As I’m preparing to launch my first original game, I got to thinking about just how long I’ve been involved with Epic Duels and how, at this point, I’m mostly working with a new group of people that may not know all the history there is to this game. Epic Duels is probably why you’re here, on this blog, and if you’re wondering where all the content came from, read on.
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The game has been out since 2002, and I’m writing this in 2019, so as one might expect, there’s actually a lot that’s happened in between. There’s a document on the Wiki, written in 2009, that explains the history of online Epic Duels up to that point, and I recommend reading it if you’re interested in this topic. However, it has been 10 years since that document was written, and to my surprise, the interest in the game remains strong. Decks continue to be added, and with at least one more movie plus a live action TV series due to come, I don’t see an end in sight.
When I set up analytics for the Wiki and this sites a few years ago, I was surprised to see that the Wiki and this site get 3-400 unique visitors per month (though I’m sure many are in fact duplicate people from different IPs or whatever, still it’s in the hundreds). Not only that, but new people like Ultimate Mondy and Freaky Mutant Man are joining up as new deck designers. Sophist shows up and creates a whole, very well done, Game of Thrones version of the game, and Darth Wolverine, who has already made a bunch of great Star Wars decks, does a whole, thoughtful Superhero expansion, and the game’s content is richer and higher quality than it has ever been.
“We designed this for 8-to-10 year-olds to last 3 months.,” said Rob Daviau, one of the game’s 2 creators, during my 2018 interview of him. The game lasted maybe 6 months on the shelves of Toys R Us and Kaybee Toys, and poof, it was gone, never to return. Yet, here we are in 2019, and we still discuss the game and add on to it and new people are joining all the time.
In my opinion, the 3 things that make Epic Duels unique: 1. The internet was still “waking up” in its community-forming abilities when Epic Duels was released in 2002, with discussions limited to clunky Yahoo! forums and the like. For me, it wasn’t just the first board game I could actively discuss and build with others online, it was the first online community I’d really participated in, and ultimately, became a leader of. 2. Right along with that was the game’s add-on ability. With so many interesting Star Wars characters to represent, it was a game that just begged to be added on to, and this began within a few months of the game coming out. Better yet, there was a community to work with, to discuss add-ons, and to share best practices. 3. For me and other children of the ’70s, Star Wars holds a special place, and there’s something about Epic Duels that really allows exploration and even development of those iconic characters. I have a friend, JJ, who loves to play the game, not because he loves games, but because he loves Star Wars and he likes games well enough. As the hardcore Star Wars fan but only casual fan of Epic Duels, he’s part of the audience I design for.
In late 2002, I saw Star Wars Epic Duels at a store and read the box, but shrugged it off. It looked like a game for 8-year-olds, but still, the description was intriguing. Then, during the holidays of that year, Ian told Brian and me that he had received the game as a Christmas present, and we tried it out. We were immediately impressed, and within no time, we didn’t want to play anything else. Within a few months, I dove into the fan-made content to add to our fun.
The Epic Duels Community Forms 2003-2005
In 2003, I was living in L.A., got a new computer, discovered the Yahoo! Group, joined up, and made my first post. I chatted with Moonsylver, Brady Severns, PD Magnus and Rich Pizor, and soon, became one of them. Rich Pizor also lived in L.A., so we began meeting up periodically to play, and add on to, Epic Duels. He showed me some basics on how to create Epic Duels cards using free software, and also how to paint and modify figures. We worked out the Luminara & Barriss deck together, modified Leia and Zam figures, respectively, to use as them, and I was fully invested as a deck designer. I also started collecting figures on eBay or modding them for myself. The figures from the featured photo of Vader with the Bounty Hunters were collected from eBay, though 4-LOM is actually a modded C-3P0 figure.
By 2004, many of the original regulars like PD and Brady had moved on, but by this time, several of us remaining had gotten into the Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR, still the best video game ever) for X-Box and were working on decks for them. During a visit to Chicago, I met Deri Morgan aka docmogs, and we worked on a Jolee & Juhani deck together. I also moved back to Chicago a short time later.
In 2005, the Geektopia guys and I were discussing decks for Episode III even before the movie came out. I also started playing the Star Wars Miniatures game with Doc, his roommate, Tim, xcrudo, and many others, and the League 1670 Group was born. The League 1670 features some of the very best players in the history of Star Wars Miniatures and I also played in it. Minis was a great game in its own right and basically eliminated the chance for Hasbro to continue Epic Duels, but it also ended up fueling Epic Duels in 2 big ways: For one, it granted us a bunch of excellent figures to expand our Epic Duels set with. The other was that Doc, Tim and I were playing Minis online using the Vassal engine. It didn’t take me long to figure out how to set up Epic Duels on Vassal and this kicked off what I’d now call the Golden Age of Online Epic Duels.
The Online Golden Age 2006-2010
Once Epic Duels on Vassal had been established, Rich Pizor set up the Epic Duels Online League, and I was invited to participate as one of 4 “Jedi Council” members, along with Scott Hagarty and Aaron Shockley, who did the heavy lifting on setting up the original SWED for Vassal module after I had pioneered it. From 2006-2010, the EDOL pretty much always had a tournament going, typically with dozens of people, often several at once. We even had “seasons” with divisions and records, and I won a couple of “season championships”.
There were hundreds of posts per month between the EDOL Yahoo! Group and original Yahoo! Group. There were even off-shoot leagues and tournaments, which tells you how popular the game was. By 2007, the Epic Duels Forum, created by Tom Baumbach aka the “Sultan of Dorkistan”, was the main hub of discussion. The upgrade from Yahoo! groups made it possible for the community to come together and create group projects like the Expanded Universe set and the LOTR set. I also played a good amount of Epic Duels with my Geektopia buddies over these years, and we kept adding to and expanding our deck selection. We especially tweaked decks we already had, both original and fan-made, for the kind of game we wanted to play, so at this point, the decks you download are the result of that. Though I was a very active community member, my group was kind of late to the party in making our decks available, to be honest. I did a decent job of uploading them to the old Yahoo! groups but stopped doing it when space became a problem. By the time Geektopia got its own website and we made our 20 or so decks available, so much of Epic Duels had already come and gone that I almost wondered if it was even worth it. I didn’t know at the time that we were still in the early stages of a game that would prove to have 10+ more years of life in it.
Over time, Rich, and later Scott moved on (though Scott maintained control of the Wiki), being replaced by Tim Wutke and Brian Kurtich, respectively, and my own interest in the online game waxed and waned during that time period. In the meantime, I continued to create decks, as Epic Duels was sort of my outlet for game design. In 2009, I worked with Robert Moore and the rest of the community to make the Lord of the Rings Epic Duels game, and got a lot of help from the still-vibrant Epic Duels online community. I had also developed 30-40 Star Wars decks at that point, even did some for the movie Goodfellas, plus had printed and played dozens of decks from others, so my Epic Duels set had turned into something quite, well, epic. Sensing that things may have been coming to a close, Rich and I wrote the historical document I referenced up above. My Geektopia group and I also endeavored to play a 20 vs 20 game, still the largest game of Epic Duels we know of.
Anyone discovering the game after 2010 missed a lot of glorious Epic Dueling, tournaments and expansions, but with all of that, there was also a lot of drama and nerd rage, so if you had been around then, maybe you would have gotten turned off. It may seem crazy to read that, but as long as you have competition, a few dozen people, a ruling body and that sort of thing, you’re going to have some controversy and the occasional power struggle. For example, there was always a single “commissioner” of the league, a rotating position, and one that I actually never held, but one that took his share of abuse, no matter who it was: First Rich, and later Scott. Scott, aka “Darth Trumpetus”, who eventually created the Wiki. Separate to that, Aaron moved on, and we asked Tom “Sultan” Baumbach to take his place, and he agreed. Sultan eventually became commissioner of the league, succeeding Scott, and took his own share of abuse. As a member of the council, I had to deal with all of that drama, plus the added inter-council drama, which got pretty severe at times, though I think we did a good job of keeping it internal. By never actually taking on the commissioner’s role, it helped me keep from getting burned out by the Epic Duels Online Community experience.
In October 2010, the Epic Duels Online League announced that there would be no more organized seasons due to a lack of interest. We had completed 9 online seasons, with many tournaments in between, and changed up our format to keep things interesting. Nonetheless, the game had now been out for more than 7 years and folks, including myself, were moving on to other things. Aaron Shockley created bloomilk, which is to this day the primary source for Star Wars Minis content. Rich Pizor went on to publish some of his own, original games and I got started in making my own as well. It was mostly just Sultan and me still hanging around, and if you would have asked me at the time, I would have told you that the game was in the final stages of its life. Instead, there was much more to come in the next 9 years, including entirely new groups of Epic Duels fans, the 10-Year Anniversary of the game, the set we did to commemorate it, and of course, the newer, Disney Star Wars material. We’ll cover all that in the next installment.