Many board game publishers make a small profit from upgraded components – things like metal coins and card sleeves that make their products more appealing on the dinner table. But some companies are building entire games around these kinds of bits. Just look at the custom dice and poker style chips Chip Theory Games uses or the neoprene game board at the heart of Leder Games’ The Oath: Chronicles of the Empire and Exile. This year, another rare and expensive component had its breakthrough moment: clear plastic playing cards.
These unusual transparent panels feel like regular playing cards. You can shuffle them and you can wrap them, so that they integrate seamlessly into the deck with traditional cards. But they can also be printed on, allowing designers to layer art or hide certain game elements from view. Used in clever ways, the cards clearly offer players new mechanics and features that were previously simply unavailable in board games. Two of the best games of the year – John D. Clair’s Deadly challenge and Corey Konieczka’s 3,000 Scoundrels – put them to use in their own creative ways.
Deadly challenge is a sandbox style open sea conflict and exploration game. Each player at the table has a crew of sailors to control their ship. That crew can be upgraded over time, giving the player a stronger sense of ownership. Clair uses a clear plastic card for each of these crew members – for the captain, mate, deck man, etc.
The art on these transparent cards only takes up the top half of one side. Each card is then paired with an identically sized traditional card and a matching card sleeve. As players upgrade their crew, they simply remove the traditional playing card from their sleeve and rotate or flip it around, revealing new stats visible through the transparent card at the top. It’s a smart system both in how it uses novel materials and in how it reinforces players’ sense of investment in their team.
In 3,000 scoundrels, designer Konieczka has created an intricate bidding game in which players sketch other characters to work with them in order to accumulate the most treasure. Konieczka uses more of these transparent cards in her design – 60, compared to Deadly challenge‘S 8. These 60 unique cards combine with 50 traditional cards to create thousands of potential characters, a gallery of similar rogues supporting the game’s diverse promise hidden in the title.
The implementation of explicit tags in 3,000 scoundrels is particularly ingenious. While the game’s traditional cards have art for NPC faces, the job cards will obviously overlay clothing and other props on top – like a paper doll. Traditional and explicit cards also interact by generating new combinations of stats, perks, and costs depending on how they are paired. It makes setting up for each new game an act of discovery – further reinforcing the game’s future time travel storyline.
Of course, this is not the first time explicit cards have been used in table games. One of my personal favorites, Darkappeared since 2005. In fact, Deadly challenge just the latest in a series of similar games from AEG, titles like Mystic Vale and Custom hero. The company has even patented a name for its particular solution: They call it the Card Crafting System.
But why would two different companies bring such famous games to market with such similarities? Well, that’s one of the joys of tabletop gaming. While names, locations, and certain mechanics may be legally protected, barring other companies from using them in their own games, more common items like dice cannot. Okay. The idea of using cards to play games is as old as gaming, which leads to these kinds of co-evolved designs.
Even more interestingly, while both games clearly use cards in similar ways to accomplish different things, the games also occupy very different places in the commercial landscape. 3,000 scoundrels very affordable, big box friendly $49.95. Deadly challengeon the other hand, there are extremely high cost components, such as plastic miniatures, sturdy snap cases, and 3D plastic cards. It also carries a high price $79.95which you can expect to increase when it starts going to retail.
You can find Deadly challenge on Backerkit, where the second print is currently reserved. 3,000 scoundrels Pre-orders begin at the Asmodee website and at local friendly game stores on September 23, with a worldwide retail release on October 7.