Northern Arizona University psychology instructor Tom Filsinger has a secret identity.
More than 30 years ago, Filisinger was a bored high schooler from the Cleveland area and designed a card and dice game to keep himself entertained during class. That game system, Champions of the Galaxy, has sold hundreds of thousands of game sets, books, expansion packs and other accessories since it was first launched in 1986.
“I combined my favorite topics: pro wrestling, science fiction and comics,” said Filsinger, who is a psychology instructor at Northern Arizona University.
The game features a crew of more than 200 space superheroes, villains, monsters and aliens who each have their own back story. Each character has their own card with their own stats. The game can be played alone, with friends and online. Players create cosmic wrestling matches between characters and use dice to determine what moves each character makes during the match. The various moves are listed on the back of the character cards.
Life interfered between high school, college and graduate school, and it wasn’t until he was working for a magazine in Cleveland in the 1980s that he approached a comic book artist about the idea of mass producing the game. The two came up with art for the cards and Filsinger paid for a full-page ad in a national wrestling magazine in 1986.
The game was an immediate hit and Filsigner’s been releasing at least one update or expansion pack to the game every year since. Each year he comes up with a new story for the new expansion pack. Each expansion pack story is vetted and proofed by a game fan.
“The fans know the history of the game and the characters better than I do,” Filsinger said. “I’m always focusing on the future of the game, so I sometimes forget what’s already happened. But the fans know every detail.”
The game has a loyal fan base, many of whom started playing the game as teenagers and now play it as adults with their kids, he said. Fans are also encouraged to create their own characters and Filsinger gets numerous sketches, stories and character details from fans on a regular basis. He’s included some fan-based characters over the years into the game.
The game has several licensing agreements with various pro-wrestling groups that have asked him to create similar card games that feature their wrestlers, such as Ring of Honor, Chikara, Championship Wrestling of Hollywood and Combat Zone Wrestling. There’s also a Legends of Wrestling card game that features WWF legends such as “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
He’s also worked with comic book legend Stan Lee on a book, “Election Daze,” and is working on a movie script with Mark Litton, the man who wrote for the Power Rangers franchise.
Some fans even get upset when Filsinger makes changes to the game. For example, when the game switched from its original black-and-white card sketches to full-color drawings of the characters, many players were upset.
“People get attached to the characters and the game. You have to find a balance,” he said.
Some fans may not like the updates but they almost always come back, Filsinger said.
For many years, Filsinger had to do his own balancing act of teaching professionally at the college, university and community college level, raising a family with his wife and continuing to keep the game running.
“I wanted to be there for my kids,” he said.
Now that his kids are grown, and a fan is running the money side of the business for him in New Jersey and he’s sort of retired, he works full-time as an instructor at NAU during the school year and has summers off. That means Filsinger has more time to devote to the creative aspects of the game, which he is greatly enjoying.