An Interview Eric Lang - Designer of Star Wars The Card Game

Eric Lang is the designer of the long-awaited Star Wars The Card Game, which will soon be released by Fantasy Flight Games. Eric, thanks for taking some time to chat with us.

Thanks for having me!

First I just have to ask: When Star Wars The Card Game was first announced, Lucasfilm was still owned by George Lucas, and there was no hope—or even an expectation—for new Star Wars films. What’s your take on the Disney purchase, and the forthcoming films?

I am crazy excited. I was as surprised by the announcement as everyone else, but it took me only a few seconds to process … and I must admit that I did a little Snoopy dance.

Pixar, of whom I’m a giant fan, runs deep in Disney’s DNA. And the thought of new Star Wars movies with that kind of talent at the helm makes me so happy. When I read that Michael Arndt was writing Episode VII … be still my heart!

How did you first become interested in gaming? And when did you start designing games?

I’ve been designing games since I was playing them as a kid with my grandmother in Germany. It started out by modifying mass market Pachisi and Stratego clones, then I got into RPGs in high school and never looked back. When Magic: the Gathering hit in 1993, after one game I was determined to do this for a living. My first published credit was for FASA’s Shadowrun CCG (playtest and development) back in the mid-90s, and I’ve been designing full-time since 2001. I’ve designed games for a number of companies including Fantasy Flight, Wizards of the Coast, Wizkids, Mattel, Alderac Enterainment, and Z-Man Games.

Your game design resume is quite extensive; do you play a game regularly after you’ve completed it? What are some of the titles you still go back and play? Or do you move on to the next design?

Time is my enemy, and many of my own games are of the “lifestyle” sort (like FFG’s Living Card Game series). I wish I had more time to play, but I do have decks for each of my LCGs ready to go. I play Warhammer: Invasion more often than most, due to its speed of play and my short attention span.

What are some of your favorite board/card games?

A short list would include: Cosmic Encounter, Magic: the Gathering, D&D, Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, El Grande, Heimlich & Co., I’m the Boss!, Crokinole, Geschenkt, and Nexus Ops.

The Lord of the Rings Dicebuilding Game uses some of the same mechanisms as Quarriors. How involved are you with the design of the LotR game, and can you tell us how it will be different than Quarriors?

Mike (Elliott) and I designed an early draft of the LOTR game, but were unable to finish it due to schedule issues. The published design (by Brett Myers and Jeph Stahl), is cooperative whereas Quarriors is competitive. It is also slightly more complex and focused on narrative, which offers quite a different experience even with shared mechanics. I think co-op players will really like it.

Star Wars The Card Game has been a long time coming; how involved were you with the first concept of the game? And how hard was it to scrap the whole thing and go back to the drawing board?

I was not involved in the first version at all. FFG made a really tough call going back to the drawing board, but I agree that it was the right one. I can’t speak to the decision process, but my own opinion was that there were some unsolvable long-term issues, and the inability for players to play the dark side, as compelling as Rebel co-op is, was really rough.

The original game had some real strengths, though, and you’ll likely see some of its influences in the current game.

Fantasy Flight has enjoyed the success of the “Living Card game” genre with several blockbuster titles (we’re BIG fans of The Lord of the Rings and Netrunner). What about Star Wars makes it stand out in the genre?

I think Star Wars is the first game to start deeply exploring what makes LCGs different from other customizable games.

The way you customize your decks is different from all other games; easy to simply jump into and play, but requiring a whole new way of thinking to really tune at a high level. I think both hardcore and casual players will enjoy this new approach, even if for different reasons.

I feel like this game captures the desperation of the Light Side and the monolithic but inertial drive of the Dark Side. I wanted to do this in a simple, intuitive way that did not bog the players down in rules exceptions, but rather let the game itself stand aside and allow card interactions to take center stage.

The gameplay is more hand management than straightforward resource management in most customizable card games. You are more focused on when and how to use your cards, than how to squeeze maximum value out of your board position. Combat is easy to grasp, but the way Edge battles work (combined with the card pool) add a psychological element that is sometimes game-defining, other times peripheral.

Overall, I feel as though the variance in gameplay in Star Wars is key. More than most card games, the same exact same two decks will play differently from game to game. All the game mechanics were designed to offer this experience.

Did Lucasfilm/Lucas Arts keep a close eye on the product and sign off on it?

Lucasfilm licensing worked closely with FFG on the game. They were really helpful with suggestions in the naming and flavor text department, too.

Did you get to meet George Lucas?

Sadly, no.

We found it interesting that the first cycle of Force packs is going to take place on Hoth; what made you decide to jump ahead to Empire, instead of working through Ep. IV first?

We wanted to make it clear right off the bat that we are not doing sequential releases, but rather “idea space” cycles. I pitched Hoth as an obvious first expansion, as it has a unique feel and milieu, and allowed us to create a nice set of cards that worked together while not reinventing the game right away.

I think it’s important for the first expansion of an LCG to deliver “more of the same, with a minor cool twist” (pun intended). Hoth’s place in the original trilogy fit that to a tee.

One Word (or Phrase) Response Section:

If you had a lightsaber, what color would it be?

The color of the sun.

If you could visit any place real or fictional, where would you go?

Mos Eisley

Favorite Quarriors creature?

Primoridial Ooze

Favorite cookie?

Mint Oreos!

Favorite author?

Oscar Wilde

You can follow Eric on Twitter @Eric_Lang.

Thanks, Eric, for the great interview. And thanks to you for reading; have a superb and game-filled Thanksgiving!