Interview #3 with Chris Handy in our Pack O Interview Series. This time we look at the second game in the Pack O Game series, TKO. A 2-player boxing game, in which players will "simultaneously choose a punch or a block to gain points."
Note by The Inquisitive Meeple:Unlike most our interviews, in this one we will jump straight in to talking about about the game. This is something we plan to do with all the Pack O Interview series outside of the first interview. The first interview in this series, was the introduction interview (found here) with designer, Chris Handy, where we not only talked about the overall Pack O Game series, but got to know Chris a little as well.
Chris:TKO is a fast paced, 2-Player boxing that’s kind of an advanced take on the “Rock/Paper/Scissors” mechanic. It’s not blind like RPS is though, as players (boxers) have specific strengths that are visible to the other player, so they are more motivated to take certain actions. There are 4 actions to choose from, and a player holds a single card in his hand. Simultaneously, both boxers choose an action by pinching the card in a specific spot, indicating their choice. Both players reveal their selection at the same time, then points are resolved. If Player A chooses a punch (head or body) and Player B does not choose the corresponding block (head or body), then Player A earns a point in the action area that he chose. But, if Player B DOES choose the corresponding block, then he gets points in the corresponding block area instead. There’s also a “Power Arrow” that helps a player allocate points to ANY (wild) one of the 4 point areas, once he gets some momentum after earning a point by himself in the previous turn. Once a player earns 5 points in one of the 4 action area, they win the round. Then, boxer “Point Bars” are reset for the next round. The player who wins 2 of the 3 rounds earns the “TKO Champ” title belt and also earns the right to keep the belt card and gloat.
Could you give us the story behind the creation of TKO?
Chris: Sure, it’s simple really. My wife and I were watching the PBS “Sherlock Homes” and in a matter of 20 seconds, 90% of the game popped into my head. I wrote it down and built it that afternoon. There was no boxing scene or anything that triggered the idea, but I think my brain was relaxed enough and made some room for the idea. I knew after the first play of it that it was going to be a great game for people. I consistently see people giggle on about the 5 selection turn, as players start to realize that they can overthink, and rethink exactly what their opponent is going to choose. It’s been fun to watch, especially with people that know each other well. The first time I played it with my niece and nephew (ages 12 and 14), they played several times, then begged to keep the prototype. I told them that I needed to keep the prototype for more testing, so my niece immediately created a crude version with pen and paper and continued to play 5 minutes after I left their house.
Why did you choose the sport of boxing to be your first sports game in Pack O Game series?
Chris: As I mentioned in the last answer, I was just “given” the idea. I didn’t really choose it out of the other sports. And in fact, I hadn’t really thought of doing a sports-themed game for this series at that point. I’m not a huge sports fanatic. That said, I am a big boxing fan. I grew up with Mike Tyson’s Punch Out! on NES and even “Boxing” on the Intellivision™ game system before that. There’s something elegant about the sport. I miss the days of the big fights like Tyson vs. Holyfield. The simplicity of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out! with it’s “A” “B” “Start Button” choices, and tight rhythm monitoring had to have subconsciously influenced this design. I also think many of the sports themed games don’t capture the essence and exciting aspect of the sport in a game. It’s difficult to do. My “Long Shot” design may not be the most “strategic” of the horse racing games, but I think it provides a lot of excitement, which is true to the sport.
In TKO, players have 8 different boxers (with different stats) to choose to play from. Do you have a boxer that you are partial to?
Chris: I do have a favorite, but I’ve taken him out of the core game. He’s “CJ Hooker.” I make kids music under the name “CJ” and it’s also a nod to cheesy early 80’s television. Also, his boxing shorts are green, which is my favorite color to play with. I took him out, because I’m not sure “CJ Hooker” is appropriate for this game, and might be too obscure of a reference. But, maybe we’ll see it as a giveaway or bonus expansion card sometime in the future.
TKO is a simultaneous action selection game. Do you have any favorite games that use this mechanic?
Chris: I love Klaus Teuber’s “Hoity Toity,” the 1990 SDJ winner. It’s a fantastic design and accommodates 6 players fairly well. I think this game has also had a big influence on TKO.
I have to ask, do you have a favorite boxing movie or even a real life boxer?
Chris: I have great memories of watching the Rocky movies in the theater, and it’s one of the few shared interests I have with my brother. I liked Tyson before he got hungry for human ears.
I have to say that one card really stands out and brings a lot to the gameplay and that card is the Power Card. Could you explain what the Power Card is and why you decided to add it to the game?
Chris: It was added later in the design process. I felt the game needed 1 more interesting aspect that helped a player once he good momentum. In previous versions, a player was required to earn full points in 2 action areas instead of 1. Also, the action areas required 7 points instead of 5. Once a player had full points in one action area, they were allowed to put those points somewhere else if they earned them with that action choice. This got a little strange, and the round was a little longer than I wanted it to be. So, now instead of 1 single round (game), it’s best 2 out of 3 short rounds, with “point allocation” based on a player’s momentum. It’s a little more maintenance than I prefer to have in a mechanic that is paired with extremely quick action selection, but it works really well.
What makes TKO unique from other games out there that use the same type of mechanics?
Chris: I’ve never played a boxing game with this mechanic. Also, it’s unique because it’s the size of a pack of gum. Also, based on the feedback I’ve gotten, I think teens will really get into this game.
Have you thought at all about making some kind of tournament rules available on your webpage for TKO?
Chris: I have not. It’s a good idea, but I’ll probably leave that to the BGG community.
Did anything inspire you when you where drawing the boxers? What is the style you where looking for when drawing them?
Chris: I had an illustrator draw them. But I strongly guided him in the final sketches. I was looking for very short, chubby, friendly with attitude. Also, I want use this type of character for any future sports games the Pack O Game series might have.
How was naming all these characters like Wil Bleed or Ginger Ail? Was this a hard task or fun one?
Chris: Fun one! There were some names I threw on the cards quickly for the first proto, but then as I had more time to think about the theme and names, I came up with better ones.
Do you remember any of the old names?
Chris:(note: picture sent instead of written answer)
What was the best piece of feedback you received from a play tester when you were still prototyping the game?
Chris: At UNPUB in San Jose, someone mentioned that they’ll like to have a way to “take advantage of good momentum, like real boxing.” He was playing the game before it had the “Power Arrow.” This was something I included when I changed a few other aspects to the game.
Speaking of the prototype – what are some (if any) big changes you have made from the first couple prototypes to what you are offering now as the final product and how did these changes make the game better?
Chris: … a successful block was worth 2 points in the original design, not 1 point.
Chris: I enjoyed naming the boxers. Also, it was fun to play against my wife for the first time and see how enjoyable it was.
So, in your household, who is the TKO Champ – you or your wife?
Chris: Dang… Next question please.
As a game designer, what would you say was the most interesting part of designing TKO?
Chris: The most interesting part was adding another element (Power Arrow) to the game, without bogging it down and causing it to lose it’s fast-play qualities. I also tested some “Stamina” mechanics very late in the development, and decided it was too much maintenance, and took away from the fast-paced nature.
What was the most challenging part of designing it?
Chris: I spent a few hours with my Dad one afternoon working out math and probability of making the block worth 1 point instead of 2. We determined that it was more balanced with 1 point gains for either action and the “1 point version” also supported the addition of the Power Arrow and round winning conditions.
When you step back and look at the finished product, what makes you the most proud that you designed this game?
Chris: I’m pleased with how accessible it is. It hits a target that I often shoot for. It’s easy to learn, and fun for gamers AND non-gamers. It’s kind of a “Gateway Game” in that sense.
A slight follow up to that question - as the series designer of the Pack O Game games, what in your mind, does TKO bring to the overall series?
Chris: It brings several aspects to the whole series. It’s the only sports themed game in the series (so far) and it’s a 2-player ONLY battle. It’s also the most fast-paced game, and perhaps has the most non-gamer appeal of the first batch of games in the series.
I know you don’t want to give too much away about the future of Pack O Game, but do you think we will see more sport games in the series?
Chris: I hope so. I’ve got ideas for several other sports themed Pack O Games with even more unique mechanics. The challenge is making them work with 30: 1 inch by 3 inch cards. But, honestly, I’m super excited about several of them already and can’t wait to start play testing them.
As we wrap this up, could you finish this sentence in 12 words or less. TKO is ________.
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