Interview - Matt Forbeck
Not only is Matt Forbeck credited as the co-designer of the WildStorms CCG and designer of the WSCCG Legends Solitaire play variation, he is also an award winning game designer and New York Times bestselling author. You can learn more about his work at his website, Forbeck.com. We are extremely grateful he took the time to answer some questions about his involvement with our favorite collectable card game!
By WildStormsCCG.com Staff
Matt at a book signing event in his hometown in 2015.
Before WildStorms, you had some years of experience in the gaming industry. Can you talk a bit about what you were working on before joining the WSCCG team?
I started out in tabletop game design back when I was in high school. When I was 16, I started a gaming ‘zine called The Quill and Scroll that ran for two issues before folding. While I was in college, I started freelancing and worked with Mayfair Games, Iron Crown Enterprises, and Grenadier Models on a number of things. I also started freelancing for New Infinities, which was Gary Gygax’s second company, the one he founded after leaving TSR, which published Dungeons & Dragons, the game he’d co-created with Dave Arneson.
After college, I worked for Games Workshop for six months on a student work visa, which is a great story but worthy of a chapter in a book by itself. When I got back I turned to full-time freelance game design and wound up working with TSR, West End, White Wolf, and a number of other companies.
Can you recall the first conversation you had about WildStorms? How long did it take until you were fully on board?
I got a call from John Nee, who was the vice president of WildStorm. He’d asked a mutual friend, Marty Stever, for a recommendation for a game designer that could help evaluate a game that Jim Lee and Drew Bittner had designed in-house.
It’s been 25 years, but as I recall it, John asked me to fly out to La Jolla for a week so Drew could show me the game, and I was on board from pretty much that moment on.
What did the game first look like when you stepped in to co-design?
It was a decent first attempt, but it was still pretty raw when I stepped in — which is exactly what I had expected. Drew and Jim had done a great job with it and had laid a lot of the vital groundwork, but the game needed some simplifying and clarifying. I believe there were a number of different numerical traits when we started out, for instance, but we trimmed those down hard.
Did you have any immediate ideas that altered the way you guys approached the design? At what point did the point based deck building come into play?
As I recall — and Drew can correct me if I’m wrong — I introduced the idea of having different ranks to play in, as I thought it added a nice tactical element to the game that I hadn’t seen in a trading card game before. I also suggested the point system.
Both of those came from me having worked with miniatures games before that, most of which use elements like those.
How did you pick and choose what cards to include in the initial set or to save for future sets?
Drew actually handled most of that, along with the special projects team, which included Ted Adams and Kris Oprisko. I helped out by explaining how other companies had handled rarities and things like that, but they’d already done some trading card sets by that point and knew a lot about the production.
Let's talk a little about the play testing process. At what point did you start putting cards together to play?
I believe Drew already had some dummy decks made up when I showed up, so we started with those. It’s a lot easier to teach someone to play with prototype cards than reading them out of a database or spreadsheet.
We started play testing immediately, and there were all sorts of things that didn’t work. That’s how you get to the good stuff in a game. The real trick is finding the great stuff and making sure you keep it. Honestly, I don’t remember any particular bits that were thrown out. I try to concentrate on the good stuff instead. There are lots of bad ideas in any game design process. Winnowing through those is how you work through the development.
Was there a lot of feedback from the gaming community when the game launched?
The internet was in its early days, so we didn’t get a lot of direct feedback from consumers back then. All we really knew was that it got some good reviews and was selling like crazy. That was enough for us to go back and make even more.
It seems like the game had a couple small delays getting out the door. Were there printing or production issues? Game mechanic issues?
There are always delays in making a game. It’s just that most of the time they get worked out before anything is announced. Some of that comes from just being ambitious and thinking you can get things done faster than you actually can manage.
There are lots of moving pieces in producing a game like that, including design, art, layout, printing, shipping, and so on. It often seems like a miracle anytime anything gets produced. It’s a huge triumph in and of itself.
How much time was there in between finishing the Limited Set and jumping into Conflict?
I honestly don’t know. At the time I was working on WildStorms, I was also starting up a tabletop company of my own with Shane Hensley called Pinnacle Entertainment Group. We did a weird west RPG called Deadlands that went on to inspire a top-selling trading card game too: Doomtown.
Were a lot of those cards overflow from Limited?
As I recall, some of those cards were overflow, but mostly in the realm of ideas rather than anything concrete. We didn’t throw anything away unless we had to.
Where did the idea for the model chase cards originate? Were there characters that didn't make it into that subset?
That came internally. I’m not who originated that. I suspect it was some of the team who’d gone to a convention where there were early cosplayers, and they thought they’d make for good cards too.
The Image Universe Set pulled characters from all the Image studios. How did that concept get started and was it difficult incorporating those ideas?
WildStorm was part of Image in those days, so it was only natural to bring the rest of Image into the game. It was just a matter of getting the other Image creators to agree. We didn’t have too hard a time incorporating those other universes, although there were some rough edges. WildStorm definitely has its own ethos and power level, and so we had to balance that in the game with the ways other creatures had set up their worlds too. As a game designer, though, that’s always a fun challenge.
Marvel's Heroes Reborn chase cards are some of my favorite cards in the game. Were there any characters you had intended to add that got left out?
We’d have added every character we could have gotten our hands on, if we’d been given the chance. We were limited in what we had access to, though, so we generally stuck to the big guns.
You are credited with the design for the Legends Solitaire Set. What made the idea stand out more so than just another expansion?
At the time, I don’t know if there were any other solitaire trading card games, although I’d played plenty of solitaire tabletop games in other categories. It seemed like a natural extension to the game. The challenge with a solitaire game is essentially writing a program for the opposing side that runs itself for the player, presenting new kinds of fun every time. Of course, WildStorms hadn’t been designed as a solitaire experience from the start, so that meant I had to tackle some interesting gymnastics to make it all work.
Was there another expansion in development that the Legends set eventually replaced?
I don’t think this replaced another set, although I wasn’t around for every in-house discussion, of course.
In 1997, the final two set of cards were released. Was there a shift in how the production of the game was approached?
At that point, Pinnacle was starting to take off, and that was taking up a lot more of my time. I would have been happy to keep designing for WildStorm on the side, but they seemed like they were concentrating more on their comics in those days as well.
The print runs on both of those releases seemed to be much smaller the previous sets.
The trading card market was starting to consolidate. I could go on at length about why it’s best to sell out of a trading card game rather than be stuck with lots of it unsold. I’ve seen lots of companies get bankrupted by poor inventory management, and I’m happy that WildStorm avoided that fate.
In your opinion, what is the best part of the WSCCG?
The best part was playing it with all sorts of people. I loved standing in the WildStorm booth at Comic-Con International and teaching it to player after player and watching their eyes light up as they got into it.
Any card that stands out among the rest as a favorite of yours?
I don’t recall a lot about the particular cards. It’s been so long since I worked on it, and I’ve created lots of other things in the meantime. I’m thrilled that people are still playing it though. I should crack open some of my cards and give it a shot again.
It's been over 20 years now since the game was released. There's still a fan base. Concepts introduced in the game have found their way into other games. Did you think the game would have that type of influence as you were building it?
I do recognize parts of WildStorms in other games, but you know, we drew on what went before us too. It’s part of the way games evolve: taking something you loved and putting a new and hopefully better spin on it until it becomes its own thing. I’m just happy to have played a part in that process.
What do you say to those fans that are still out there keeping the game alive?
I want to thank everyone who’d still playing it and having fun with it. They’re really the people keeping it alive.
Thank you, Matt, for taking the time to walk us through your experience with the game!