In the winter of 2007, while I was studying for my final exams at university I thought, “I should make a card game!” So after one (long) night, Friend or Foe was born. Originally dubbed, “The Card Game o’ Life,” this game started first on cue-cards but went latent for some time with only intermittent trial plays among friends. In the fall of 2011, I did a major update of the game (GALLERY), getting nicely printed cards shipped to me from printerstudio.com. When Jacob Reetz saw these he said, “So, when are we going to play?” This generous gesture sparked the beginning of many after-school games together between friends and foes alike (GALLERY). Years of playtesting followed, with incredibly timely input from family and friends along the way. Then, with the help of several wonderful artists, and the support of my dear wife, Friend or Foe got a complete facelift in 2014-2015 to prepare for its official debut. Thanks to The Game Crafter, Friend or Foe is now available worldwide. The rest, they say, is history.

“We make still by the law in which we’re made.” JRR Tolkien


FoF Interview

These were my responses to Calvin Daniels’s questions as I prepared for an interview with him for Yorkton This Week:

1.Have you always been a  board/card game fan? Which games? What attracted you to those games?

I really have. I absolutely love playing board games. The first real game I ever got into was chess, and what a wonderful game, introducing me to rich and deep strategy—chess taught me about positional advantages, tactical planning, and glorious turns when all seems lost.

The next main game I fell in love with was Star Wars CCG by Decipher Inc. It was first of all to me highly imaginative, making the Star Wars universe more accessible, but also allowing players to bring to it their own creativity. I could, for example, arm Chewie with his bowcaster, fly him through space in the Millennium Falcon and then attempt to hunt down Vader with him. Star Wars CCG was also a highly strategic game, which I loved because it made me feel responsible for my choices. I felt rewarded if I won, and always learned something new whenever I lost. It involved a lot of in-game text, which I got very comfortable with. Being a customizable card game, it also allowed me to design my own deck according to my own playing style. My game still has many resonances with Star Wars CCG in that it involves quite a bit of in-game text, and  focuses on strategic gameplay leaving very little room for chance.

The next major game I got into was Shogun, re-branded as Samurai Swords and then more recently to Ikusa. What an amazing board game!! Here is a game that takes quite a bit longer to play (some of our games lasted more than 4 hours), but it had everything I could love in a game. Beautiful strategy, so much flexibility, intrigue, cunning, and rich tactical planning. A war game set in feudal Japan, the game has players competing to become Japan’s next Shogun. Will you out master your opponents? Perhaps by hiring mercenary Ronin, or by gaining the services of the one Ninja in the game? Shogun has everything for strategy boardgame lovers.

While my game has many flavours, it has many resonances with some of the games above, which I grew up with and loved.

2. What was the inspiration for your game game?

I originally imagined a game that could be played by my friends and family, a game that could see them on professional looking cards, sometimes competing against each other, other times working together. The goal of the game has always been to “rescue the captive,” a character that you lose at the beginning of the game, who is captured by your foe, held at their Base. You must rescue your captive by returning it to your Base, while still guarding the captive that you also stole from your opponent at the beginning of the game. In the early stages of the game, captives were friends or family members you were trying to rescue home, now they are lost members of your tribe in the fictional realm of the Karrowlands, a fantasy-themed land where 4 warring tribes compete against each other, separated by an ominous mountain where the dragon Gwythral, or the Giant Maneeri, or the Lizard-Wolf Ragnash have been known to inhabit.

3. How long did the game take to develop?

Eight years! Yep. In the winter of 2007, while I was studying for my final exams at university I thought, “I should make a card game!” So after one (long) night, Friend or Foe was born. Originally dubbed, “The Card Game o’ Life,” the game started first on cue-cards but went latent for some time with only intermittent trial plays among friends. In the fall of 2011, I did a major update of the game, getting nicely printed cards shipped to me from printerstudio.com. When one of my students at the time, Jacob Reetz, saw these he said, “So, when are we going to play?” This generous gesture sparked the beginning of many after-school games together between friends and foes alike. Years of playtesting followed, with incredibly timely input from family and friends along the way. Then, with the help of several wonderful artists, and the support of my dear wife, Friend or Foe got a complete facelift in 2014-2015 to prepare for its official debut. Thanks to The Game Crafter, Friend or Foe is now available worldwide. The rest, they say, is history.

4. What was the great challenge in game development?

Not infringing on copyright!!! Originally I never imagined taking this game to a professional level where I would be able to sell it. But when I was looking to do that I really didn’t know how to produce it without totally breaking the bank. For years I collected creative commons illustrations that I could rebrand and use in my game, but to be able to market my game I wanted to be absolutely sure that I had the rights to use those works. Sometimes it was very clear to me that I could use such work, other times it was hazy. Finally, I decided that if I wanted to do it right, I had to get professional artists involved who would transfer the rights of their work over to me so I could be confident using it. My main artists I found by searching online forums for artists looking for freelance work. But this could have really broken the bank. I knew that I wanted to pay these artists well but I also knew that I had to reduce the number of illustrations and therefore unique cards if I wanted to do this on a smaller budget. These constraints meant changing my game to make it more simple in some ways, and in many cases much easier to play and learn, but it also took away some of the complexity that many of us who played the game in its earlier iterations really enjoyed.

5. What aspect of the game do you see as most innovative/unique?

First is its flexibility: Friend or Foe has both free-for-all and cooperative modes. So you can compete against everyone else or play in partners. There is even a 2 vs 1 option for an experienced player to try and beat 2 others. Then there are additional game variations, like the capture the flag variation, or ones with monsters like Ragnash or Gwythral on the mountain summit in the middle of the board.

Second is its use of cards as units which deploy to the game-board. These units deploy, battle and move as players set up tactical positions on the game-board’s locations.

Finally, while the four playable decks in Friend or Foe have many of the same cards, each deck is unique in that it celebrates different phases of the game and caters to different personality styles. Its versatile gameplay and deck mechanics make every game unique.

6. Are you happy with the overall game design/play?

I am. While I’ve seen the game change drastically over time with each new iteration, each change really did make the game more accessible. If I had a bigger budget I would have felt less constrained at many stages of its development but I guess that is a reality that all designers face when they are developing a game on their own and don’t have experienced partners.

7. How has response been to the game?

While many of my students and friends have really liked the game, I think the best way to answer this question is to cite Father Geek’s official review of Friend or Foe, he is a professional game reviewer, who plays any game he reviews several times with different categories of players and then shares each group’s response to the game. He also states that he is never “paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing [his] review” :). Here is what he wrote about Friend or Foe:

The Child Geeks enjoyed themselves, but kept to the Standard Mode of game play. They believed the others were too involved, finding the Standard Mode to be more than enough to think about. According to one Child Geek, “The game can get really complicated when you start having to keep track of all your tokens and your cards.” So complicated, in fact, that it was too much for the younger Child Geeks, but the level of aggression and depth of play was perfect for the older Child Geeks. According to one of the older kiddies, “What I like so much about this game is how much there is to do. Each turn feels really important and fun.” The final result proved to be mixed. Some Child Geeks found the game to be too much, while others found the game to be impressively entertaining.

It was easy to convince my two oldest that they were “foes” in the game…
The Parent Geeks were very much the same way. The more casual and non-gamer Parent Geeks learned how to play and never really demonstrated that they had much fun. According to one Parent Geek, “I really like the game’s concept, but it just feels too busy to me. Too much is going on that I need to keep track of.” The more experienced Parent Geeks, however, really enjoyed themselves. According to one of these Parent Geeks, “I think this is a really challenging game. It has everything I like to think about. What am I deploying? Where am I using it? Can I support it? Lots of fun.” When it came right down to it, what decided if the game was approved or not for individual Parent Geeks was the perceived game’s level of required energy to play. Naturally, those who were not used to thinking so hard and on so many different levels gave the game a thumbs down while everyone else enjoyed it, shouting its praise.

The Gamer Geeks very much enjoyed the game, but found the Standard Mode of game play to be rubbish. According to one Gamer Geek, “If all there was to this game was the standard game, I would turn it down. Where the real fun is at is using the other cards.” Specifically, what really appealed to the Gamer Geeks was the ability to control and battle independent Unit cards. Especially when they also had to contend with their opponents attempting to foil their plans or beat them to the objective. As one Gamer Geek put it, “Each deck plays slightly differently, making it necessary to think up unique strategies. I’m really enjoying this game.” The only aspect of the game the Gamer Geeks didn’t care for was all the card shuffling and moving about, but they quickly got used to it. They all agreed that any faults they might have found were insignificant to the fun the game provided.

Friend or Foe is an interesting game. The game mats require the player to consider strategic and tactical placement, build up forces, engage foes on several fronts, and deploy reinforcements. Which is a very good thing as the rest of the game is nothing new. Cards that attack, cards that attach, and cards that support are all very common. This made it easy to teach the game, but it offered nothing new and bold to grab a player’s interest. Some of the cards are loaded with text, as well, making it difficult to convince a new player that Friend or Foe is built around straight forward game play.

As mundane as some of the game is and as difficult as it sometimes appears, the game mats and the different game modes lift it out of any perceived mediocrity. Here is a game that kept surprising me. It continued to demonstrate more depth of play than I thought it capable of, required a lot of critical strategic thinking, and offered players the ability to quickly shift tactics to respond to a constantly changing game mat. The final result was a game that entertained and challenged. Do play Friend or Foe when the opportunity presents itself. This is not a game you should make enemies with.