Generation 1 – Let There Be Score


Originally Posted by Chipmunk 8-28-08

Disclaimer: Everything talked about in these “Generation” blog posts are about my life at Score Entertainment. Score didn’t exactly have a low turnover rate while I was there for 5 1/2 years, so there were so many employee changes that it was like a tottally new team. This happened so often we started to dub each group a “generation”. In order to make my “Score Anthology” a bit more digestible, each generation will receive its own post.

Also, please please remember that everything written here is from MY viewpoint and there are always multiple sides to any story. There may have been events I didn’t know about or skewed based on how I got to see them unfold. While I’m not going to try to offend anybody with these posts, I will be TRUTHFUL from my perspective. Furthermore, except for one very sensitive topic with the owner of the company, the “No Comment” gloves come off. No secrets.

“You’re Hired”
I was first hired by Score at the beginning of the summer in 2000. A friend of mine named Joshua McManus had a mother working for the sports cards side of the company, so we got lucky enough to playtest the game in high school. Although we turned in 40 different points that needed to be fixed in the system, only 2 of them made it through (kinda) – Before there was a Brown Style (changed to orange), and you could have 3 copies of a Dragon Ball in your deck. When summer came around they thought it was a grand idea to hire customer service people from ths playtesting group, and thus how I got my foot in the door.

I was the third newest member of the Customer Service team, coming in behind Joshua McManus and another playtesting friend, Joshua Minnon (known as El Ravager on the DBZ Message Boards). The Games division was really small at this time. We had a marketing team headed by Londa Robinson (with your sterotypical “hot girl/ugly fat girl” intern pair). Carl Braun (the current head of games at Score) was also there in the sports graphics section working on the initial card templates as well as some sports card design work. Unfortunately, Carl was on the exact opposite side of the company, so we didn’t get to know him well until much later. But there’s 3 people that you need to take note of Generation 1.

People of Note
First, we’ll start off with the ecclectic Sir Jim M Ward, the original designer of the Dragon Ball Z TCG. This guy was a part of the original group of gamers that played with Gary Gygax and created D&D.; He has props for designing the first Sci-fi roleplaying game, the Spellfire CCG, and COUNTLESS books and modules for Dungeons and Dragons. He had the perfect setup – Living in Michigan, the company flew him down for 2 weeks a month in a paid hotel/plane flight, and then got to go home and do nothing for 2 weeks. If I ever got that kind of setup, I’d be in heaven. The man is very creative, but was TERRIBLE at execution. The Dragon Ball Z TCG in Saiyan and Frieza Saga is a perfect example of this. It took Jim Ward’s creative brain to think outside the box in coming up with some of the new and unique mechanics (Dragon Balls for example), he just didn’t know how to polish off his work. I mean, Saiyan Saga had 4 different words for “stopping an attack”, and that’s AFTER he cleaned up the list. I’ll be touching on this alot, but I just figured you guys should know who he is because without him, there would be no DBZ CCG/TCG.

Michael – Hired as the Tournament Organizer, this guy was a nut. Litterally. He would go on “Man-retreats” to talk about his feelings, would get drunk on half a glass of wine, and had 0 power rating when it came to self esteem. You’ll hear about this man’s “great” exploits later in the section, but he is why our tournament structure sucked in the beginning. The guy wasn’t a gamer and didn’t know much about tournaments. And if he hadn’t “assimilated with the collective” in his man-retreats lately, you were in for some weirdness. Just look what he did in the first World Tournament (see below).

Gary Mabra – This guy was the head of the games division when I was hired. While I deeply respect this man, he did not take this job seriously in any way, shape, or form. You see, this guy was a banker and made oodles of money with his “day job”. So, Gary would only come into work about 3 days a week for half a day, and treating it more like a pet project. Because of this, things moved vary slowly and randomly. He was smart when he applied himself, but he just didn’t care about the division.

Working at Score was pretty fun, although all the 3 of us in the Customer Service section did was answer emails and play a few games. During our playing, Joushua Minnon stumbled upon what is the foundation of today’s Stasis Decks – Combat Ending. See, in the Saiyan Saga you could just Non-Combat and Combat cards anytime you wanted, including outside of Combat. So you just needed to end combat once or twice and then when the game however you saw fit. We constantly brought this up to Jim Ward, telling him how “broken” his game was, but he would never listen. Ever. We eventually fine-tuned this deck into a beast – Gohan Anger/DragonBall. Gohan was choosen because you could use 4 Gohan’s Anger (BK Promo gaining you 2 anger), he would get a level jump against Vegeta and Nappa (thanks to the Saiyan Saga rule), and could choose which way it wanted to win anytime it wanted. The deck was so fast, it would win in less than 90 seconds flat. But, still bringing this up to Mr. Ward got us nowhere.

As part of the Customer Service group, we got sent out to all of the company’s conventions to help run the booth and tournaments. One VERY special convention was GenCon of 2000. Unbeknowist to many (but beknowist to those that worked back then), Score had its first World Championships. Yes, there was one before Aik existed, running purely off of the rules of Saiyan Saga. We had about 100 people (give or take) show up to play. Now, Minnon and I were kinda pissed at Jim for not listening to us, but we HAD to prove our point. So we befriended a volunteer at the booth named Ryan. While I don’t remember his full name, we nicknamed him “Gilligan” because he was our little buddy for the weekend.

So here we are, the night before the world championships. Minnon and I were discussing the game and couldn’t take it anymore. We HAD to prove our point. So we gave Gilligan our Gohan Anger/Ball Deck. I mean, who was going to tell (or who knew I would confess 8 years later)? So we gave him the deck and showed him how to run it.

I would like to note that during this tournament, one of our players was accused of cheating. So Michael, being the nutjob that he was, patted the guy down in front of everybody looking for cards or other signs of cheating. I don’t think I’ve laughed as hard at a tournament in my entire life. Even people from across the room were laughing. That’s just how crazy Michael was – If he thought you were doing wrong, arrest first and ask later. But long story short (too late), Gilligan swept the ENTIRE tournament. In fact, the finals match was a best of 5 against another Dragon Ball deck and he won 3-1… in 5 minutes. Us peasants rejoiced because we were right all along, heads hung high off of our ego. I don’t even remember if Gilligan gave us any part of his winnings, but that is far from the point. Going back to the office, we had all the proof we needed to prove Jim Ward he was so wrong, he was in Wrong-land-ia.

Where Did They Go?
But, all of our plans were for naught. While all this was going on, Gary Mabra was getting a little fed up with his pet project. You see, there was this man named Larry Blackwell as the CEO of the entire company, and he was a micromanager. Litterally everything had to go past him for approval, which slowed everything in the company. Gary and Larry had butted heads at previous times because of this, and Gary had finally reached his breaking point… and quit. On top that off, Michael with his extreme negative self, quit thinking Larry Blackwell was going to come after him next. Larry wasn’t, but that didn’t matter. In 1 quick day after the World Champinoships, we lost our head of games and our tournament organizer.

But we were a pretty automatted process, and thus continue on with our job like a chicken without its head cutoff. Customer service went about answering emails, marketing kept making ads, Carl kept working on templates, and Jim Ward kept designing the next set, Frieza Saga.

Game Design
I guess that this is a better place than ever to start going into alot of the design decisions in Frieza Saga, and a few things that had an effect in Saiyan Saga. Hopefully at the end of this you will have a better understanding on what was going through Jim’s head and why some sets turned out the way they did. First of all, Mr. Jim Ward treated DBZ like a casual game. People were going to make house rules and play how they liked, and the ruleset definately showed off this ideal. Rejuv being “optional”, the multiplayer rules where certain styles did more or less damage to each other, and other little rules were meant for gamers to play the game how they wanted. Alot of these little things were dropped once we cleaned the game up in Trunks Saga.

To wrap up other Saiyan Saga stuff, the “error level 4’s” were printed in the rulebook to let people know they existed. Unfortunately, nobody knew they were the error cards until the product went to print. As for the power ratings, those were all strictly enforced by FUNimation until Trunks Saga. Once Trunks Saga started, the show’s creator stopped using power levels in the show, as he wanted people to be more in awe of the power of the character and their style than comparing numbers to each other. So throughout the first two sets, we had to bend to FUNimation’s will while starting with Trunks Saga, we actually got to dictate the numbers.

Frieza Saga is a whole different animal. When Jim Ward originally designed the first expansion to the DBZ CCG, he decided that he was going to split the entire Frieza Saga up. The first expansion would be Frieza Saga and the second expansion, planned to be the size of Saiyan Saga, would be called the Namek Saga. Frieza Saga was supposed to be a taste of the future while the Namek Saga was supposed to flesh everything out. Also, since Score wasn’t into the business of printing paper in their boosters (yet), Jim couldn’t introduce a new physical attack table for the stronger characters. With this in mind, you can see why the Frieza Saga had alot of stuff left out. Nail and Guldo were choosen so a new Hero and Villain could be introduced, and everybody else was going to be saved for the Namek Saga. The Ginyu Force, Zarbon, and other side characters were all put off for the next big set, and the Frieza Ultra Rare was there to tease you until you could see his “full awesome power” in the next set. While seemingly trivial, all of this matters when we reach Part 2.

This is also the first set where I got to design my very first card. We were sitting in a conference room looking over the card graphics before they would be put on the forms and go to print. I don’t remember why, but one of the cards wasn’t going to work and needed to be changed. Jim Ward, the kind heart that he is, let Josh, Josh, and I design our card together. And so our first card was designed and made – Krillin’s Power Tap. This tradition of letting non-designers make cards held through Babidi Saga at least, and probably longer.

So Score went on, designing cards, and setting up tournaments all without a leader. Surprisingly, this went on for 3 whole months! Day in, Day out. We had no idea what was going to happen. Since the company had printed so much Saiyan Saga cards and it wasn’t selling too well due to errors in the launch and not so great reviews (I remember InQuest gave it a C+ because it came with a big coffee stirring stick that also taught you how to count).

And then one day in walked in a man by the name of Chaz Elliott…

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