Since vtesinla.org is not online anymore for some time now, I took the liberty of reposting some of the articles posted there. The first one is an interview with the creator of Magic: The Gathering (1993) and Vampire:The Eternal Struggle (1994), that Robert Goudie conducted in 2001,
How better to celebrate the good health of V:TES than to take a look back with its creator, Richard Garfield. Richard was kind enough to take a few moments from his day to answer a few questions about our favorite game…
Robert Goudie: Have you kept up with the ups and downs of Jyhad’s (now V:TES’) near death and recent rebirth?
Richard Garfield: No, not really. Certainly not formally. It is something I hear about from players when I go to conventions, and it is news I enjoy hearing about. However this conduit has become very narrow because I have cut way back on my convention visits, while my children are young (now 1 and 3).
Goudie: Are you surprised by the resiliance of the game and the loyal following it has created?
Garfield: Certainly – though now I recognize that it had some advantages. It was a really early TCG in a world which had a lot of interest. It was the first TCG as heavily oriented toward multiplayer play. After that, if the game is worthwhile, the players will keep it alive. Though, of course, for a fan base keeping a TCG alive is a lot harder than keeping an RPG alive.
Goudie: Knowing that Jyhad was adult-themed and a multi-player game, what were your expectations with respect to the game’s popularity?
Garfield: At the time of publication I really had no clue – there was very little data to draw on. Magic wasn’t behaving like a normal hobby game, so who knew how the other TCGs were going to be received. I guess I was optimistic because the world it was set in was rich, and the game design was original. These days I wouldn’t be so optimistic – partially because of the game length. TCG’s want to be short because players want to replay the game and see how their deck works the next time. Jyhad was designed to board game standards of length. This is not bad for everyone, of course, but I think its appeal is more specialized in that regard.
Goudie: What Jyhad game mechanics are you most proud of?
Garfield: I really like the political cards and the voting system. It is something I haven’t been able to really use since also, so it remains – among my games – uniquely a property of Jyhad.
Goudie: Have you been able to re-use any other Jyhad concepts such as the destabilizing aspect of the Edge, predator and prey relationships, or your pool being used for your life and to bring resources into the game?
Garfield: Several of these mechanics I use regularly in my informal and exploratory game design, which is done for my own amusement and education. I frequently use the predator-prey relation and the edge as mechanics in these games. I can’t think of published games I have done which reuse these mechanics, however.
Goudie: With Jyhad’s design you tackled some heavy issues that are common to many multi-player games. You attempted to reduce king-making and keep the game away from pure diplomacy while avoiding creating a multi-player solitaire game. Do you feel that you balanced these concerns well?
Garfield: I think there were a lot of strong ideas there – in particular for a time when I was really just coming to terms with how much diplomacy was good for a game. Many of them were a struggle to keep also – most people wanted to be able to attack anyone, not just their neighbor. My experience with Magic free-for-all was telling, however, if you do that then decks wouldn’t matter nearly as much as the diplomacy. I also like sitting down to a game with some idea as to who my short term opponents are – it helps jumpstart the game and catalyzes interesting relationships among the players.
Goudie: Speaking of “only attacking your neighbor”, I imagine you were still close enough to the game to see changes made via rulings or errata that went against your original vision. I mean, its understandable that few people will actually truly recognize all of the subtleties of your design choices but how do you, on a personal level, deal with negative changes to your games that occur after you have moved on to other projects?
Garfield: I remember that in particular and I was in there fighting the changes! Typically though I let the people responsible for the product make the changes they think they need to make with my advice remaining advice, and not becoming commandments. This way they learn firsthand, and those lessons are always more powerful, and seldom is a mistake so bad it can’t be undone later. Also, their attention is fully on the product and the players, so there is every chance they are making a sensible decision even though I don’t appreciate it at first!
Goudie: After your experience creating Magic, what were you hoping to do differently or possibly better when you created Jyhad?
Garfield: There were a lot of things I wanted to improve on or at least do differently in Jyhad. After all – Jyhad was my second TCG, and I wanted to prove that TCGs were a form of game as potentially diverse as board games. Here are some of the things I wanted to change:
I wanted no land – I didn’t like that Magic had about 40% boring resource cards in the deck.
I wanted a game that was dedicated multiplayer, complete with cards just for multiplayer play.
I wanted a game to let players fill their hand rather than draw one card a turn, in order to make the play more dynamic and allow players to speculate on cards that may be a little more specialized, without losing a whole turn to them.
Goudie: After looking at the finished product, is there anything you wish you did differently with Jyhad?
Garfield: I have no specific changes, though if I could travel in time and redo the game I would think about ways to shorten it. I don’t regret its length, because I believe the best information of the day indicated it was fine, and also because its players didn’t mind much (in a lot of ways if you like a game then the longer the better!) I would definitely see if the epic quality of play could be maintained if it were shortened. If it couldn’t – and it may not be – then I would leave it the same length. Other than that, mostly I would just make new cards. I have had a lot of practice since Jyhad in figuring out how to get a lot of variety out of a game system.
Goudie: Does anything immediately spring to mind as a type of card you’d like to have introduced or an area of design you’d like to have delved deeper into?
Garfield: Nothing springs to mind. I would really have to immerse myself in the game again to answer this (not that that is a bad thing). I just know that the mileage I get out of a single word, game design wise, has increased a lot, and we make much more concise cards than we used to that are as rich or richer than the old ones.
Goudie: Did you enjoy working with such a well-developed setting for the game?
Garfield: It is always tough to work in someone elses world. On balance this was one of the best worlds I worked with, partially because White Wolf really respected my interpretation of their world in a trading card game format, and that allowed me to be more creative and, I think, provide a better game. Other licensors I have dealt with have been much more hands on with regard to the game I am making, to the detriment of the game in my opinion.
Goudie: When was the last time you played Jyhad?
Garfield: Quite a while ago — the only place I can really play is at a convention, which as I mentioned I have been attending less of. Occasionally at a convention, I get asked and do play though.
Goudie: What are you working on these days?
Garfield: I am working in online games. Since my projects are in stages too early to plug I will decline the opportunity, and just say that I am really trying to get into new multiplayer game design space.
Goudie: Thanks Richard.
Garfield: Thank you for your interest in my views on VtES, and in the game itself. It is always nice to see interest in my games — particularly my lesser known games.
Reference; VTES in LA on the Wayback Machine [Last Uploaded on March 12th, 2012].