SDCC13: Playroom Entertainment Killer Bunnies
First Look At Heroes Vs. Villains And Interview With Creator...
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While we’re all toy collectors here many of us enjoy other pursuits as well, and for me at least that extends to cool and fun games whether they take place on a board, through role-playing, or via cards. One incredibly popular card game that’s stood the test of time and keeps on growing is Killer Bunnies, put out by Playroom Entertainment. With dozens of decks and boosters already released Playroom is about to rock the Bunny world with the latest box set, Killer Bunnies: Heroes vs. Villains! Set to hit store shelves on July 31st, the game was previewed (and sold in limited quantities) at Comic-Con, and Bunnies creator Jeffrey Neil Bellinger was on hand to sign cards and meet fans. I got to sit down with Jeffrey for an exclusive interview in which we discussed the new game, the lasting appeal of Killer Bunnies, and lots more!
As noted, Killer Bunnies: Heroes vs. Villains is the latest release in the Killer Bunnies series, and it takes the game to a whole new level. As a boxed set it can be played by itself as a standalone game for 2-4 players, or mixed with previous Ultimate Odyssey decks/boosters for a larger experience. In the game you play as either all heroes or all villains, and any comic book/sci-fi geek will love the art and characters referencing everything from Marvel and DC to Star Trek, Doctor Who, and much more. Even better, this new format will be supported with additional expansions starting next year. Killer Bunnies centers around the race to gain Civilization Points by accumulating creatures and structures, all the while preventing your opponents from doing the same.
Sitting down with Jeff and Jeremy Topczewski (game mechanics consultant and playtester of Racine, WI), I learned all about the light-hearted tone of Killer Bunnies as well as how versatile the game is for players who want everything from a casual, fun experience to a super-competitive gaming experience. “The endgame says it all,” described Jeff. “An hour after the game is over no one can tell you who won, but they all had fun!” Killer Bunnies is unique in that every player can win up to the very last card being played thanks to the “Magic Carrot” mechanic that randomly determines which is the winning card. This effectively levels the playing field whether you’re a first timer or an expert, and thus offers the freedom to get immersed in the combos and interactivity of the game without being so focused on accumulating everything to win. With Heroes vs. Villains the 47th product in the Killer Bunnies universe after 24 years, it’s clear that this equation is a hit with players.
I asked Jeff what sets Heroes vs. Villains apart from other versions of Killer Bunnies. “In all of our games, each bunny (card) has its own power and personality. In the original version, bunnies had colors and names only to distinguish them. For Heroes vs. Villains, we’ve split up the new characters into quadrants based on classification (hero or villain) and gender (male or female). In addition, bunnies in this game appear in six different colors (say, compared to Magic The Gathering’s five colors). Plus, there are two special white ‘universal’ characters we’ll be releasing as promo cards: the heroic Coconut Vanilla, a Star Trek reference only major Trekkie will get, and the villainous Talcum! The Killer Bunnies game has been around for a long time, but if you’re new to it this is a great jumping on point.” So what else sets HvV apart? “Starting with Odyssey, the Killer Bunnies art has a different look. Before that everything was flat and more cartoony, with only 256 colors. The more recent releases, including Heroes vs. Villains, have art with much more detail including muscles, shadowing, etc. giving it a comic book look.
As for gameplay, the new version can be played in three different ways. “First, you can play community-style with every player drawing from the same pile. Alternatively, from the box you can build three single color starter decks of Blue, Yellow, and Green. Finally, you can use the cards to build your own deck. One important note for deck building; you can only play heroes OR villains, not both. On the other hand, if you’re already a Killer Bunnies player, Heroes vs. Villains is compatible with all ‘Odyssey’ releases, and there are already around 900 cards in that pool. In fact, those players have been waiting two years to add these new cards to their game!” Such a complicated and inclusive game did not come easy, and Jeff talked about the challenge (and fun) of coordinating a game with three different levels. It’s the end result and what the fans do with it that’s the best part, and the team is always amazed at the inventive combos fans come up with, sometimes even doing things that no one thought of in the design process!
The art in Killer Bunnies is fantastic, combining parody and immediately recognizable pop culture characters with jokes and of course cute bunnies. The sheer number of cards and the consistent quality of their images drove me to ask about they come to be. “We primarily use two artists,” Jeff revealed, “and the process starts with me giving them a name, sometimes more, and then getting back art. Frequently I tell them what I want, and they tell me what I’m getting. Jonathan Young is one of our artists; out of an estimated 7,000 cards he’s drawn half.” As always, Killer Bunnies artwork doesn’t have blood, nudity, or death - ever.
Unlike some other game creators, Jeff is always welcoming of fan input and questions. “I answer all fan mail personally (though it may take some time). Anyone can get in touch with me through Creative Team Alpha on the Killer Bunnies site and we’re always eager to hear from creative players and playtesters. We also welcome potential artists. The test is simple; I ask an artist what his or her favorite movie is, then I have the artist draw a main character from it as a bunny!” Because Jeff is known to be personally interactive with the fans and players, it sometimes comes up in the business. There was once some in-house controversy over a card Jeff created called the “Angry Hoe”... which was of course the farm tool with mean eyes drawn on it. “The publisher didn’t want to put it out with that name on it, and it led to a yearlong argument. I even re-submitted it as the ‘Flat-Faced Farm Tool!’ Finally they let me include the Hoe with a proviso that I would have to answer any and all complaints about it. There have been exactly zero.”
Finally, I asked Jeff to tell me how Killer Bunnies came to be, and it’s quite an interesting story. “I was inventing games since junior high,” he explained, “and actually came up with Killer Bunnies in the 9th grade as the third in a trilogy with Salt Birds [for which he holds a patent and is bringing back] and Rooney’s Asteroids, which became Killer Bunnies and the Journey to Jupiter. All of those games were about the interaction between players. Bunnies started out as a board game, and I had the opportunity to playtest and revise it during my time in the Navy [1997-2000]. It rapidly became the most popular game on the ship, where the only other options were to watch the movie or play dominoes. Testing and costs determined that it wasn’t feasible to produce the board, and with the increasing popularity of Magic The Gathering and Pokemon I looked at making it a card game.” From there Jeff created the company Sarsen’s Stuff and sold Killer Bunnies himself from 2000-2002 before joining up with Playroom Entertainment in 2002. And Killer Bunnies has never looked back; in those first two years Jeff released Alpha through Delta Bunnies, and now it’s up to Zeta!
For more information on Killer Bunnies, Heroes vs. Villains, and Jeff Bellinger, check out KillerBunnies.com.