Conversattion with Jesse Gregory learning a little bit about the story behind the sci-fi mech building and fighting card game, Wreck-A-Mecha.
Jesse. Thanks for joining us today to talk about your game Wreck-A-Mecha, could you tell our readers a little bit about how it is played?
Jesse: Thanks, Ryan. I’d be happy to! Wreck-A-Mecha is a fast-paced, 2-player card game about building a giant robot and blowing up someone else’s. Each card is a part of your mecha: a head and core that are assigned at the start of the match as well as arms and legs that will be swapping out throughout the game. First to 10 points wins. Destroying the core gets you all 10 (but is usually defended by your opponent’s arms) while destroying other parts gets you anywhere from 1-5 points. It’s a limited action game, so managing your offense and defense each turn is really important.
What is the story behind the creation of the game?
Jesse: I make games about what I’m into and I love mecha anime and video games. I especially loved video games where you could customize your mecha with individual parts like the Front Mission and Armored Core games released on the original Playstation. But those games also involved making sure your legs could support enough weight and that your generator could output enough power. These are great ideas for a deep single-player game where math is handled automatically. But I wanted to make a card game with quick rounds and almost no setup/tear-down time.
So I made a game where there are still strategic reasons to pair certain parts together, but without restricting WHAT you want to combine to make your mecha. This was especially important since you can swap arms and legs frequently throughout a single game. I’m also a big fan of Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series which inspired the way I’ve implemented weaknesses and resistances. I’ve been playing video games since I was 4, so they heavily influence the way I design card games.
What is the most difficult part of translating video game inspiration to an actual card game?
Jesse: Definitely avoiding player inconvenience. Video games do the math for you and keep track of rule effects whether you remember them or not. Card games require the player to keep track of everything themselves. ‘Trimming the fat’ is really important. Every time I’m scrutinizing a rule or ability I have to ask myself, “Does the extra game balance or strategic benefit this element would add outweigh the effort it requires for the player to track it?” You’d be surprised how often the answer is, “No.” Then you either scrap that idea entirely or rework it until the answer is, “Yes.” Since video games do so much of the heavy lifting for the player, they often get away with adding mechanics on top of mechanics without that extra level of scrutiny, sometimes to their detriment.
What would you say your favorite part about the design of Wreck-A-Mecha is?
Jesse: Hard to choose just one. I’d probably go with the defense mechanic. The risk/reward tension from choosing when to go all out and when to play defensively feels so good. I’ve both played and watched so many games where one player is in the lead and about to grab their victory when they let their guard down. They’re so focused on their upcoming “winning turn” that they get careless at a crucial moment, letting their opponent deal the exact amount of damage needed to finish off their core and leaving them defeated. Honestly, I love it even when it happens to me. Even though it means I lose, it’s so satisfying seeing what unexpected play they pulled off to turn the tables like that.
I also love how different each round feels. Since you’re combining so many different parts, the mecha you create can vary widely. What might be your favorite card in one round can be trash in another since the context of the current the battle is so different. That and the rulebook. I’m very proud that we got it so streamlined and brief without omitting any information. You can get right into the game, even on your first time. You can have the best game in the world, but if your rulebook is bad at teaching it, nobody will know.
The rulebook is in fact extremely streamlined, yet you are able to pick up the game, and if you need some help you have the how to play video. A lot of people have problems when it comes to writing rules, do you have any advice?
Jesse: I do. Don’t use too many words. My original rulebook probably had about twice as many words but didn’t really contain any more information. Being needlessly wordy only makes things take longer to read and increases the chance of confusion. Organize your information into sections so people know right where to go to find a specific rule. And always make sure to get lots of different peoples’ reactions. What makes sense to one person might not to another. You want your rulebook to be clear to people of lots of different gaming backgrounds.
In Wreck-A-Mecha players both have the same deck of arms and legs. But the heads and cores are picked out of a shared deck, thus never the same. Each has their own unique ability and look. Do you have a favorite mecha head?
Jesse: Vertex. I enjoy being aggressive in combat-focused games. The ability to defend with an arm that’s already attacked means it’s possible to attack twice and still defend. There are other ways to achieve this, too, like Gorgon’s 3rd arm and Echo Shell’s double attack, but Vertex can do it with very little setup and that really puts your opponent on their toes.
There are also 3 factions players each can choose from (they can even choose the same one) – one focuses on attacks, another defense and finally the last one collecting cards. Did you have a hard time balancing out these factions or did it come naturally?
Jesse: It was a little tricky. I knew from the beginning I wanted the focuses to be offense, defense, and resources. But I needed to make sure they weren’t overpowered. That’s why it hurts you a little to do an Overdrive Attack and you have to sacrifice a card for the Recycle ability. Tenacious Defense is a little different in that it doesn’t cause direct harm to your hand or mecha. Instead, spending that extra action allows you to defend twice with a single arm and use it more like a deterrent. They might not attack your arm that second time, but you’ve ruined your opponent’s original plan for that turn.
The game certainly has a light CGG look about to it in how it plays but all concealed in one box, I know the main inspiration was video mech games but did any CGG games inspired you?
Jesse: Yes. The biggest inspiration was Pixel Tactics. I really enjoyed how that game was, at least in the beginning, played with identical decks and that each card was a hero. There were no item or event card types. Everything is a hero card much like everything is a mecha part in Wreck-A-Mecha. It was a cool idea. The downside is that, since each hero card can be used in 4 or 5 different ways (each with their own description), it’s a lot to take in. You may have a hand of 5 cards, but if each of them has 4 of 5 unique functions to choose from, it’s really like you have a hand of 20 to 25 cards which can be overwhelming to parse. I still love the game, but I knew I wanted to make something much faster paced than that.
All the cards are marked at the bottom for the base/core game as if more cards are to come and it’s a way to separate them. Are you planning Wreck-A-Mecha expansions?
Jesse: I’d love to release an expansion in the future. I have multiple ideas for it. This was our way of future-proofing the path for that. Right now, we’re focusing our energy on our next game, though. How soon we’re able to focus on expanding Wreck-A-Mecha will, in part, be determined by how much the audience for it grows. We’re a small company, so we’re still building our audience in a crowded market.
Speaking of your next game, as we come to a close, what can you tell us about that?
Jesse: It’s both untitled and not yet officially revealed, but I can give you a few hints. We’re currently working on another 2-player combat game, but this time it’s a microgame inspired by the battles in Japanese RPGs. Things like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. I’ve played the latest prototype version and, even in this early state, it’s a lot of fun.
Thanks for taking the time out to do this interview, Jesse.