The NARP Fortnightly #19: Design Advocate Matt Carulli

Hi everyone,

This fortnight, I had the chance to talk to Matt Carulli (quickdraw3457), who leads the Player’s Committee’s Design & Development team. Matt gave a lot of insight into the virtual card design process, and he also has some great advice for new players who are looking to dip their toes into the virtual card pool. Without further ado, here’s Matt:

NARP Fortnightly: First, let’s start with big picture stuff. What exactly are virtual cards, and how did they come about?

Matt Carulli: Virtual cards are new expansions to the game in the form of either remade Decipher cards or brand new cards with different names. They are provided to the players in the form of a PDF document, available for free download from the PC’s website (http://www.starwarsccg.org/resources/virtual-slips/). The PDF is printed, and the virtual cards (“slips”) are cut out and placed over old cards to make a new card. They came about after Decipher lost the license to commercially print the game, and the Players Committee releases new ones regularly to keep the game fresh, add new elements of the Star Wars universe to the game, and address balance concerns with the game left by Decipher (and subsequently made virtual cards).

NF: Who designs and playtests new virtual cards?

MC: We have a number of different dedicated roles, all of which are necessary to release new cards. Original concepts for cards, including game text, stats, and even new elements from Star Wars lore, come from the Design team. The Design team is always brainstorming new concepts and themes to add to the game. Their specialty is creativity (so players don’t get bored with the same types of cards printed over and over again) and translating the action we see on screen into game play mechanics that represent the themes. The Development team is composed of players who know the finer nuances of the game play, and understand what impact new cards will have on the game. They are responsible for molding the Design team’s ideas into something suitable for play, which includes balancing cards so they are properly costed and do not cause any unintended, or unwanted, interactions. The Playtesting team is a large group of players who take the new cards after Development approves them and uses them in live game action to see how they perform in reality, as opposed to in theory. The data they gather is the most important step, and is used by Development to tweak cards as necessary until release. Once a card is ready for release, it is finalized by Proofing and Graphic Design to make sure the wording is correct, the cards follow the rules as expected, and the images we get in the PDF files are as beautiful as if they were Decipher made cards.

The most important fact about all of these groups is that they are volunteers, who give their time solely for their love of this game.

NF: How does a player get the opportunity to design a virtual card?

MC: Some tournaments, particularly larger events, may have a virtual card design as a prize. More commonly, players can donate to the Players Committee through the Donation Tier System (http://www.starwarsccg.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=871&t=63953), which gives some perks including the ability to virtualize specific cards (not to mention supporting the PC financially, so we can keep this game alive!). If you have a design, you work with an internal team of Player Card Developers who help you create a card that you would like to play with, and from there it follows the normal path to release starting with the Development team (described above).

NF: So, what light can you shed on the design process? Do each of the designers have their own favorite themes?

MC: The Design process can start in a few different ways. When new material is released (such as a new Star Wars movie), we each independently design as much as we can about that material, and share it with each other, discuss the merits of each idea, and find the best ideas among the group. Sometimes I or one of the designers will have a theme we want to explore, and we challenge each other to come up with the best ideas to contribute to that theme, and build it from the ground up. Other times, Development will share a concern with the current meta with us and ask us to explore thematic solutions to it, and we create cards specifically for the meta, as opposed to an open ended design from new material. I would say we each have our favorite themes, but that doesn’t mean that person exclusively works on that particular theme. We are at our best when we build ideas off of each other, since each person has a different creative mind and point of view, and adds something unique to a card’s design.

NF: What advice do you have for new and returning players who are thinking of using virtual cards for the first time?

MC: If you have never used virtual cards, I really think the best way to try it out is to pick your favorite deck that you play with that doesn’t contain virtual cards, then browse through the virtual cards and pick a few that you think might fit well. If you don’t know where to start, please ask on the forums! We have a friendly community that will certainly be willing to help you out if you have some decks that you like and want to try something new. Try out a few at a time, see what you think, and expand from there. I think it is important to start with a deck that you like, and that is fun for you to play. Instead of looking to virtual cards to tell you what to play, do it the other way around — play what you love, and see what virtual cards can do for you there. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at some of the cool things these cards can do that you may never have thought of in terms of Star Wars CCG.

NF: What are your favorite virtual cards in the current card pool?

MC: I have to start with the Light Side objective from Set 3, Diplomatic Mission To Alderaan. It was a labor of love to see that designed, developed, and playtested before it was released. It was the first major theme I was able to design and get released, and what I love most about it is how it re-enacts the action we see in the first half A New Hope, which for many of us is the one hour that hooked us in this universe forever. It’s a good example of what I strive for in Design — translating the action from the movies into game play mechanics.

In addition to that objective, my favorite cards to play with from a game play perspective are You Do Have Your Moments (V), Imperial Justice (V), A Good Blaster At Your Side/You’ll Be Dead, and Emperor Palpatine, Foreseer.

NF: In your assessment, what decks are priorities for virtual “helpers”? What are some Tier 2 or Tier 3 decks that you’d like to give a boost to?

MC: Our priority right now is to keep releasing cards for the new movies, to keep up with the excitement of a new Star Wars movie every year for hopefully the rest of our lives. As far as decks that already exist but aren’t good enough to see competitive play, we are actively working on ways to balance Ralltiir Operations, Massassi Base Operations, and Mind What You Have Learned. That is not to say helpers are imminent, but we have listened to the Player Survey responses, many of which call for these decks to make a comeback, and we’re trying to make them come back in a way that minimizes the “negative playing experience” (NPE) that some players feel with these decks. We recognize many old decks like these are controversial because players have different styles of play, and enjoy this game for different reasons. Some people hate the idea of their opponent training a Jedi all game and not battling you, while others hate having their Force drains -1 from Ralltiir Operations, and feeling like their hands are tied with the deploy +2 to Ralltiir sites. So we want players to be able to play with (and against) decks without feeling like you’re struggling to have fun. Put simply, we’re tackling the impossible task of trying to make everybody happy.

NF: I know we’re not spoiling anything from Set 6 just yet, but can you give us a preview of what kinds of general themes we might see?

MC: Set 6 is going to be a relatively smaller release that should introduce many of the heroes (and some of the villains!) from Rogue One to Star Wars CCG. There will probably not be any new themes or objectives, but there will be a variety of “support” cards that should fit nicely in a variety of existing decks. After that, probably by the summer, players should be able to enjoy a true home for the First Order characters that already see play, instead of using them in Imperial-centric decks like ISB Operations and This Deal Is Getting Worse All The Time.

That’s it for this fortnight. Thanks to Matt for talking to me. As a member of the playtesting team, I can say that the Rogue One cards look great, and I can’t wait to shuffle them up soon! Until next time…

Peace, Love, and High Destinies,
-Lenny (lsrubin)