Thanks to the power of the Internet, I had the opportunity to connect with veteran game designer and 40K CCG co-creator Luke Peterschmidt! Luke has worked on an impressive array of games over the years, including the Guardians and Dark Age CCGs, Epic PVP: Fantasy, Castle Dice, and last but not least, the Warhammer 40K and WarCry CCGs.
I asked Luke about how he designed the 40K card game, what he learned while working on it, as well as future projects he’s brewing up. Let’s dive in!
How did you get into game design?
LP: Kind of a long story here. Short version is I was always a gamer. After I graduated college with a degree in chemistry, I ended up getting a job in the Lancaster PA area, but I never gave up on the idea of working in the gaming industry. I didn’t think design was a reasonable goal (there were very few game designers back then, and none of the key companies were near me).
I spent some time trying to get a job at Games Workshop the long way: I had a fanzine, and I was the first Outrider (demo person) in the US. After a few years, GW offered me a job as the person in the US office who would help them sell directly to retailers.
But right near the end of that path, I got a chance to help a local artist playtest a game. That artist was Keith Parkinson and the game was Guardians. After I gave some feedback, Keith actually asked me to come on board as the main game designer while he focused on art, and the rest is history! I owe a TON to Keith, and to this day I try to give back by helping others get their foot in the door.
When and how did you join the Warhammer 40K CCG project?
LP: I ended up working at Wizards of the Coast after a bit. While there I did brand management, not design. It was a crazy time with Pokemon and everything. But at some point they did a round of layoffs, and while I wasn’t laid off, it was clear to me that in a shrinking company, I stood no chance of getting the job I really wanted there – to manage the game designers (not design, but manage them – I thought I had a lot to offer in that space as I had a lot of management experience and game design experience).
As it turns out, a co-worker who I really respected, Bob Watts, was looking to get out and start something new. So I left WotC with Bob and Ryan Miller and our first project was the Warhammer 40K CCG! To this day, I’m still really proud of that game – I think the design Ryan and I ended up with is super original to this day.
What were your inspirations while designing the game?
LP: I really wanted to make a game that didn’t use the mana system, and I wanted to do a game where there weren’t actions and units. Action cards would be tough to do because of the art. If you put art of an Ork on an action card called “Charge!”, I wouldn’t want to put it in my Space Marine deck.
The game had to be a battle and it had to be big in scale so we could include all the cool units that exist in 40K.
What’s your favourite 40K CCG card (or faction) and why?
LP: I really liked the Eldar as we made them like they are on the tabletop – really powerful, but fragile. That’s not easy to do in the game. I also like the Imperial Guard because I dug the artillery mechanic.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered when designing or maintaining the game after release?
LP: Oddly, it wasn’t game mechanics. Although it was starting to be challenging to include every faction in every release in a meaningful way. The big challenge was that after the first set was released, we started talking to Games Workshop about them buying Sabertooth Games. That was really exciting, but to sell a company, you have to do a LOT of work – getting financials together, meetings, flying to meetings, etc. That caused some schedules to slip and that’s not a great situation for a CCG. You really need to deliver a product consistently.
Were there any plans to introduce Tau and/or Necron cards?
LP: Not for that first edition game. There were already a lot of factions and in early 2000, those two factions were not really on the map as fan favorites (and I’m not ever sure if the Tau were out at the time…).
Any game design lesson(s) you picked up from your experience creating the game?
LP: Absolutely. The big lesson was that there is a lot of unused design space still in CCGs. So many game CCGs use very similar rules and I encourage folks to try new things. Mana systems are good and all (I’m working on a game I can’t talk about now that uses that type of system), but there are lots of other ways to make a CCG!
What are you working on these days? Any projects you want to plug?
LP: In addition to the above project I can’t talk about, I have another small toy-based game that I also can’t talk about.
Most of my time, though, is spent working as part of AEG’s leadership team. AEG makes lots of amazing board games and my job there is that I run their Kickstarters. AEG for me is like coming home. Two of my best friends are there – Ryan Dancey and John Zinser – and are also on the leadership team and I’ve known them since my earliest days in the industry!