Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fan-created Cards

Fan-created cards have been part of the game since before Spellfire was canceled by Wizards of the Coast. The final four expansions - Milennium, Inquisition, Chaos, and Conquest - were partially fan-created, and all were made available for fan download and printing on sticker paper.

There were also fan-created cards printed at several GenCon conventions throughout the 90s. Again, these had a whiff of "officiality" about them, because the people actually taking the pictures and printing the cards were employees of TSR or Wizards of the Coast.

Other fan sets, like "Greenland", were totally unofficial, with no tie to TSR, Wizards, the Spellfire Triumverate or Council, or anyone else. They are pure fan creations, emerging out of a love for the game and a longing for new cards.

Although in TAV, sticker-set cards from Milennium, Inquistion, Chaos, and Conquest (hereafter referred to as MICC) are tournament-legal, these other fan sets are not. Why? Well, I suppose the answer is twofold: access and quality.

It's important that everyone who plays Spellfire has access to the same card pool. And while the MICC cards are still availble for download at, other fan-created cards are not. They are either offline altogether, or stored in dark corners of the web like Geocities and Angelfire. Obscure websites that many don't know about and can't find.

The second reason I have banned fan-created cards from TAV is that the quality varies. Some sets are excellent, with fun, balanced cards and powers. Others are totally unbalanced or add strange and unnecessary mechanincs or abilities to the game. Some have poorly-designed layouts, non-standard fonts and symbols, and/or amateurish writing. Without some oversight, the door is wide open to excess and abuse.

Not that "expert" players can't flub up when designing a set. Take a look at this famous example of an awful misstep by some smart people: 

It's an intruiging idea - create the Ravenloft chase card set that never was. A lot of dedication and creativity went into those cards, and obviously the people involved love Spellfire a lot and tried to make an interesting and fun set. But they failed, rather spectacularly.

1) The cards don't look right. No getting around it, they are "off" somehow. Not sure if the creators thought they were actually improving on the appearance of the standard Spellfire cards or not, but they weren't.

2) The creators of that set made one of the cardinal errors in game design - attempting to introduce new powers (and new champion types!) in the middle of a set. Shoe-horning into Ravenloft both "Darklord" and "Nemesis" is awkward and clumsy. There's a reason no chase card set ever introduced a new champion type or power.

3) No balance, no synergy with the rest of the Ravenloft set. Combine the original cards with these chase cards and the new chases would stick out like a sore thumb. They don't seem to "gel" with the older Ravenloft cards like, say, the 4th edition Ravenloft cards do.

There are similar flaws with most other fan-created cards. No oversight, no editorial control, little or no playtesting and revision. That's why (at least for now) TAV excludes these sorts of cards.

P.S. When printing MICC or fan-created cards onto sticker paper for application to first edition "blanks", please don't make a common mistake that even seasoned pros, eBay sellers, and others seem to fall into: printing your cards too small.

Once applied, you should not be able to see the old card art underneath - at all. Not around the edges, not at the corners. A well-crafted sticker card will cover the old card to which it is applied completely. If it doesn't, adjust your size on MS Word or whatever program you are using, and print them again and again until you get it right. At worst, you will have to round the corners a bit with a sharp pair of scissors. Seeing the old art underneath a new sticker card makes it look cheap and unprofessional.

Next time: The 5 best unarmed combat cards ever printed.