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Designer Diary: Combo Fighter: Plotmaker Edition

by Asger Johansen

Hello, fellow board game enthusiasts! We are Asger and Snorre, and today we are thrilled to take you backstage of Combo Fighter, a card game dedicated to bringing the rush of old-school arcade fighting games right to your game nights.

We love to tell stories and create experiences that bring people together across skill levels and ages, and make you laugh and cheer, even if you are not the ultimate victor. We believe that losing a game should not be a downer but a thrill — and a prompt to dive back in. Game design is about creating good times, about sharing laughs and moments and high-fives.

Asger and Snorre at Gen Con

When we started Plotmaker Games in 2013, our designs were brought to market through established publishers. Now, we are finally a truly independent studio and publisher, which is super-duper exciting, and we relaunched the game as Combo Fighter: Plotmaker Edition – Pack 1 in 2022.

Combo Fighter is our love letter to the great arcade fighting games we grew up with. It was born from a passion for old-school arcade fighting games, comic books, and the raw intensity of real-life martial arts.

The Feel of the Game

We wanted a game that really captures the magic of classic arcade fighting games. We wanted it to be as fast and exhilarating as a game of Tekken or Street Fighter, where the real action isn’t just on the board but also in your head. The essential feeling of the game must be about trying to outguess your opponent, to see through their move before they even make it.

By drawing inspiration from the intricacies of Tekken 3‘s gameplay, we distilled the essence of fighting into three key actions: Attack, Defense, and Footwork. This rock-paper-scissor dynamic forms the foundation and core of the game. The simple mechanism allows for lightning-fast arcade action. While the game has strategic depth, the depth is more psychological than logical. This allows for an intense game of bluffing and out-guessing your opponent, and we found this perfect for conveying the feeling of fast-paced arcade fighting games.

With Combo Fighter we didn’t want moves that just looked cool on their own; we wanted to give players a chance to create series of epic moments. We wanted cool, individual moves with an inherent martial arts logic that combine to tell a story.

Finally, we wanted a game that’s accessible, no matter your skill level. It should not be about being a chess grandmaster but about having a blast together. We wanted the focus to be on the thrill and universal joy of landing a knockout punch or pulling off a perfect combo.

Crafting Unique Fighters: Personalities Woven into Cards

Combo Fighter is also about taking on a character and – in the fantastic arena of imagination — becoming a formidable fighter. You’ve got brawlers who love to land big hits, true combo fighters who fire off long salvos of smashing techniques, and the tactical geniuses who rely on making their moves come together in an all-or-nothing game-winning combo. In Combo Fighter, each character is a unique bundle of awesomeness.

The Fighter Line-up

It’s time to meet the stars of the show, the fearless and dedicated fighters who gladly shed sweat, tears, and blood for your entertainment:

Tele “Stomp” Manava

Stomp is back! Old fans of the game will know that this dude is our Sumo Wrestling champion. Sure, he’s slow, but boy, his Earthquake card! It lands like a wrecking ball. You can practically feel the ground shake. And his Samoan War Dance combo allows him to repeatedly return the card to his hand. Oh, and did we mention he has negotiated a big contract? Stomp is now sponsored by Papa’s Syrup. Pancake lovers unite!

Colonel Karhu

We took a trip to Finland and found the inspiration for Karhu at the bottom of a bottle. She is to the point, effective and strong like Finnish beer. “Karhu” means bear, and she seemed like a perfect fit for the no-nonsense fighting style of Krav Maga. Mechanically, Karhu introduces the new colorless cards, special cards that fall out of the rock-paper-scissor circle but allow for hard-hitting special techniques. Karhu is the mother of six boys, so she knows how to tug you in.

Ruby Fox

Fox made a strong debut in the first edition. For those who don’t know her, imagine Eddy Gordo from Tekken. Fox brings that same rhythm and flow, and her press-your-luck style feels like mashing buttons and hoping for the best. With a 20+ damage potential, it is guaranteed to have your opponent at the edge of their seat. With Fox, we went for that 1980s roller-skating vibe – a true style icon.

Elijah King

Paying homage to the legendary Muhammad Ali, Elijah King floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Taking on the role as King allows you to relive Ali’s spectacular and unique fighting style at your gaming table, firing off the champion’s famous techniques such as “Dancing Jab” and “Phantom Punch”. This guy has got a charisma that is off the charts – a true tribute to a true hero.

Francisco Ferro

Ferro’s story is wild! In their review of the first edition, SU&SD figured him “an investment banker”, so we thought, hey, let’s go with that story! But the thing with investment bankers is that they sometimes get caught — and sometimes they are innocent, too. While prison might have changed Ferro’s appearance, his no-pain-no-gain Kyokushin karate remains as fierce and hard-hitting as a stock market crash.

Snø Storm

With a nod to Tekken’s Hwoarang, Snø is an avalanche of spectacular kicks. Snorre is half Norwegian, so Storm is also a secret love song to Snorre’s “lost” country. Mechanically, we have revamped Snø’s stances for (much!) smoother gameplay, so switching mid-combo feels as natural as a breeze. We hope that lovers of Tekken will be able to enjoy the essence of a Hwoarang-style fighter as they step into the ring as Snø Storm.

Malaya de Vera

Malaya is a mix of real martial arts and crazy fantasy moves. She is an avid tech student and tinkerer. Her portable power pack allows her to power her Arnis sticks and to unleash a powerful finisher move reminiscent of Ryu’s “Hadoken” blast. This will surely make your opponent sweat. Like Junior Aurelus from Pack 1, Malaya is super tricky but also super satisfying to play.

Katashi “The Bull” Ono

Imagine an American football running back turned fighter. This is Ono in a nutshell. He is all about waiting for the right moment, hiding behind his powerful blocks to set up a smashing dash and deliver the knockout hit. Also, astute observers might recognize D.VA’s mech from Overwatch as the visual inspiration.

The Artwork and the Graphics

We wanted to dial up the blend of traditional and fantastic elements. With the release of Combo Fighter: Plotmaker Edition – Pack 2 and Pack 3, we wanted to push the superpower elements even further and give the game more of a Kick Ass-feel.

For inspiration, we looked to Michael Lark and John Paul Leon. Both do awesome and dynamic poses, and their fighting sequences have a lot of power and rawness. Lark and Leon have also been great inspirations for the way they design and draw gear and tech. We love when you can feel the physical weight of the gear in the illustrations.

The Graphics

We wanted the game icons to mimic old-school arcade buttons. The players must feel they are hammering buttons as they play their cards. In the early prototypes, the buttons looked like modern app buttons – but when we came up with the arcade buttons and the design of the “original” Combo Fighter arcade machine, things fell into place in a nice way.

We wanted the general user interface to look like it was made of crude, light grey plastic as on the first PS1 controller. We have added small dents and chips in the surface for texture, but to be honest many of these subtle details got lost in printing. When you draw digitally, you sometimes tend to zoom in too much. Lesson learned.

Deck and Health Intertwined

In Combo Fighter, your deck is also your health bar. Each hit you take means losing cards as your fighter stamina is depleting. This mechanism was mainly inspired by real-life fighting. Anyone who has ever fought in the ring knows that it is crazy exhausting!

A big part of being a skilled martial artist comes from managing your breath and stamina and not squandering your energy. “Playing the game well is about making your hits count” was a design mantra we stuck with during development.

The Combo System

We took a page from fighting game legends and created a combo system that feels like orchestrating a symphony of hits. Win a flip, and you get to unleash a flurry of cards in a sequence that must flow just right. It’s like those jaw-dropping combos you see in arcades, and they are insanely satisfying to pull off. “Make the combos shine” was another of our design mantras, a reminder that those sweet sequences are where the real magic happens.

Power Tokens

In this edition, we wanted to make the power tokens even more dynamic and offer more interesting choices to the players. As we developed the game, it has been amazing to see how much differentiating of character is possible with just this little mechanism.

The logo

The Combo Fighter logo is inspired from a BMX patch Snorre had as a kid. Most fighting games rely heavily on red and black for their visual identity. With Combo Fighter we wanted to break the mold a bit in terms of both visual appearance of the fighters and color scheme. The blue tones from the logo also found their way to the individual fighter backgrounds. We wanted subtle backgrounds that wouldn’t steal the thunder from the fighter they supported. Snorre got the idea for the backgrounds from his kid playing Mirror’s Edge.

The Future of Plotmaker Games

This is a beginning of a journey. The Plotmaker daredevil pilot is aiming for more adventures! Combo Fighter Pack 1 dropped in 2022. Pack 2 and Pack 3 are getting ready for their big debut at SPIEL ’23. And we are not just a duo anymore. Emilie joined full-time in 2022, giving the studio much needed extra fuel to allow for new adventure and titles. Niels is a seasoned developer who has been with us from the beginning and steps in when needed.

We are always thrilled to talk about games and upcoming titles and to share our passion, so please come say hi if you see us at conventions or shoot us an email if you have any questions.

Thank you for spending this moment with us. See you in the ring!


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