As a writer who has been working on his “novel” for what is now half of my life, I know a little something about about belligerently trying to birth your ideas, despite your own doubts, despite the time and effort and the other hardships that life throws your way and despite the dissenting voices in the crowd telling you to not give up your day job. This week’s guest post comes from Andreas Propst, designer of Elemental Clash and it is his story of a difficult journey to bring his game from scribblings in his university dorm room to a finished (and stunningly beautiful) game.
Clashing Through the Years
I remember it quite clearly: Everything started out on one lush summer evening back in the year 2006. Since my early teen years I had been trying to design my own fantasy card games in an effort to recreate what the godfather of CCGs (CCG as in Customizable Card Game), Magic: the Gathering meant to me throughout my time as a youngster, yet with my very own touch. I have always been a creative mind and simply could not resist to emulate great things in my own way and style.
After some failed attempts at creating my own CCG in the past years, it was on said lush summer evening in 2006 when I sat down to lay the fundaments of what was to become my personal story of success, idealistically if not monetary. This time around I wanted to create something original, not just emulate Magic: the Gathering, which had been so dear to me ever since I “discovered“ it as a boy. So over the course of one evening, I wrote down the basic mechanics and rules as well as what was to become the “Basic Set“ of cards for my longest project up to the very day, Elemental Clash, in what I can only call an epiphany. Astonishingly, the rules and basic mechanics as well as the set of cards I wrote down over the course of just several hours remained intact up to the present day, many of the cards from the original “Basic Set“ being incorporated, just as they were scribbled down 6 years ago, in the Elemental Clash “Master Set“, which can be regarded as the “pinnacle“ of 6 years of development and refinement.
In this article – forgive me if it turns out lengthier as intended – I want to give you, dear reader, an idea of and a glimpse into the process of designing my „non-collectible, yet incredibly customizable“ fantasy card game Elemental Clash, which has accompanied me for half a dozen years now and with which I “grew up“ as a game designer.
The Conception of a Game System:
I just had ended my civil service in the social sector, working at a home for mentally ill people, which had convinced me to study Social Work instead of art, and had just started my studies at the Linz University of Applied Sciences that one night, I felt the inexplicable urge to have yet another try at a fantasy-themes Customizable Card Game (CCG). And this time, it would be something original and not just a “Magic Clone“ with some cosmetic twists. So I grabbed my notebook and started brainstorming. Within a couple of hours I had settled for mechanics and even penned down a first set of cards, to become the Elemental Clash “Basic Set“, which should stand unaltered for the most part up to the present day. Today I would call that kind of process “Speed Design“ and, although it may sound unprofessional or even stupid, I work like that very often. While I am mostly the intuitive, creative type rather than the analytic type, an “artist“ rather than a statistician, I seem to be blessed with a good intuition when it comes to designing games in general and to balancing cards over the background of an well-working game “engine“. So when I design games, and this was the case with Elemental Clash as well, I am mostly guided by my creative sense and game designer's intuition.
So what I had come up with during my brainstorming in summer 2006 was to become what I now call the “Clash System“, which is a combination of mechanics/concepts which work very well together and which has proven to be quite enjoyable for most of the gamers who have tried “Clash Games“. The basic mechanics that are integral part of any Clash Game I designed (there are a few which I will be dealing with later on) are the following:
Deck Depletion as the Primary Win Condition:
The goal of any Clash Game is to reduce the cards in an opponent's deck to zero by inflicting damage on him or her. For every point of damage caused to a player, he or she discards the top card from his or her deck to the discard pile. If a player is unable to draw from the deck because it is depleted, he or she loses the game.
The Stacking Resource System:
Many have called this the most unique and well conceived part of the Clash System. Resource cards are stacked on top of each other and cards you want to play have to be placed on top of a suitable resource-stack. In general you can play one resource card during your turn. You get the choice to either put it on top of an existing resource card or stack in play or start a new resource stack. The bottom most resource decides which type of resource the whole stack provides. This system makes for tough decisions and requires the players to plan ahead. Furthermore it is a great alternative to „tapping“ resource cards in order to pay for cards you want to play.
The Zones of the Playing-Field:
There are several, well defined zones on the playing field where you can put certain cards or where certain cards behave in a certain way. In Elemental Clash for example you have three major zones: The Element-Stone-Zone (for resources), the Attack- and Defence-Zones (both for Creatures).
A Crisis as a Chance - Making my Passion a Profession:
After I had basically come up with a whole game in one inspired night, the Elemental Clash project was put on hold soon after as my studies of Social Work took up pretty much all of my time. That was until a fateful event in my life, that turned everything upside down in a cruel twist of fate. In summer 2008 I embarked on a journey to South India where I was going to work for a major development aid institution as part of my practical placement. There, I unexpectedly contracted a severe tropical illness which almost killed me. I barely made it home and besides the bodily effects of the disease, I was traumatized for life. Because of this I was forced to discontinue my studies of Social Work. We have a saying over here in Austria: “If God closes one door he opens another“. I soon realized that this severe crisis in my life was, ironically, to become one of the greatest opportunities in my life as well. The Chinese word for crisis also means opportunity, and that is pretty much what happened to me. All of a sudden, I had a lot of spare time and, instead of drowning in self-pity and idleness, I decided to put my time to good use by investing it into my game design hobby, or passion rather. A passion that was to become my profession.
So I dug up my notes on Elemental Clash and started to work on the game again. A great stepping stone for me and powerful catalyst for my game design undertakings in general was the discovery of BoardGameGeek on the web, which was brought to my attention by a friend. I had found the greatest place in the world for a fledgling game designer where one could meet fellow gamers and game designers, expand one's knowledge on games, exchange and present ideas, build up a network (networking proved to be key to many of my various projects) etc etc.
The Evolution of Elemental Clash – Superficiality of the Gaming Scene:
Elemental Clash evolved greatly since its conception back in 2006. The evolution was mostly a visual one, as the core mechanics and basic rules remained pretty much unaltered since the very beginning as I have mentioned before. Rather than telling you I will show you the tremendous visual evolution Elemental Clash underwent over the course of 6 years, starting from humble beginnings in black and white to the definite “Master Set“ look with professionally done card layout and artwork that can compare with major CCGs on the market.
Back in 2009 when I started to work on Elemental Clash again and had started to become an active member of the great community over at BGG, the very first version of Elemental Clash was printed – through Artscow in Hong Kong. This first version had layout created amateurishly in MS Word and the artwork consisted of crude pencil drawings. I was still recovering from that sever tropical illness and this was the best I could come up with. All that did not stop me from starting to send out review copies of this “Proto Elemental Clash“ to gamers and reviewers I had met on The Geek and soon after to publishers all over the world as well. Although I received some great initial reviews – the first from Marcin Fengler alias Rudolf Aligierski from Poland (I later honoured him for that by creating a Promo card bearing his likeness which you can see below) – only few people recognized Elemental Clash as the hidden gem those who had actually played it called it.
Back then, I got many comments from gamers saying that Elemental Clash was “just another Magic Clone“ and I have been struggling with that sort of prejudice ever since. What is quite telling about the gamer scene in general however is the fact that the “Magic Clone“ comments became less and less common the more the game became visually appealing. Considering the fact that the game system, the mechanics and the cards with their particular effects changed little to not at all over the course of time, while the looks of the game became better and better, it is quite telling about the gaming scene in general. I consider it legitimate that “you eat with your eyes first“ as the saying goes but I found it quite irritating to say the least how the reactions to and the comments on the game improved proportionally with the improvement of the visuals for the game. Of course I was pleased to see how the “Magic Clone“ comments decreased but I had learnt my lesson: Looks are everything, not just in the fashion scene but in the gaming scene as well. This is the reason why I am investing into art for prototypes as early as possible to be able to present gamers and potential publishers with eye-candy to make a good first impression.
Parting with pathetic partners – A new beginning for Elemental Clash:
After a while of looking for publishers quite desperately, I was overjoyed when in 2011 TOG Entertainment, a small games publisher from the United States agreed to publish Elemental Clash. Unfortunately, what seemed to be every game designer's dream come true turned out to be a nightmare after all. After what was probably one of the most painstakingly nerve-wrecking experiences of my life as a game designer, I was eventually able, with much cunning and the invaluable help of many friends (such as Hank Panethiere, to whom I dedicated a Promo card commemorating the whole affair – see below), to wrench Elemental Clash from the clutches of TOG Entertainment, who then waned and vanished soon after. With the rights to the game back, I solemnly swore to myself to never let Elemental Clash out of my own hands again. So I “crafted“ a new plan for Elemental Clash: I hired artists to redo the card layout and card backs as TOG would have charged me outrageous sums for the old ones and decided to do a big re-launch on The Game Crafter, the very place the game started out in the first place. So in 2012 I re-released the Elemental Clash “Basic Set“ along with two expansions of 60 cards each in the form of the so called “Master Editions“ on The Game Crafter, with greatly improved layout and illustrations done by myself and coloured by my loyal artist and good friend Enggar Adirasa from Indonesia. The Gods of Gaming even blessed me with the prestigious Staff Pick status on The Game Crafter, which only further encouraged me to pursue the Elemental Clash project further and reinforced the notion that the game was indeed not “just another Magic Clone“.
Elemental Clash and its Spin-Offs/Derivatives:
Over the course of time I designed several spin-offs or re-themes of the fantasy-themed Elemental Clash, which all share the basic tenets, the core mechanics, utilizing the Clash System as detailed before. The first was the World War Two themed Panzer Clash, in which you choose one or more of the four factions Americans and Soviets (Allies) or Germans and Japanese (Axis) and re-enact the tank battles of the Second World War. The idea for Panzer Clash was born when wargamer friends of mine said they'd like the game more with a “wargamer-friendly“ theme. So I set out to re-theme Elemental Clash. The result, Panzer Clash is intended to appeal to wargamers or people interested in modern historical warfare as a filler type game for in between heavy (war-) gaming sessions. Panzer Clash features the four aforementioned factions and 100 different cards to build custom decks with. The major difference between Elemental and Panzer Clash is the introduction of Terrain cards in Panzer Clash. You build a playing field out of Terrain cards at random before each game where you move around your units, whereby different Terrain has certain effects on units stationed there, which adds a lot of tactical and strategic depth to the gameplay as compared to Elemental Clash. The card layout was designed by myself and the historic photographs I used are in the public domain.
Space Clash is the second Elemental Clash re-theme, which is thematically more interesting for me and was conceived several years ago. Just recently I gave the game a complete overhaul when it comes to gameplay and mechanics applying all the experience and lessons learnt from 6 years of Elemental Clash (Yes, Elemental Clash is not perfect!).
In Space Clash, players assume the role of one of four unique, exciting races (from left to right in the above image: Terrans, Skaargans, Attrayids and Intrazi) represented by four pre-constructed and well balanced decks. The major innovation mechanics-wise in Space Clash is that there are no resource cards. Employing a clever twist of the tried and tested resource stacking mechanic, players can play any card upside down as a resource of the resource type of the card. This improves gameplay greatly on so many levels. You will never have a “dead card“ in you hand or draw too many or too few resources, as any card in your hand can be used as a resource. Space Clash is currently under review by several American games publishers and simultaneously undergoing heavy playtesting to balance the cards and decks against each other properly.
Present and Future of Elemental Clash:
Elemental Clash is currently on Kickstarter - for the third and probably last time. As I write these lines we are about 22% funded, and that after three days. I am awed and humbled by the support, the enthusiasm and kindness those great people who backed the game so far have been showing towards me. Now if you have become curious about Elemental Clash, please check out the page on Kickstarter and if you want true CCG feeling without the blind purchase model of traditional CCGs, please consider backing the project. We’ve got awesome pledge levels and amazing Stretch Goal bonuses to offer you. For example you can have yourself or a loved one “immortalized“ on a special promo card bearing your likeness or can even shape the present and future of Elemental Clash by designing your own cards to be included with the Elemental Clash “Master Set” and the upcoming expansion “Legendary Legacy”.
Furthermore, the Elemental Clash Mobile App for Android and iOS is nearing completion and release. My skilled programmers from Indonesia have been working tirelessly on the project for about a year now and I will soon be able to offer you the finished App on Google Play / the App Store. Have a look at a little teaser in the form of some screenshots from the prototype:
Well that is my article about developing Elemental Clash and my Clash Games in general. I hope it was somewhat insightful and interesting to you, dear reader.
Now if I have managed to raise your curiosity and you want to know more about Elemental Clash, I strongly recommend you visit the Official Elemental Clash Website at www.elementalclash.com for more info, many reviews, visual card spoilers of all past, present and future sets of the game and much more!
If you happen to have any questions, inquiries, comments, feedback or whatever else please do not hesitate to contact me directly and any time at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will personally answer you in a timely manner!
Well hope to see some of you over at Kickstarter!
Kind regards from Austria,