Designing a tabletop wargame…come and join us!

bridge with red sky-game cover

We’re building something fantastic and new. You’ve got to be part of this! Hear me out…

Tabletop wargames like Warmachine and Warhammer 40K have a lot of PRO’s: The strategy and tactics stretch your mind to be inventive and surprising. You have to anticipate and react to shifting conditions and take advantage of the terrain. It’s primal war in a bottle.

However, although the miniatures look amazing laid out in full glory on rolling hills or nestled in masonry ruins on the table, it takes a lot of $$$ and time and talent to make that happen. All too often, the aesthetic you saw in the pictures doesn’t turn out that way on your own table.

And the endless battles…some of us are a little more intrigued by the lore and fluff behind games than the games themselves, so comparing a wargame with something designed to tell stories like Dungeons & Dragons can weaken your enthusiasm a bit. I mean, WHY are they fighting this war, right? And again. And again.

Trading card games like Magic: The Gathering bring their own PRO’s: Incredible focus on lore and shifting mechanics, gorgeous and inspiring art, creative engines uniquely geared to tell stories, and a maddeningly well-designed game. Seriously, go listen to this discussion on how Wizards Of The Coast goes about their worldbuilding – it’s an impressive operation!

And the art on Magic cards is typically the thing that people mention as drawing them into the game in the first place; and it’s amazing art, no doubt. A couple of artists you might look into from their usual suspects are Richard Wright and Adam Paquette.

However, Magic brings a lot of complexity to it, and a lot of story baggage. Pick up one of their art books like the recent one based in a massive city called Ravnica and you’re bombarded with lore that, while interesting, is difficult to relate to and to remember. The game itself has morphed into a pay-to-play monstrosity where the guy who spent the most on the more powerful deck will often win the game. And even in a casual format, it’s still just a card game and doesn’t have the feel of staring down a tabletop canyon with a horde of miniatures rushing at you where you hadn’t anticipated.

We started asking ourselves at Grailrunner, is it possible to combine some of the best of these?

  • A tabletop wargame based on trading cards that are placed on terrain like miniatures would be, with consequences for the orientation and placement of each
  • Unique characters coming alive on cards with gorgeous artwork and card mechanics that affect gameplay in a way meaningful to the overall story
  • An over-arching narrative that makes sense of the series of battles, who’s fighting and why, and what the consequences might be either way
  • Every single character, weapon, and vehicle has a backstory. Nothing is given as plain vanilla fluff. Even the scratches on a cannon barrel came from somewhere.
  • Adaptable narrative and game mechanics that allow for a continuing storyline that is easy to relate to and understand

That’s the manifesto. We’ve got an initial set of rules and some strawman cards for two factions. Playtesting has been fun – games last about an hour. It moves quickly, and shifts dramatically. Luck is an element, as you draw each turn. Strategy is more important.

Throughout this year, we’ll be testing things out with you here or with volunteers. We’ll post the rules and some cards soon to get your feedback. Keep an eye on this page for updates.

If there’s enough interest, we will likely do a Kickstarter and initial print run. We don’t intend to become a gaming company though, so let’s keep our eye on the ball. The entire point of this site and Grailrunner’s vision is to inspire better fantasy and science fiction. This experiment just struck us as an interesting means of doing just that.

Let us know what you think and your own thoughts on combining trading card and tabletop wargames in a meaningful way. We’re really curious about your first take on this! Either way, keep this is mind…

Dreams are engines. Be fuel.