“I figured it would just be Joe and I making videos, with our close friends giving us a “pity subscribe” and not really going anywhere.” – Brian Alan on the start of Wreck n’ Rule
Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re already familiar with video producers Wreck n’ Rule. One of the first fan creators out of the gate when Transformers TCG began, they’ve made a clear mark in the fan community with their snappy chemistry and well produced battle videos. Fans of the game originally tuned in to see the game being played, but stayed to see how long it’ll take before Brian finally snaps and kills Joe, or for the many strange in jokes between the players. Since their start they’ve gone from just three guys to several in the team, and branched out to regular articles on their website as well.
Part of the channel’s focus has always been on community building, though, so I asked if Brian, Joe and R.J would answer a few questions about their local community and how the game has grown, as well as how it’s affected their channel. So for those of you at home, at work, on your commute or indeed, currently in a submarine, here is part 1 of our interview with Wreck n’ Rule…
Let’s go right to the beginning – when you decided that you were going to pick up Transformers TCG, what was the state of your local gaming scene? What games were you active with, both locally and larger, and how active do you think those communities were?
Joe: We had a close knit group of friends and we were branched out in many different localized FB groups for a few games. We also were located near roughly 4 stores. Some games we were heavily invested in were Star Wars Destiny and Keyforge and we were basically all-in on those games. Those communities had their pros and cons, more pros than cons. Timing and distance always played a factor in our ability to gather.
Brian: Kevin and I were really active in our local group dedicated to X-Wing and the other various Star Wars miniatures games by Fantasy Flight Games. For a long time, we had one of the largest and best organized X-Wing communities in the world. In the heyday of the game, we had over a dozen stores in a two hour radius coordinating events and sharing playerbases. In a narrower sense, we had a tight group of players who mostly played X-Wing at our first local store (All the King’s Men), but really were just a group of friends who used X-Wing as a reason to get together and hang out. Even though X-Wing was our primary game, we also branched out to playing various board games and picked up the odd random miniatures game here and there (like the Batman minis game by Knight Models). We began by doing X-Wing on Mondays and Wednesdays, but once Star Wars Destiny released, we shifted to X-Wing Mondays and Destiny Wednesdays. It was at that point that Joe and Frenchie began frequenting ATKM. Joe and I were the main driving forces at keeping the local Destiny scene going, but we both eventually became tired of certain aspects of our local community and of the game itself. Not long after that, I began to become burnt out on organizing and promoting X-Wing locally and stepped away from it. In addition, just before Rise of the Combiners was released, we received the sad news that ATKM would be closing as the owner decided to pursue a life outside of the tabletop gaming realm. Luckily, Joe had contacts at another local store (The Comic Book Store in Glassboro, NJ) and we were able to seamlessly just transfer the entire operation there.
RJ: Honestly, I have absolutely no idea. This is the first game that I can honestly say I am active in. I played Hearthstone for a year or two (maybe more), but that’s an online game that requires local presence. I last played MtG as serious as one could at my age 19 years ago, where my parents would drop my group of friends off at the mall for the night and we would draft and get made fun of because we were kids that had no idea what we were doing. All of this was, and still is, new to me.
How deeply did you expect to get into Transformers TCG when you decided to pick it up?
Brian: I’ve been wanting a tabletop Transformers game in some shape or form since I was a kid. Honestly, there were two major moments that cemented in my mind that I’d be all in: the early inclusion of obscure characters like Flamewar and Slipstream, and the fact that we received all five Dinobots in Wave 1.
RJ: Not this deep. This was never my intention. I remember thinking after my first few events that maybe I’d buy a Wave 1 booster box, and I did. After that, when the Comic Book Store was taking pre-orders for Rise of the Combiners, I instantly found myself pre-ordering a case. I’d have a lot more money in my life if I didn’t meet these guys…
Were you interested in the game for the IP or just the card game mechanics?
Joe: IP. I was buying product regardless of mechanics. Other games we were playing at the time were either trying to do too much and took too long or the company supporting the games we were playing were inconsistent with too many aspects of their game to the point where we were just getting fed up.
Brian: Early on, it was just for the IP, but I became increasingly impressed with the mechanics of the game as more Wave 1 cards were revealed and as the WotC staff members began providing additional insight and answering questions in the Facebook group.
RJ: IP. I don’t really have other card games to compare to other than the two I mentioned in MtG and Hearthstone. I love the lack of resource management in this game. Every card is available to me all the time permitting that I have the card in hand. Obviously characters and other battlecards are able to “break” the game, but knowing I’m not relying on drawing lands to get cards out, or waiting until turn 10 to play a card I drew on turn 1 is really cool to me.
Were you the first to introduce the game to people at your local game shop?
Brian: Joe and I were both lucky enough to have friends at GenCon 2018 who were able to bring us back starters (with a few extra to give to other locals who were interested). We definitely offered a lot of demos using those sets before the game was released. Luckily, we were also able to beg people to bring us back the Commons that were being given out by Pastimes at the convention, so we were able to play games other than starter on starter mirror matches.
RJ: Joe and Brian were the first to introduce it to me. I remember walking in being a nervous wreck and I sat down across from Joe for my very first intro game, which I will never forget. I had both him and I with one bot left, down to three health each, and I asked him “what happens if I play this” and showed him the One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall in my hand. He cracked up and called Brian over and said “for this guy’s very first game, he wants to tie.” He told me not to play that card, play the Grenade Launcher instead and actually win the game. He, Brian, and Frenchie let me win a bunch of games before finally realizing I was hooked, and only then did they stop taking it easy on me.
How early on did you decide to set up the youtube channel? Was it just going to be a channel at first or was a website always incorporated into things?
Brian: I just checked, and our very first TFTCG gameplay video (which was also my first time playing the game) was posted on August 7th, 2018, which was two days after GenCon wrapped up. I think I introduced the seed of WnR in Joe’s mind a few days before that. It took a bit of persuasion, but once Joe was onboard, he was firing in all cylinders. Within a relatively short amount of time, he was ordering a laptop dedicated to recording and upgrading our camera set-up.
What sort of expectations did you have of the channel when you started it?
Brian: In all honesty, I had zero expectations whatsoever. I figured it would just be Joe and I making videos, with our close friends giving us a “pity subscribe” and not really going anywhere. I think we hit a lucky combination in that we were one of the first channels out there offering actual gameplay AND that folks seemed to like our personalities.
Who was involved with the channel to begin with? How much of your local community was involved?
Joe: Just Brian and myself for the first 2-4 months? The local community supported us since day 1.
Brian: Frenchie also joined us fairly early on. I’m relatively sure that both RJ and Kyle were watching our videos before they even showed up to play at our locals. Kevin was one of our first “fact checkers,” who would delight in pointing out that one of us messed something up during a filmed game.
RJ: Can confirm that I was watching their videos before I ever came out to play. What really drew me to them was that you could tell that they were just two friends that loved Transformers who were hanging out and playing this card game. Over a year in, and they haven’t lost that.
Brian: “Frenemies” might be a more accurate term.
When the game started in your local area, how many players bought into the game? How many of those still play?
Joe: I want to say 8-10 bought right in and if I remember correctly, only about 2 have stopped playing.
Brian: I’m pretty sure Joe’s estimations are correct. I remember that we hit about 15 players for a sealed event we held for the launch of Wave 1 (I’m pretty sure we did 6 packs + the Autobot starter). I think the vast majority of those folks are still playing (and some of them are also prolific content creators).
RJ: I can’t speak to how many bought in, and who of those still play (other than me, but some days I feel like I’m not allowed to leave even if I wanted to…), but I will say that even at over a year old, within the last 3 weeks we’ve had 2-4 new players come out to play. Some have stuck, others want to come back but work and other outside factors prevent them from doing so.
Were you just showing up to your local game store as players, or were you involved in organising events as well?
Joe: We basically took turns judging at our local store and setting up events.
Brian: Joe has a much better brain for the rules, so my role was mainly just advertising events and sometimes acting as the TO. At our first store, the owner essentially gave us carte blanche to do whatever we wanted, as long as there was room for us to play (AKA don’t schedule anything during a Magic pre-release weekend). We promoted the events and ran them. At our current store, we help to suggest and promote the events, but the store employees themselves handle things like entering results, printing pairings, and handing out prize support. Joe and I are both control freaks in our own way, so it took a little adjusting, but it’s been a welcome change.
RJ: I just show up to play. It’s nice to just have to worry about showing up and nothing else. These guys did and continue to do a great job, so my hat goes off to them. If you were to read our group chat, you’d understand how frustrating it can be to get us organized and on the same page, let alone other people.
Where is your local store, and how far do ‘local players’ tend to travel for weekly game nights?
Joe: Southern New Jersey in Glassboro. Our original store was 5m away in Pitman, NJ. We’ve seen a few nights where people traveled from at least 1hr away, maybe 1.5hrs? We also had people travel from at least 2-2.5hours for our bigger launch events and EIQ.
Brian: Currently at a local level, our store (The Comic Book Store) is the only store running regular weekly casual events. We have some folks who drive about 45 minutes to get there (it’d probably be closer to 25 if it wasn’t for traffic). We have another store nearby (roughly 30 minutes away) that runs a larger monthly event, and another store about 45 minutes away that will hold an event somewhere around release of a new set.
RJ: It takes me a solid 45 minutes to get to our store from work, depending on traffic. I just started a new job a few months ago, so this is new to me as before I worked from home full-time where the store was only about 20 minutes away. I think 45 minutes is the tops anyone drives for our regular, weekly events.
How often did people travel from neighbouring cities? Were these people you were unfamiliar with or did you know them from other games?
Brian: We live in a suburban area, so the only “real” nearby city is Philadelphia, but then various suburbs and small towns sprawl out from there. It’s probably a little bit more accurate to think about our broader area in terms of “regions.” Our store covers the South Jersey and Philadelphia scene, with another nearby store also offering monthly events. There’s a decent amount of overlap between players there. Aside from that, there’s another group of players a little bit north of us in Central Jersey and another group west of Philadelphia a little bit closer to Pittsburgh. We can also pull from the Baltimore, Maryland area, which is about an hour and a half away. A lot of our locals are folks that I’ve met before from other games (Destiny, various Star Wars minis games).
RJ: I will toot our own horn here and say I am confident that we are the only store in the US that has hosted Australian players 😉
How did you as a community keep people interested and coming back to play Transformers TCG? Especially near the end of waves, when things are starting to feel a bit stale?
Joe : We did everything we could to allow people the opportunity to have days where they would bring in tier 1 decks and every so often we mixed it up by making an attempt to ban those decks for a night or so. We had our Combiner only even which pulled in quick a huge group. We also mix it up every few weeks so it doesn’t get stale by issuing deck building or character challenges. The community around here is good enough that they will oblige and characters you wouldn’t normally see on the table come out of the woodwork. Windblade, Grapple, Kup, Novastar. We have a great community.
We also try not to destroy new players. If a new player is paired up with me, I will generally ask them what their comfort level is and swap my deck to a less oppressive deck for that match or try my best not to wipe them off the map with Grimlock having Bold 912. The goal is to get new players to return, not make them hate you, the game, and the store, and Grimlock.
RJ: I think the overwhelming majority of our local group are Transformers fans, so it’s easy to keep them/us coming back. Theme nights keep things fresh where we will collaborate and try and set out a deck building challenge a week out. No one has ever come back and said “I’m not doing that, that’s dumb” – everyone has been super enthuasiastic about it, and I’m of the opinion that those nights are generally more fun than regular nights. It puts everyone on a level playing field!
Brian: In all honesty, I don’t think we’ve ever really gotten bored towards the end of a meta before a new release. We’re all trying to innovate with something new, something gimmicky, or something unexpected. More importantly, we all want to out-do each other. In addition to that, once we have a deck that seems to perform well, we basically “retire” it and switch over to work on something new.
How easy did you find it to introduce new players to the game, or get other people to try the game out?
Joe: Honestly, it’s the IP. If someone likes Transformers, they are going to play. For others, you can only demo the game with them so many ways before they either like or don’t like the mechanics or find their playstyle. One person I’ve been trying to get to play the game for over a year has just discovered Combiners and may have just fell in love. When I teach new people the game, I try not to throw every single thing about the game at them.
Brian: The oversized character cards are a huge draw for people as they walk past, so it’s easy to draw the attention of potential players while in the store. The trickiest part is that on the night where we usually play, there are also Magic and Pokemon events firing off. We’ll have those folks come over and watch, but they’re typically heavily invested into those games and hard to convert. Oddly enough, we have a number of locals who were primarily miniatures games players who also jumped into TFTCG. I think the focus on the character cards, and how they begin in play as opposed to it being necessary to put them into play from your deck, makes it a bit easier for the game to “click” with them. In terms of getting new players involved, Turbo is a fantastic format, as it helps to keep everyone on equal ground. On top of that, the veteran players are likely to open up a bunch of cards they already have, so they’ll usually shower brand new players with a bunch of cards they can take home after the event.
When the channel started to take off, did it change anything in how you interacted with the rest of the players? Did new players come to the shop and recognize you from the videos? How often do you involve local players in video production?
RJ: I will answer this as a person on the other side for quite some time. Never in any amount of time that I’ve known Brian, Joe, or Frenchie have they changed how they’ve interacted with people. They’ve consistently been nice, supporting, and welcoming to new and old players. On the other side of things, as someone that has been part of the group for almost a year now, I will say that all this is still weird to me. I have a story of someone recognizing me, locally, from the videos. Right before Christmas we had a new player, Dane, show up. He lets me know this is his first time playing “competitively” and says he is kind of nervous. He then looks up at me and says “man, you look familiar, where do I know you from?” Honest to god, the thought of WnR does not even cross my mind as I reply back, “I don’t know, where did you go to school and when did you graduate?” He’s sure that’s not it and we both brush it off. It’s not until the end of the night where he goes, “You’re in WnR, that’s where I recognize you from!!”
Brian: I don’t believe anything really changed. I will say that it’s pretty surreal, and deeply humbling, to have folks come up to us at conventions and ask us to sign cards and playmats. As for getting local people involved, that’s how we pulled in everyone aside from Joe and me. Our recording schedule is a bit erratic, so it’s hard to pull in people for special guest spots (especially since recording games is also how we test out new ideas that we have).
How is your local community doing now? What have been some memorable events in your local scene?
Joe: I love our local scene. Very reliable, very relaxed, nothing to dread when going. I absolutely LOVED our combiner only event that pulled in 20 people back in the Wave 2 meta. Such a fun event.
Brian: Our weekly Wednesday night event averages 8-16 players. We have about 8 folks that are diehards and will show up every week, another 6 players who will be there MOST weeks but who have family or work obligations that make it hard to be totally consistent, and another 8 or so people who pop in and out as their whims allow them. As Joe mentioned above, the best part about it is that we equally enjoy playing the game AND hanging out with these folks for 3-4 hours on a weeknight each week. Like Joe mentioned, it was a total surprise to have 20 people show up to a goofy Combiners-only event during a weeknight. From a personal standpoint, I have to go with the night where I made it my goal to consistently get 3 Cargo Trailers equipped to a character and managed to pull it off in each of my games that night.
Continued in Part 2, where Brian and Joe talk about moderating facebook channels and how to keep your local community going…