I recently had the honor of sitting down with Senior Game Designer Chuck Kallenbach, among the team that has recently been awarded the first Nigel Award for Excellence in Card Game Design. Mr. Kallenbach was kind enough to take some time with us and talk a little bit about his thoughts and feelings surrounding the Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game!

Flinch As everyone who frequents Decipher.com has noticed, the Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game has been awarded the Nigel Award by those sanctioning the Sunquest and the MegaCon. It seems I cannot congratulate the team enough on the amazing game which was easily worthy of receiving this award. What have your thoughts been on the early reactions to the game, and the reactions moving into the Mines of Moria set?

Chuck Thanks very much. We were honored to receive the Nigel D. Findley Memorial Award. We were the first card game to receive the honor, and a contribution was made in our name to charity. That’s terrific.

Regarding early thoughts about the game… well, you don’t know what you’ve got until the gaming public puts the game through its paces. We felt we had the best property available for a TCG, but we couldn’t be sure about the gameplay until the gamers said it was good. I was amazed at the outpouring of good reviews our game received. That’s the kind of response a game designer dreams of. We seem to have kept the fans of the book and fans of the movie both happy, and that wasn’t easy.

Since Mines of Moria was our second set, it was important to avoid any possible “sophomore jinx.” The second set sets the tone for all the similar expansions to come. Magazine preview card, new starter decks, new premium cards, new game mechanics, revised rulebook… these will all be cornerstones for the future. Special gameplay touches like the cards that say “remove 3 to prevent this” provide a particular flavor that only Mines of Moria will ever have.

Flinch Have you worked on Trading Card Games in the past? What elements of other games influenced what paths you took in the design of the LOTR TCG? Did you make it a point to avoid areas that caused other TCG’s to fail?

Chuck I’ve playtested a few non-Decipher TCG’s, and I’ve worked on every Decipher TCG. I was a playtester for premiere Star Trek and Star Wars. After I came on board here full time in 1997, I’ve helped develop Young Jedi, Jedi Knights, and The Lord of the Rings.

My work on those previous games allowed me to try all kinds of mechanics and see which ones worked best. After a few years of game designing, a philosophy starts to emerge based on past designs. We have one of the most experienced design teams in the gaming industry. We’re constantly keeping up with other kinds of game designs, including board games and computer games.

In a lot of ways, LOTR is a “third generation” TCG. It’s not like early CCG’s, and it’s not like other Decipher games either. The story of the game is more focused than any of those games. STCCG, SWCCG, and other games like Iron Crown’s Middle-earth CCG were about exploring the entire universe of the property.

LOTR TCG is about the characters and story of the book and movies. We made the main characters the cornerstone of the gameplay. Rather than enforcing the story with complicated mechanics like a wide-open movement system, we put the limelight squarely on the Ring-bearer’s journey to Mordor.

Flinch What areas became difficult when bringing a Movie Property that was already based on a book to a card game such as this?

Chuck The work of J. R. R. Tolkien is greatly loved and studied by thousands and thousands of fans all over the world. Our research had to be meticulous and precise to make sure that those fans would be satisfied. We also have a fan base that comes to our game knowing only of the Peter Jackson movies. It’s important that we keep both of these groups of fans happy. Sometimes that’s tough when the details of the movie diverge from those in the book.

Hopefully, our game can be a bridge for fans from the book to the movie (or the other way as well), since we have images from the movies and quotes from the book on the same cards. All of us on the design team are great fans of both the books and movies, so we want everyone to enjoy all aspects of Middle-earth.

Flinch Did you find yourself eager to adapt areas of the book that hadn’t been touched on to the card game? I notice many small things that just didn’t make it to the final cut of the film, where was the line drawn on what would be brought from the film and what would be brought from the book?

Chuck Most of those kinds of decisions are made for us by image availability. While we have access to a few images that didn’t make it into the final movie, most of what we do is based on what you see on the screen. We have guidelines from New Line Cinema on what we can show and when, since our releases are timed to come out when the movie premieres.

Of course, we’d love to make cards for lots of scenes and characters in the book that didn’t make it into the movie. We’re fans too! But we can only make cards for the images we have. Maybe the future will make more of this kind of thing a reality. I certainly hope so.

Flinch Of all the characters in the Two Towers, who are you most looking forward to developing? What aspects of their personality will be presented to enhance the gameplay of that character and their impact on the story?

Chuck One of my personal favorites from The Two Towers is the competition between Gimli and Legolas at Helms Deep. I hope we can recreate that in a fun and playable way in our game. I’m also looking forward to the Rohirrim, and the heroic story of Theoden and his redemption.

Flinch Of all the accomplishments made by the LOTR TCG, what have you been most proud of?

Chuck From all indications, we introduced our game at a time when the interest and market for TCG’s was at a low ebb. It’s the dream of any manufacturer to look at that kind of market and hope that your product can turn things around. LOTR TCG has succeeded despite the retail climate that preceded it. The game has brought a lot of experienced players to Decipher and made new gamers of people that never played a TCG before. That’s certainly something to be proud of.

Flinch I must say how much I look forward to expanding my collection and watching as the expansions roll into stores, as well as what we will have in store for us with the release of Two Towers and Return of the King. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to talk with me today and hope to speak with you in the future as this game continues to expand in front of our eyes!

Chuck You are very welcome. We’re all looking forward to upcoming expansions as well. Come back in a few months, and we’ll see how things are going then!

Flinch We’ll be sure to do that! Thanks for the exciting words and great insight into the future of the Lord of the Rings Trading Card Game! I know I’m looking forward to the future expansions!

How about you? Well tell us about it! Flinch@theonering.net

Part 2 coming Soon with Michael Reynolds!