Luke: Hey folks! This week on Behind the Board, we’re going to be chatting with Juri Krasko, aka Odysseus, a particularly active custom content creator for Marvel Champions. Thanks for joining us today, Juri.
Juri: Absolutely, my pleasure. I really appreciate you reaching out.
Luke: So Juri, why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?
Juri: Well, I’m a student in Germany, currently in my final year of university, and hopefully soon to be a primary school teacher if I stop procrastinating so much [laughs].
I’m a long time avid board, card, and wargame enthusiast. I love almost every aspect of the hobby and have participated in it for many years now. I started board gaming about 10 years ago, but my measly student budget does prevent me from playing as much as I’d like.
Luke: [laughs] I think we can all appreciate that in some way. So what exactly was it that initially drew you to Marvel Champions?
Juri: Simple, the license; I’m a massive Marvel fan, comic books being another hobby of mine. Distribution is very limited around here, but I keep up with them wherever I can, and Marvel has been my favorite publisher throughout my teen years. Even though Image has probably replaced it by now, I still adore many of the newer Marvel series, like Venom, Thor, and basically anything by Donny Cates. I just find the universe fascinating and the MCU movies only added to that. It’s a great time to be a Marvel fan.
Luke: Yeah, I really love what Donny did with Venom, I need to catch up on that.
Juri: You should! It’s definitely worth your time.
Luke: I was a little hesitant about him writing Thor, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far.
Juri: Yeah, I’m excited to see where it goes, I think it’ll be a fun ride.
Luke: For sure! Getting back on track, when did you decide that you wanted to start making custom content for the game?
Juri: Around October of last year, before the game was officially released. Most of my previous custom projects kind of died off with the release of Marvel Crisis Protocol, and I decided to just make a template for Champions and give it a shot. That led to the great Discord community we have now.
Luke: And have you worked on any board game-related content prior to this?
Juri: I made lots and lots of content for the Knight Models tabletop skirmish games, the Marvel Universe Miniatures Game, and the Batman Miniatures Game. I really enjoy the creative process behind each project, though I find myself a bit more drawn to the aesthetic aspects of the design rather than mechanics. I do tend to run out of ideas frequently, especially due to my lack of experience with co-op card games.
Thankfully, we have a fantastic community for custom content which is always happy to help with some inspiration and discussion. Some great folks from the Facebook group also regularly take a look through my concepts and contribute their own. I highly prefer having someone to bounce my sometimes crazy ideas off of.
Luke: Is there anything that draws you to a particular character or scenario?
Juri: Like everyone, I have my nostalgia for some of the classics, like Spidey, Daredevil, Punisher, etc. The MCU awakened my interest in superheroes I previously never cared for, like Black Widow. But most of all, I enjoy the weird and niche ones. I have some weird sets with Moon Girl, Squirrel Girl, and Black Knight, all of which aren’t widely known or beloved but are greatly fascinating to me. I love finding some amazing art for characters that people might not know at all with cool gimmicks or powers.
Luke: Having created a custom hero set for Black Widow before she was announced, how do you view a piece of custom content (yours or someone else’s) that has an FFG official counterpart?
Juri: Oh yeah, I made Widow back in November and was a bit discouraged when the official one was announced soon after, but honestly, I love there being different versions of the same character. It generally just provides people with the choice of different experiences for the same character.
I don’t believe my Widow holds a candle to the official one, especially in terms of mechanics and power level. She was my first Marvel set and somewhat basic in comparison, but I’m happy with how she turned out. She’s a homage to Mark Waid’s 2016 run, while the official one isn’t tied to any particular books.
Luke: Absolutely, that’s a great way to look at it.
One of the things that drew me to your work is the thoughtful ways you create hero sets that encourage players to make riskier plays in moderation. Luke Cage, Wolverine, and your recently revealed Black Knight set each present aspects of this. Can you speak a little to the philosophy behind that design choice?
Juri: The main issue with creating stuff for this game is the limitation behind it. It’s not the deepest or most involved game (yet), which is totally fine, but the mechanics are still developing and I believe we will see them expand throughout the next couple of waves of the game.
So I try to make the characters interesting and different from the official ones without making them too complex, convoluted, or weird to use. Keeping it on a similar level of complexity is a challenge with varying results, but it’s great fun. When I started out, most of my stuff was either super generic or far too experimental and strange, so I try to find a balance there.
Luke: Hey, experimental’s good! It means your content ends up feeling unique, and since I don’t expect to see weirder stuff come out of FFG’s doors for a while, it makes your work feel that much more unique.
Juri: Well thank you, I appreciate that.
Luke: So we’ve talked a bit about your work on heroes, but you have a few interesting encounter sets out at this point; how does designing villains for Marvel Champions differ from heroes?
Juri: Villains are probably my favorite part of the game. If the villain is cheap or too easy, the game isn’t fun for me. Creating villains is generally far more difficult than heroes, in my opinion at least.
With the Carnage set, I tried to take some inspiration from both the comics and Arkham Horror. With a campaign system coming up, I thought it might be fun creating some interwoven scenarios and linking them together later once we know what the system will look like. By now, we have a villain for each base mechanic in the game, and thus new ones require a bit of out-of-the-box thinking. I just hope people like them and don’t get bored or frustrated trying them out.
Luke: I highly doubt that; I don’t think anyone’s complaining about having new, fun stuff to play with. And the fact that you release content as frequently as you do is impressive! What would you say is the most challenging part of creating so much custom content?
Juri: Suppressing the gnawing guilt of actually having more important stuff to do [laughs]. Kidding, of course. Probably, the hardest part for me is coming up with decent and interesting ideas for mechanics. I love the aesthetic process, so it doesn’t take as much time as one might think. Being in quarantine helps a great deal too, but I just can’t come up with neat ideas as fast as I can make the cards. Which is, once again, why I’m greatly thankful for everyone contributing their ideas.
Luke: So with all that being said, what new stuff should folks be expecting from you in the coming weeks?
Juri: I still have to complete the recommended modular set for Carnage, which will be coming sometime soon. I also have some slivers of an idea for Knull the Symbiote God, as the final part of the campaign scenario.
The poll I posted recently closed with some interesting results, so I guess I’ll be looking into the Guardians of the Galaxy some more, even though I’m not their biggest fan. I’ve got some super weird ideas for Deadpool, which might just be the worst thing I have ever come up with, so I look forward to that at some point. I’m quite surprised no one named him as a possible coming hero set in September as the dude sitting on the couch.
Luke: I mean, I can see it, but I think everyone’s pretty sure it’s the Scott Lang version of Ant-Man, which makes a ton of sense to me.
Alright, one last question; what does Marvel Champions mean to you?
Juri: It’s my most played game ever, board games and otherwise. I really love it and hope it will grow into something even greater than it is now. I really hope all the content people are creating at the moment will get it through the rough times without much of a bump and we will see more great official content come in the future.
Beyond that, it provides me and many other people in the community with a vent for creativity and others with a means to cope with the current situation, so I greatly appreciate it for that.
Luke: Absolutely, I think many of us can relate to that sentiment. Thanks again for coming on Juri, I’ve had a great time talking with you.
Juri: The pleasure’s all mine, I’m just glad to be contributing to the Marvel Champions conversation.
Luke: And thanks to all of you who took the time to read this; let us know your thoughts in the comments, and we’ll see you next week!