Finding fun in new ‘realms’

Brett Heneise holds cards from a crad game he created called "Realms of Mindrin." Cory Rubin/The Signal
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Stuntman Brett Heneise is the last person his family expected to create a fantasy card game. 

“I was a martial artist stuntman bouncer who came from a long line of cops, and actually being a cop was my backup plan, so when I came up with ‘The Realms of Mindrin’ and when my family and friends found out, you could almost see the question marks over their heads,’” Heneise said. “The most gaming I had ever done were ‘Uno’ and ‘World of Warcraft.’”

Heneise first came to California from Illinois in 1995 to work as a stuntman, with his goal to land a job on “Star Trek.” Thanks to his martial arts and gymnastics training, he found a similar role on the show “VR Troopers.” In 1999, he sold his martial arts studio back home and moved to California permanently, where he reached his goal and worked on episodes of the Star Trek series “ Voyager” and “Deep Space Nine.”

“My first gig on ‘Star Trek’ was playing a Cardassian — not a Kardashian — and even though other stuntmen hated being in the makeup chair, for me, it was like Christmas day,” he said. “I came out here to be a stuntman but, in hindsight, once I did that, I probably needed to aim a little higher. I hit that goal very quickly and didn’t really know what to do after that, and this industry you need to be in everyone’s face 24/7 or people start to forget about you. I worked on ‘JAG’ for nine seasons, but after that, it was like I almost had to start over.”

Eventually, he moved away from stunts to do and began doing more work as a personal trainer. It was during this time that while seeing his children watch “unboxing” videos of “Shopkins” toys online, Heneise was inspired to create some miniature figurines of his own. These then became the basis for the first version of his “The Realms of Mindrin” game in 2015. 

“The Realms of Mindrin” is based on an original story concept by Heneise about a war on a magical planet called Mindrin, where races like elves, minotaurs and dwarves fight against orcs and dark magic elder gods.

The initial version of the game took about four hours to play and involved players moving pieces around a board while trying to defeat a boss monster. After getting feedback from friends, that version was abandoned and his team turned the concept into a card game called “The Realms of Mindrin Wars.”

“I had some friends at Disney who played the game and loved it, but wanted a version they could play in a half-hour during their lunch breaks,” Heneise said. “Two weeks later, we had the card game.”

Brett Heneise poses with the original cards and some of the updated art for his card game “The Realms of Mindrin Wars.” Matt Fernandez/ The Signal

In “The Realms of Mindrin Wars,” players have character, attack and defense cards with numeric values attached. The player with the highest combined number wins the round and is given a loot card. Loot cards can be spent on auctionable item cards that could help them during a difficult battle. 

Chritian Lara helped Heneise develop the gameplay dynamics for both versions of the game and helped run booths at conventions including San Diego Comic Con, where Mindrin has been offered an exhibitor booth for the past two years. 

The biggest challenges for Lara was balancing the values of each card so the game would not be too hard or easy and incorporating strategic elements since many beta testers said the game was based too much around luck. Eventually the team was able to balance the issues. This past year at Comic Con, Lara had people come to play the game all four days. 

“There is nothing more satisfying than going as a creator and having people ask how to buy your game and how to show it to their friends, that they want to take your game home and keep playing” Lara said. “A week later, we had another playtest, and a young girl who was a die hard Angels fan with tickets to a game, and when it came time to leave she said she wanted to keep playing. Like with any creative form there’s always this doubt about you and your product, and that kind of feedback is such great, serendipitous validation.”

While he had input on both the board and card versions of “Mindrin,” Lara said he prefers the card version because he had more input on its creation, but doesn’t think the tabletop version reached its full potential and hopes to return to it. He said that he thinks the appeal to card games over board games is their ease of play.

“A lot of the appeal to a card based game is accessibility,” he said. “If your average Joe who doesn’t know much outside of ‘Monopoly’ or ‘Clue’ picks up a game like ‘Warhammer’ with a lot of details and a thick rule book, it can turn them off. Card games are quick and you don’t really have to worry about too many rules or extensive cleanup.”

Outside of developing his own games, Heneise runs a Youtube channel “Welcome to Mindrin,” where he gives advice and behind-the-scene looks at how to make a board game. He also taught classes on both stage combat and board game design at Santa Clarita International Charter School (SCVi) for three years. The first time he taught the class, only six students signed up for his game class, but the school let it run anyway, and it rapidly grew until there were 36 students last semester. His described his teaching style as “organic,” incorporating playing existing board games and play testing some of his students’ games at Geek Girls Forever.

“There are five games that my students have made that could be marketed right now, and that was the goal of the class,” he said. 

One of Heneise’s former students, Nick Kirby, took the class as an elective and created a treasure hunt and monster-killing game based on a video game he likes to play. Kirby was able to take his game from concept to a professionally made physical copy, and even had people even test his game.

“Brett was a pretty cool teacher who let us create what we wanted to without restrictions and gave suggestions about how to tweak gameplay,” Kirby said. “I started by making the game on pieces of posterboard then had an artist design the pieces for me, and I sent that to a company, so it was amazing seeing the game go from concept to having physical cards. This class taught me that in order to have a good product you need to have a collaborative effort and have multiple eyes that can point out things to make a project better.”

Currently, a new version of the game with updated art is in the works. Heneise has 20 other games he’s working on, but he really wants to focus on growing the world of “Mindrin” into a much larger brand. He plans to return to the original tabletop game and refine it, as well as releasing graphic novels, collectible figurines and adapting the game into a screenplay. Some of his business partners want to explore potentially releasing an app game, but Heneise himself is hesitant.

“There’s still so much to do with the physical game, and as much as I like computer gaming, there’s something being missed about going over to a friend’s house on a Friday night with a pizza to play games,” he said. “If you look on the game box, it says ‘a friendly game of trash talk’ — and that was super important because it always happens. I can’t tell you the last time I had a conversation with someone on a ‘Warcraft’ chat, but I can tell you everything that happened the last time I played ‘Mindrin.’”

“The Realms of Mindrin Wars” can be purchased for $30 online at etsy.com/shop/FantasyAdventures360 or at Epic Toys in Rancho Cucamonga.

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