I got an email the other day from It’s Just Soup Studios asking me to take a look at their Kickstarter for their new Epic Hero and Villain Feat Cards. I was very happy to get the email for two reasons. First, this is my first invitation to talk about my impression of a product, which is always an exciting milestone in a blogger’s life (just to be clear, I received no compensation in exchange for this post, and IJS gallantly asked for a fair shake rather than pushing for a glowing review). 😛 Second, and more important, I’m pleased that this Kickstarter is now on my radar and that I have the chance to sneak in a backing before the clock runs out.
There have been feat and stunt cards for tabletop roleplaying combat before. This is not just a retread of the concept, however. The beauty of this system is its rhythm. The working rulebook is here, but the basic idea is that heroes can use their cards to dodge an attack, buff their partner, and so forth. When they do, they hand the card to the GM, who flips the card over to the Villain side and gets to push right back with the new toys the players have given her. The Villain cards seem especially good for mitigating the effects of player-sided action economy (that is, the usual situation where a party full of characters takes more actions in a round than the one or two big baddies they’re fighting) without tilting the odds too much against the players.
The cards are fairly system agnostic, though of course whenever you’re including pluses and minuses and whatnot there are obvious assumptions about the general category of system in play. The card options are pretty broadly applicable – bonuses of +4 and +8 are useful in pretty much any dice-based system that’s not purely percentile – and those using more esoteric rulesets can houserule the cards to taste.
A second category of cards – epic decks – allows players to trade five regular hero cards for an epic card. Epic decks are flavored by role, such as War and Guile, each with seven aspect cards within. For example, the War deck has a Two-Handed card which gives +1 to attack rolls and allows the player to spend one of six starting points (tracked on a d6) to take an extra attack, dodge an attack, add +8 to an attack roll, or remove 8 points from incoming damage; as a last-ditch effort, the card can be discarded to negate any one condition. You can see the inspiration behind it – a nimble combatant wielding two swords who parries, feints, thrusts, ducks, and burns her luck by pressing through environmental and magical obstacles to hound her foe. All of the epic-tier cards follow this structure of one permanent ability, four abilities which can be bought for one point out of a pool of six, and a drop ability. And in keeping with the theme of give-and-take, the heroes’ use of epic cards unlocks the villains’ own epic deck whose cards grant their abilities to all the foes on the field, such as one card’s permanent +2 to enemy initiative while the card is in play.
The card metagame goes even deeper, since each card has an icon which grants a card-handling ability, like trading the card in for one of a higher power level or for the chance to hunt through your deck for a specific card. This aspect of the game allows for players to exercise a bit of deck control. It also has the benefit of being easily ignored if it’s bogging down gameplay or in order to teach the more core aspects of the cards to new players until they’ve got their sea legs and are ready to handle the icons. (At the time of this post, IJS is working to add the icons to the cards due to an error in the original files sent to the printer for proofs.)
The art, all of it contributed by deviantArt user Justin Davis, is particularly noteworthy. In the basic deck, all the cards feature the art shown at the top of this post, a piece I appreciate for having normal female armor. 🙂 For a little extra, the “unlocked art” deck has lots more really cool artwork. There are gratuitous fantasy T&A staples that sour the mix (the naked demon ladybutt, the net-over-boobs medusa), but also a couple further examples of women in functional protective wear and a representative sample of dude and monster tropes which are well-executed. Consider the age range of your table and your players’ capacity to absorb ambient gaming misogyny when ordering.
The top tier of the Kickstarter, including all 216 cards with unlocked art, is only sixty bucks, less than thirty cents per card – not bad, in my opinion. If you’re still hurting from the winter holidays, you could go low-key and spend ten bucks for a print-and-play PDF (or throw in another two dollars for unlocked art), though that carries additional costs which vary depending on how tight you are with your local print shop. And of course, there are the usual mid-range levels and add-on options so you can fine-tune your order to suit your table’s needs. The project is already funded to almost four times the original goal. As of today, February 18 of 2015, there are twelve days remaining on the Kickstarter, so tick tock, folks. For those who, like me, are wary of Kickstarters which collapse under their own weight, you will be heartened to learn that IJS has been posting regular updates, has responded to user queries, has their printer lined up, has received and approved initial proofs (aside from that icon issue), and by all accounts seems ready to deliver on the project’s promises.