Welcome back to A Few Scoops... It has certainly been a while since I did the last one of these, and in theory I should apologise for the delay. But to be honest I am not really that sorry, as to why it took so long, well, no real reason, just didnt do it. Anyway, here it is, and interview with a man who needs no introduction over a few drinks (and an ocean).
Question the first, who are you and what are you drinking?
Bryan: My name is Bryan Reese, I am the Lead Designer for the L5R CCG, and I am drinking some good old Absinthe. Helps get the Design juices flowing.
(Editors note: Ok so I lied about him not needing an introduction)
Pete: Haha wow, absinthe, makes me look a bit stupid with my red wine from a coffee mug.
Got to admit, I was not expecting absinthe
Bryan: Red wine in a coffee mug, I like it.
Pete: It takes a certain type of class to drink it from a mug I find, it has stars and stuff on it. Real high brow stuff.
Bryan: If I am going to be Designing cards, I have to do it right.
Pete: Haha suddenly everything makes sense :P
Couldn't approve more
So whats the story? Hows things? Whats the craic?
Bryan: Really happy right now. We have been working very hard on Ivory for close to two years now, and the previews have recently begun. The community seems to be very excited for what is coming, and is starting to understand our vision. Our Absinthe soaked vision.
Pete: Haha brilliant.
Bryan: The Clans are getting back to their core fundamentals which I believe is showing very strongly and the players are reacting very positively towards.
Pete: There definitely seems to be a lot of positive feeling about Ivory and the changes being made, which is really good to see.
I know I am looking forward to IE anyway, I feel like I will have a lot more learning to do with the changes
Bryan: Yeah, it has been a rough six months or year, so I have to be honest, people finally seeing the pieces come together and the building excitement is very welcome
Pete: I will be a real player some day.
Bryan: Bah, you are a real player now, just waiting for his moment to take home an event.
Pete: Haha, maybe Ivory is my time to shine
Right, so when I wrote this question, the rules for Cavalry had not yet been released, but lets talk about how Cavalry works now. So what brought on this change? and was it a simple redesign?
Well, I can probably work out what brought on the change.
Bryan: Ah, yes. Cavalry. Isildur's Bane.
Bryan: So some may know this, but I started out as a Unicorn player.
Pete: Ooooh, interesting.
Bryan: Literally played nothing but Unicorn from Imperial through the end of Jade (though I did play other Clans in early Imperial, I settled on Unicorn).
My old list serve name was Motorola Chagatai (I used to sell cell phones), but I digress.
Pete: Haha I see what you did there.
Bryan: I just want the Unicorn players to know that I love Unicorn, and can feel the pain of the loss of the Cavalry Maneuvers Segment might bring.
But this change was long time coming and needed. "I attack, no infantry" is probably the most hated phrase historically in the game.
Pete: Yeah, thats quite fair, long were the discussions running over which was worse, Cavalry or Naval.
I always though Cavalry had the edge, it musk SUCK to be other, less awesome clans.
Bryan: Its main use was to promote non-interaction, allowing me to sleaze 2-3 provinces before actually fighting a real battle, potentially having sat there for several turns with a 3-1 province advantage, flooding the board with people.
It also did a marvelous job at scaring away new players. I don't think a single mechanic has caused new players to quit or not pick up the game more than Cavalry.
And really, it is not a good representation of what Cavalry should be. Cavalry should be about mobility.
The problem was, there was no need for mobility tricks, because they were always inferior to simply attacking around the enemy.
So with Ivory, and the changes we were making, and the changes to accessibility we were making, the time was right for a change to Cav.
Pete: Good point about the scaring off new players, I started with a Unicorn so I never had the initial terror I guess.
Bryan: And I am really happy with how it turned out. Cav now is about mobility. It is about getting the right units you want to the battle. It is about outmaneuvering your opponent and setting up battles in which you have a superior advantage.
And yes, it is also about getting 1, perhaps 2 at most, provinces unopposed. Which is ok. It is ok to use your superior mobility to move around the enemy on the first province. It is just not ok to do this for all provinces except the last.
Pete: From my perspective I found it very difficult to play games where I didn't have Cavalry, I could never work out how people win battles during a game, so I guess I sometimes feel it may have stunted my growth as a player.
Bryan: You could be right Pete, it may have stunted your growth as a player. Not that the old Cav was cheating per se, but when you are allowed to cheat, or simply skirt the rules, that quickly becomes a crutch.
But with Ivory, Cavalry, and specifically Unicorn, is a lot more fun, imo, as it allows you the ability to use movement tricks and get around your opponent to setup superior fights. It helps build you as a player, it doesn't stunt your growth.
Pete: Well, I like to think I am not that badly stunted, but I definitely see me having a lot of learning to do on how to use this new Cavalry
Bryan: Sorry, didn't mean to imply you were, but saying that having a powerful crutch to lean on will stunt one's ability to learn how to run.
Pete: Haha don't worry man, only taking the piss ;)
Were there many different versions of Cavalry before you arrived at what we have now?
Bryan: Actually, not really. With many things in Ivory we tested several abilities before we arrived on the final one you will see. However with Cavalry, that was the first iteration we tested and we seemed to get it right on the first time around. The Unicorn Stronghold though, that took several iterations to get it right.
Pete: Oh nice, its cool when stuff sort of works out like that. I am quite looking forward to seeing how the Unicorn SH works.
Now that we are, as you say, more about movement tricks I am sure it will be a fun one to use.
Next week should be interesting so.
So the new possible tournament structure, why did AEG feel the change was necessary? What do you think will be the biggest challenge for TO's with this in place?
Bryan: So yeah, the Best of 3 tournament system. As you know Dan Dineen is in charge of the Floor Rules now and this is his baby, so I will try not to step on his toes but I do have some insight on this, obviously, since I helped him and ultimately gave my approval to move forward with it.
Bryan: Dineen ran the Best of 3 at his two high level cash tournaments, the Sedai Circuit, last winter, and they ran very smoothly and the players enjoyed them very much.
I would also argue that, if it could be made to work right, it is the superior system, as people prefer Best of 3 to better determine which is the better deck and player, rather than a Best of 1 scenario where players may lose to a bad draw.
So that was, I believe, Dan's main impetus for the change, and as a player, I would have loved to seen it in action.
Having lost a couple Koteis back before the Best of 3 days, it is incredibly frustrating.
Pete: Yeah I feel the same. The idea of a best of 3 sounds really good.
But then us Europeans are well used to 2 day events. Topaz nearly killed me when I found out it was all on 1 day, but then, there were mitigating factors.
Bryan: I think the feedback we heard from the players was that they felt the Kotei season was not the correct implementation for this, and ultimately they could very well be right, and their feedback played into the final decision to revert back to the X-2 system that is pretty universally loved.
The big question on everyone's mind was "How do we fit this into a normal day?" Ultimately we could have made it fit into a normal day. I worked out some math that had events no more than 8-9 rounds from start to finish (that included the elim rounds), which was more than feasible in a single day.
8-9 rounds would cover events to 160 players, if I remember correctly, and after that it added a 10th round, but those large events should probably be two days anyway.
But finally we all agreed that the system was getting rejected very vocally from the player base, so we reverted back. I do feel there will be a time and place for the Best of 3 system, and we will continue to work on them. Perhaps that time and place is simply the highest of the competitive tournaments, such as the Sedai Circuits, in which the format has already tested very successfully.
Pete: I really think it has legs, and i still think people are crazy to run large 1 day events, starting before midday is a crime
Different continents, different mentalities.
Pete: Haha very true. I was quite surprised at the response really, unexpected to say the least.
Bryan: Yeah, obviously we were as well. We were collaborating with top TOs for months leading up to it, and thought it would be received better, but c'est la vie. We roll with it and move on as we always do.
Pete: Anyway, I am sure people have had enough of talking about this stuff, so we shall move onwards.
Bryan: Sure, let's continue down this road to the Provincial Estate of the Unicorn.
Pete: Oh and I have to say, its nice to see a company that listens to the player base over something like this.
Bryan: Yeah, we are always listening. I am not sure that has been apparent these past two years because we haven't had a good Voice, so to speak, letting you guys know we were listening, but now we have Seth Anthony, the Community Organizer, and he is doing a fantastic job of making sure you guys know your voices are being heard.
Times like the Best of 3 it is easy to tell we are listening, because it was such a reversal and so quick. Seth is able to engage with the player base so they know we are listening when it is not easy to tell. It is like in Texas Hold 'Em. Everyone can play Aces. The true quality of the player is judged on how he plays the marginal hands.
Speaking of the past 2 years. What do you think was the biggest issue with Emperor Edition and whats different about that aspect in Ivory?
Bryan: There were many problems with Emperor so it is hard to define a biggest.
Emperor was an eye opening experience that slapped us in the face to show what a bad job we were doing.
And I am not talking about just design here. Certainly I failed on the design side of things to provide an environment that the player base enjoyed.
But we were failing on basically all levels.
The Story interaction was not nearly as strong as it should have been.
Certainly the marketing of the game, reaching out to and engaging old players as well as new players, and speaking to them was almost non-existent.
We could go on and on but those are really the big ones.
Pete: Right, well its good to see you are aware of things like this. Like I am not really hugely present on the big forums these days, and I haven't gotten involved in the story since I learned Shono was dead.
Despite the fact that he died before I started playing.
Oh trust me, we are not only aware, but we are aware of it more than anyone could possibly imagine. We have been working very hard these past six to twelve months to right this ship.
On my side of things, on design, my biggest failure was probably failing to properly understand the limits of my resources. A common thread I hear, and I agree with, is the Tier 2 of Emperor Edition is really fun. In a way, it is similar to playing Legacy. Legacy is really fun until someone shows up with a Tier 1 deck.
Pete: Yeah, well I had a lot of fun over the course of Emperor. I didn't make it to too many tournaments, and I am not sure I ever had a Tier 1 deck (until maybe Gencon just past), so maybe thats it.
Also, I seemed to do ok against Mantis, which helped.
Bryan: I have analyzed this for a long time and what I think the ultimate root of these problems were that I failed to properly evaluate what our playtest structure could and could not handle. I decided to take the game in a direction for which we simply did not have the requisite playtest resources. This is not a failure on playtest's behalf, but on my behalf. It is inevitable that things will slip through the playtest gaps, and when the game is high powered, those slips create bigger problems, some times uncontrollable problems that have to be fixed by bans.
And with the game as high powered as it was, more things slipped through those cracks.
The game was not as high powered as Lotus was, but it was still too much for what we could handle, and the end result was what you see.
Pete: Hmmmm, fair enough.
Bryan: Now the reality is, had AEG not been failing on the other aspects of the game, such as a keen lack of marketing to new and existing players, and had our player interaction been stronger, this likely would have been ok. Certainly the game has been in bad places before, but the company was doing so many other things correctly, that they helped prop up the mechanics themselves. I would argue Gold Edition was a worse game, mechanically, than Emperor was, and by a long shot. But AEG was doing a great job in the other aspects of the game that players stayed engaged.
So really it is easy to try and point your finger at design, and we deserve the finger being pointed at us. But if you stop there, then you don't understand the real problem with Emperor Edition.
Pete: Right, I get you.
Bryan: So how are we fixing this?
Obviously from the Design side of things, we have a much better handle on the limits of our resources. We have brought the power level of the game down significantly, to a much more appropriate level. And honestly, in my opinion, to a much more fun level.
We also have new resources to help our playtesters playtest better, and to help us digest their feedback better, which has been amazing. We have an almost completely new Player Design Team which has brought some great new blood to the Design of the game as well.
Pete: Ooh, fancy.
Bryan: On the other side of things, we are fixing the ship there too.
We have hired a bunch of new people to round out the L5R team. I mentioned Seth before who is doing a fantastic job reaching out to the players, something that has been missing from the game for too long. Dineen is doing a solid job in his role as Major Tournaments organizer. Even though his initial idea did not work out for Best of 3 Koteis, he understands tournaments and tournament structure as good as anyone and has some great new ideas, and is not afraid to put his toe out on the ledge.
Dave Laderoute is our new Imperial Herald editor and is doing a smash up job (behind the scenes currently since the Imperial Assembly has not re-launched yet). I am really excited about the possibilities for the new Imperial Assembly.
Pete: Sweet, new IA is cool, wasn't aware that was happening again.
Bryan: John Zinser himself has stepped back into the role of marketing the game, and there is arguably no one better in the industry at marketing than John Zinser. No company in the industry has launched more successful CCGs than AEG, and Z is a big reason for that.
Pete: The man himself, nice.
Bryan: On the Story and interaction side, we are again coming together, finding out what is wrong, and fixing those problems. We also have some exciting news about the Story, but we aren't quite ready to announce anything yet. But when you hear it, you will understand what we are doing on the Story and player interaction side of the game as well.
Pete: I can think of a few people who will be happy to hear that, I do keep meaning to be more story orientated, I am just lazy as sin.
Bryan: A name you might not know, but Sean Lashgari is back at the helm of our Sales force, and he is as passionate a person as you will ever meet, and he is leading the L5R charge with distributors and retailers.
L5R is moving on all cylinders again, and we are really excited for what is coming.
Pete: Haven't yet had the pleasure of drinking with Sean, but I look forward to that eventuality.
Cool, well I am looking forward to seeing what comes next.
Bryan: It is very exciting times for L5R.
Emperor Edition had it faults, but one of the oddities is it has really set us up in a good position to make the changes that L5R needs.
Just looking at Design, I am not sure I could have gotten away with so many fixes that the game really did need, had it not been for EE.
Pete: Funny how stuff like that works out sometimes
Bryan: But the game was at a place where everyone was clamoring for change, which left me the opening I needed. So there is a silver lining there.
Something I was meaning to ask about Cavalry and change actually, with the changes made will there be much change to the gold structure of Unicorn?
Bryan: Unicorn's Gold structure won't be changing, in the sense that you will remain with 5 Gold Production on your stronghold.
Bryan: What will be changing though is your reliance on an all Cavalry deck.
Pete: So maybe the cheaper guys in the deck might be less likely to have Cavalry or something?
Bryan: As you have seen with Aftermath, there are more infantry Unicorns coming down the pipe for you.
Pete: Yeah, which is nice, having a mix on the board is helpful, means the opponent is more likely to make mistakes :)
Bryan: Certainly. There is an incorrect notion out there, I believe, that cards cost more because they say Unicorn on them. The reality is you are paying for Cavalry, and that the two terms have been synonymous. However now, your deck can very much be a mixture of Infantry and Cavalry, and you don't have to pay for the Cavalry keywords on your Infantry people (obviously), making them cheaper or leaving more room for better abilities.
Pete: Sounds cool
So how did you find yourself as one of the top 3 lead designers of all time, for L5R? How does one go from Motorola Chagatai to Lead Design?
Bryan: Not sure what this Top 3 business is. My pappy always taught me, either you're first or you're last. :)
Bryan: But kidding aside, I was once the most successful tournament player in the game, and after Lotus was ending, I applied to join the Player Design Team and was hired on. After a year of that, Brent Keith, the current LD at the time, wanted to move on to other projects, and so I took over. That was 2007 and I haven't looked back.
The reality is, I love L5R, probably more than anyone on the planet does, or I'm at the very least in the Top 5. I eat, breathe, and sleep L5R, sometimes literally. I joke with my wife that if it ever came down to her or L5R, L5R was here first. :) I combine this passion for the game with an incredibly competitive nature in basically everything I do, along with something my Dad always taught me. He always taught me, and this has stuck, to never let someone come in behind you and do a better job. And while I don't foresee myself ever wanting to leave L5R, if I do, I don't want someone to be able to come in behind me and do a better job.
Pete: Huh, fairly simple transition so.
Thats cool, and I am sure you wife loves you for that passion ;)
Bryan: I am also a perfectionist, so I am continually striving to make myself a better Designer than I was yesterday, and to make L5R a better game than it was yesterday.
Yeah, that passion is a double-edged sword that definitely gets me into trouble sometimes.
How much did this perfectionism come in to play during your recent/current epic effort to sort your L5R collection?
Did not having play sets drive you crazy?
Bryan: Yeah, the perfectionism is definitely testing its limits with this effort. Because I am not only sorting them, but I am cataloging them. And being the perfectionist that I am, I need every variation of every card. So, for example, did you know there were four different variations of Copper Mine in the Samurai arc, released in four different sets, that all say Samurai, yet are slightly different from each other? These are the kinds of things I am dealing with as a perfectionist.
Pete: Bahahahahaha wow, I had no idea, thats hilarious.
Bryan: And on top of that, I have had offers to help sort, but I want to make sure it is done the right way and the way I want it, so I am doing this all solo, which turns it from a 3 week project to a 3 year project.
Pete: You are a braver man than I.
And would you say this epic taks of yours has influenced the design of current l5r?
*task (screw you fingers)
Bryan: Yeah, it has actually. I am a nostalgic fellow and when I was doing the Oracle project, it triggered this nostalgia which led to the collecting/sorting project. And it has had a rather large impact on the current game. Not only will a see an old card that inspires some designs, but it has helped take me back to a time when the game was still great, but was simpler on all levels. For example, you have noticed the Stronghold names. It might not seem like much, but that was something I wanted for the game, and that came directly from when I was sorting old cards. Kosaten Shiro may mean something to you and me, however it means nothing to a player interested in the game. It is an unaccessible name. However, The Exquisite Palace of the Crane is a very accessible name, something new players can wrap their head around and immediately get.
The game used to be a lot more accessible, even if the actual mechanics were more complicated, back in the old days. We had lost a lot of this accessibility on many levels, and part of my drive to get the game back to this accessible level was revisiting all of these old cards and remembering what the game used to be.
Pete: Thats a good point actually, never really thought about it like that.
People will likely appreciate the nostalgia, especially if it isn't immediately obvious.
Right, on to the fun questions
If you were interviewing yourself, what would you ask yourself, and what would your answer be?
Bryan: That is a really good question. If I had the opportunity to interview the Designer of a game I really loved, I would probably ask him what his favorite and least favorite parts of the new game/edition were. For me and for Ivory, I would have to say I love this lower-powered, accessible route we are taking the game. I truly feel it is the right direction and has the opportunity to take L5R to new heights. My least favorite part of Ivory is probably my lack of foresight in some areas, as now I see things I want to change to the game. Nothing big, but minor tweaks here and there. But alas, it is too late to change them now, and even the perfectionist in me does live with the reality that the game needs stability, so even when the next arc rolls around, I have no intention of making changes to the game like we have in basically every arc since Diamond.
Bryan: If I have my druthers, the next arc after Ivory will not require players to learn or unlearn any new rules.
Pete: Thats cool, having changes between arcs can be confusing but also a nice change at times
Bryan: Luckily with Ivory we got it perfect so there will be no more need for changes. ;)
Ignore the fact that directly contradicts what I just said.
Pete: haha will do :D
If you were a Subway sandwich, what sub would you be?
Bryan: Clearly the only option here is a 12" Meatball sub. Timeless, classic, and who doesn't love 12 inches of meat?
Pete: You make a fine point, its all about the foot long
And finally, what is your perfect Sunday?
Bryan: My Sundays are pretty good right now. Friends come over at 10AM and we playtest the new set for usually about half the day. Then after that, I go over to another friends house and we play DnD. Then I get home, play with the kids for a little bit before getting them in bed, and watch Sunday night TV with the wife, so usually Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, and, until recently, Breaking Bad. :(
And honestly, I love Sunday nights. This might sound corny, but I can't wait for Monday morning to come around so I can start in on my work again for the next week.
The rest of sounds fairly awesome
Bryan: I am probably the only guy who loves Mondays. lol
Pete: But as someone who works, looking forward to Mondays is highly suspect.
Bryan: It is a cliché, I realize, but it is true. Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life. It is something I never understood until I started this job.
Pete: Well, can't fault a man for loving what he does, I look forward to hopefully having the same at some point in the future
Anyway, thats it for my questions. Its been great to chat with you and drink some wine
Hopefully you haven't been hitting the absinthe too hard, or not hard enough, depends on Ivory Edition I guess
Bryan: Well, not sure if I have drunk too little or too much, but my meetings later should be fun, that's for sure.
Pete: Haha meetings rarely get worse with the addition of alcohol I find
Bryan: I can't stress how important that is. I used to make a lot of money. While I do just fine now, it is nothing compared to what I did make. But I have to say, I wouldn't trade it for anything. Anyone reading this, please take it to heart. Do something you love. That is way more important than money.
Pete: Haha like people read my articles :P
Bryan: Well then maybe it is just for you then.
Pete: Haha for now I need money, but I am working on finding something worth doing.
Thanks again for the interview.
Have fun at those meetings ;)
Bryan: Anytime Pete, it was my pleasure.
So I hoped you enjoyed our little chat. If you liked it feel free to comment on our forums and let me know. If you didnt like it, screw you.
Check out my previous interviews: