The Legend of Korra: Pro-bending Arena – Interview With Sen-Foong Lim and Jessey Wright

korraboxDesigners: Sen-Foong Lim, Jessey Wright
Publisher: IDW Games
Year: 2018
MSRP: $9.95 per Kicker
Players: 2
Play Time: 30-45 Min
Ages: 12+
Rules Available Online: No
BGG: The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena

IDW Games recently wrapped an amazingly successful Kickstarter campaign for The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena, raising over $250,000 to deliver the game, an amazing looking expansion, and tons of extras. For those not familiar with The Legend of Korra, it’s a popular IP based on the Nickelodeon show Avatar: The Legend of Korra, a followup the Avatar: The Last Airbender.

I had a chance to ask the game’s designers, Sen-Foong Lim and Jessey Wright, some questions about the game. The following is what came of that:

Pro-Bending Arena was a great success on Kickstarter with tons of extras announced along the way. How long was the game in development, and how long was the planning stage for the crowdfunding campaign?

Jessey: I can’t speak to the planning stage for the crowdfunding campaign, while we were involved in some of that, the bulk of the work was handled by Ross and the IDW team. 

As for the development of the game itself, we had our first idea for the board and overall mechanics (of placing elemental tokens on the board) in August 2016 or so (just after GenCon that year, I can’t place if it was August or September – Sen’s memory may, or may not, be better in this regard!). The game was ready to print just under a year after that – we had all testing and development done before the KS launched.

Was the initial idea to make a Legend of Korra game from the start? Was the pro-bending aspect planned all along, or a product of the mechanics?

Jessey: Yeah. We knew we were making a Pro-Bending game when we really got started on this design, and so that theme was in our sights every step of the way. Each decision we made in the process of design and development was checked against the questions “Does this feel like bending? Does this feel like a Pro-Bending match?”

I personally loved the idea of the Amon Invasion expansion, which feels like it changes the gameplay a bit without being too much of a deviation (plus it’s perfectly thematic!). Are there plans for additional expansions that possibly take the game outside the arena? We’re getting a Kuvira mini. Is that a bit of foreshadowing? Any possibility of Zaheer or the Dark Avatar?

Jessey: I can’t really speak to what will come in the future beyond what was revealed in the Kickstarter, as that’s ultimately going to depend on how successful the game is. I can say, there’s tons of design space within which we could create more teams, and the Amon, P’Li, Unalaq, Kuvira, and Avatar Korra solo bender modes show off some of what the bending system that the game is built upon can do. We’d love to have the opportunity to further explore the possibilities.

For those who missed the Kickstarter, can you give a rundown of the game? What can players expect? What’s the appeal to someone who’s not familiar with the Avatar world?

Jessey: Great question. The game pits two teams of benders, one of each of fire, water, and earth, against each other. You will play as one team, attacking and defending by using your players to manipulate the element they specialize in, aiming to knock the opposing team off the arena before they do the same to you. 

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On your turn, you play three technique cards that you have in your hand, each of which will allow a specific bender to move and place elemental tokens on the board. Then, any opposing tokens you don’t deal with will hit your benders – each token knocks a bender back one row, and if a bender is knocked off the back they’re out! Tokens are ‘dealt with’ by either moving out of the space or canceling them out with your own tokens. One token cancels one token. In the last step of your turn, you can spend Chi – which you gain a little bit of each turn, and can also gain by discarding cards instead of playing them – to purchase new techniques and add them to your deck. New techniques are placed on top of your deck, then you draw a new hand of three cards (notice the cards you buy go right into your hand for the next turn!). 

There’s a few other details, including a variety of attacks and a couple special effects (like holding and dazing). Each team has a unique ability (for example, Fire Ferrets can counter bend, turning opponent’s attacks back at them; and Wolfbats can daze opposing players weakening their next activation). There’s also the possibility of customizing your team’s technique offering prior to the game, as well as picking your three tricks (which are limited use, highly impactful abilities that do not go into your deck), and if you got the deluxe edition from KS there’s a ton of extra teams and rules for mixing and matching players to create your own team.

If you’re not familiar with Avatar, this game is still an intense, fast, head to head battle with plenty of strategic and tactical dimensions to explore and master.

What’s your favorite aspect of the game?

Jessey: Mechanically speaking, my favourite mechanic is a very small thing – it’s how new technique cards you acquire during the game go right into your next hand so you can use them right away. Not only does this cut against the usual pattern of play most deckbuilders use where new cards go to your discard and you have to wait to actually use them, but it also creates lots of cool tactical space because you see what cards your opponent gains and so you know some of the cards in their next hand. This can be important when planning your turn, but you can also use it against your opponent because you know they know what you just added to your hand

Sen: I like that you really need to use each of your benders to cover one another. I play games for those “ah ha!” type, clever moments and there’s a lot of them in The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena.  The ability to customize your decks both before the game and within the game creates really interesting decisions that change depending on the stage of the game and the position of your individual benders.

Thanks so much for answering my questions. Is there anything you’d like to add before we wrap up?

Sen: The co-op adventure is a really interesting variation of the game.  We hope you enjoy kicking Amon’s butt as much as we enjoyed designing the adventure!

Jessey: Not only kicking Amon’s butt but taking Amon for a spin- and Avatar Korra for that matter! I’d also like to say that IDW is providing some support for local events, and so take advantage of that support to help you grow a thriving Pro-Bending community around your local stores!

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