Many board game publishers are making handsome profits on upgraded components — things like metal coins and card sleeves that make their products more attractive at the table. But some companies build entire games around these types of bits. Just look at the poker-style chips and custom dice used by Chip Theory Games, or the neoprene game board at the center of Leder Games. Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile. This year, another rare and expensive item had its heyday: transparent plastic playing cards.
These unusual transparent sheets look like ordinary playing cards. You can shuffle and pack them, so they fit nicely into decks with traditional cards. But they can also be printed, allowing designers to layer art or hide certain game elements from view. Used cleverly, transparent cards give players new mechanics and features that were simply not available in board games before. Two of the best games of the year — John D. Clair’s Dead Reckoning and Corey Konieczka 3,000 scoundrels — use them in their creative way.
Dead Reckoning is a sandbox-style exploration and conflict game on the high seas. Each player at the table has a crew of sailors to man their ship. This crew can be upgraded over time, giving players a stronger sense of belonging. Clair uses a clear plastic card for each of these crew members – for boatswain, mate, deckhand, etc.
The art on these clear cards only takes up the top half of one side. Each is then paired with a traditional card of the same size and a matching card sleeve. As players upgrade their crew, they simply remove the traditional playing card from the sleeve and rotate or flip it, revealing new stats that appear through the transparent card on top. It’s a smart system both in the way it uses new materials, and also in the way it reinforces the sense of investment players have in their crew.
In 3,000 scoundrels, designer Konieczka has created an elaborate auction game in which players draw other characters to work alongside them to accumulate the most treasure. Konieczka uses many more of these transparent cards in his design – 60, compared to Dead Reckoningit is 8. These 60 unique cards combine with 50 traditional cards to create thousands of potential characters, a gallery of rogues that similarly supports the game’s promise of variety implicit in the title.
The establishment of clear maps in 3,000 scoundrels is particularly ingenious. While traditional cards in the game have art for NPC faces, clear job cards cover clothing and other accessories – much like a paper doll. Traditional and transparent cards also interact creating new combinations of stats, benefits, and costs depending on how they are paired. This makes setting up each new game an act of discovery – further reinforcing the game’s futuristic time-travel storyline.
Of course, this isn’t the first time transparent cards have been used in tabletop games. One of my favourites, Darknessexists since 2005. In fact, Dead Reckoning is just the latest in a long line of similar games from AEG, titles like mystical valley and Custom heroes. The company even protected a name for its particular solution: they call it the Card Crafting System.
But why did two different companies release such prestigious games with such similar elements? Well, that’s one of the joys of tabletop gaming. While names, locations, and certain mechanics can be legally protected, preventing other companies from using them in their own games, more common items like dice cannot. The idea of using cards to play games is as old as the game itself, leading to these kinds of co-evolutionary designs.
Even more interestingly, while both games use clear cards in similar ways to accomplish different things, the games also occupy very different places in the trading landscape. 3,000 scoundrels is offered at a very affordable price and suitable for large areas $49.95. Dead Reckoning, on the other hand, has incredibly expensive components, such as plastic miniatures, sturdy storage boxes, and 3D resin tokens. It also carries a premium price of $79.95which you can expect to increase once they hit the market.
You can find Dead Reckoning on Support kitwhere a second print is currently up for pre-order. 3,000 scoundrels pre-order at Asmodee’s website and in friendly local game stores on September 23, with a worldwide retail release on October 7.
Dead Reckoning and 3,000 Villains was previewed with a final retail release provided by AEG and Asmodee, respectively. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find additional information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.