A potentially multimillion-dollar business got its start
when three players of collectible card games from Queens posed this question:
"In real-life combat, would gladiators ever take turns?"
The answer: Certainly not!
That gave rise to their new game, in which an opponent mostly hangs on to
play until relinquishing for a strategic reason, instead of traditional
turn-taking. In so doing, these entrepreneurs discovered what they see as a
loophole in the game patent held by Wizards of the Coast, producer of Magic:
The Gathering - and the Goliath in this more than $200 million game sector.
Ophidian 2350, their patented futuristic gladiator combat card game, hits
hobby shops on Aug. 13, already with close to $1 million in retail presales.
It's the brain child of Gregg Schwartz, Shaun Mahar and Raffi Tasci, all 25,
who met, and played games, at Forest Hills High School.
"It's more like a real fight," says Schwartz, business manager, who along
with Mahar, lead designer, and Tasci, operations manager, developed the
business on their kitchen tables. They now live, respectively, in Kew Gardens,
Rego Park and Glendale.
The collectible card game genre, combining game play with trading and
collecting, got its start 10 years ago with the debut of Magic: The Gathering,
now with more than 6 million players worldwide. Other popular games are Pok�mon
and Yu-Gi-Oh! Gamers buy starter packs of cards, which they supplement with
regularly released "booster" packs.
The Ophidian partners hit upon the novel play process in the fall of 2000,
but it wasn't until Schwartz quit his support assistant job at Merrill Lynch a
year ago and called on his former Baruch College business professor, Peter
McAliney, that the ball really started rolling. The first thing McAliney told
them was to call back all the distributors who had shot them down or not
"The first call I made was to Fleer [Trading Cards]," says Schwartz, and
despite previous unreturned calls, he actually got through. "We were in their
office in two weeks. And signed a [licensing] contract two weeks after that."
Fleer serves as the game's producer and distributor. Next month, Fleer starts
shipping $9.99 starter packs of 60 cards, and $3.29 booster packs of 11 to the
more than 30 distributors listed on www.ophidiangames.com.
Combat, however, is not confined to the Ophidian gladiator characters. More
than 20 new games are coming out this year, the highest number since 1995,
says Joyce Greenholdt, editor of the magazine Scrye - The Guide to Collectible
Card Games. The Ophidian game is "one of the strongest releases," she says, but
its success "depends on how successful they are at getting the word out to the
"It's a little higher on the complexity scale," says Tom Slizewski, editor
of Inquest Gamer magazine, who's seen 130 games come and go in the past decade.
A representative of Wizards of the Coast declined to comment other than to say
that new concepts are good in that they bring new players into the category.
Still, the partners are looking to extend their brand through video games,
novels, animation and licensing. "It's their vision," says McAliney, a
consultant to major companies. "They eat it, sleep it and dream it."
Says Schwartz of this entrepreneurial route, "I wanted to try it before I
got locked up in the corporate world." In true gladiator style, he says he's
adopted the thinking of a girl who once told him that the greatest risk in life
is not taking one. "That's my motto."