Many board game publishers make a tidy profit from upgraded accessories — things like metal coins and card sleeves that make their products more attractive on the table. But some companies build entire games around these kinds of bits. Just look at the poker-style chips and custom dice used by Chip Theory Games or the neoprene game board in the center of Leder Games Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile. This year, another rare and expensive accessory had its prime: clear plastic playing cards.
These unusual sheer sheets look like regular playing cards. They can be shuffled and sleeved so they blend seamlessly into decks of traditional cards. But they can also be printed, allowing designers to layer art or hide certain game elements from view. Used in clever ways, clear cards offer players new mechanics and features that simply weren’t available in board games before. Two of the best games of the year — by John D. Clair Dead reckoning and Corey Konieczka 3,000 Wicked — to use them in their own creative ways.
Dead reckoning is a sandbox style open sea exploration and skirmish game. 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 ownership. Clair uses a clear plastic card for each of these crew members – for the bosun, the first mate, the deck hand and so on.
The art on these transparent 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 either spin or flip it over, revealing new stats that can be seen through the transparent paper on top. It’s a smart system both in how it uses new materials and how it enhances the sense of investment players have in their crew.
In 3,000 Wicked, designer Konieczka created an elaborate bidding game in which players design other characters to work with to collect the most treasure. Konieczka uses far more of these transparent cards in his design — 60, vs Dead reckoning‘small 8. These 60 unique cards combine with 50 traditional cards to create thousands of possible characters, a rogues gallery that similarly upholds the game’s promise of variety implied in the title.
The application of clear cards in 3,000 Wicked it is particularly resourceful. While traditional game cards have art for NPC faces, clean job cards overlay clothing and other props on top — kind of like a paper doll. Traditional and clear cards also interact to create new combinations of stats, perks, and costs depending on how they are paired. It makes setting up each new game an act of discovery — further enhancing the game’s futuristic, time-traveling story.
Of course, this is not the first time transparent cards have been used in board games. One of my personal favorites, Gloomhas been around since 2005. In fact, Dead reckoning is just the latest in a long line of similar games from AEG, titles such as Mystic Vale and Custom heroes. The company has even trademarked a name for its particular solution: It’s called the Card Crafting System.
But why did two different companies bring such high-profile games to market with such similar pieces? Well, that’s one of the joys of the board game. While names, locations, and certain mechanics can be legally protected, preventing other companies from using them in their own games, more common items such as dice cannot be protected. The idea of using cards to play games is as old as the game itself, which leads to these kinds of co-evolving designs.
Even more interestingly, while both games use clear cards in similar ways to achieve different things, the games also occupy very different positions in the trading landscape. 3,000 Wicked Its price is very affordable, box-friendly at $49.95. Dead reckoning, on the other hand, has incredibly high-cost components such as plastic miniatures, sturdy boxes, and 3D resin tokens. It also carries a premium price of $79.95, which you can expect to increase once it hits retail.
You can find Dead reckoning on Backerkit, where a second printing is currently available for pre-order. 3,000 Wicked available for pre-order on the Asmodee website and friendly local game stores on September 23rd, with a global retail release on October 7th.
Dead Reckoning and 3,000 Scoundrels previewed with a final retail version supplied by AEG and Asmodee, respectively. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.