As a member of the Stone Blade team, I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside Gary Arant since the company’s earliest days. Gary has played a crucial role in every game we’ve ever made, including Ascension, Ascension Tactics, Shards of Infinity, and SolForge Fusion. It was an honor for me to speak with Gary on an episode of Think Like A Game Designer. I couldn’t be more grateful to have such a talented and dedicated colleague in the field. Gary’s contributions have been instrumental in shaping the games we create at Stone Blade, and I can’t wait to see what we’ll accomplish together in the future.

“I was lucky enough to just kinda start down this journey where all of my Magic idols were hanging out at my card shop.”

Gary started his career as an intern at Stone Blade Entertainment, back when it was called Gary Games. He worked his way up to being Chief Operating Officer, which means he has a hand in almost every aspect of the company. From the beginning of his internship, Gary’s exceptional listening skills and eagerness to learn set him apart from others.

In this section, we will compare and contrast Gary’s experiences of rising through the ranks of the company with my viewpoint as Gary’s employer and friend.

“The big takeaway was: simplify, focus on the job and the essentials, and leave the ego to the side.”

Next, we talk about Gary’s work as lead designer of Ascension X: War of Shadows, a set renowned for its popularity. Gary shares his experience of encountering design challenges that are commonly faced by novice designers, such as making the design overly complex, deviating from the core design loop, and becoming attached to ideas that need to be discarded. Toward the end of this segment, we begin discussing how his success with War of Shadows leads us to the development of Shards of Infinity.

“I remember coming into work one day, and you had this look on your face, and I knew you had an awesome idea, and then you showed me the Infinity Shard.”

This summer, we will be Kickstarting Shards of Infinity: Saga Collection, which brings together every card we’ve ever produced with new mechanics, new components, and lots of promo cards. The original game was co-designed by Gary and out of all the games we have developed, this one stands out for its replayability, and it was a lot of fun to design—our team was obsessed with playtesting it.

In this section, we delve into the creative process behind the concepts like mastery and mercenaries. Furthermore, we analyze other deckbuilding games and the decision-making process that led us to the final product. We end this segment by discussing how the expansions for Shards led us to create the upcoming Saga Collection for Shards of Infinity.

“With Ascension, I think we could go a different direction and make more of a classic style legacy game.”

Next, I challenge Gary to develop a collected edition of Ascension. You’ll have an opportunity to listen to Gary as he takes on the challenge of designing the first version of this hypothetical game. Gary and I bounce creative ideas back and forth, just as we would in a typical meeting at Stone Blade. We thought it would be fun to capture a conversation between two designers who have worked together for over a decade, so future designers can see how we challenge each other’s ideas to refine what could become a prototype.

If you want to join this discussion, join the Stone Blade Discord and put your idea in the Game Design channel!

“The whole concept of it is to push yourself to identify the choices that you have.”

During the last part of the podcast, we discuss how Gary has transformed the way Stone Blade operates, specifically by enhancing our design processes, communication, and management strategies. As part of these changes, Gary has introduced our routine “Assumption Challenge,” an exercise where we scrutinize every aspect of a game before we start working on it—this includes analyzing the mechanics, components, theme, art, and marketing of the game. This exercise has been incredibly beneficial to our organization, and in this episode, you will have the chance to learn more about it and how it operates.

Check out the Shards of Infinity Saga Collection Kickstarter that’s discussed in this episode!