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Subject: Designer Diary - The Road to Edge of Darkness Pt 1 - Why Sleeve? rss

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Todd Rowland
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by John D Clair

Part 1. Why Sleeve?
Ironically, I never sleeve my games. Cards getting damaged is not something I worry about. I sleeved a couple of my Magic decks back in the day that had good rares in them, but that was about it. However, I have always sleeved my prototypes; makes the hand-cut paper cards easier to shuffle, and some good opaque backed sleeves means your paper cards aren’t see-through. They were a tool of prototyping. I was a novice game designer. Having sold one little children’s game to a small two man game company in 2012, I set a goal of designing a really unique game to catch the attention of larger publishers. Late summer 2013, on a warm evening walk in my neighborhood in Los Angeles I had an idea about card sleeves.

I would occasionally go on walks to brainstorm, bouncing around in my head anything and everything game related to see if I could come up with an original (and not stupid) idea. Often inspiration comes by accident, but sometimes I try to force inspiration to happen, and every now and then that actually works. On this particular walk I was trying to think of new ways to use various game components: dice, cards, game box, game board, dice tower, cubes, meeples, bags, dials. When I hit on card sleeves, it occurred to me that, to my knowledge, card sleeves had never been used as an essential component in a game rather than just as an accessory to protect cards. Which of course begged the question if sleeves were used as an essential element, what might that look like? Transparent cards, which is what I think most people see as the core of card-crafting, hadn’t occurred to me yet. As a side-note on that point, I actually think sleeves are key to the definition of card-crafting not transparent cards. Transparent cards are merely one particularly cool way to do card-crafting, but certainly not the only way.

The first game I tried making that required sleeves was a wonky deck builder. Imagine a deck builder where every time your deck runs out of cards you take the discard pile of the player to your right and shuffle it to create your new deck. That way all the cards are in constant cycle around the table. Moreover, all the cards are in sleeves with identical backs; each player has his own special set of empty sleeves with the same back as all the other sleeves but with a player-unique insignia on the front, bottom-left corner. When you buy a new card, you put it into one of your player-unique sleeves. Since the cards cycle around the table, other players will draw and use your cards, and every time they do, your cards give you a special “owner’s bonus."

It was a decent concept, but, after several iterations, I still couldn’t get it to click. After iterating unsuccessfully for four months, I backed up and took a breath to work on Downfall, a 4X design I’d been trying to turn into a good game for years. My work on Downfall really tracks my road from novice to competent designer. I began working on the game in college in 2009, inspired by playing Diplomacy with my dormmates, but wanting more economics in addition to the tactical strategy. I spent four years turning that terrible initial game into an awesome game, leaving behind a trail of abandoned prototypes along the way to ultimately signing with Tasty Minstrel Games (TMG) at the end of 2013. Downfall still had a bit of a road to go and finally ended up on Kickstarter in October 2017 and should reach backers and the wider world in summer 2018.

But back to card-crafting. It was January 2014 and Downfall had just been signed. I set the goal of turning this “Card-Sleeving” concept into a good game; I planned to have a pitch-ready game for BGG.con 2014 in November. The game hadn’t worked yet and there was the clear concern that a “Card Sleeving Game” might sound more like a fiddly chore or a gimmick than a game, something I thought might turn away publishers and gamers sight unseen. But I was confident that the concept could turn into a good game, and one that could offer a new, fun experience.

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Part 2: Getting Transparent

Edge of Darkness is coming to Kickstarter February 20th!
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