Category Archives: Card Games

This is Not a Card Game

I finished yet another game! It’s called This is Not a Card Game, because it’s kind of a creativity exercise pack with a sort of card game as a framing device. It’s currently available on DriveThruCards for $14.99!

A while back I got around to ordering a copy of A Book of Surrealist Games, which had been on my Amazon wishlist for a while. It’s a collection of various creativity games as practiced by the surrealist artists of the 1920s, including familiar things like exquisite corpse and less well-known ones like automatism, where you engage in writing or drawing with such speed that you let some of your subconscious out onto the page. I’ve always found surrealism interesting, and it was one of the many places I’d looked for inspiration for Kagegami High. The strangeness of surrealism often has a very deliberate message, and the movement seems to come from an attempt to make sense of the chaos of a post-WW1 world. While we have a different set of challenges facing us today, it certainly feels like we need whatever we can get to help cope with the way our reality seems to be fraying. Also I am nothing if not prone to falling into patterns. I have literally had people come up to me on the street and tell me they can tell if they’re on time by my presence.

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I’ve also outgrown Cards Against Humanity. Encountering the game was a vital turning point for me, since it wound up being my gateway into board games, but the limitations of its “humor legos” and the questionable conceit of using a card game as an excuse to be “edgy” made it lose it luster for me. I made my own CAH-like game in i.hate.everyone, and although I think it’s better overall, it still suffers from much the same issues. The content is too much stuff from the cards, and if you play the game much it needs a regular influx of new cards to stay fresh (which the CAH folks are happy to sell you in the form of expansions, as are the people behind Crabs Adjust Humidity and entirely too many others). Of course, the limitations of that design space haven’t stopped a ridiculous number of shitty imitators from popping up, even though games like Snake Oil, Joking Hazard, Codenames, Slash, and Dixit (also my own Channel A maybe?) have shown that the genre can do vastly better. But CAH has become one of those things that’s kind of an institution. It’s made millions, and I suspect a lot of its fans are people who aren’t otherwise much into board games. The CAH company does some laudable things like donating some of the absurd quantities of money it rakes in to charity, but there’s a lot about it that deserves criticism and mockery. This is a company that sold literal bullshit for one Black Friday, which is sort of funny, but also a little too stupid for any amount of irony to fully cover up.

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There’s also the thing that DriveThruCards now has POD tuck boxes, which aren’t quite on the level of what you’d get from full-on professional printing, but still pretty good. Party card games are hard to mix with POD, because with POD printing the base cost for cards is around 8 cents (9 or 9½ cents for premium cardstock), making it very hard to give a card game a reasonable price if it has much more than 100-some cards. The largest size of tuck boxes DTC is offering holds 120, so I figured I’d try to make a game around that size.

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This is Not a Card Game is what came from those three things coming together. It uses the CAH/Apples to Apples type of party game format, but the cards regularly divert you into odd creative exercises. You might play a card to answer the question, “What is the worst kind of art?” one turn, use a card as the start of a 2-minute automatic writing frenzy the next, and do a weird drawing exercise after that. That lets the game have quite a bit more variety in 120 cards than the format would normally allow, and in taking that approach it’s more or less the opposite of CAH on a creative level. It has a lot of references to surrealism and fine art in general (starting with the game’s title being a reference to Magritte’s The Treachery of Images), and while knowing some of those references wouldn’t hurt, mostly it serves to take the piss out of highbrow art, something I think the surrealists would’ve approved of.

Once I had the game text completed and polished and did some playtesting, it was pretty easy to put together the files for POD printing. Where CAH uses Helvetica Neue, I went with Futura for TINACG. Futura descends from Bauhaus rather than surrealism, but it’s both contemporaneous with surrealism and not as extensively used as Helvetica. Helvetica is an amazing font that I’ve been using a lot lately, but it’s also what Target uses for every scrap of their signage. (That’s probably not why Target is the only brick and mortar retailer that CAH officially sells through, but still.) Futura is readable but more geometric, and has odd flourishes with things like its squiggle of a question mark. It’s also the font they used for most of the interior text of AD&D1e, though I couldn’t tell you why they went that route. I also went with CAH’s black and white color scheme, partly to highlight how TINACG is a CAH piss take, and partly because it’s genuinely an elegant graphic design conceit.

TINACG also has two cards that involve modifying/damaging those cards, and I kind of want to play around with that sort of thing. I hit on the idea of a sequel of sorts to TINACG, called “Wreck This Game” (maybe a little too close to Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal, though that’s an obvious source of inspiration) or some such. It wouldn’t really work to have it cost $14.99, and a PNP version is a distinct possibility, though I’d also like to look into getting it printed on basic cardstock, making a cheap and disposable card game.

Anyway, TINACG was generally fun to make (apart from some frustrations in the production process), and I hope you enjoy it.

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August Update

Time for some updates on various projects again!

Dragon World

Dragon World wound up being the project that I settled on to concentrate on. Of my too-many RPG projects it’s the one that’s probably the closest to fruition, the one that’s been the smoothest and most fun in playtesting. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m generally in the mood to take the piss out of the fantasy genre, which seems to need that more than ever. I’ve made some small refinements to the rules, but a lot of the work I’ve been doing has been working on filling out the text, refining play advice, improving the DM moves, and adding setting elements. I also added the Shiny Paladin to the core classes, and I’ve been drawing on Inverse World for ideas on how to better express a setting.

Related to it, I’ve been reading The Humor Code, a book written by a journalist following a psychologist trying to build and test a theoretical framework to explain humor. I have a long blog post in the works about it, but the core concept of humor that I was groping towards was that the core of it is things that thwart (perceived) expectations. A pun thwarts our expectations of what a word means, a leader being a buffoon may be unsurprising, but it plays with perceived expectations, that kind of thing. This isn’t so different from the psychologist’s “benign violation theory,” which posits that humor comes from violations that turn out to be benign in nature, and I think helps explain why some things can take the form of a joke but not be funny. I’m pretty sure there can’t be a magic bullet for humor, but I think there’s a lot of potential in a humor RPG made with an awareness of a theoretical framework of some kind.

Oh, and when I mentioned that for the eventual Dragon World Kickstarter I want to have “& World” be a bonus thing, I got like three people expressing interest in making it. I need to get Dragon World ready first, but & World is definitely happening. I have no idea what it will actually be, but still. Also I kinda want the first supplement full of new classes to be called “Dragon World Class Collection I: The Codex of Gimmicky Weirdos.”

Five-Card Fictions

A while ago I picked up the book Second Person from the MIT Press, and more recently I ended up opening it up again after letting it sit on the shelf for a long time. One thing mentioned in it that I found especially fascinating was Life in the Garden, a sort of story toy where you have a set of cards with story snippets, and you shuffle them and draw 5, which you then read in order to form a story. Unfortunately it’s long out of print and used copies go for $120 or more, so I got inspired to try making my own similar games. I wound up starting on a project I call “Five-Card Fictions,” which will be a series of such games. The first one, which is now at the “fancy prototype” phase, is called Miyuki Days, and is a thing about a Japanese schoolgirl that is variously mundane, surreal, and yuri. I used icons from The Noun Project to add more of a visual element, and pixel art I commissioned a while back for the cover. I also added some suggestions for alternate ways to use the cards, both single- and multi-player.

tumblr_n9feuzC9iL1qfum8so2_1280After that I’m planning to do two more. The second is going to be Thralls of the Red God, a sword and sorcery tale. For the third I’m hoping to do something in the style of Jorge Luis Borges, but I’m finding it’s been long enough since I last read Borges that I need to get reacquainted with his work to really pull it off. (And after the third one I’ll stop and not run it totally into the ground.) Miyuki Days will be up on DriveThruCards before too long, while the others are going to take some time to get sorted out.

The Bird Game: Deluxe Edition

One of the weird little things in I Want to be an Awesome Robot (a book pretty much made of weird little things) is “The Bird Game,” a sort of self-parody in that it’s a mini Channel A style game where instead of anime you make birds. I decided to make a POD “Deluxe Edition,” which adds new cards, in particular “Question Cards” that save the Bird Czar the trouble of coming up with questions. That step had been taking forever, but somehow or other with some googling I managed to get it finished fairly quickly over the weekend. The game purposely has a little bit of a cheap look (no Clay Gardner graphic design brilliance for this one), using public domain photos of birds and such. It’s very silly, and it will also be up on DriveThruCards before too long.

Question Card BackWord Cards Back

i.hate.everyone Custom Pack

Okay, so here’s the deal. i.hate.everyone is out into the world, but it’s not exactly making me money, and was first and foremost a game I made because it’s fun to play with my friends anyway. I have thus decided to do a Creative Commons release, aimed at letting people make their own i.h.e cards. That’s the “Custom Pack,” which is a Creative Commons licensed set of files with all the stuff for making cards. It’s an attribution license, so the sole caveat is that you have to give credit to me (and Clay, who did the graphic design for the cards).

The pack also includes Photoshop files, but for the full effect you need InDesign, which has the insanely powerful and useful Data Merge feature, which is seriously phenomenally helpful if you’re trying to make 380 cards. If you want to learn more about designing cards and stuff like Data Merge, I highly recommend Daniel Solis’ Skillshare class on the subject.

There’s also an included document (in docx and PDF) with the rules (also CC licensed), card writing tips, and guides for preparing cards for DriveThruCards, The Game Crafter, SuperiorPOD, and a basic PNP version.

Download the i.hate.everyone Custom Pack

May Status Update

I Want to be an Awesome Robot
IWantToBeAnAwesomeRobot[smallpdf.com]
The book is done! It’s up on Amazon (POD) and DriveThruFiction (POD/PDF). It is the fruit of something like 3 years of work, ranging from free-flowing satire to profound acts of creative masochism (like the list of 700 catgirl names and the Today in Geek History calendar).

I already started working a little bit on the follow-up, Most of My Friends Are Potential Supervillains (Subtitle: A Book of Humor, Almanackery, and Darkness), which will cover such diverse topics as villainy, board games, sports, more Secrets of Silicon Valley, places I have never been, and possibly that mini choose your own adventure thing I never finished for the first book.

i.hate.everyone
IHE-previewMy weird tasteless party card game, i.hate.everyone, is up for sale on DriveThruCards. Since it’s print on demand and the came has 380 cards, it’s pricier than I’d like, but them’s the breaks. I got Clay to do graphic design for the fronts and backs of cards, and I used InDesign’s Data Merge feature (following Daniel Solis’ great tutorials on the subject) to automatically slot the text into the cards. I currently have two core sets: i.hate.everyone (the normal version), and i.hate.fandom (the geeky version). I also made free print-and-play versions of both, and they’re in the little 2″x2″ format so you can shuffle them into your homemade CAH set if you really want too.

For now the plan is to keep doing it as a POD (with free PNP) thing, and to expand and experiment. Professional publication is a possibility, but it’s not something I’m going to actively pursue until I get several other projects out of the way.

Golden Sky Stories
On the general GSS front, apart from a tiny handful of lingering shipping issues, I’m first and foremost trying to wrangle the remaining PDF material, while my business partner Mike is working on going to local conventions and looking for interesting new avenues to sell the book and otherwise reach people.

The big thing that will doubtless make some non-backers happy is that we’re actively working on getting a bundle of stretch goal material ready for retail sales. I decided to combine the five new character types, two of the scenarios, Allen Varney’s “Henge Sweets” piece, and the two prose stories into a PDF product called “The Colors of the Sky.” The quantity of material puts it about on par with the Japanese GSS supplements. Other stretch goal material will depend on when it’s done and what form it makes sense to put it into.

I also got back into translating the remaining supplements. I’d gotten a good amount done (including the Elder Henge rules), but between Hitotsuna Komichi and Kore Kara no Michi there’s five or so scenarios, a replay, another character type (a more detailed writeup for humans), and some stories that recount the history of Hitotsuna Town. (Which is really interesting so far, but also a lot of work to translate.) I already finished translating Mononoke Koyake a while ago, but editing is taking time.

Fantasy Friends
The big new thing I did with Fantasy Friends was to finish up the set of 36 magic items (enough to fill a d66 table). Making magic items for GSS was a major challenge both because I was breaking new ground with the system, and because through fiction and RPGs magic items that aren’t meant to cause harm in some way are the exception to the rule. I went through all 1600 pages of the AD&D Encyclopedia Magica books,[1] the GURPS Magic Items books, and lots and lots of Wikipedia pages. The big thing I started doing that created more work for me but also made the whole thing better overall was to include a few Story Fragments with each one. The easier those flowed, the more sure I was that I had a promising idea for an item.

I’ve also found an artist for the book. I’ve already sent him a set of instructions and sketches for the designs for the six signature characters, and I’m hoping he can give Fantasy Friends its own distinct feel, a little different from core GSS, but still just as heartwarming.

For Faerie Skies meanwhile I’ve mainly been doing some tweaks, especially those based on backers’ feedback on making its depiction of the English countryside a bit more authentic (but still idealized and idyllic, and taking a few liberties with the mythology). We’re still trying to find a suitable artist; if you know (or are) an artist who might be a good fit please feed free to contact us.

Magical Burst
IMG_1025The fourth draft is nearly ready for release. I decided I wanted to do some playtesting first, and this turned out to be the right idea, since I found several small but important changes to make. One of the smallest in terms of the word count involved but big in terms of its impact on play was that instead of players being able to take up to 3 Overcharge to get extra dice on every magical roll, I turned that ability into a “Boost” move that’s limited to 3 times per scene. Giving everyone so many second chances was cumbersome in play, and limiting how often a player can use it seems to be a good way to keep that element without making it so overwhelming. The youma rules still need some more work too, mainly in figuring out how to give them abilities that are both interesting and make them into good “boss” enemies.

Surprising no one, the most recent additions is yet another table, for stock NPC archetypes to use when setting up relationships. I’m also putting in a series of “strategy guide” sections, with tips to help players better understand the whys and hows of the rules, and play more effectively. That covers a variety of topics, including stuff on how to more easily keep track of stuff at the table. One thing I came up with is that since the game uses the Marvel Heroic style initiative system (where the current person passes initiative off to someone else), I started giving each player an “action token” (and as many tokens as the youma has actions per round for it), which they turn in when they take a turn, so that it becomes much easier to keep track of who has and hasn’t gone.[2]

This will easily be the biggest revision to the game, but it’s also much closer to being the game I want it to be. The game has enough subtleties and moving parts that need fine-tuning that it’ll need some fairly intensive playtesting to fully finish it, but I’m hoping to complete it and in 2015 make it Star Line Publishing’s first fully original RPG.


[1]In PDF form. I’m tempted to see about getting the actual printed books, but (1) they’re not cheap these days, and (2) I really have way too much stuff and I’m trying to at least get more digital rather than physical stuff.

[2]The lack of thought about that kind of thing is one of my big criticisms of D&D4e, which I otherwise like a lot.

Card Games Update

Time for an update on where I’m at with card game projects, notably i.hate.everyone and a new magical girl battle card game. (Did that get your attention?)

A little while back Clay did the graphic design for fancy i.hate.everyone cards, and I got a prototype made through DriveThruCards. Daniel Solis’ card design tutorial covers using the Data Merge feature in InDesign to automatically slot text into a card template, which made the whole thing much easier and generally more bearable to do, though I find InDesign bizarre and infuriating for all sorts of things. (It’s really, really weird to me that Adobe apparently doesn’t think anyone would want to import a Photoshop file into InDesign without completely flattening it.) Anyway, the results were pretty excellent all around,[1] and i.h.e is becoming the time-wasting card game of choice with me and my friends. I had upped the number of cards with special effects to about 1 in 4, and all the shenanigans with drawing, discarding, and trading cards were a lot of fun. I’m also very happy with the quality of printing from DTC, though a game with 380 cards is less than optimum both in terms of pricing and the fact that they don’t currently sell boxes that hold that many (though when I corresponded with Brian via email he said that’s something they’re working on.) Anyway, here’s a look at the cards!

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Right now the plan is to tweak things a little bit, and then start sales of both i.hate.everyone and i.hate.fandom through DriveThruCards. I’ve also already started on the first expansion, i.hate.bronies, which is indeed My Little Pony themed and weird and terrible and I already commissioned a pony mascot for it named Flippy.

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Anyway, setting that aside, playing a bunch of Hearthstone (Blizzard’s new freemium online Warcraft tie-in CCG) put the idea of making some kind of battle card game thing into my head. Which I think is a good thing because I really should branch out beyond goofy stuff with words on cards. I specifically want to do something non-collectible (not that a CCG would be practical anyway) partly because losing solely because the opponent has more time and money and thus just inherently better cards is my least favorite part of playing Hearthstone. (And I really don’t remember it being that pronounced when I was playing Magic in high school.) Looking for an actual theme, I hit on the idea of doing a game about magical girls fighting, and thus a Magical Burst tie in was entirely natural, so the game I’m working on is tentatively titled “Magical Arena.”

I wound up messing around with various card games a bit, notably the new Adventure Time Card Wars game (which is really weird) and the WCW Nitro TCG (which some of my friends got way into because it was cheap, and which is way more clever than anyone would ever suspect), and I still can’t wrap my head around Weiss Schwarz (but there are some broad ideas in it that seem neat). The game that started forming in my head was a weird hybrid of Nitro, the plot system from Shinobigami, and a few other random things, and I’m already barreling towards having a playable prototype. It’ll also involve an Overcharge Deck, which gives you random effects if you try to push yourself too hard in one turn.

I’ve also been getting quite a bit done with Magical Burst proper, and I’ll be posting an update on that soon.


[1]When I playtested it with some friends earlier this week I was informed that the cards smell like porno mags, which I guess is appropriate.

More on i.hate.everyone

The other day I brought my prototype of i.hate.everyone along when I went to hang out with some friends, kind of on a whim and kind of because it’s so much lighter than my Cards Against Humanity set.[1] That in turn led to me getting inspired to work on i.h.e more, and in particular to try to finish up a functional prototype of i.hate.fandom, the geeky alternate set I’d started working on a while back. My experience with creating cards on geeky subjects for CAH was that it was very easy to come up with cards that made sense to me but were alien to a lot of my friends, which was part of the inspiration for having flavor text (a la Apples to Apples) in i.h.e, though it was a lot less necessary for general stuff than for geeky stuff (hence the ones in i.h.e wound up being more of an avenue for sarcastic jokes). Limiting the selection to stuff that was reasonably widely known also made it harder to come up with geeky cards, though I did finally manage to put together an initial set, if one that overdoes certain topics.

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I posted the current prototype of i.hate.everyone ages ago (some of the more topical cards feel out of date; Tebowing isn’t exactly making headlines these days). The rules are so far unchanged from then, but here are the current decks for i.hate.fandom. I make these decks by printing the Status Cards on yellow cardstock and the Comment Cards on white cardstock, since otherwise they’d be hard to distinguish.

i.hate.fandom Status Cards
i.hate.fandom Comment Cards

I also finally got around to playing We Didn’t Playtest This At All, a silly party game from Asmadi Games. It turns nonsensical, pointless, time-wasting gameplay into an artform. To get the full effect you have to play several games, during which players will routinely be made to lose by random card effects. What pushes it into Japanese game show territory is things like how certain cards make you not use certain pronouns (even when they appear on cards!). At one point two of my friends were in a duel where they couldn’t use I, me, my, you, your, they, or their, and resorted to silent pantomime to play out the rest of the game. I want to keep the effects in i.h.e a bit less crazy (less “you lose,” more “discard a card” or “lose 1 Like”), but having random constraints on what players are allowed to do can have amazing results and generally help a game live up to being a “party” game. It’s also the main thing that keeps i.h.e from just being a CAH clone, so I want it to be interesting and prevalent in play.

Presently my plan for i.h.e is to make it into a series of DriveThruCards products, with both full, independently playable base sets (the core i.hate.everyone plus i.hate.fandom being the first of these), and mini-expansions that I can easily create and keep topical. Like a lot of other similar games, making new content is basically a matter of putting text on cards, and POD will let me make all kinds of weird little sets for very specific groups if I want, and pretty quickly too. I asked Clay Gardner to make card designs for me, since this will be fronts and backs for two types of cards and nothing else, rather than the logo-making nightmares of Channel A. With some playtesting I should be ready to move to the “fancy prototype” stage fairly soon.


[1]Which is partly my own fault for insisting on getting all of the expansions, plus Crabs Adjust Humidity, plus making some cards of my own.

Channel A is Funded!

BF-w7lCCEAAHVT2It would be a bit much to try to make some kind of Easter metaphor, but some time within the final 24 hours of the Kickstarter, Channel A hit its funding goal of $10,000. It wasn’t looking good for a while there, but things really turned around when the creator of Superfight!, another promising party game (there wound up being like four party games kickstarted at the same time), was kind enough to give a shout-out to Channel A to his 1,200+ backers. It’s normal for a Kickstarter to lag in the middle and pick up towards the end, but the difference before and after that Superfight! update is night and day, so that game’s team has my gratitude. That Asmadi Games added some new reward levels with some promotional items and such from their prior titles definitely helped us ride off of that boost, as did some targeted promotion.

I’m really grateful to everyone who made it happen. To everyone who pledged, to the people around the world who pledged despite paying insane amounts for shipping, to all the friends and family who pledged to support me, to all the friends who helped playtest the game and make it as good as it is, to Chris Cieslik for publishing and believing in the game in the first place, to Mike Stevens (my RPG publishing partner in crime) who did such a great job demoing it, to Clay for making the game look just gorgeous, to Dawn for providing great art and signing up to do even more for our Director’s Pack backers, to everyone who helped spread the word on Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook/G+/forums/blogs/etc., and I’m sure I’m leaving someone out but you get the idea.

finishedSome people pledged simply because they came across a game that they felt they’d enjoy. Some people because they’ve enjoyed Asmadi Games’ other offerings. Some were my friends and family and other people supporting the game on general principle even if they might not play it much. A few people said they were fans of my work, which to me is the most amazing thing. I’ve been making and posting gaming stuff for ages now, and it seems like I’m finally hitting critical mass and getting somewhere. I mean, I made a game that got over $10,000 in Kickstarter pledges, and there were actually a few people to whom my weirdly pronounced name was a selling point. I can’t even wrap my head around that, and I guess mostly I’m just glad people are enjoying this stuff I make.

Of course, this is an important milestone for Channel A, but it’s more a beginning than anything. Chris is aiming to have the first production run of the game ready in time to sell at Anime Boston (and if things work out I may be able to sell it at FanimeCon, which is that same weekend), which will mark the beginning of the convention season, during which Asmadi Games will be aggressively promoting the game. It’ll also be going into retail distribution, so I’m looking forward to seeing it show up at local game stores. And of course there’s the matter of getting into working on expansions, for which I already have far too many ideas.

With this, and the Yaruki Zero book, and the Golden Sky Stories Kickstarter coming up terrifyingly fast, I think I’m going to remember 2013 as the year that all my messing around with making games finally bore fruit, the year things really began.

Thank you, everyone. :)