Designer Interview: Ben Stoll speaks of Head Games!

Head GamesI love the card Head Games, and this is not a secret.  I’ve raved about it in an individual card post, and I’ve mulled over deck ideas utilizing it as a main strategy. The concept of a game-within-a-game fascinated me, and as an English major, I was helplessly captivated by what I interpreted as a Shakespearean twist.

For those who earned useful degrees or skills after high school (aka. non-English majors), I’ll lay that groundwork down.  In plays such as Hamlet and Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare wrote scenes wherein his play characters themselves sat down and watched a play. You were watching a play of people watching a play.  In essence, Shakespeare’s panache for putting things you liked inside of things you liked made him the Renaissance-era Xzibit.

Anyway, my curiosity and appreciation for the card grew beyond what simple speculation could contain. Figuring it couldn’t hurt to try, I fired an email at the end-all, beat-all email address provided on the Hex TCG site.  And beyond my hope and expectation, I was forwarded to Ben Stoll, Lead Designer of Set 1 and creator of Head Games, and he graciously agreed to answer my questions:

“When, and how, did you conceive of Head Games?”

It has been in the file since pretty much the beginning.  Like you, I am also excited by the occasional card that creates a little “mini-game” during game play, and so the real mental genesis of the design came from wanting a card that could contribute this sort of texture to the set.  The idea, further fleshed out, was to create a high-tension bluff/mind games sort of experience, and so a Ruby action that dealt damage was the perfect vessel for such an experience.

How was the idea of Head Games received by the development team? Did the card change during its development?

When I first proposed Head Games to our developers, they were on board.  The card did go through one iteration at one point where the players chose among 3 numbers (4, 7, and 10), but ultimately we felt that two numbers was a more polarized and exciting experience.  Additionally, cards like this can run high on complexity, and so cleaning up the mini-game by taking it down from 3 options to 2 seemed to be the right call.

“Has Head Games seen any memorable play in pre-alpha testing?”

The first time I actually saw Head Games in action was a pretty sweet moment.  One of our developers, Phil Cape, was playing a game against one of our playtesters, Erik, and Phil played a Head Games.  Phil was at exactly 10, and Erik was at exactly 5 health. 

The particular hilarity of this situation, is, of course, that by secretly choosing 10 Headgames can potentially kill either player, whereas if Phil chooses 5, he can still kill his opponent but is guaranteed safe from Head Games.  But…that’s where the “Head Games” part comes in! 

Phil knew that Erik thought that Phil wouldn’t risk the match on this play, but sure enough the big-balls-reverse-psychology-master-bluff won the day, Phil secretly chose 10, Erik guessed 5, and so Phil toasted Erik down to negative 5 health and won the match.

And that wraps up my ‘brief exclusive’ interview!  Major thanks to Ben Stoll for giving some time from his day, already heavily burdened with creating the source of our excitement!  It’s great to hear that, even on its first play, Head Games was proving to be a source of intrigue and memory.

If you are new to Hex TCG and want to read more, please visit the official site: here.


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