mercredi 20 juillet 2016

Graphical design: more about full art version

I've talked about graphical design in my first article about Redesigning V:TES, and I mentioned the work done in that domain by FFG on Netrunner: Android.

FFG has published two whole decks using full bleed (ie. with no border) design:

Top-Notch Design
With their proven pedigree and their gorgeous new graphic design, the 2015 Android: Netrunner World Champion Corp Deck and 2015 Android: Netrunner World Champion Runner Deck offer an exciting new way to delve more deeply into the cyberstruggles of Android: Netrunner.

It's interesting to notice the use of different, characteristic box shapes, for instance the name boxes, and the variation in the position of the elements to make the card type easy to identify despite the reduced surface of non-art areas.

Thanks to Lönkka for the reference.

Redesigning V:TES: card text

In the first article, I've listed the graphical design mistakes that are present in V:TES cards, and given clues and suggestions about how to fix them.

I'll talk in this article about the content of the cards, and how years of compromise and trial and errors have led to a wording jungle.


Jyhad was the third CCG created, and the second CCG by Wizards of the Coast. Magic: the Gathering had been a tremendous and unexpected success the year before, and it gave ideas to many game companies, resulting in the launch of more than 40 CCGs during the years 1994-1995.

It's easy to understand that given the short delay for the creation of Jyhad and the youth of the CCG, many design mistakes or bad choices were made, especially in the wording of the cards and the rules. Among others, we can list:
  • inconsistency (card A and B have a similar effect but use a different formulation)
  • word bloat (an effect is described lengthily)
  • bad use of existing mecanism unused mecanism (the "paralysis" keyword)
  • missing mecanism/patterns that were added later ("during X, do Y")
  • unclear/ambiguous formulation 

V:TES had most of its cards rewritten at least once, but I doubt of the existence of tablets of the law: a detailed and consistent wording guideline (or at least a document complete enough to produce consistent card text).

Some terms were never fully abandoned despite their obsolescence ("destroy equipment"), some sentences are redundant with the rulebook ("If a card would give the ally blood, give the ally life instead."), reminders are sometimes written between parenthesis, sometimes not ("no cost is paid"), some mecanisms such as triggers or replacement effects are not clearly identified, and some terms were used interchangeably ("get"/"gain", "put"/"place", "may"/"can").

I wrote such a detailed guideline with the support of Pascal Bertrand, the rule directory, covering general rules and special cases (eg. the cardtext to use for a Hunting Ground), which is publicly available on the V:EKN website, and which is opened to remarks and changes.

The process was iterative:
  • pick up a card with a confusing or inconsistent wording
  • fix it
  • write down the rule
  • apply the rule to all the cards
  • proceed with the next card.
Taken individually, each change is almost imperceptible, but when you add them, the result is sometimes very different from the original. For instance, Blood Sweat:

[qui] Strike: 2R damage; only usable at long range. Damage cannot be prevented.
[QUI] Strike: 3R damage; only usable at long range. Damage cannot be prevented.
Only usable at long range.
[qui] Strike: 2R unpreventable damage.
[QUI] Strike: 3R unpreventable damage.

or Kherebutu (Mummy):
Unique mummy with 3 life. 3 strength, 2 bleed.
Kherebutu may play cards requiring basic Necromancy [nec] as a vampire with a capacity of 3. If a card would give him blood, give him life. If he is burned, shuffle him into your library. (D) Burn Kherebutu to burn a Tremere with a capacity below 5 controlled by your prey.
Unique mummy with 3 life. 3 strength, 2 bleed.
Kherebutu can play cards requiring basic Necromancy [nec] as a vampire with capacity 3. Kherebutu can burn himself and a Tremere with capacity 4 or less controlled by your prey as a (D) action. If he is burned, shuffle him into his owner's library.

The updated cardtext is also available on the V:EKN website, in the Card Lists menu, under the name "Revised Card List". There's probably still work to do to complete it, and some complicated rules (eg. those dealing with digits or word numbers) could be simplified.

V:TES uses very little rule-keywords (and a lot more of symbols) compared to Magic: The Gathering, prefering instead verbose formulation. Without adding new keywords that would make the game even harder to learn, those formulations must be very clear and consistent.

I'll talk now about another problem related to the genesis of the game.

The original sin, or V:TES schizophrenia

V:TES is based on a role playing game and was designed to reflect the World of Darkness. Players are Methuselahs, counters are blood, cards are burned and go to the ash heap. This sounds cool and really catches the spirit of the world of darkness, until you realize that Methuselahs are vampires controlling vampires. That creates an interpretation breach in the rules because Methuselahs are not vampires game-wise, mind you. The same way, vampires are minions, but not like mages, mummies etc. who are allies. Some of those allies can play cards "as a vampire" though. Imbued are also allies, but they work half as vampires, half as allies.

So, V:TES has strong roleplaying components based on realistic and imaginary elements, but is also a card game that must have strict logical rules. Dogs can ride bikes (per rule), but mortals can't burn blood, only life, or can't diablerize vampires (per rule, derivated from the WoD background). Among the other background elements that translate to cards, we could mention stakes that send vampires to torpor, daylight that causes aggravated damage and the like.

Now, that we know that everything is a bit mixed up and complex, we hopefully rely on the fact that cards explicitely refer to allies when they don't work against vampires, and never refer to vampires when they affect Methuselahs. Imbued required the errata of a few cards (such as cards that put counters on uncontrolled vampires).

Now, let's take a short moment to look at the following cards:

Bum's Rush
Jyhad: (D) Attack an opponent's minion.
Bum's Rush
Latest: (D) Enter combat with a ready minion.
Art Scam
Gain 2 pool.
Bewitching Oration
Jyhad: [pre] Gain 2 votes.
Bewitching Oration
Lastest: [pre] This acting vampire gains 2 votes.
Outside the Hourglass
[TEM] Only usable before range is determined. Inflict 2 damage on the opposing minion.
The chosen minion takes 3 unpreventable damage.
Archon Investigation
Burn the acting minion.
Put this card on this acting Sabbat vampire and untap him or her. This Sabbat vampire gets...
Mind Numb
[pre] (D) Put this card on any untapped vampire. Tap that vampire; he or she does not untap as normal during his or her controller's untap phase. Burn this card during your next untap phase.

So, what is the common denominator between those cards?

They all share the same major flaw: at some point, the rules were forgotten and the roleplaying aspect took somehow precedence on them. The designers had in mind that you manipulate vampires that do things for you, but who really played the cards had never been considered from the start in the designers' mind. You play the cards from your hand, but sometimes on your behalf, sometimes on your vampires' behalf. And sometimes a mysterious third agent, known as "environmental" enters the garden of Eden.

For instance, Bum's Rush is played from a vampire's perspective, since a Methuselah can't enter combat. But the effect of Art Scam has sense only from a Methuselah's perspective, since vampires can't gain pool. Betwitching Oration was switched from "Gain 2 votes" to "This acting vampire gains 2 votes" since both Methuselahs and vampires could gain vote, and the distinction had to be made.

There were plenty of questions when Outside the Hourglass was released: is the damage inflicted by the vampire, in which case it counts in playing Disarm, or is it "environmental" like Carrion Crows'? Since "minion cards are played by the minions (vampires and allies) the Methuselahs control" (rulebook), the damage is inflicted by the vampire because it uses an active form. Carrion Crows states "The opposing minion takes 1R damage" which is a passive form, so it's not the minion, nor the Methuselah (the mysterious third agent). This isn't clearly stated by the rules though, and relies solely on logic.

On another level, damage from Retribution is also inflicted by nobody, and even if there's an active form used by Archon Investigation, it's hard to tell whether it's the Methuselah that burns the minion, or the game system. It's left unclear, which can work as logn as there's no other card or rule interacting with that subject, but unclear parts are bad in a rule system.

Abbot is hard to read from the vampire's perspective since it refers to the vampire as a third person, contrary to Bum's Rush or Outside the Hourglass that make the vampire the subject. Mind Numb refers to the "controller", but the last sentence "your next untap phase" must be read also from the controller's perspective as minion cards played on other minion become controlled by that minion's controller, and no longer by the player who plays it.

This leads to convulated formulations involving distinctions between this and that, inference about who plays the card etc. that have never been resolved elegantely.

As I wouldn't raise a problem without providing a solution, I've thought about a new way of expressing the perspective.

A proposal

Cards can be played by minions, or players. Let's use:
  • the first person for the minion that plays the card ("I")
  • the second person for the Methuselah that plays the card ("You")
  • the third person to refer to another vampire or player ("That vampire", "That Methuselah")

For instance:

Card nameOriginal textNew text
Bum's Rush(D) Enter combat with a ready minion.(D) I enter combat with another minion.
Art ScamGain 2 pool.You gain 2 pool.
Betwitching OrationThis acting vampire gains 2 votes.I gain 2 votes.
Outside the HourglassInflict 2 damage on the opposing minion.I inflict 2 damage on the opposing minion.
RetributionThe chosen minion takes 3 unpreventable damage.
You inflict 3 unpreventable damage to the chosen minion.
Archon InvestigationBurn the acting minion.
The acting minion is burned.
AbbotPut this card on this acting Sabbat vampire and untap him or her. This Sabbat vampire gets...Put this card on me and untap me. While I'm Sabbat, I get...
Mind Numb[pre] (D) Put this card on any untapped vampire. Tap that vampire; he or she does not untap as normal during his or her controller's untap phase. Burn this card during your next untap phase.[pre] (D) I put this card on an untapped vampire and I tap that vampire. He or she does not untap as normal during his or her untap phase. Burn this card during that vampire's next untap phase.

Yes, I know it looks weird (as with many new formulations), but let's consider the pros:
  • if you take a deep voice when reading the card out loud, it gives a dramatic effect to the game. More seriously, it becomes easy to know from whose perspective the card is read.
  • it's a way of getting rid of most of the "he or she" / "his or her" / "him or her" inelegant formulations (resp. "I" / "my" / "me") when refering to the minion playing the card
  • it saves space; important words are less likely lost in a noise of "he or she"
  • "That" would then uniquely refer to a third subject, avoiding "this"/"that" subtle distinction

A change of perspective

The second problem (that is related to the first) is that cards can change perspective. Let's focus on Mind Numb, and let's say it's played by A on B:
  1. A puts the card on B
  2. A taps B
  3. (B controller's now control the card.)
  4. B does not untap as normal during B's untap phase.
  5. The card is burned during B's untap phase.

The first two effects are read from A's perspective. But as soon as Mind Numb is in play on B, it becomes controlled by B (per rule), and the last two effects are read from B's perspective.

One of the major drawback is that it makes card harder to understand when read. "Your untap phase" must not be read from the acting vampire's controller's perspective, as it would be if put at the start of the card text.

One of the solution is to introduce a new term for simplicity, and using paragraphs:

Attach: to put a card on another. Both cards are considered attached to each other.

I chose this term as it's neutral, contrary to "Curse/Bless" or "Affect", and works both way (attached minion / attached card).
Using paragraphs works well with the change of layout proposed in the previous article, since inferior and superior effects are separated by a line, making paragraphs usable without confusion.

Mind Numb would read (using both proposed changes):
[pre] (D) I tap an untapped vampire and I attach this card to him or her.
Attached vampire does not untap as normal during his or her untap phase. Burn this card during the attached vampire's next untap phase.

Abbot would read:
+1 stealth action. Requires a Sabbat vampire.
I attach this card to myself and I untap.
Attached Sabbat vampire gets +1 intercept against (D) actions directed at his or her controller. A vampire may have only one Abbot.
Abbot could state "As long as I'm a Sabbat vampire, I get +1 intercept" etc., but it would break consistency with other "attach" effects that all use the 3rd person.

As a consequence and a matter of consistency, vampires' card text would also be changed to the first person;

Beast, Leatherface of Detroit:
Sabbat: I cannot play action cards. I cannot have or use equipment or retainers. I can enter combat with any minion as a (D) action. +1 strength.
Please notice that it shortens vampires' text, which is good because there isn't much space for it, and it removes any self-reference (and any existing ambiguity, hello "Lord" Tremere), or references to gender (hello Sascha Vykos).

The same thing goes for allies:

Unique werewolf with 4 life. 2 strength, 0 bleed. Red List.
I can enter combat with any vampire as a +1 stealth (D) action. In the first round of combat with a vampire who has played a card that requires Auspex [aus] during this action, that vampire cannot use any maneuvers or strikes. I gain 1 life at the end of each round for each blood the opposing vampire used to heal damage or prevent destruction that round.
Equipment and retainers wouldn't be changed, as they are not minions, and refer to the bearer or employer.

Master cards wouldn't be changed, as they are played from the Methuselah's perspective and already use "you".

In this article, I've talked about the content of the cards and the wording, in the next article I'll discuss about the rules of V:TES.

lundi 11 juillet 2016

Redesigning V:TES: graphical design

In 2016, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle has turned 22 years old. Maturity was reached in 2006 with the Third Edition, and the game has evolved quite slowly since then. However, the player base has been shrinking as veteran players get older and new players harder to find.

Last year, Paradox bought the White Wolf Publishing from CCP who had stopped editing V:TES since 2010, bringing a surge of hope in the heart of all Methuselahs. While V:TES could be reprinted as-is, I can't stop thinking about changing a few things that would give the game a bigger audience, or things that annoy me.

Redesigning the cards


  • the layout is the way the elements on the cards are arranged
  • the skin is the background texture
  • the art box is the area where the art specific to the card
  • the text box is the area where the effects of the card are listed

The layout of the cards has little evolved over the years, as shown with a staple card such as Govern the Unaligned that has been present from the start (image source:, click on the images to see a bigger version):

Jyhad (1994)
VTES (1995)
Sabbat War (200)
Final Nights (2001)
Camarilla Edition (2002)
Anarchs (2003)
Kindred Most Wanted (2005)
3rd Edition (2006)
Heirs to the Blood (2010)
Jyhad cards were roughly all looking the same, due to a very dark skin. Anyway, a few characteristics were set for all the following expansions:
  • Thick borders, especially on the left
  • Bold text for superior discipline effect. Even though bold was used to distinguish the inferior effect from superior effect, the bold style was kept after the discipline icon was added in the text, making the use of bold useless
  • Text is centered

Camarilla Edition introduced the "marble stripe" on the left and a new skin for each clan and library card. Blood cost and pool cost were also changed (art and position).

Beginning with Anarchs, the stripe doesn't go to the top anymore, so that the name of the card is over the skin.

Starting with Third Edition, the text size was adapted to take all the available space, making most of the cards easier to read.

Since then, the layout hasn't changed.

There are a couple of flaws in these layouts I'll speak about later. Let's have a look on other CCGs, starting with a staple card from other games.

Magic: The Gathering

Alpha (1993)
Fourth Edition (1995)
Fifth Edition (1997)
Mercadian Masks (1999)
Seventh Edition (2001)
Duel Decks Anthology:
Jace vs. Chandra (2008)
Textbox became wider in the Fifth Edition, text began to be left aligned in Mercadian Masks (though centered text still exist in 2001), but the big layout revamp occured in 2008 for its tenth anniversary with the Eighth Edition:
"a new card frame layout was developed to allow more rules text and larger art on the cards, while reducing the thick, colored border to a minimum. The new frame design aimed to improve contrast and readability using black type instead of the previous white, a new font, and partitioned areas for the name, card type, and power and toughness." (wikipedia)


Another game has been reprinted with a major design overhaul, Netrunner (1996), reprinted as Netrunner Android in 2012:

Netrunner - Hardware
Netrunner - Program
Netrunner Android - Character
Netrunner Android - Hardware
Netrunner Android - Program
Netrunner Android - Character
(full bleed)
Netrunner Android - Event
Netrunner Android - Ice

The first thing that pops to the eye is that the cards are more colorful, and some cards (programs and barriers) have art that extends to the border of the card. You may also notice that the layout is different according to the type of card (the green color identifies the faction, not the type of card). Some cards (the ices) are even printed vertically (due to their position on the board).

The result is that the art looks more gorgeous, even though the size of the art box is not always bigger than on the old cards, and cards are easy to recognize. You may notice also that the name of the card isn't always located at the same place, but is always written into similar boxes that are always first in the reading order, so they are easy to spot.

The full bleed version of the character card moves the card information (text, figures) to the bottom, and the name (still first in the reading order) is written vertically, which is an interesting choice because it frees the top border, giving the visual impression that the art is boundless on three sides of the card. It works even better since most of the arts don't look good when truncated at the top because the subject is usually depicted on a vertical line centered horizontally, whereas details are pushed to the left and right side of the picture. The card seems to open at the top like a box, or like a landscape with no vertical limit.

Addendum: for more full bleed examples, check this other article.

Verticality in the pictures.

Finally, text is left-aligned, and is separated in paragraphs.

That should be enough to know about other card games, so we can go back to our beloved game, Vampire.

Modernizing the layout

In order to make the game easier to learn, more appealing, a few things must change.

Make the card types recognizable

Dark and dirty backgrounds suit the mood of the World of Darkness, but don't help making the cards recognizable on the first look, especially when only the top of the card is visible in the hand. Unfortunately, library cards can't have a different layout depending on their type because many of them have multiple types. We have to tune the skins to make them very distinctive, and the textures should be simplified because they are harder to recognize and harder to describe. Also, the mosaic texture on action and action modifier makes the card darker.

Combat (yes, it's very dark at the top)
Action modifier (mosaic texture)
Action (mosaic texture)
Political action

  • Combat: the red skin is a good idea, but the red should be more vivid, with blood traces for example
  • Reaction: currently blue (as the actions), they should have a distinctive color
  • Action: the dark blue color combined with the mosaic texture should be definitively changed to something brighter, and more simple
  • Action modifier: not only it has the same problem as the action skin (because in fact it's the same skin with the colors switched), but the relationship with the action is not clear enough. It could be for instance similar to the action skin, but with something extra, for example red zigzag lines
  • Event: they use the kind of red I would have liked on combat cards. They should definitively use another distinctive color. You can notice by the way that it's the master skin with the color switched.
  • Master: the green color is fine, but then we should get rid of the green marble bar present on the left side of every library card (more of that later)
  • Ally: a dark, complicated skin
  • Equipment, Political: those two cards are brown, hard to distinguish
  • Retainers: vivid color, but the texture is too complicated, and there's a kind of moire effect when it's printed that isn't pretty.

Save space

There's a lot of wasted space in the current layout. One of the consequence is that there's less space for text. The goal is not necessarily to write cards with longer text, but to make the text "breathe" so it's easier to read.
Another consequence is that there's less space for art. Have a look to the "full bleed" attempts done previously (based on self biaised's skins):

I'm more enthusiastic about the full bleed version than the classical one. I get the idea of the oval portrait that is supposed to recall those you could see in a castle, but I think it's too old fashioned. I like the left stripe as indicator of the clan instead of the generic green stripe on the classical version.

Let's have a look to library cards:

First of all, when you have a hand of seven cards, you see only the left part of each (except for the top one of course), meaning you see:

  • the start of the name
  • the green stripe
  • the action icon
  • the dominate icon
  • the cost
Hand of Jyhad cards
Hand of cards of recent editions
There are several problems:
  • the skin at the top of the card is dark (it's more blatant on combat cards) and partially hidden by the name
  • the skin doesn't extend where the green stripe is. The green stripe brings no visual clue at all about the card
  • there's a lot of empty space on the left side, meaning less space for art and card text
  • icons are not easy to learn, especially when they are too many (Android Netrunner and Magic both describe card types with words)
Now, if we look at the whole card, we may notice that there's a lot of thick borders, especially between the art box and the text box, that are a waste of space.

The first step would be to reduce the borders and increasing the color contrast so that the card type is immediately recognizable. For cards with multiple types, it's possible to make a gradient between both types.

A gradient example, that would be
more visible with brighter skins. It's more
apparent in the area between the art box
and the text box.
The green stripe on the left could be totally removed and the art box and text box widen so they take most of the width of the card. For this, the action icon(s) would be moved vertically to the center of the card (between the art box and the text box), and laid out horizontally. Since the text is left aligned, the disciplines would be visible in the card text. Here's an example of what it could look like:

I'm not a professional graphical designer, so I just took a skin from the internet, added a few boxes and semi-transparent layers, for a total of 3 hours of work using There are plenty of things that could be improved:
  • the name looks a bit small
  • the skin has the right hue, but should picture blood or something related to combat
  • the boxes could be shaped something different than rectangles
  • a QR code could be added as a link to the card latest text and rulings
  • it looks terribly like a vanilla card game card. I leave to others the work to make it look like a WoD card

Anyway, it's just a proof of concept about how things could be done differently. I'd like to point out that removing the bold from the superior effect allows to make use of it for keywords such as strike. Left-aligned text doesn't look bad, even after 20 years of centered text. The horizontal separator between the inferior effect and the superior effect emphasizes the distinction between the effects.
I left the combat icon near the "Combat" word for cards such as Swallowed by the Night who either works as an action modifier or combat. Keeping the card type icon in the card text is a good idea to save space and keep things neat, but it means that it must also be kept in the center bar.

In this article, I've talked about the form (how cards look like). In the next article, I'll talk about the substance (the content of the cards).