They say hindsight is 20/20.
I know that in 1995, when my friend Charlie and I picked up our first Star Wars CCG Premiere starters, if someone had said that I'd eventually become an official Decipher Squadron Member and then one of the key promoters of the game? well let's just say you'd see me winning with a deck full of Rebel Planners, Despairs, and Space Slugs first before I'd have believed that person.
Yet here I am. Some may call it pathetic, but my high school and post-school years have been highlighted by many great memories and friendships-all a direct result of my involvement with Decipher's three Star Wars card games (but mainly the Star Wars CCG). And truthfully, I'm not the only one. Just checkout the Flashback page here at TFN.
Another one of those people that has been greatly influenced through by the Star Wars card games is one of Decipher's Lead Designers by the name of Chuck Kallenbach. Not only was he influenced by it, but he did a lot of "influencing" as well. Chuck has the very rare distinction of being involved with every major card game to come out of Decipher's doors, including having the honor of witnessing the very beginning of all three Star Wars games. Recently, I had the chance to talk to Chuck about his experience working at the beginning of Star Wars, Young Jedi, and Jedi Knights.
Red 84: Did Decipher approach LucasFilm or was it the other way around?
Chuck Kallenbach: I know that the original designers (of Star Trek and Star Wars), Tom Braunlich and Rollie
Tesh, were instrumental in getting Warren [Holland] to pursue the license. I'm sure
that somebody like Lucasfilm doesn't come looking for you... you go to them.
I was just a Trek playtester back then, so I wasn't privy to that kind of
When and how were you approached by Decipher to work on the Star Wars CCG?
I had been a playtester for the Star Trek CCG due to a lucky happenstance (right place,
right time), and I was active on the Decipher discussion boards on the Genie
They needed [an internet representative], and Sandy Wible won out over me. I hung around and
kept making comments, and Sandy wanted to know if I wanted to playtest the
Star Wars CCG. I didn't need much persuading.
What were your first impressions of the game mechanics?
There were some real crazy verb cards, like "Saturday" which gave you +1
personal force on Saturday. The flow of the Force, movement and combat were
all great mechanics.
What were the major issues or brick walls that the game ran into at the onset (concerning either mechanics or cards)?
The big issue we took to the first playtest in Virginia was what we called
"unopposed battles." In the original draft, I could initiate a battle with
you anywhere. I play a Star Destroyer to a location where you have no cards
at all, I spend 1 Force and do 9 damage.
[Red 84's Note: My local player base actually tried this mechanic out at one of our recent tournaments. Now speaking from experience, I can say that "unopposed battles" are nuts. None of the games went past twenty minutes--and most were over in half that time. Personally, I thought that the "unopposed" concept was cool, unique, and had a decent Star Wars feel to it. It is interesting to hypothesize a little how the game would have evolved with the mechanic. It does nicely take care of two issues that have been cited by players from time to time as "negative playing experiences": non-interactivity and game length.
Additionally, strategies that would later impact the game on the negative side such as Anger Fear Aggression with droids on Dagobah and operatives would probably have never seen the light of day; objectives period would have never been made. Still, I think Decipher made a good choice going with the "Force drain" mechanic instead, as the "story" aspect of the game continues to be the number one reason most players play the game.]
Were there any concepts (for game mechanics or cards) that didn't make it into the game (or at least initially)? Were there any ideas taken from the Star Trek CCG or was everything pretty much unique to Star Wars?
There was a Death Star concept that required playing a few sites to
"construct" the Death Star before you could play the mobile starship card.
There were verb cards that had letters "C" "S" or "A" on the bottom, for
Control, Sense, and Alter. When you got them all into play, something
I informed the designers that these same three words were very important to
West End's Star Wars Roleplaying Game, and they had better change that or get sued. They replied
that they had a good relationship with West End already and that wasn't a
The game was never anything like STCCG, except that there were locations and
starships and movement.
Was it apparent at the onset that the Light Side was going to be weak in space for awhile? If so, what was done to try and compensate for this?
Playtesting then was not what it is now. Balance was not a big issue. I
guess many of us thought that the Rebels should be weak in space... that's
What were some of the favorite cards amongst the testers (including yours)?
Well, with the rules we had, once you played Darth Vader or a Star
Destroyer, you won. So I'd have to say those were my favorites.
My nickname of "Devastator Chuck" came from the fact that on the first
playtest day here in Virginia, I went 9-1 with my Star Destroyer deck. That
day, I was the best Star Wars player in the world. It's been downhill ever
The next day, Force drain was invented, which really hurt my deck. But they
felt sorry for me and invented armor for capital ships. That was an amazing
three days of playtesting. I've never seen anything like it since.
Who was responsible for the game's first easter egg on Gravel Storm ;-) ?
Gravel Storm was my suggestion as a card title/concept, but the Easter egg was done by the guys here at Decipher.
What were some of the cards that didn't make the final cut? Which ones made it in following sets? Any that never did?
We did playtest the Death Star, but not Yoda or the Emperor. Most of the
focus in the early testing was only on A New Hope. For the Hoth playtest, we
tested an AT-AT squadron, with a power of 24... but not for long. There also
used to be starship sites for the Falcon, but we couldn't get the
playtesters to even test them, so they were dropped.
Were there any last minute changes to anything?
The biggest last minute change I can remember was a certain Saturday when
the objectives and character cards featuring operatives for Special Edition
were revised. Of course, this turned out to be a big mistake, and our
playtesting system was totally revamped as a result.
How much freedom did LFL give Decipher when writing the lores?
Until the last few years of the license, Decipher had a tremendous amount of
freedom with lore and card titles. We were well-respected by Lucasfilm for
the job we did providing material for them to approve.
Were there any marketing or playtesting challenges with the internet still being a rather new thing at the time?
There was a rumor that the main characters would be common cards. When the
set came out, everybody in Decipher was gone on vacation. The internet was
filled with angry players who couldn't get the mains, and Decipher couldn't
respond until everybody got back in a few days. I fought some battles on
Usenet in those days, and earned my title of "Decipher Lackey."
Moving onto Young Jedi, how did that game come about? What were Decipher's initial goals with that game?
The development of Young Jedi was spirited, to say the least. Idea men
Rollie and Tom [Lischke] made the first drafts for gameplay. The CCG design team made
another submission, and the final design has elements of both.
Originally, the game was to have debuted with the movie, and had one set two
months later and another four months later. Three sets were all that was
Delays in getting resources pushed the second set to nine months later, and
by then players were hungry for new gameplay... which that set didn't
provide enough of.
What was the target audience for Young Jedi? Was it meant to ceompete with the anime games (like Pokemon) that were starting to become popular with the younger audience?
YJ was indeed designed to appeal to a younger audience. Data from focus
groups said that the game should become simpler and simpler, and that's how
the cards evolved to having little or no game text.
Was YJ intended to help ease players into the Star Wars CCG or was it meant to be its own thing?
That was something that was discussed from time to time, but a real "bridge"
from Young Jedi to SWCCG was not intended.
What kind of challenges did Decipher face knowing that you were going to have two Star Wars card games at the time?
The biggest issue was product differentiation. Retailers were sometimes
confused by the two games. However, their subjects were completely
different, since YJ had its own movie as source material. That changed later
on, of course.
The next Star Wars card game in line (and ultimately the last) was the Jedi Knights TCG. How did Decipher come to the decision to use digital artwork for images
instead of still images from the movies? What were the challenges and
rewards in using digital artists?
That was one of the main driving forces behind JK... to show you Star Wars
as you had never seen it before. A group of artists from all over the world
helped us create 3D models of all parts of the SW universe. The biggest
problems were the renderings of the main characters, which Lucasfilm was
very particular about.
Jedi Knights was intended to be genuinely innovative in many ways. We had
wanted to use CGI images for YJ, and mockups were made for Lucasfilm with
some images for that. JK was an outgrowth of that project.
When and why did Jedi Knights stop being "Classic Young Jedi"? Was this
Decipher's decision or is it something that LFL wanted?
Classic YJ had been in development for several months and was proceeding
along fairly well, when Warren turned to Tom and I and said, "We want to do
something different. Come up with a design. Do something you would like." So
we did, on very short notice.
JK seemed to draw upon all of Decipher's best mechanics from all their
major games. Was that intended?
It was filled with stuff that Tom and I liked. This was our first chance to
design a game from the ground up, so we just went crazy.
What kind of challenges did Decipher face having a third Star Wars card
Marketing issues were difficult, and product differentiation was much harder
than with YJ. However, many fans loved the gameplay and most of the images
were very stunning.
Was Jedi Knights intended to be more of a collectable game than Star Wars
and YJ? Why did Decipher opt not to include foils like the ones for Star
Wars and Young Jedi?
We decided to try some of the collectible aspects used in sports trading
cards, including foil stamping and first day printing. Personally, I much
prefer foil stamping to holofoils.
Of course, the 3D cards in Jedi Knights will probably never be done again
for a trading card game, and they were great to collect as well.
I personally thought that Jedi Knights gave Star Wars players and collectors alike some really cool images and unique perspectives of the classic trilogy.
I'd like to thank you Chuck for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us. I know that the con season is finally winding down, giving you guys a much needed rest. I look forward to delving more into the amazing history of Decipher's three Star Wars games in the future.
Thanks for giving me this opportunity to reminisce, Josh! It was fun.