In the strange, melancholy, post-apocalyptic world of Spell Saga, you play the Last Minstrel, a seeker of lost songs and collector of myths. What will you find on the Final Shore, where the Black God waits?
Spell Saga is a solitaire card game – the creators call it a "tabletop novel." As the Last Minstrel, you work your way through the deck, finding and exploring locations, collecting items and friends, battling monsters, and ultimately collecting bits of the story of the world you live in. Somewhere in the misty past, songs and stories were lost. You want to find them — either to learn the truth or just to put some beauty back into the world.
Creator Todd Michael Rogers sent me some playtest cards so I could try the game out. I played through a few times and quickly grasped the game's overall mechanics (they have some how-to-play videos that were very helpful). Its basic functions are similar to other adventure card games; as you draw through the deck you'll find either items and places and allies, or enemy monsters. On each turn you'll deal with the various boons and threats that turn up.
There are a few ingenious mechanics, though. As a "tabletop novel," the game follows a rough plot. How do you prevent weird outcomes like experiencing the end of the story too early because of a random draw? By forcing each card to be "Acknowledged" before it can have an effect on the game. If you draw a card that has a higher number on it than the number of Story Cards currently in play, it is simply cycled to the bottom of the deck. This keeps the things you encounter on par with your place in the game, as you gradually add more Story Cards throughout the game.
There's also a spontaneously generated "map" that's created as you discover Place cards. This prevents the game's narrative from playing out the same way each game (on top of the fact that you'll be drawing different enemies, allies and items), since you'll travel to different places and experience different effects in each game.
There were a few cards that caused some confusion, but I talked to Rogers and he said that the card text is still being edited, and the final printed versions will benefit from a lot of playtesting.
While it plays as a perfectly fine adventure card game, it was the artistry of Spell Saga that drew me in. All the card art is done by Rogers' cousin, Lauren Rogers (this is about as indie as indie games get). The art is very distinctive – very whimsical, yet often mournful. It wouldn't look out of place illustrating a children's book. And the text on the cards that explains the unfolding story has its own beauty. Here is the story card that begins the game:
"When the world ended, all that was left was missing, or broken… Broken hearts, & broken roads, missing loves & lost purpose… It was the musicians who left to search for clues. The minstrels & bards with their magical songs. Riding off into the sunset to seek out a miracle. But that was long ago… Now there is One Last Minstrel. Searching for answers… Searching for hope…"
One of the allies you might meet, the Folk with Veiled Cap, has this to say:
"Two hearts hath the God on the Shore, one for cruelty & one for beauty. The Weather Guard, in their greed, stole the heart of beauty…"
Spell Saga has a Kickstarter, of course, and one that is frankly looking like a long shot. But where I might otherwise pass up on writing about an indie card game struggling for funding, this one has a few things going for it. First, that art and those haunting clues about the world, presented so beautifully. Second, if you visit the Kickstarter page, you'll find the print-and-play files for this game, completely free. Third, well…you never know. It's nice to cheer for the underdog now and then.