LastWalter: Hello! Derek here, LastWalter on most corners of the Doomtown internet with Richard Carter. Richard was recently announced in December as the new Lead Designer of Doomtown: Reloaded. Rich, tell us about yourself!
Carter: Well, I am a Gemini and [I was] born in the year of the Rat, and those things are all correct. My gaming world started in fourth grade when I borrowed a D&D Dungeon Master’s
guide. [I] collected comics and RPG’s until college, when I discovered Magic Revised Edition. It satisfied the RPG gaming fix like a main line and I played a bunch. Moved from the California coast to Sacramento, found a good game store, and traded the spot of Big Magic Hammer on and off with a couple others. Before Sacramento, I had picked up Legend of the Five Rings and discovered that the player base there was super competitive and very good (I got trounced). When Doomtown: Rolling Thunder came through, I picked it up with a couple of folks and had a ton of fun. Then I found out about the World Champ becoming a card. I could think of nothing cooler, so I signed up for GenCon 1999. And there I fell in love with cons. After they shuttered Doomtown, I rose to be dangerous at Seventh Sea, then Warlord, then Spycraft.
LW: What do you do to make the ghost rock?
RC: My day job is Senior Land Surveyor supervising the Precise Surveys Unit for the California Department of Water Resources
LW: Obviously you’ve been active since Classic. What goals have you set for yourself along the way? Did you ever expect to lead design?
RC: Goals along the way? None really, just keep playing. During the dead times after Classic, I had one local opponent, and we dusted the Doomtown off irregularly. That grew to an irregular posse of up to three more equally insane players. When Reloaded came on to the scene, I had a few people on the inside advocating for me to be involved, and it would have made some sense considering I already had a business relationship with AEG as Brand Manager for Warlord. I did get recruited into being on Playtest there near the end of the AEG era. I was part of discussions with the proto-pinebox crew, but not brought into PBE Playtest until after Too Tough To Die was complete. So I did not anticipate being the designer.
I knew that I could do it – I had years of Player Design Team for Warlord under my belt and years of Classic play I can draw upon, but there was some freedom in being passed over for an official role. [I] just enjoyed playing the game and being surprised when spoiler season would come around.
All that said, after designing 60 cards for the playtester set, when it came time to look for a successor to Emre Guzelsu, I was not surprised I made the short list.
LW: What keeps you coming back to Doomtown?
RC: When I advocate for the game, I call it the King of Games. The work of deck construction, the movement interplay, the flavor. I love the players too. We have a good time, even at the top levels of play.
LW: What do you think of the balance of the game? Are all the factions reasonable and effective?
RC: I think so – at least within a confidence interval – but hard to say for certain. Over my last 20 years at this I’m keenly aware of the importance of player skill. Mix that with faction loyalty, and [a community] that self-censures out “cheesy” decks and the data is hard to trust.
LW: Yeah, I think the self-censure is particularly noteworthy. For example, it seems like the community self-censures Deedslide/Landslide pretty hard.
RC: It did the same with Spirit Fortress. In a particularly creative community like ours, players do not want to retread or copy so decklists are always in flux. It makes the meta prediction for big events impossible. On top of the ever present question of “how aggressive do I need to be” vs. “how defensive do I need to be”.
LW: Any strategies that are overrepresented or underrepresented in the meta?
RC: Unfortunately, I do not get enough opportunities to play to make an informed decision. That is an area I really lean on playtest to help me with. Recently in Denver I fell to deedslide/Putting the Pieces Together and recycling the dead Undertaker into DMH, neither of [which] I expected. Last GenCon was weird [too]. Plenty of scuttlebutt about Force Field/Decimator Array so the meta shifted and gave us a field of different Full Moon Brotherhood. [It’s] just so hard to tell. Our community is pretty small – the difference between well represented and under represented is pretty tight.
LW: What about cards – are there any cards causing problems that maybe you’d like to remove? Tybarsunsong wants you to say Unprepared.
RC: Unprepared is overstrong, it gives every other 10 of Clubs performance anxiety. Legendary Holster is another card that is environment warping. In the early days it was fine, because the card choices of A – 3 were not always great. As the card pool has grown now there are more ways to facilitate the Hit ‘n Run.
LW: Is Unprepared on the chopping block, not to be seen in a base set 2.0? I love beating up a dude with too much stuff on them. Stupid Yagn’s.
RC: I am considering similar ideas that are a little less automatic.
LW: Where do you see the game in five years?
RC: Five years? Hopefully discussing another reset. Balanced games have an inherent life span. Once the card pool gets to a certain size, buying the latest and greatest set isn’t required. You can do things to mitigate it: environmental resets, power cards (and their counters), new mechanics, new win conditions (and their counters). As the card pool gets deeper and deeper, it is [also] harder to recruit new players in.
LW: Doomtown definitely can have some barriers to new players, and with 6 factions, 3 spell types, gadgets, 4 suits, and 13 values it requires a certain size card pool to function. What sort of things are going on behind the scenes to make the game more approachable? Are the rumors of starter decks true?
RC: Accessibility is a hard nut to crack. We have discussed resetting the environment with a new base set, but that can be complicated. Resetting the environment invalidates cards that our players have already bought, and I hate to do that. If all the cards are reprints, it’s not an easy sell to existing players. As a player I like having a robust card pool for the number of options it gives you. I am still working towards filling in the card pool for some spots, making a variety of viable options even within certain value and suit combinations.
To do a base set right takes a longer Playtest interval. [In addition], much of the Pinebox Era has been with an eye on filling holes and gaps in the environment. If our reset only wipes out AEG Era cards I would need to design some of those same gaps in to the base set. Plus, there is the size issue. I would want to cover everything we have now, so it would need to have six factions, three spell types, two skills per faction. It could end up feeling super watered down.
But, as someone trying to convince other people to pick up the game, I totally understand the sticker shock and information overload of needing to suddenly get EVERYTHING. We are working on Print on Demand starter decks that will be comparable in power. [These decks will be] featuring copies of most of the cards that have had promos, [but] no Teleportation Device. We are hoping that these Quickdraw starters (and their accompanying Flex Packs) can afford the more casual player to fall in love with our game.
In addition to the Factional starter decks, ready to play out of the box, we are going to make available 28 card packs to enable rotating in one or two other values to the existing deck. For some decks, these shift the theme and strategy, or the player can substitute in more dudes and deeds and throw the balance of the deck more into Deedslide territory.
LW: Do the flex packs correspond to a specific starter? How powerful are they?
RC: Yes, the packs will correspond to a specific deck. [As for power level], I had early versions of the decks assembled for my use at GenghisCon. They work. They lost to tournament decks, but not badly.
LW: These sound like a great opportunity to rope in some new cowpokes! Any particular timeline on these Quickdraw starters?
RC: The plan is early May [for both] in time for ChupacabraCon.
LW: You said you came onboard following Too Tough to Die. When will we start to see your designs?
RC: Carter Richardson in Out for Blood is my design, and I think I had a few suggestions that made it into the final card. The as yet unnamed playtester designed set has a fair number of my cards in it. I came on and inherited the project in process, and in a number of spots where we needed a card I was able to either pull from my list of submissions or spin something out of whole cloth. If we needed to do something drastic with a playtester’s submission, I worked with them to come up with a number of variations of the card theme they were going for, so some of those would be considered to have a hybrid lineage.
LW: Doomtown has a number of unique or specialized mechanics. Do any of those mechanics make it hard to design cards for?
RC: Yes and no. Doomtown is hard to design perfectly, but between stats, abilities, cost, upkeep, and value there are a number of ways to counteract when you swing too hard for the fences. [This] makes Playtest such a valuable part of the process.
LW: How do you start to design a card? Do you start with a concept of the mechanics, or the theme of the card?
RC: [It’s] a mix. Sometimes [a card] is a mechanic I want to try, or I [might say] here is a theme (such as a hungry abomination that eats horses). Some ideas are too niche, or too versatile, so then I tweak as needed.
LW: Are there cards out now that hold you back in design?
RC: [I] had not thought of that. Probably. I know I get ideas and cancel them with the thought of “Nope, Card X”. Sometimes that [is because] we already have X and X is better. Unprepared does that. Sometimes the homes interfere with ideas, since you cannot use cost or value to limit a card’s interaction with [a home]. Spells do too, since there are so few cards that can do anything about them once they are on the table.
LW: Any specific examples?
RC: Desolation Row and Jonah’s [Alliance] make bounty based Outlaws easy to trigger. First People’s bonus influence, the ease of bounty placement for Law Dogs…
LW: So the card in question isn’t necessarily OP, but the interaction is too strong and obvious?
LW: Value is such a unique and integral part of Doomtown that doesn’t exist in other games. How do you settle on a value for a card when designing or playtesting? Do values change during playtest?
RC: Values can change during playtesting. Sometimes it is to make the deck design harder by either not putting all the combo pieces on the same value or if the combo pieces are the same card type putting them on the same value to force a decision. Think Abram’s Crusaders, Jael’s Guile and Walk the Path, or Pistol Whip with Old Fashioned Hangin’. With dudes I try to mix up the values [to prevent] all the Blessed dudes to put in a deck [from being the same value]. Partly this is to make the deck less spoon-fed, and partly to ensure other deck designs on those values.
If all the good Law Dogs Blessed [dudes] were on 9’s (and represented the bulk of the faction dudes), but there was a cool tricksy goods or action for bounty punishment on 9, either you run Blessed dudes there and not use them to their full potential or you splash the card. Either way you get frustrated.
LW: Sometimes it seems like a Faction’s “good” Dudes are all on the same value. Are factions supposed to have strong values and weak values?
RC: Not really, my ambition is still to get each faction to 4 dudes per value. We don’t want everyone riding the same batches of drifters in to battle. Right now there are only a few slots not in the four per value, although, I think for my considerations I need to ignore original Sloane, Dave Montreal, and Ivor. They suffer from some overpricing of Faction Kings in the base set. I like the faction kings getting a discount mechanics in order to encourage a theme.
LW: What about various faction themes you design for?
RC: On paper I have four and a half each:
Law Dogs: Bounty Punishment, Higher Law Blessed, Inspector Gadget (Weapons), Cheatin’ Punishment, and government deeds.
Outlaws: Feels Good to be Wanted, Looks like a Job for Outlaws, Hex Shooters, Cheatin’ is Good, Saloons/Casinos.
Entrepreneurs: Gadgets (Experimental), Horses/Ranches, Money is Power, Risk/Reward, Strikes.
Fearmongers: Control Hexes, Scary Abominations, Mystical Goods, “The Hunt”, Conditions.
First Peoples: Spirits/Totems, Leveraging Influence, Kung Fu, Attire/Sidekicks, Holy Grounds
Anarchists: Kung Fu, Blessed is the Mob, Austerity/Pay to Play, Creepy Abominations, Saloons
I would like to find a home for Shaman in a second faction, [and] there were points where it could make sense with Morgan Cattle Company, but now [it makes] less sense with the name change to Entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, it’s tough to do that without having an expansion drop like three EN shaman at once. [It is] not likely, unless Entrepreneurs players want a set with zero support for their other themes. Something spicy to consider at Reset Time.
LW: First Peoples always has a special place in my heart – any thoughts on the Shaman skill? I sometimes think it has too many hoops for too little payoff. Is that just in my head?
RC: It has too many hoops. The hearts are triple or quadruple trouble [with] totems, spirits, sidekicks, attire. Some dudes want to have a totem at their location, some [dudes] want the spells to actually be attached to them. Tokens are unbalancing.
Hexes are proactive, and negative. [Miracles] are reactive and positive. Spirits are…whatever is left. Classic duplicated a lot of effects across different spell types, so they lacked individual identity. The “medicine” theme of Spirits is a new way of being in the middle – either neutralizing bad effects against you or wiping out good effects – but both require your opponent to be running such effects to be viable.
LW: Yeah, sometimes Spirits feel very narrow. Even a “medicine” type card like The Mixer feels like a good trick, but is maybe too narrow to justify his stats.
RC: If I expand on that concept I need some sort of weak always available ability to add on or maybe a dude or two based around generically booting spells or discarding spells for alternative effects (like Gene North Star).
LW: Will we ever see totems become easier to move?
RC: Moving totems – [I] just got a new idea. [The] problem is wording it in such a way that it isn’t too easy to move opposing totems or improvements.
LW: Going back to the themes we were discussing, what’s the difference between Creepy Abominations and Scary Abominations?
RC: Fearmonger Abominations are going to be all sorts of scary claws and teeth. They’re going to have more studs and shootout effects. Anarchist Abominations are more like drunk zombies and sad ghosts. They’re going to have more influence and Noon effects.
LW: What themes still need to be expanded?
RC: I like the Fearmongers “Hunt” [theme], but it is complicated to implement things based on high grit, when you cannot control what your opponent brings to the table. First People Kung Fu is [still] new and different. Working up how to properly differentiate between Law Dog Blessed and Anarchist Blessed. Entrepreneur Risk/Reward and Strike [themes] are new ground. Entrepreneurs need a little something to catch up at least in number of themes.
First People get a bonus [theme], as totems and normal attached spirits should be considered separate themes. Eagle Wardens and 108 got extra themes – I guess as a means of balancing out their smaller card pool.
LW: What about the grifter sub-theme of Outlaws, or even grifters more generally?
RC: Yes, I am working on designs for new faction [grifters]. This would be for the one after [the playtester designed set] a.k.a. “Who Put Carter in Charge?”. [Grifters have] two problems [though]. First, how many more ways are there to mitigate an opening hand? Second, the competitive environment has sort of gotten away from sacrificing a starting dude for that slot, so would they see play? Do you use Grifters?
LW: Depends on the deck. Having 0 influence can make finding them a slot very tough. When I build a starting gang sometimes I want skilled dude, back up, shooter, back up/bullet catcher, and influence. It’s hard to figure out where a grifter can fit in there sometimes.
RC: Right – and we have matured as players enough to make decks with fewer bad draws. The Fixer, Funtime Freddy, Butch [Deuces], and Howard [Aswell] rarely see play. Travis [Moone] used to be a staple, [but] now people have diversified their strategies. [Genesee “Gina” Tailfeathers] is paying for an extra card that you have to hope you have the money for. I don’t think Rico [Rodegain] has been seen since his errata. Den [of Thieves] does complicate some of [these] decisions.
So I am looking at options. One idea I’m toying with is reversing the grift; instead of improving consistency [the grifter is] rewarding inconsistency. Like “reveal your opening hand, gain a ghost rock for each totem in it”. Sure you can stack for it, but totems need to be attached to things and as the grifter you would not have another grifter to rectify a weak draw. But, that can be a dangerous path of “win more” and create a bad experience.
LW: What do you have in mind for expanding values? Previously the 9 value needed a bit of a boost, what do you have an eye on next?
RC: Seven is still in a weird spot – I think old design was mindful of Kidnappin’ being huge, and so the rest of that value seems to pay the price you pay to have Kidnappin’ on value.
LW: Any specific plans for 7’s?
RC: The plan is evolving. Seven can also be a viable floor in spell decks, so it can get a lot of play. The big pain of 7 is in the deeds, and I think the next few coming will be a big help.
LW: Do you know much about the wider Doomtown setting or RPG?
RC: Some, but not all. I own lots, but don’t get to do much roleplay.
LW: Anything you plan to bring over to the card game, or wish you could but it wouldn’t work?
RC: [Nothing that wouldn’t work] in my knowledge base, but we have people that can tell me stuff, and I brainstorm with the roleplaying books since that can help with art. I do look to elements from Classic when brainstorming ideas [as well]. Some classic ideas do not parallel [though]. Reloaded decks shoot better on average.
LW: People shoot better now? Were structures looser in Classic because Cheatin’ Resolutions were so strong, or better bullet ratings now maybe?
RC: Several of the classic Cheatin’ Resolutions were strong enough to swing a game from the first lowball, so they effectively scared folks away from heavy stacking. Reloaded CRs have very little lowball teeth (where the hand cannot be controlled), so it is safer to stack tighter. I do not recall Classic players developing the concept of Cheating through the Pain.
LW: Do you think Cheatin’ Resolutions should have more lowball teeth? It seems as if there has been a conscious decision to avoid that. Even the new stronger Cheatin’ Resolutions seem mostly for shootouts.
RC: [Classic] had big swaths of being non-interactive. Much of the difference between the two games can be attributed to getting more of a back and forth flow, and less “no counter, good game.” I would like another CR or two that are worth playing in lowball, but then I agree with things like Ricochet, where they will sit dormant until you can get them to cheat in a shootout.
LW: Let’s end on something fun. What’s the wackiest win condition or trick you’ve ever seen in a game of Doomtown?
RC: In Reloaded? The GenCon Den of Thieves deck that was Old Fashioned Hangin’ their own guys. Win conditions in this game are straightforward, but how you get there can be a crooked path. Like I have a Fiery Rhetoric deck. My Ballot Counter + Behold White Bull deck is…bold? Jayjester has some inspired piles of madness.
LW: Should I quote that or leave it out?
RC: He knows I love him.