Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid Creator On Bringing Sentai To Tabletop

Jesse Collins,

August 27, 2018 12:50 PM

Power Rangers is celebrating 25 years of morphin' time this week! In addition, Renegade Game Studios has Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid tabletop game on Kickstarter. We sat down with game designer Jonathan Ying to discuss it.

Power Rangers is celebrating 25 years this week, so the celebrations between the fan community and Hasbro, the current owners of the franchise, have been, well, pretty heavy. Between a 25th anniversary special for the show and plenty of festivities, as well as recently being acquired by toy company Hasbro, Power Rangers is (rightfully) currently in the public view. But, aside from that, a new board game is making its rounds as well, taking flight on Kickstarter: Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid.

Source: Kickstarter/ Renegade Game Studios
Source: Kickstarter/ Renegade Game Studios

Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid is a co-op tabletop game with a heavy focus on nostalgia for the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Leaning heavily on the modern BOOM Studios comics based around the original team, Heroes of the Grid takes advantage of the art and style of recent parts of the franchise.

Going Renegade

Growing at an insane rate, the Kickstarter for the game has amassed just under $350,000 (as of publication), unlocking tons of stretch goals after its original $100,000 goal was smashed. We sat down with the game’s creator Jonathan Ying to talk about making this and past games, working with publisher Renegade Game Studios, and what the future holds for HotG. How did he get to make this monster of a game?

“Renegade Games,” he began, “brought me on when they had the license and they were looking for a designer that knows the IP. They wanted someone who was familiar with the Power Rangers and who cared about it all, someone who had experience making these larger, more hobby targeted products. They didn’t want to just go mass market and cheap like some kind of small game, they wanted to make a really proper, elaborate Power Rangers game. Honestly, Scott (Gaeta, Renegade Game Studios founder) was kind of crazy, I was like ‘really, you want to make mini’s this big?’ and he was like ‘yeah, that’s what we want.’ So that was exciting.”

Source: Kickstarter/ Renegade Game Studios
Source: Kickstarter/ Renegade Game Studios

Ying elaborated that as a massive fan of the franchise, he was the right man for the job.

“I had just moved to San Diego,” he continued, “and was meeting with a bunch of the local studios and stuff, hanging out. I’d been doing freelance a little bit at that point, so when Renegade approached me and were like ‘So, what do you know about Power Rangers?’ and I was like ‘Okay, listen you guys.’ I had a lot to say. But yeah, I was really excited to get on that project, and yeah, they were super great so far to work with.”

Ying has a bit of a background making licensed tabletop games. From Star Wars Imperial Assault to DOOM: The Board Game, his name has been involved with so many known IP that he’s finally doing one of his own dream projects.

DOOM and Star Wars, Ying said, “are also things from my childhood, so I’d gotten a lot of experience designing towards nostalgia, bringing these worlds and universes, making them dramatic experiences. I’d had a lot of experience taking a core system and then giving certain characters unique tweaks and personalities. Like, how do you make this character feel like Han Solo (from Star Wars), or how do you make this set of mechanics feel like the Doom Slayer (of DOOM), or how do you make a set of mechanics feel like the Blue Ranger? So, those skills were very valuable in kind of creating this heavily flavored thematic experience with Power Rangers.”

“I’ve done a lot of miniatures games and a great number of isometric games,” he went on, “games where you have one player fighting against a group of players. In Star Wars, you have the Imperial Player who plays all of the bad guys and the rest of the players just play an individual hero. That kind of experience players often kind of ask for an AI or something. Recently, Star Wars actually put out an app for Imperial Assault that takes control of the Imperial player, it kind of simulates using an AI system. That’s something that a lot of players really ask for (in games), and it’s something that we have been aware of, a desire that people have. So, I’ve certainly put a lot of thought into this concept of how to make a good, co-op tactics game. Those ideas certainly fed into it.”

It's Morphin' Time!

As with prior games, it wasn’t all about copy-and-paste for Jonathan. He wanted to build the game as an experience fit for the occasion. “For Power Rangers,” he said, “I think the biggest sort of challenge was making sure that we didn’t just phone-in the mechanics from another genre. It would have been really easy to take a generic, dungeon crawler, grid-based, combat game and just paste on the Power Rangers skin. Say the Red Ranger is the ‘tank’, Blue Ranger is the ‘healer’, but it wouldn’t have felt right for the kind of stories that the Power Rangers like to tell.”

Within the series, the Power Rangers grow as people, but their powers don’t just slowly get bigger and better. They may get new costumes, Zords, or weapons, but they don’t level up like an adventurer would in Dungeons and Dragons.

“The Rangers don’t kick down the door, they don’t level up in a usual RPG fashion. We took a lot of different influences from a lot of different games, but this is a little bit different from what I’ve usually done. It’s ‘miniatures-heavy’, but it’s not a ‘tactics game’ in the way where there is heavy emphasis on mobility and on positioning. We’ve worked really hard to create this attractive combat system so that each of the characters can really come through in their own way without having everyone come through in the way of mobility and how much damage you do. We’ve extracted a lot of elements to make it this interesting combat system that is honestly heavily influenced by games such as Grandia and Japanese RPG combat. They get a huge amount of variety and different enemies they can throw at you without compromising too much of the theme of those games.”

As for the Power Rangers themselves, it’s all about teamwork. Going in alone nearly always ends in chaos, so the game grows and latches onto the feeling of having a friend around with a cooperative style, being able to be played with minimally two players. Ying elaborated on the challenges of making a co-op game, but how it really perfectly fit for this game.

“Mechanically, I had been wanting to make a cooperative game for a long time. Cooperative games are really a big part of my gaming upbringing, and something that I really love. From a design perspective they are very, very challenging to make. You have to create a system that is as engaging as another player. You have to substitute the amount of value that you get out of a human with cards and tokens and create a system that can create interesting decisions and puzzles out of that. There are a lot of games that try it, and only a few that do it really well, and it was just such an intimidating project for me, it was not something I had ever really, it was something that I had been hoping for for some time, but not something that I had ever felt I could really ‘go for broke’ on. For Power Rangers, it seemed like the right IP, the right setting, and the right kind of fit for a big elaborate co-op game. So that’s where it all started. It took a lot of iterations and a lot of designs on the cutting room floor to get to where we are.”

Go, Go, Power Mini-figures!

Speaking of big, Power Rangers Heroes of the Grid features a “larger than life” mentality in a very literal way. Figures may come unpainted, but they stand one-and-a-half to two times the size of normal figs. Oh, and that’s just the Rangers and monsters! The available Megazord stands 200 mm (nearly 8 inches) tall. All of the figures are unpainted, but the “Rangers are going to come in colored plastic in their Ranger color.” This means the Red Ranger is red, and so on, but all of the monsters and enemies come in gray, ready to be painted if one so chooses.

“For the recent Power Morphicon 2018 show,” he discussed about the figs, “we showed off a lot of painted characters to show what they would look like. We’re looking at making (online) painting tutorials, because the characters are so big they would be a really good fit for that. Generally, we found that getting pre-painted minis is very challenging, and making them look good is extra tricky. We wanted to make sure the models are well sculpted instead, so people can get in there themselves and paint if they want. Our same sculptor did the work on the DOOM board game, and you can see the gorgeous paint jobs that people have done for that. So, they’re going to come unpainted, with the intention that hobbyists can paint them, but also, we feel that the detail comes through best without the paint jobs. We feel that a bad paint job would be worse than no paint job, and the cost of making high quality paint jobs would skyrocket the game.”

Source: Kickstarter/ Renegade Game Studios
Source: Kickstarter/ Renegade Game Studios

Should we paint them? He, himself, is not the type to paint the miniatures, because “I don’t have that kind of manual dexterity. I don’t think a majority of players will paint their minis, but the game has so much awesome art that I don’t think it will detract from the experience. I expect that maybe 20% of players will give their minis the full-on hobby paint experience, maybe more if the tutorial videos kind of take off. I’m certainly excited to see people post their awesome paint jobs!”

There is no I in Rangers Team

So, the game may be able to be played with minimally two players, but the base game tops out at five players by giving the core five Rangers as figurines. And yet, the classic MMPR has six Rangers at any given time, considering Green and White. How does this factor into the game?

“If you add any of the expansions with an extra hero, the game will go up to six. We kind of don’t want to move past that six, even though there are some Power Rangers series with like 13 Rangers or something like that. Six is kind of where it caps out, and you can play it in different ways. You can play three players, with each player controlling two Rangers, which is how the 2-player mode works with controlling multiple Rangers. But, we are absolutely doing a six-player mode. We had the core game at five and has there ever been a more appropriate 6th player game expansion than the Green Ranger. It’s iconic in that way. We (at Renegade) played with it chronologically so we could have the Green Ranger as an enemy, he’s one of the more interesting villains there is. But, the Green Ranger Hero is one of my favorite designs and he’s been testing super well, he’s got a very interesting kit.”

Source: Kickstarter/ Renegade Game Studios
Source: Kickstarter/ Renegade Game Studios

During the Kickstarter, there are three available Exclusive expansions for Heroes of the Grid: Green With Evil, White Light, and Shattered Grid. Green With Evil includes no additional hero tokens, but includes the Evil Green Ranger (complete with Sword of Darkness and Dragon Dagger), whereas White Light includes the White Ranger. Green Ranger as a “Hero” is now an unlocked stretch goal and will be included with Kickstarter orders automatically. Shattered Grid, based on the recent BOOM Comic event, ups the ante by including the Master Lord Drakkon for the evil side, but includes six playable Rangers from the online, dubiously canon tabletop series, Power Rangers Hyperforce. This set could be used as its own team on its own.

The question is, with five core members of the team, the Green Ranger, the White Ranger, six Hyperforce Rangers, and potentially additionally unlocked stretch goals like Red Ranger With Shield and Hero Ranger Slayer, this game can be done in a large scale, right?

“At its core,” Ying stated, “the more players you add, the longer it’s going to take. The game right now is about 80 to 90 minutes on average for five to six players who know what they’re doing,  and around two hours for newer players learning the mechanics. My concern when adding more players is that it becomes difficult to coordinate players and the balance becomes a bit screwy. I expect we’ll see players have these large games (at events), but personally I would not go over six. The game could support it mechanically, but it wouldn’t be as clean of an experience. I personally wouldn’t do it, but I’m sure someone will and I’m looking forward to seeing that.”

Source: Kickstarter/ Renegade Game Studios
Source: Kickstarter/ Renegade Game Studios

However, he did add that for those that need the seventh player, the newly announced Alpha-5 is available as a support-type character. As a non-combatant, Alpha is great for a casual player that just wants to help, but can be an AI-controlled token during gameplay just as easily.

Balance is the key

But, what about balance in HotG? The number of monsters stay the same whether there’s two players or six. Ying assured that players have options to make the game more or less challenging with in-game rules and actions.

“There are a couple of different options we were playing with, but broadly speaking, the rangers have a pretty reasonable spread of actions, and their economy is in those actions that they can do. We generally have a pretty fairly similar amount of enemies showing up at regular intervals but balancing for us is quite challenging based on the theme.”

Source: Renegade Game Studios
Source: Renegade Game Studios

“The thing about Power Rangers, he added, “is that they win! The fantasy about being a Power Ranger is fighting off a swarm of mooks then getting in your mech and kicking ass, which is honestly not a common theme in co-op games. So, we had to kind of ride this particular line of making players feel powerful but also providing a real challenge to the players. We put a couple of different challenges in there, there’s a couple of different difficulty modules players can use, certain locations can be flipped from, an easier to harder mode, as well as other difficulty scaling methods that are available. The more players there are, generally the easier it is. The lowest number of Rangers right now is three (if one player plays as two heroes and one doesn’t), and they get a fairly high volume of action economy to subsidize the loss of additional Rangers, they have more actions to play with in the rounds. It feels different having lower numbers of Rangers, so getting the game feel right is an important aspect of the game. We’re working to make sure the game is fun and engaging no matter the number of players or their experience levels.”

Forever Red? More like Forever Tommy!

This game is definitely designed with the future in mind. With 25 years of experience, the franchise has no boundaries it’s not willing to cross for further expansions. What’s the game plan?

“We can’t just go chronologically because that would take 25 years, so we’re looking at how we might do the expansions. We might do individual teams based on popularity. For instance, we might do a ‘Forever Red’ type pack.”

Forever Red, for those that haven’t followed the series since the original team, was the tenth anniversary (wow, 15 years ago now?) storyline that brought back every major Red Ranger in the series for a massive crossover, known as the Veteran Red Rangers. But, the fans (and Jonathan) think they can take the idea one further with “Forever Tommy”.

“So, you’ll have two monsters and a villain in each game, and those can be from the whole pool of options. It could be Evil Green Ranger and Black Dragon as the monsters under Lord Drakkon, or something like that. We did get jokes during the Power Morphicon when people were demoing the game, saying that ‘If you get Green Ranger, White Ranger, Turbo Red, Zeo Red, and Dino Thunder Black against Green Ranger and Lord Drakkon, it can be Tommy Oliver all the way down”

With 25 years of lore to explore, fans of the series have their own opinions on who should be in further expansions and Ying believes this is a long-term project for him with ideas like Forever Red and the Tommy-based games.

“As long as the designs are different enough, it could be awesome. As far as high priority ones, we’d probably want to do someone like Zeo Gold before working on something like that. There’s so many different Ranger teams and everyone has their favorite. It was really eye-opening when we were demoing the game, and we ask who they’d like to see, and every single table had different answers of who needed to be in the game. There’s so much content to pull from, so many cool enemies and characters to design. A lot of it is going to depend on the response to this, so fingers crossed it’s going to be big.”

Choices, choices.

Alternate appearances are already showing up in the game with the alt figure for Rita Repulsa as a Kickstarter Exclusive and a classic card stretch goal that features older-styles of artwork instead of the Boom Studios aesthetic. But, with the recent Power Rangers movie giving an entirely new appearance to the costumes, the options are endless.

“(The movie costumes are) certainly on the table! I’d be interested in doing something like that, but we’ll see how it shakes out. I know the next movie is in production right now and I suspect they might get new characters for that, so we’ll have to see if Saban and Hasbro are interested. A lot of our assets are coming out of the Boom Comics series, so we kind of like to go with that modernized retro aesthetic. If we did a movies pack it would be super cool, but it would be a very different overall style to the comics. It’s on the table, but I don’t know if that’s something we’ll end up going with.”

Bulk and Skull to the rescue!

While the canon of the Boom comics is potentially official canon to the series, it’s considered dubious or an alternate universe at best. Even more so are the side comics that tell stories about the loveable-but-dimwitted supporting characters, Bulk and Skull. Before I even got the question out, Jonathan was laughing and said “I know where this is going.” In one issue of the comic, the Rangers are incapacitated and in an emergency, Bulk and Skull become Orange and Purple Rangers to save them, ending with a memory wipe to ensure they go back to their normal lives. With the inspiration coming from the Boom comics, what are the chances of seeing Bulk and Skull suit up to fight in the game? The answer was surprising.

Source: BOOM Comics
Source: BOOM Comics

“Greater than 0%, I’ll give you that!” He laughed and exclaimed, “I can’t say the subject hasn’t come up and we certainly want to get Bulk and Skull into the game in some fashion, and we have a couple of ideas on that front. As far as the Purple and Orange Rangers, their designs are pretty funny, and we’ll see how that shakes out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure our sculptor would be thrilled! He’s been having a blast designing all the monsters. Power Rangers has always been a bit silly, so I don’t think this is beyond the pale.”

When “Day of the Dumpster” is everyday

Ying mentioned earlier that they played the game in chronological order (Green With Evil and then White Light). Does this make for an episodic-style? Ying says no need. Mixing and matching add to the fun.

“Currently, expansions just add more to the game. We’re working on expansions that bring in new mechanics, but at the moment we’re just showing off expansions that add new Rangers or Monsters with their combat decks. The different combinations of Rangers and Enemies should create a wide variety of gameplay scenarios. Mostly the new content just adds more variety and more content, the new mechanics tend to just be more interesting ways to play, like the Hyperforce Ranger team has different ways of interacting with different types of enemies. Blue Hyperforce in particular is very weird in the way that he plays, so I’m very excited to see what players think of him.”

The stretch goals in the Kickstarter bring in more fan favorite monsters like Finster and the Wizard of Deception, as well as the core game including some of the more well-known monsters-of-the week like Pudgy Pig. But, with hundreds (thousands?) of monsters that have graced the screen, what goes into the choice? Why not Eye-Guy, for instance?

“So,” he laughed, “Eye-Guy in particular is asked about a lot. He’s iconic to the series, but when it comes to making a miniature, especially one that will be unpainted, he is a collection of orbs that have smaller circles drawn on them, with even smaller circles drawn on those, and they very rapidly resemble other parts of the human body that are not eyes. He did not look good! He was no longer ‘Eye-Guy’, he was ‘some other guy that should not be in a game’. This is a family show, you know?”

You can’t have Power Rangers without the villains...

We asked if there were any additional monsters he’d like to see join the ranks of the game and he said he wasn’t sure if he could “talk about them, because we do have some chambered away.”

He did add that since the cards and art are all based on the Boom comics, some of the monsters already in the game and some waiting to be added on the bench needed their own art made since they never made it to the comics previously. “The thing is,” he said, “for a lot of these monsters, there are no modern illustrations for them. We’ve never seen Pudgy Pig show up in the comics, unfortunately. So, we’re getting a lot of art commissions and some of them are like, ‘Is this necessary? Is it going to be important?’ I think so, but we’ll see how Production feels.”

Aside from those already under lock-and-key, he did have plenty of villains that he’d love to see in future expansions. His number one goal was to get Cyclopsis into the game somehow, which is already checked off, massive, and “he’s going to have his whole own set of mechanics” which involves fighting the Megazord.

But, who else does he want included? “The Psycho Rangers are probably my lead candidate. It would be tricky because you’d want to do all of them but with the current structure of how you deploy the monsters, you only deploy two of them, one at a time. So, we’d probably have to come up with something special to make them work. They’d probably have to be something like the way Cyclopsis works, where they would be their own unique scenario to go up against. Beyond that, I’d love to do more with Lord Drakkon’s different minion types, I’d love to do the Sabretooth Troopers and the Red Royal Guards. Those designs would be so cool!”

A Personal Goal: Adam Park

Who does Jonathan Ying want in the game? He’d love to include Johnny Yong Bosch’s Adam Park into the fray. He just doesn’t know how yet. “That has been my current, very petty, personal goal. Are we going to do Zeo Ranger Green? Or, are we going to do another Mastodon, you know? Adam Park meant a lot to me as a kid. As an Asian American kid, I didn’t often see Asian characters in media that were like me, an Asian-American, rather than just heavily ‘This is the foreign guy’, or ‘This is the Kung-Fu guy’. But, when Adam Park came onto the show it was like, here is this Asian guy who is considered in the show to be good looking and cool, and that was very heart-warming for me as a kid! That gave me a lot of confidence and made me excited!”

Aside from Adam Park, he knows that the second full team that Adam was on is bound to happen as well, which could be done different ways. “The main concern with that,” he said, “honestly, is that we would want to do a full set of alternate Rangers, because you’d have your Rocky, Cat, Aisha, Adam, but Billy is still Billy? I mean it might just be an alternate Billy with a different special ability, but it’s just something that we’ve been playing with to get in different characters. I just want to do right by my boy, Adam Park.”

The Hyperforce Rangers add a whole new team to play as!

Another aspect of the Shattered Grid expansion is the inclusion of the Hyperforce Rangers, which is from a series of Twitch-streamed pencil-and-paper RPG sessions. The players in the game were previous actors and actresses from the franchise, including the previously mentioned Bulk playing the Yellow Ranger for the campaign. During the 25-episode run, the Rangers went through time to the year 1994 and teamed up with the original MMPR, as well as a ton of other events. Ying loves the series and got to use it as “research” for HotG.

“I got a chance to hang out with the Hyperforce Rangers at Power Morphicon (this year), and that was super cool! We ran a video demo (of our game) on Hyper-RPG with a bunch of the Hyperforce guys and gals, and they are super lovely, and I personally hope the show comes back for another season. I get to call (watching the Hyperforce series) ‘work’! Like, oh yeah, ‘research’! I’m doing so much work right now guys! It was similar to when I was working on Doom and Game of Thrones and Star Wars, where I could call it ‘research’ when I would spend a day at the office binge watching season 3 of Game of Thrones or something.”

The Hyperforce campaign has gotten more than just a podcast. With the addition of the Yellow Hyperforce Ranger to the mobile fighting game, Power Rangers Legacy Wars, the series has become canon in its own way, similar to the Boom Comics lines, albeit in an alternate universe. But, Hyperforce was all words and never visuals of how the Rangers should look, so Saban had that concern nipped in the bud pretty quick, which Ying and his team have taken for their designs.

“(Previous Power Rangers owner) Saban is actually really good at making sure that when they create a new design for a helmet or weapon, that they give very clear direction on how the design is supposed to lay out, what it’s supposed to look like. They want to make sure it’s consistent and in tune with the Rangers as a brand. And the Hyperforce team, I think they got a film concept artist to do the original character designs for them, which was super cool, and they came out gorgeous! I love the design for the Hyperforce Ranger uniforms. The weapons just came into our sculptor and they’re awesome, so those were kind of made for that. We’re going to be commissioning a lot of new art, and there’s only a little bit that was made as promo material for Hyperforce itself, so you can expect to see a lot of cool new art of the Hyperforce team for the Shattered Grid expansion.”

Making a Monster Grow

One noticeable addition to the Kickstarter is the aforementioned Megazord and Cyclopsis. But, how do they work? Without the $30 figure, he’s just a Token.

“So, you get the figure, and it replaces the token that you get when the Megazord is deployed. The Megazord is generally a pretty late-game upgrade. You’ll upgrade each of the Zords as you level up through the game, and they give you broad power-ups throughout the game. When you unlock the Megazord, he really kicks it up a notch and he is this enormous, almost game endingly powerful character. He’s basically an alternate win condition for the players to unlock.”

If the Megazord is endgame, why do we need a giant 200 mm figure instead of the small token? Well, besides the fact that it’s awesome and looks great on a shelf, Ying has some ideas behind it.

“We are working on maybe making a little bit more elaborate stuff to let the players use the Megazord figure a little more, because currently he sort of shows up at the very tail end of the game and sweeps the board, which is kind of thematically appropriate. But, he’s a pretty awesome figure and we’d love to do more with him.”

Cyclopsis is part of this elaboration for the Megazord use, showing up around the same size as a figure and is designed to take on the mech. “I don’t want to spoil it too much,” Ying stated, “but Cyclopsis does have his own completely unique set of mechanics and way that you have to fight him. The game is heavily emphasized on the ground combat, with the Power Rangers and the kind of head-to-head combat that they do in the series. So, the Zord combat is a little bit different to that and we’re going to dive into that a little bit more when we get characters like Cyclopsis, and see if that plays well with the system. We’ll see how that shakes out!”

Goldar was the very first monster to be turned big in the first episode of the original MMPR. With the $500,000 stretch goal including a Master version of Goldar, we wondered if we’d see Rita yelling “Make my monster grow!” for Goldar in the game.

“Let me tell you,” he put simply, “we certainly quoted out how much that would cost to make. He’s very large!”

Ying is hoping owners of the game show off their figures and is very proud of their detail, even without paint. “We love their design so much.” With massive figures like Megazord and Cyclopsis, putting them on a shelf is better than trying to fit them into the box for sure. He even believes that the normal Ranger and monster figs deserve a spot on the shelf.

He’s also very proud that they blew past their initial goals and are slowly pacing toward their highest stretch goal. Did he think he’d be this high for their Kickstarter? He had hope, but just couldn’t imagine it until now. “I’m thrilled! I’m super excited! Oh man!”

Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid is currently on Kickstarter until Thursday, September 6 at 9 PM EDT. With still over 10 days to go in the campaign, will it hit $500k? Please? I’d really like that Goldar for myself. Now, go go and check it out!


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