I sat down with Kristian Čurla, a local legend, published board game designer and an important part of the Magic Omens community, to talk about his life, inspiration and how he got to #9 in the global Flesh and Blood rankings this year.
Kristian has been playing card games since an early age, starting with Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! in his early elementary school days. His competitive journey started with the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game. In his early teens, he managed to become the National Champion and get to Top 8 in the Regional Tournament.
At around this time, he slowly started getting interested in board games, and what started as a casual interest grew into a hobby and lifelong obsession. His expansive collection includes games across all genres, from casual and chill party games like Resistance: Avalon to heavy and competitive titles like Brass: Birmingham. Now he can entertain any playgroup, from his mathematician colleagues to family and friends.
During his time at university, where he was studying math, he got really interested in board game design. He worked on multiple prototypes and got his first game design licensed surprisingly fast, in his first year of uni. Since then, he released Tides of Time and Tides of Madness and worked as a game designer on some video game projects in the Croatian video game company Croteam Indie (known for the Serious Sam game series). He is still developing new prototypes and working as a board game designer for a Croatian board game studio.
Designing Board Games
When I asked him: why someone would get into board game design? He replied there were a lot of reasons for it, first of which is that every task is like a puzzle, full of problem-solving. That kind of process makes working on a project exciting, even after years of working on a game. Product management ties into this, he said, because the whole process is all about trying to predict trends, find the appeal of your design and showcase it in a very saturated market. The last thing he noted is that once a game is published, it’s out there forever. This kind of legacy is something he finds very appealing as well.
According to Kristian, the question on everybody's mind when designing a board game should be: is the game fun? No matter how intricate and exciting the design is, if your game isn’t inherently fun for the player, why would they even try it. You need to make your abstract game elements engaging to the average player, no matter how much sense it makes to you. The idea of the game needs to feel “cool”, since way before the game even gets produced, you need to pitch it to publishers and the sales aspect of the design needs to work. They need to buy into the story and the gameplay of your game. That is why you need a finished and playable prototype as soon as possible. The last thing to note is that game balance is less important than all the things mentioned before. It gets polished and sorted over time, but it’s almost never the selling point of any game.
His Flesh and Blood Journey
During the pandemic, I've introduced him to an exciting game I just started playing. It was a new card game with amazing tournament support, interesting design and a hero-based system that reminded me of the WOW TCG. This piqued his interest and got him into the game to play with his girlfriend. A few weeks later, he attended a local tournament and has been hooked ever since.
In his answer on why he chose Flesh and Blood instead of any other currently thriving card game, he praised the game's modern game design. Every turn of the game is filled with decision points, where there may not be an intuitive or 100% right or wrong play. Every hand of cards you draw is a new puzzle and is almost never a linear solution. Because of that, the game puts a big emphasis on the player and how you pilot the deck. Kristian enjoys this the most. It makes him prepare a lot when not playing - watching videos, reading articles, play testing decks and being an active member of the discord community. This relationship with the game lets him learn on his mistakes, optimize his turns, and teaches him how to act in certain situations for the future.
All the positive sides of the game make it a very competitive experience, which Kristian notes might also stunt the game's growth. There is almost no casual appeal, and that may be making the game less fun.
During his short Flesh and Blood career, Kristian took part in many big events around the EU, most importantly the Calling in Kraków, as well as the Pro Tour New Jersey in the USA, where he got top 8 at the Battle Hardened event. At some point, he also placed #9 in the global ELO leader boards for Flesh and Blood, which is an amazing achievement since the game is very competitively oriented.
What’s next for Kristian?
Kristian works at a high school as a Computer Science teacher, but will try to focus more on his next big board game project. He is playing competitive Dominion Online (a classic board game of the deck building genre) and will keep playing Flesh and Blood and trying to get even better with each day. His big plan for next year is to do all the above with moderation, not to burn out. He is lucky to be surrounded with friends and girlfriend who share the same interests, so he can tend to his social life while working on his passion.
Interviewed and written by Ivan Kandrač