable cargo or as a boost to the attack value. By printing the cargo rules on the bottom edge and attack rules on the top edge, we sort of lucked into spinning the cards around.
With 3v3, the spinning has an added bonus, as the numbers you don’t use can be covered up by your ability card.
PSS: From your “designer’s perspective,” what are some strategy pointers or deck construction pointers you can offer?
Darren: The first two of the Print-and-Play decks were favorites of Alex and Ralph, and show off some of the strengths of the first two factions. Yellow is our combat color. Yellow cards are noted for their solid numbers, and not so much on their abilities. The first yellow expansion is built around Dwarf, Elf and Weretiger, who theoretically are a team. But like they are in the comics, Dwarf and Elf are better without Weretiger, while Weretiger is curiously effective on his own.
My favorite combo is the Dwarf/Elf mix – load up as many Dwarf cards as you can, add in some Enlarge and some Axes, and have Elf ready for attacks. You’ll also want to scoop up a few good defense cards, too. Early on, if you have Elf, never play him as the special ability. His scoreboard-related ability isn’t optional, so he can wipe out good numbers. Ideally, you’re using Dwarf in the attack and an axe as an ability, and Elf isn’t showing up until your fourth or fifth draw.
The Black cards are our Attack cards. Black doesn’t care about defense. Black only cares about good attack numbers, and abilities that let you attack harder or multiple times. And while you were reading this, a black card just attacked you. Twice.
The Fantastically Evil deck offers up a lot of multiple attacks and attack values of 6 and 7 (7 is the highest printed value in the game). There’s two schools of thought on Black – either a pinch of defense, or defense is for the weak.
PSS: Can you tell me about the expansions to the game, and how regular they are planned and in what size and format they will take?
Darren: Initially, we have the 250-card starter set, which as a lot of unique cards in it, along with a slew of zombie and ninja minion cards. Each faction is represented in there, including Pink (defense), Grey (quirky abilities), Green (ability and number stealing), and White (ability and number erasing).
The Adventures of Dwarf, Elf and Weretiger is the first expansion, and it’s 50 cards that are almost all Yellow. Fantastically Evil is 50 cards of almost all Black.
From there, we’ve got a Grey-based Cyberpunk expansion, a chaotic “Bunny Bacon” expansion, and at least two more that are still in testing at the moment.
Because each round of 3v3 is played with a 30-card deck, what we try to do with the expansions is make it so that you can build two different, solid decks from the new 50 cards (with some cards overlapping both 30s), or fill in some of the cracks in other previous decks. In fact, one of our cheapest backer levels is for $15, and that gets you the first two 50-card expansions, which are very playable against each other.
If you have not heard of the webcomic or card game, check them out. For a modest contribution on their Kickstarter page, you get a solid, fun and quick to play game that keeps people coming back for more. Check it out and let us know if you played it at GenCon! (And if you buy in at the “Abnormal Air Defense” level, don’t forget us here at PSS, we like Zeppelin rides as much as the next guy!)
But you better hurry over as the game needs about another $1,000.00 and it is in its final 24 hours!!!