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Arena Maximus

Arena Maximus by Fantasy Flight
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Manufacturer: Fantasy Flight  Visit their site
Designer: Kevin Wilson  "Interview"
Players: 2 to 5
Time: 45 to 60 Minutes
Categories: Fantasy
Racing
Availability: Unavailable 
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Our Price:  $13.95 - Retail $19.95
Reward Points: 1,395
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From the Publisher...

A fast paced game of fantasy chariot racing!

For the glory of the Emperor, these brave charioteers stand before you today to face the deadliest race track ever devised - Arena Maximus! The winner will receive the laurels of victory and the mantle of immortality from the Emperor himself. The losers will die and be erased from the annals of history. Will you dare to wager everything on one race? Immortality or oblivion await you on the Arena Maximus!

Pit your team against your opponents' charioteers on a track complete with traps, pitfalls, and other hazards. Race to be the first to finish, but remember - the faster you go, the more likely you are to crash! If you find yourself falling behind, call upon your arsenal of spells to skirt the dangers of the arena and get back in the running. However, don't fall too far behind, as there's only so much magic can do.

Arena Maximus is a chariot racing game filled with thrills, spills, and spells for 2-5 players.

Now you can play John Kovalic's Dork Tower characters . . . as they play their characters . . . in a magical quest for the ultimate prize where no strategy is too low, no player too Munchkiny, and no rule is safe!

Adventure through the land of Aurora, smiting monsters and growing in power, until you are strong enough to challenge the evil wizard in his tower. Slay him and you win . . . fail, and be cast from the heights . . .

This is a fast-moving game for 3 to 6 players, from the same folks who brought you the wildly popular Munchkin card game and its hilarious follow-ups.

Dork Tower features a full-color game map with a 3-D central tower, over 100 monster and character disks, pretty dice, spell cards, rules, and character sheets . . . all illustrated, of course, by John Kovalic!

Read more information at the Board Game Geek website


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Gamepug

Fantasy Flight makes excellent games with quality components. Arena Maximus is a race game with a Roman theme, that allows for plenty of player interaction. The more players you have the more interaction and the greater the challenge.

Interview...

The Hard Work Behind The Scenes

An Interview With Kevin Wilson

I first heard of Kevin Wilson when I interviewed Christian Petersen in 2003. Christian referred to him as a "skilled craftsman" who was working on the Warcraft boardgame at the time. Since then I've enjoyed Kevin's work not only on that game, but also on his titles from the Silver Line--Mutiny! and Arena Maximus. I started following Kevin's work through his design notes, rants at the Fantasy Flight Games site and his online posts in various places. The more I discovered of his previous games, the more impressed I was with the wide range of games he's designed or developed. Before coming to Fantasy Flight Games he worked on several RPG projects for AEG. In that genre his name appears in the credits of over fifty titles. Now he's working on some of the hottest licensed products we've seen in years in the boardgame industry--all this and the guy's not yet 30 years old.

After six months of trying to get an interview with him, I became well aware of the secret to his success. He's a very busy man! From April until November it was pretty tricky getting any correspondence. First deadlines, then the big conventions here in the U.S. and in Germany occupied much of his time. I'm happy to say he did eventually agree to the interview once things slowed down a little. I found it very interesting to get a closer look at his approach to his work. With his latest project, Doom: The Boardgame, only weeks from hitting the shelves, I think we're set to hear lots more about him and his games in the months and years ahead.


Mike Petty: Kevin, you've worked on a very wide range of games so far in your career. I imagine this means there's a broad range of games that you enjoy. What sort of games did you play growing up?

Kevin Wilson: Lots of RPGs, card games, miniatures games, board games, pretty much whatever my friends played. My main game was probably D&D, though. I used to DM a bunch, and I made up some fairly elaborate campaign settings, including a swashbuckling setting that I ran for years. I also played a lot of text adventures like Zork and Trinity in college, even ran a fanzine and an annual contest dedicated to them and wrote a couple of games myself.

MP: Now that you're working in a successful company in the industry, do you get any time to do gaming not related to your work? If so, what sort of things do you play?

KW: I try to roleplay once a week and I also play card and board games once a week. The RPG is usually d20, but the board games are all sorts of stuff, including games I've worked on once in awhile (and the occasional prototype, yeah), but I try to keep work out of the weekend gaming if I can - when you're in the gaming industry, you have to make a conscious effort to ensure that gaming doesn't become work. You scoff, but when you do something all day long, it's easy to fall into a state of mind where you just don't want to have anything to do with that thing in your spare time, even if you love it. You have to treat the business as business, and the games as games, or you'll burn out fast.

As for board and card games that I play, I'd guess some of my favorites are Vinci, Guillotine, Coloretto, Ticket to Ride, and Acquire, but I have a pretty big collection of board games now, and lots of them have only been played once or twice. Bruno Faidutti, Tom Jolly, Alan Moon, and Reiner Knizia are among my favorite designers, along with my friend Eric Lang. I tend to prefer light, fast games that we can play several of during our limited gaming time while chatting about other things, but once in awhile I get a craving for a big game that I can sink my teeth into. Right now I'm making plans to try out Paths of Glory for the first time ever, for instance.

MP: Was it always a goal of yours to work in the game industry?

KW: Not really. Originally, I was going to be a marine biologist, but I kind of veered away from that later on and majored in artificial intelligence at Berkeley. There weren't a whole lot of job openings in the field, so I started working part-time at a local game store in SoCal (the Adventurer's Guild in Riverside) and met my friend Steve Hough there. He was the one who got me into the gaming industry.

MP: Due to my own gaming tastes, I hadn't noticed your name in credits on games until I saw your early work with Fantasy Flight. After doing some searching online, though, I found that your name is actually on many, many games in a variety of genres. Can you give us a brief overview of your work before you started with Fantasy Flight?

KW: Well, Steve was working as the graphic designer for Alderac Entertainment Group at the time, and he got me a line on an interview. I brought in a photocopied booklet that I'd made for my home swashbuckling campaign, and they looked at it and were suitably impressed, so they took me on as an intern on Shadis magazine, where I worked with some really cool guys named jim pinto (All lowercase, jim doesn't like capitalization) and Marcelo Figueroa (the best-connected man in the industry, and a huge Prince fan). I worked with them on the last two issues of Shadis before the magazine was forced to fold, mostly because advertisers weren't paying their bills.

After that, I was transferred over to work on the 7th Sea RPG with John Wick, Patrick Kapera, and jim.

MP: Yeah, only recently I was looking through the rulebooklet to 7th Sea CCG and I noticed your name. I had no idea you worked on that game, which is one of my favorites. I was also surprised to find out you worked on the background stories for another Dan Verssen design, the Flagship card games. In both cases it has been their settings and back stories that have kept my interest. How much did you have to do with those settings?

KW: I had a reasonable amount to do with the 7th Sea storyline, but John (and later Rob) were largely in charge of it. As for Flagship, I did the initial world design according to certain specifications Dan had, and then I turned it over to him and his team for final development, since I was busy with a day job at the time. I like doing 'fluff' work like that, but I've always felt that my greatest strength lies in rules design.

7th Sea was a great learning experience for me. I wrote about 10,000 words of 7th Sea a week for several years (Sounds easy? Give it a try sometime) before I got my big chance heading up Spycraft with Pat. We came up with the pitch while driving a big white truck filled with books and miniatures to and from Gencon, and John Zinser liked it. So I worked on that for awhile, and Spycraft did pretty well by all accounts. Eventually, though, AEG and I parted ways amicably. They were restructuring and moving to more of a freelance writer model, and I couldn't afford the pay cut that would entail, so it was time for me to move on.

MP: Were you involved in any way with the new Spycraft CCG?

KW: I pitched a couple of designs for it, and a couple elements made it through into the final game, but mostly I wasn't involved in the CCG.

MP: So where did you start with Fantasy Flight?

KW: I was later contacted about working at Fantasy Flight Games doing softcover RPG books. I accepted the job and worked on the Schools of Magic and Lairs lines along with a small Dragonstar book called Galactic Races. About that time, I was itching to try something new, so I designed Magdar in my spare time, pitched it, and made my move over to the board game department, where I've since done several small board games (Mutiny! and Arena Maximus), a couple of big licensed board (Warcraft and Doom), and a lot of development work.

MP: What's your title now at Fantasy Flight?

KW: I'm a Board and Card Game Developer. That means I babysit games from the time we receive them to the time they go off to the printer. I revise rules, write rulebooks, layout translations, determine what's actually going to go into the box, solve any component issues, deal with budget limitations, order art, and give the graphics guys a steaming helping of grief (just kidding, guys). Once in awhile, I also do some design work.

MP: I always enjoy stopping by the "rants" page at Fantasy Flight to get an inside view of what's happening there. The overall theme of the rants seems to be everyone is terribly, terribly busy! What's a typical day like there for you, assuming there is such a thing?

KW: Busy, mostly. Typically I get in, read the gaming industry news sites, check boardgamegeek and our message boards for serious issues, answer a couple of rules questions, and then I get on to whatever my current project is. I may be writing rules, laying out cards, cutting and pasting together prototypes, or playtesting. Sometimes, I wind up spending the day doing probability work on a design or mechanic to ensure that it's going to give me the results I want. There's more math in game design than a lot of folks think. There are meetings to make sure everyone knows what they're doing on the current project, and sometimes I just sit and stare at the computer and pray for inspiration. It's not always easy being creative on demand. It's not like a water faucet, you can't just turn it off and on and get hot- and cold-running brilliance.

MP: I eagerly await each release from the Silver Line series of games. Can you tell us anything we can expect from future releases in that line?

KW: Well, we're going to be trying out some larger $29.95 games for the line, and I think we've got a few surprises up our sleeve for next year that I guarantee you no one will see coming, but I'm not really at liberty to discuss those yet, as the details haven't been finalized.

MP: I'm continually amazed by the quality products Fantasy Flight puts out in so many different genres. And it just keeps getting better! What do you think has been the key to success around there?

KW: Overtime, mostly. That, and we're all gamers here, so we have a good idea what folks want.

MP: Do you prefer working on original board and card games to RPGs?

KW: I'd say so. There's a lot less writing, for one thing. I rarely approach 10,000 words a week any more. Also, I get to cut and paste cardboard bits together, which is pleasantly reminiscent of kindergarten. One day, I'm going to make a war game using nothing but glitter, finger paints, glue, and macaroni.

MP: Let me guess, you're calling it War-Kraft? Craft War?

Of all the games you've worked on, which has been your personal favorite?

KW: I'd say it's a tie right now between Spycraft and Doom. Spycraft was a very satisfying highlight to my RPG career, and came out almost exactly how I wanted it. Doom, on the other hand, was an exciting design challenge, and the final product is rich in flavor and filled with beautiful little toys that are by far the coolest components I've gotten to put in a game. Also, the sheer size and heft of Doom (6.5 lbs.) makes me all giddy like a schoolgirl.

But the single best moment of my career came when I got to show my great-grandfather Die Kreuzritter, a 7th Sea book that I dedicated to him. He was getting pretty old about that time and he's since passed on, but he was a really great and devout man, and seeing his eyes light up over that book was worth every hardship I've ever been through in the industry.

MP: What's been your best selling game to date?

KW: Warcraft: the Board Game, by a long shot. The power of a good license is really pretty amazing. People scoff at licensed products, saying they're low quality or unoriginal, but I haven't found that to necessarily be the case, and man, the sales are good. I'm really excited to see how well Doom is going to do.

MP: How does the process work when Fantasy Flight takes on a licensed product like Warcraft or Doom? Do you go to them with some initial ideas or do you start by contacting them and asking how much it's going to cost you?

KW: More or less. We make a pitch, they quote a price if they're interested, and if it fits into our budget, we make a deal.

MP: Let's say I'm a board game player who's never played the Doom computer game. What do you think I might like about the boardgame that will make me pull it off a shelf full of other great games?

KW: It offers several teamwork mechanics that you don't see on the market that often, and has what I feel are pretty cool skill and dice mechanics that offer a lot of replayability. Also, the design is ideal for a parent with children, as you can play the more complicated invaders and have the kids play the relatively simple to explain marines. Since the invader's strengths are hidden, you can be as mean or as nice as you want without being obvious about it. Also, 66 plastic 30mm-scale figures.

MP: What sort of timeframe do you have to complete a big project like Warcraft or Doom?

KW: Usually I get from 1-2 months for design and development, and then it goes to graphics while I sneak in some more time on it here and there. It can get pretty tight, but hey, that's the reality of the business I'm in. Deadlines are always tight, and you always want a bit more time on every project. You deal with it or you change jobs.

MP: I'd like to hear a little more about the design process for these games. First off, let's take something like the mechanics for combat. How hard is it to come up with something totally original when so much has already been done? Or maybe there's a point you keep in mind where it's ok to be similar to other things, but in other ways you have to be totally original?

KW: An interesting core mechanic is the meat of any game, and is by far the hardest thing to come up with. Normally, I start game designs after I get an idea for a mechanic. Magdar began with the idea of the board being destroyed as you played. Originally, you were mining asteroids on the edge of a black hole. However, when designing to spec, I often have to work a bit backwards and design a mechanic to fit a theme. When that happens, I make a list of goals for the mechanic and then brainstorm until I get something that meets those goals. As for originality, well, it's nice, but you only get so many really unique ideas in your lifetime. Something like Puerto Rico or Settlers of Catan doesn't come along that often. Most of the time you have to settle for being "original enough."

MP: You probably have a particular gamer in mind as you create these things. What's he like?

KW: He's exactly like me, only filthy rich. Well, no, not really. I mostly just design for my own tastes.

MP: What sort of balance do you go for between luck and strategy?

KW: I try to use luck strictly to provide variety of play. Pure strategy games like chess can suffer from memorization issues, where the best players are those who have memorized a wide library of game situations and the "correct" move to make in those situations. That sort of thing drives me nuts, and I try to avoid it.

MP: When I see someone like yourself--very talented, lots of imagination and obviously someone who loves games, I wonder how it is to have to deal with creating games within a company that has to survive in a tricky industry. Is it hard to be creative as an artist, remember that these things you make have to be fun and playful, but all the while you know it's ultimately about making money?

KW: Well, it's tricky. I mean, I've never really considered myself an 'artiste'. I make entertainment products to be consumed by the market, and that places some very real and very important restrictions on what I can do. A lot of gamers just don't understand that. They don't see why I would choose not to put text on cards in Warcraft (Answer: international edition costs and time. We really wanted to get it out for Xmas.) or why I didn't spot such and such a rules flaw (Answer: I've only got so much time to playtest, and I'm only human). There are lots of decisions that go on behind the scenes, and making those decisions is a lot of what I get paid to do. Playing and designing games is really only a small part of my job. It's tough to deal with fans sometimes, because you have to be polite and professional, and they often aren't. I've gotten everything from the "We're not worthy" treatment (which is uncomfortable in its own way) all the way down to "Your games suck. Get out of the industry, you hack."

MP: You mentioned playtesting. I think it was back with the first edition of Diskwars that I first heard complaints that Fantasy Flight didn't do enough playtesting on their games. There are still things, as you said with Warcraft for example, that people could point to and say the same thing. Working with deadlines as you describe, I'm actually surprised there isn't more evidence of problems! Could you describe the usual playtesting process for a board or non-collectible card game?

KW: We try to do a mixture of in-house and outside testing. We usually catch the biggest problems in-house while the outside testers help us to catch smaller rules problems and unclear write-ups. How much testing we do depends on our schedule. Some games get more testing, some get less, but we always try to put out the very best games we can.

MP: What's a short-term and a long-term goal you hope to accomplish?

KW: Short term, I want to keep on with board games. I've done the legwork getting into them now, and my designs are improving with each game. I hope to do a couple really excellent games before I'm done, maybe even win a Spiel des Jahres some day. I also want to keep improving the quality of our board games at Fantasy Flight Games. I still see some things that we could work on, like linen cards and custom trays and such. It's just a matter of improving processes, chipping out little chunks of time for it, and making it happen in between everything else. I want companies like Days of Wonder and Kosmos to have to keep improving their game quality if they want to keep up with us. Excellence in design and components is something I really strive for, and I never let anyone tell me that we can't do something until we've priced it out. Maybe we can't afford whatever it is I want to fit in the box, but then again, maybe we can after all. We'll never know if we don't ask.

In the long run, I'm not sure. The game industry is a tough place to make a career. The competition is fierce, pay is low, and creative conflicts are fairly common. You have to walk a tightrope between pleasing yourself and pleasing your boss, and it's easy to fall off. But when you walk that tightrope just right, it's one of the greatest feelings in the world. Not everyone gets to hold something in their hands that they've made happen, and board games are very different from a book in that there's more 'reality' to them at the end - the package is just more impressive. I still love writing, and I had a great time doing Spellslinger, for instance, but I really love the feeling of being a craftsman that I get from a board game at the end. Watching people play your games, and seeing kids' eyes light up the way mine did when I opened up my old red box D&D set is what gets you through the rough spots.

Still, I'd like to take a crack at writing novels one of these days. I read an insane amount of fantasy and science fiction, and I've got several years experience writing RPGs, so it seems like it would be a good fit for me somewhere down the line. I write a lot in my spare time - nothing that I feel is particularly good yet, but I'm still growing and learning. If there's one thing that Spycraft taught me, it's that you grow into your talents over time. True prodigies are rare, it's usually just that nobody noticed them practicing for 5 or 10 years before they got really good.

MP: Are there any projects coming along from Fantasy Flight Games--expansions, new games, anything--that you can tell us about or at least hint about that we haven't heard of yet?

KW: Well, we'll be doing some expansions of existing games this year, a couple of new, big projects, and we'll be bringing back several classic games that are no longer in print. How's that for vague and evil hints?

MP: Well, it's exactly as vague and evil as Christian's hints were when I interviewed him last year! I understand you guys are always working on things you can't talk about yet, so I guess we'll just have to wait. The line-up is always entertaining to say the least. Thank you for taking the time to provide us with this interview.

KW: No problem. Thanks for chatting with me!

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