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).

2 commentaires:

  1. Have done a redesign of the library cards.

    Took onboard some ideas of your blog post.

    This design works with the standard "boxed" image artwork on cards. So in theory existing artwork can be used.

    1. I like very much the separated areas for the inferior / superior effects and the big discipline icon in each. I'd like to see how it works out for cards such as Force of Personality, if you have the time (it's a dual-type card with some lengthy cardtext).

      The left stripe gives a strong type insight (I suppose we could imagine it being a bit prettier and more thematic, but that's a prototype) and the text areas are cleverly disposed over it, reducing the wasted space.

      I'm no big fan of the cost being repeated in the black text box. How does it work with a card with a blood cost and a "only usable before range is determined" clause, such as Thoughts Betrayed ?

      Great ideas anyway.