Friday, June 5, 2015

Epic Spell Blahs

A funny thing happened on the way to the publication of the second ESW set, Epic Spell Wars: Rumble at Castle Tentakill.

Actually, I wish it was funny, but it’s not, and I’m no longer the target audience.

I handled mechanical design on this set and its Mt. Skullzyfyre predecessor, aided by Matt Hyra’s devteam at Cryptozoic. Cory Jones of Cryptozoic renames the cards and writes the art descriptions and writes the story in the rulebook. What that means is that a large portion of the game’s initial success came from Cory, because I suspect that more people bought the game for its Nick Edwards art and its over-the-top theme than for the mechanics. I’d kinda hoped to shift that equation a little with set 2, because I was really happy with the choices added by the new mechanics, Blood, and creatures.

But I was wrong about thinking that the first set had been pushed to the edge. I didn’t realize that Cryptozoic was going to put an AWESOME MATURE CONTENT AND PROFANITY warning on the box, and I didn’t realize what that would mean.

I saw the cards for the first time last week and I wasn’t amused. There are sexist cards, racist cards, sniggering cards, and just plain ugly cards. It irritated me so much I only got through half the cards the first day.

I’ve discussed the set with Cory and he says he thinks of the ESW property as an Adult Swim cartoon. Huh. I think that’s a category error, and that even if you managed to make an Adult Swim cartoon out of a game, you wouldn’t handle the game as if it were the cartoon.

I’d been thinking of ESW as a game I was happy playing with my female and male friends and at conventions with strangers. But that’s not true anymore, unless I strip out the sexist and racist cards and squint at the rest.

I view this Adult Swim approach as a mistaken rebranding of an already successful game property that had wider appeal. Cory sees it as a minor alteration of an already edgy property.

And maybe he’s right about the minor alteration angle. It looks like I didn’t take the storyline in the first rulebook seriously enough, probably because it ticked me off. Certainly I believed that the game had found its tone the first time out. Turns out I was wrong. If this second set really is only a minor alteration, it turns out that the first set was as far as I was comfortable taking a game meant to be played by people I like. 

So I’m opting out of Epic Spell Wars publicity. I’m not pushing the game or running it at conventions.

Cory has apologized for surprising me with the switch to the NSFW model of the game and has agreed to take my name off the cover of the second printing.

The anthropologist in me is curious to see how this plays out. The rest of me is irritated.


  1. Ugh. That has to be so painful to work so hard on something and then have it come out as something to which you object! Ugh. For what it's worth, the first game was on the edge for me too. There really is only one border to the box that I can have facing outwards on the shelf without worrying about my kids' reactions. And I certainly can't play the game with them... though I think it would be a great game for kids. If the first set was toned down a bit (more buggs bunny, less Adult Swim brain explosions), it would be a superb game for them. If the second set is further... then it just doesn't belong in my house. Maybe that other game - the one kids can laugh at just as easily as adults - needs to be made...