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Crystal Clans Designer Interview Pt.2!

An interview with Joe Ellis, the Co-designer of Crystal Clans

Crystal Clans

Wecome back, Crystal Clans fans! Just ONE MORE WEEK until Crystal Clans releases! Are you excited? Have you already preordered your copy? To round off our series of development interviews, today we're going to be speaking with J. Arthur Ellis, the co-designer of Crystal Clans! Joe worked closely with Andrea and Colby on Crystal Clans and oversaw the playtesting of all six clans in the base game. We chatted with Joe on some of the unique challenges and innovative solutions playtesting revealed to us about this awesome dueling card game. 

Callin: Joe, thanks for speaking with us on the development of Crystal Clans!I  understand that you worked closely with Colby and Andrea to develop some of the mechanics in Crystal Clans. What was the biggest change made from earlier iterations of the game, and why was the change made? 

Joe: I'm happy to do it! If you took Andrea's rules and compared them to the final rules, most of it is identical - the initiative track, the layout, the attributes of what makes up a unit, the structure of most of the actions, and more. Of course, Colby transformed the game's theme and world and built new armies, but those armies more or less fit into Andrea's ruleset.

I worked with Andrea and Colby to perfect the system and do everything possible to make the game tight and exciting. For example, the crystal cards were each worth 2, 3, or 4 crystals, and you had to collect 10 to win, with just a couple of them granting powers. One thing I proposed right away was to reduce math by putting one crystal on each card and requiring 4 crystals to win, and to increase immersion by naming each crystal and giving each one a simple power. We were lucky enough to have Martin Abel illustrate all these different crystals, and they make up some of my favorite art of the game. 

Another issue was how what we now call "invading" worked. In Andrea's version, you would actually win the game by succeeding at an invade action. Colby had changed it to stealing crystal cards, which was fun but made the game longer. What I noticed, though, is that these high-stakes effects meant that players had no choice but to protect their home zones, even when there was no threat, and that this was kind of uninteresting because you had to waste units just to dissuade your opponent from ever bothering. It took a lot of iterations, but I love how Invade turned out. Since Invading discards cards from the opponent's draw pile, and running out a draw pile gets you a free crystal, the Invade action is sort of worth a percentage of a crystal. It's just the right calibration to make it an interesting choice of whether to protect from Invasion, and whether to go for it!

Callin: It sounds like You guys were really able to find a good balance of keeping the base design intact and inovating on a few key mechanisms. I'm guessing playtesting helped with that a lot! You oversaw much of the playtesting for the original game. Which Clan was the hardest to work on and develop?

Joe: The biggest problem we had was that Flower Clan was losing every game to Blood Clan and winning too often vs everyone else. How do you weaken a clan generally and yet strengthen it vs 1 deck? There is no easy answer, so it required a lot of small adjustments in stats and wording. Flower Clan was unquestionably the strongest deck, so we had to take some stats down to account for the Sleep ability's strength. But we made other adjustments that have the biggest effect versus Blood's large squads - a unit whose strength is based on the opposing squad's size, Blood Clan abilities that specifically boost the unit rather than the squad (so that Sleep is extra effective), etc. In the end I'd still bet on Blood in that match-up, but we improved it and I believe every match-up in the game is very competitive between 2 strong players.

Callin: Not to mention how much Crystals and Battle Cards can affect the outcome of combat! Many fans have already mentioned how innovative and exciting the new Battle Card system is for resolving combat. Can you speak a little on the development of this system and how it evolved over designing and playtesting the game?

Joe: When I got involved, each unit had the battle section of its card, and  you had to play 1 from your hand, and you compared it to your opponent's card to see which of 2 effects triggered. So all that stayed exactly the same and was a great base. But rather than a battle style, it was about adding the card's defense to a battle number and seeing which total was higher. That meant you often got the same effect over and over, and it was more math to do. I came up with the rock-paper-scissors sort of relationship that we have now and it didn't change very much. Andrea has mentioned to me that he had an RPS-style battle system in the game long ago, too. I'm proud of it, because I created a point system on effects, and added the "keep this card" effect which gave us a nice variety of ways to allocate effects and come up with a good variety for each clan. It also gives the players some control but creates the excitement that any battle card play could result in either effect.

Callin: It looks like it all came together for Battle Cards in an awesome way! Joe, thanks again for speaking with us on Crystal Clans. I'll end with our favorite question for these interviews! What’s your favorite Clan in the base game?

Joe: Thanks for having me! My favorite clan is the Stone Clan! It was the clan I got to contribute the most to, I think I came up with every ability except for the signature "Builder" ability. Also, I love the art, particularly the golems. The Stone Clan doesn't just zoom over to a crystal zone and try for a cheap score - it builds an infrastructure over the course of the game and gets stronger as it fills out the entire battlefield. I love that.

Joe was the codesigner and developer on Crystal Clans as well as the designer of RAXXON, another awesome game that fans should definately check out! With this interview we've gotten to speak to several key members of the Crystal Clans development team, and we hope it's given fans some insight into the game's journey and the mechanics at play in it. If you haven't already, besure to check out Colby and Andrea's interviews as well! That's all for now, but be sure to check out our other Crystal Clans previews and don't forget to preorder the game while you still can! Thanks!

Crystal Clans Previews
Game PageAnnouncement Article
Game Basics: The Battlefield, Initiative and ScoringSquads, Summoning and ActivatingReplenishing, Invading, and ReshufflingFinal Crystal
Skull Clan: Part 1Part 2
Meteor Clan: Part 1Part 2
Flower Clan: Part 1Part 2
Blood Clan: Part 1Part 2
Stone Clan: Part 1Part 2
Water Clan: Part 1Part 2
Art Previews: Blood ClanFlower ClanMeteor ClanSkull ClanStone ClanWater Clan