On the origin of cards

Deep within the labyrinth of my forbidden laboratory lies a hard drive. And deep within the cursed folders of that cursed hard drive lies my secret shame: my failed inventions. Grotesque monstrosities. Twisted abominations. Cast aside in the name of progress, abandoned in the pursuit of impossible perfection. Look upon these misshapen miscreations not with disgust, but with pity, for their destiny is to rot in the shadows – unfit for purpose, never to be played with again. But wait – can anything be learned from such reckless experimentation? Join me, brave reader, as we dissect these forsaken relics, venturing backward through time itself to their very inception.

A simple sketch by a simple man. It may resemble a Magic: The Gathering card drawn from memory by a chimpanzee, but this humble doodle is where it all started. Almost everything was eventually dropped from this initial design, but right from the start we can see a strong intention to use both text and image on the card, a decision that may seem tame by today’s standards but was revolutionary at the time.


Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair. My ambition knew no bounds in those early days. Each card was to have its own unique name, but this came with a cost: roughly 20% of precious card space was devoted to a text box that added nothing to gameplay. Do we really need to know that this guitarist is called Roger? Probably not. If I ever make a version two or an expansion, I’d love to experiment with some amusing names and art to match. But, alas, the cold steel of my scalpel has struck the artist formerly known as Roger. No longer an individual with hopes and dreams, but a mere pawn. Faceless. Soulless.  

The number in the centre signified follower level (following? fans? I could never get this word right) which determined who you were able to recruit based on your bands popularity, whilst genres were essentially factions, each with their own unique strength. My adventures in playstesting are a tale for another time, but these promising premises crumbled under the weight of their own complexity, and both were eventually scrapped.

The text is wordy and convoluted, and the card frame is awful. The songwriter icon we all know and love is missing, instead labelled in the text box along with some sort of star rating (no idea what I was thinking there). These ugly things were carefully printed and lovingly cut, then promptly (and angrily) binned.

Basked in the fiery glow of a laptop screen, the mocking laughter of my playtesters still ringing in my ears, I began my work once more. Humiliated, desperate, and limited by my childlike abilities, I knew I was going to need help.


I found a card template on The Game Crafter which suited my needs pretty well – text box, image box, and points box. If we’re tracing the evolutionary path of a card, this is the missing link between my ape-like first draft and the finished product. Much of this card will be familiar with any seasoned Battler, and you can use it in your own projects here.


Deep in the project with no clue what the art would look like or where it was coming from, I stumbled upon a bunch of musician silhouette images on Creative Market. I got lucky – my art strategy up until now was “I’ll worry about it later”, and these images ended up setting the tone for the whole game. The ribbons at the top looked cluttered though, especially on the drummers which take up most of the image box already.


And here our flashback catches up with the present day. The two circles fit nicely in the centre which gives the image some room to breathe. The text is simplified so there’s less of it, and what’s left is displayed in clear, large fonts.


Make prototypes as quickly and cheaply as possible. Almost all of them will end up in the bin, so don’t bother printing in colour, and don’t worry about art until your game is fun.

Keep it simple. Communicate the rules in as few words as possible. Cards are pretty small in real life, so make text bigger than you think you need to and use fonts that are easy to read.

I’m no artist, but in the end I didn’t need to be – there’s tons of artists online selling licences to use their work. Get your art from proper artists if you can’t do it yourself.

Adding stuff is easy. Getting rid of something you’ve been working on for months is not. Sometimes things sound funner than they actually are, and it’s not always obvious what’s going to work until you sit down to play. My cards were improved by removing stuff. Don’t get too attached to any particular element of your game.

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