Interview with Brian Fahmie, NFL Five TCG Designer

Dan GreenSeptember 25, 2019
mm interviews 2

The NFL Five TCG is the latest TCG to come out of Panini Games, and features exciting gameplay that will put the American football field on your tabletop, allowing you to build your own custom team and playbook and take on other coaches head-to-head.

When it comes to a new game, there can be a lot to learn about what the game is about and what it’s trying to achieve by hearing about it from the designer, and to that end we reached out to designer Brian Fahmie with a few questions for him about who he is and the design of NFL Five. Brian was kind enough to take the time to answer our questions and provide us with some interesting nuggets of wisdom and tidbits of information – see the full interview below!

MM: First, hello Brian, and thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions! Let’s start with some basics – who are you? What’s your role in Panini, and your title in relation to the NFL Five TCG?

BF: Thanks Dan, happy to answer these questions and finally get to talk about the game! My name’s Brian Fahmie and I’ve been designing games and other gamified experiences for almost my entire career. I’ve been playing TCGs for over 20 years, but also grew up playing a variety of sports, from traditional team sports such as football, basketball, and hockey, to more extreme sports such as wakesurfing, downhill mountain biking, and triathlon racing. However, I’ve always had a deep love for hobby games such as TCGs, board games, and other collectible games. My role in Panini is that of engine, game, and card design, playtesting, and development for the NFL Five TCG.

MM: Is the NFL Five TCG your first published game design, or have you worked on anything in the past?

BF: It’s not my first. The first published game design I was a part of was for the Chaotic TCG from 2007 – 2010. While my role at the time was officially that of the Organized Play Manager, I was really a jack-of-all-trades role that sat with the game design team and participated in game design for about 25-50% of my work time (fluctuated during my tenure there), while the rest of my time was managing Organized Play, all of our other events globally (such as Gen Con, San Diego Comic Con, etc.), and a variety of other business development initiatives.

MM: How long has the NFL Five TCG been in design/development? Did it go through any major overhauls throughout the process, or were you able to hone in on the core early on?

BF: Since the beginning of 2018. There wasn’t any major overhauls throughout the process. I started by exploring multiple engines, each of which were vastly different. The final game is relatively close to one of those initial engine designs, obviously with much refinement.

MM: When designing the NFL Five TCG, did you attack it from the perspective of building a game first and making sure the theme worked later (bottom-up design), or did you approach it by taking the NFL theme and trying to build a game around emulating that (top-down design), and did you encounter any pitfalls in your approach along the way?

BF: Referencing those initial engine designs, one of them was a bottom-up design that eventually got tabled. It didn’t feel like football and the game was too simplistic, not providing enough design space for a full-fledged TCG. That bottom-up design was actually the second engine I played around with, more so as a counter balance to make sure I wanted to go with the first engine design (which is what we did.) In the final game, it was a top-down approach. I wanted a game that equally felt like you were playing football while simultaneously felt like you were playing a complex TCG with interesting game interactions and decisions. The biggest challenge to overcome was making sure the game could be picked up by someone who knows nothing about the NFL or football in general, and would be able to learn, play, and have a great time doing so. I believe NFL Five really nails those design objectives.

MM: A lot of game designers tend to draw influence from other games when designing theirs. Are there any particular games or mechanisms that the NFL Five TCG drew inspiration from or paid homage to?

BF: The biggest one is Baccarat. The game needed a way to generate a random result, and I really didn’t want to incorporate dice or similar external randomness generators. It felt narratively correct that each player would call a Play type to try to gain yards / prevent gain of yardage. Incorporating the Baccarat mechanic of always randomly generating a value of 0-9 amongst two separately played cards provided exactly what the game needed. It’s really the key mechanic of the entire game, as almost everything has a direct or indirect tie back to it. It also opened up the deckbuilding rules, especially for the Play deck, because yardage gain has multiple variables that aren’t 100% in control of the player to determine results. You want to build an all Long Pass deck? Awesome, do it, the success rate on those plays are less than 20-30% (depending on the yardage), and decline further once your opponent knows what you’re playing. This meant the game didn’t have to mandate a strict mix of Play card types, or other form of deck building restriction.

MM: Do you have a particular card or cards that were your favorite to come up with effects for during design/development?

BF: Action cards as a whole. They provide for some of the best design space to truly open up the game, and it’s where a lot of the in-game actions that happen within an NFL game appear in NFL Five. Another is Quarterbacks. They traditionally are considered captains or generals on the field in a real NFL game, dictating the offense by passing the ball or handing it off to be run (and sometimes run themselves.) This first release of Quarterbacks has that narrative feel, with each one having an activated Exhaust ability that helps their offense, or the deck overall, execute its designed strategy.

MM: NFL Five deck building is extremely open-ended. As the person with, we can assume, the most recorded hours of play in the world (for now, at least!), what’s one piece of gameplay advice you’d like to give to all the budding deck-builders and players just getting into it?

BF: As a beginner, take advantage of the Starter Decks. While the plays and action cards are more basic, the play cards specifically of each deck are balanced with regards to play type and strength value, providing a well-rounded mix of all offensive and defensive plays, and associated strength numbers. While some unique deck building with the play cards can be done, its best to base customized decks off the starter decks and tweak from there until you’re really comfortable with how the game plays and the intricate play card deck building strategies that are possible. This is especially true in Draft/Sealed. When customizing your Starter Deck for these limited formats, the Outperform cycle is almost always an auto-include (Outthink, Outwork, Outperform.) This cycle, and Outperform specifically, is basically an auto-include in almost every constructed deck as well since it helps players execute their deck and overall game strategy. Want to try to hit First Down, Strip Sack, or Interception on a more consistent basis? Include Outperform. I’d probably say its NFL Five’s version of Black Lotus. Time will tell if it’s too powerful, but I like it as an engine to power almost all deck strategies that can be used on offense and defense.

MM: Other than NFL Five, what are three of your favorite physical games (TCGs or Tabletop Games) to play?

BF: There are so many, but top 3 are probably: Magic: the Gathering (the casual format Chaos deck is probably my favorite Magic format), 7 Wonders, and Oasis.

MM: Who is your NFL team in real life (not within the context of NFL Five)?

BF: The Chargers. I support them despite their move to LA, which is still painful being a San Diego native. I grew up a couple miles away from their home stadium in San Diego and have fond memories rooting for the lightning bolts for my entire life. It also doesn’t hurt their powder blue uniforms are the best uniform in all of pro sports!

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