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Calabrese and O'Reily on the Ultimate Battle

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Calabrese and O'Reily on the Ultimate Battle

Interview with game designers, Danny Calabrese and Tim O'Reily on their game Ultimate Battle, currently on Kickstarter.

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Danny and Tim, could you share a little with us about yourselves and what got you into tabletop?

Danny and Tim: Since we became friends in highschool, we used to get together and play epic games of risk that would last 12+ hours. Usually the final two players would play all night and into the morning, with a break for breakfast. Our group of friends has always enjoyed hanging out with each other much more than going out to a bar or a club - table top games have drawn us together over the years.
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What are some of your favorite games to play currently?

Danny and Tim: We've enjoyed playing Apples to Apples and Cranium for a while, but we have moved to more intense gaming over the years. We've loved the cooperative game Zombicide, Settlers of Catan and we even had a D&D game going for a while.

What, in your opinion makes a game fun?

Danny and Tim: The interaction between players is definitely the key for us - having a good time, laughing with your friends - the game is a tool to facilitate that. Trading resources in Catan, planning strategy in Zombicide (and recounting the deaths of your friends later...) the fun part is the people that you play with, and games that set up a situation and then get out of the way are the best.

Ultimate Battle has recently been put up on Kickstarter. Could you tell us a little bit about what type of game it is and give us an overview on how it is played?

Danny and Tim: Ultimate Battle is a casual game - it has as close to zero rules as we could manage, and you can learn it in about 2 minutes. The basic gist of it is, you use the cards to draw things and destroy your friends! It can be played 2 player or multiplayer, but in either case, you draw a "hero" or "avatar" to represent yourself on the paper battlefield, and then use the cards in your hand, singly or in combination, to come up with the best, most creative attack you can think of. Your opponents use their hand of cards to defend against your attack, and then attack back. You keep going until someone is stumped and can't think of a way to defend themselves using what they have. The other key feature is that if there's ever a disagreement over what works, rather than complicated rules and systems, we've created Disagreement Cards that will settle any argument and get you right back to the game and having fun being creative.

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What is the story behind the creation of the game?

Danny and Tim: It actually started years ago, on a 8 hour road trip with a bunch of people to go see the minor league baseball team the Vermont Lakemonsters play. One of my friends and I were stuck in the trunk with nothing to do, so we came up with this drawing game using a whiteboard app on a phone. There weren't any cards, and each battle was decided kind of by mutual consent. We would play it sometimes when we were hanging out in bars and whatnot. Then a year ago, we were together at my birthday party at a bar with big group tables, and we were playing the game and strangers who were sitting around us would ask what we were playing and if they could join in. That's when Danny realized we had something, and if we could figure out a way to make it easy to explain and fair, this could have a wide audience. So we made cards to create balance, and disagreement cards to eliminate arguments, and Ultimate Battle was formed!
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Do you have to be a good artist to play this game?

Danny and Tim: Absolutely not! Scribbles count and the bad squiggly drawing is a big part of the fun.

So the main rules in this game are for 2 players, what rules change if you are playing with more than two players?

Danny and Tim: Basically in 2 player, you have to defend and attack back using the same 5 cards in your hand. In Multiplayer, you draw cards equal to the number of players plus 2, and then you play until they're gone! You use your cards to attack anyone or everyone, defend on your turn, and keep going 'til the cards run out. If there is more than one player left at the end, you enter Sudden Death, where you pull one last card to attack and one to defend, draw it in secret, and then reveal your moves at the same time - see who survives!

How did you guys come up with the ideas of what cards would make it into the game?

Danny and Tim: Lots of play testing. At first it was easy, we played with blank pieces of paper and just wrote in anything we could think of. Over time, we edited what we had to eliminate things that were too similar (instead of buzz saw and chain saw and hack saw, there's just saw, which can be any kind) or too overpowering by themselves (tornado and the sun were sort of auto-win cards) but we kept in things that were just too funny to cut - that people enjoyed playing. 

So say we are playing the game, and you are defending. Let's say yo have in your hand: the candy, vacuum and snake cards – what would you make to defend against my monster?

Danny and Tim: In that case I might draw a vacuum snake to suck in and swallow your guy, or maybe a delicious, tempting pile of candy on top of a hidden snake to trick your monster on his way to attack. Or maybe draw a vacuum that had sucked up some candy, and have the back of the vacuum open showing the lint and hair covered dust candy - thereby making your monster grossed out and throw up, and therefore unable to attack that turn...

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OK. Say you are attacking with tiger, bread and water - what would you make?

Danny and Tim: Ooh I can do so much with those cards! I could use the Tiger by itself and just say that I unleashed a tiger  to claw, maul, and eat you. Or I could lure your hero over with a piece of bread and while they're distracted I could use my tiger to attack! - Shoot, I could even use that water alone to drown you or if I wanted to get really creative... I could always combine the water with my tiger to make an elemental water tiger that attacks you with it claws in a blasting rush of water and fangs!

Could you tell us more about the challenge cards, what they are and how they work? Also, could you share with us a little on why you added them into the game?
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Danny and Tim: The Disagreement Cards are yes or no, up or down, straight forward ways to end an argument. The idea is that in a game that is so creative and free form, we want to get out of the way of the fun, and encourage people to do what they do normally. At the same time, there needs to be a way to keep the focus on creativity and beating your opponent on merit, rather than letting it devolve into arguments. All of the cards make a determination that should have a clear winner - tallest player or longest hair. They all also have their opposite, so there's no advantage to any one person. If there's a tie - just pull another one! The idea is not to get wrapped up in rules and to get right back to having fun playing the game. Why did we add them? One of our friends is able to find ways around the rules in any situation. He was able to find the flaws in the rules we didn't see right away, so we started to change the rules - we ended up adding so many rules that it wasn't fun any more, and that was the key. So we figured out a way to eliminate the need for complicated rules and keep things balanced and fair. Each player has just as much ability to come up with ideas as the other - you're only limited by what you can imagine with the cards in your hand.

One of the things you did is try to make the rules as simple as possible. Was it a challenge not to make the game overly complicated?

Danny and Tim: Oh yes definitely. We tried so many variations to keep things fun, fast and fair, but every time we added rules, they had unintended complications and it wouldn't be balanced. When we tried to test the game with people who hadn't played it, they would try to do things and we had to say, "no, you can't do that." And then we realized, why not? Let the player do what they naturally want to do. Get out of the way of the game. At one stage we had added numbers to the cards as "strengths" so we could sort of balance "the sun" vs "a bunny" and we realized very quickly, all you cared about at that point was the numbers on the cards, and not the content of your actions. People stopped wanting to draw, and it just became like the card game War we used to play as little kids. That was a big turning point for us to keep it as simple as possible and just encourage people to have the fun they naturally wanted to have. 

How important was family friendliness when you were creating Ultimate Battle?

Danny and Tim: Honestly, it was sort of a happy accident. We started playing the game with people in their 20's and 30's and Danny took an early version out to a family event. His little cousins were all so into playing it that his family was asking if someone hired a magician - why are all the kids in a big group? Why are they talking about cards? Anyway, the kids loved it, and the parents loved it, and it was family friendly almost by nature. We're thinking about doing expansion decks with themes later, but for now, its so much fun for people in all age groups that we didn't want to exclude anyone.
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Let's talk about the name, was there any other names you were considering (if so what) and why did you settle on Ultimate Battle?

Danny and Tim: Well it's funny you should ask - it's always been Ultimate Battle! We talked about some other names but it's just what stuck. We were very happy with what we chose and hope it becomes a name people know and remember!

What was the best piece of feedback you received from a playtester when you were still prototyping the game?

Danny and Tim: What do you mean, I can't buy it now? That was probably my favorite comment - the guy was mad! We had to tell him that these were just prototypes and the game wouldn't be out for a couple months. 

What was your favorite part of designing the game?

Danny and Tim: Seeing how much fun random, total strangers have playing it. It's really great to see something you made make people laugh. 

What was the most challenging part of designing Ultimate Battle?

Danny and Tim: Getting out of the way of the game itself. Making it the simplest version of itself that we could. The trick is to keep things open and free form, but at the same time balanced to keep it fast paced and fun, without dragging on or dissolving into arguments. 

When you step back and look at the finished product, what makes you the most proud that you designed this game?

Danny and Tim: Everybody, with very few exceptions, that has sat down and played the game is laughing almost immediately. That it can be so much fun for so many people is really encouraging.
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Finish this sentence in 12 words or less.  Ultimate Battle is ________.

Danny and Tim: A creative, fast paced game anyone can enjoy!

 So, if someone is on the fence about supporting this game on KS, they are not sure this game is for them, what would you say to them if you could?

Danny and Tim: I would have to say this one one of the few games that is truly for everyone! It's just plain fun to get creative and see what you can scratch together "MacGyver style." It's bound to create a laugh out loud fun time for anyone playing. If you are on the fence I'd have to say give it one game: I promise you, you will have a good time and wanna come back for more!

As we wrap up this interview. Let me ask, what is your ultimate goal with Ultimate Battle? What would you guys like to see 3 years down the line with this game?

Danny and Tim: We would love to see the game out there on its own. I want to see Ultimate Battle become the type of game people pull out at a party, or if they wanna have a good time with their friends. We would love to get  feedback from people to keep improving on what we have and keep the Ultimate Battle brand moving forward. 

Thanks to Danny and Tim for taking time out to do this interview. For those interested in check the game out the KS link is below.

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For those interested in Ultimate Battle, click here to be taken to the Kickstarter. It will be running until July 31, 2014.

What's that you say? Inquiring meeples want to know more?
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You may want to check out these links:

Ultimate Battle's official webpage

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