I Hate Wizards.

This is the second in a series of articles that chronicle the experiences of the small team of game designers building the digital CCG, Rival Books of Aster. You can find part one here

I have a confession to make. I am tired of wizards. Actually, I am tired of fairies and elves as well. Everywhere you look, ideas within the realms of fantasy seem to be the same. I am sure that we can praise and blame Tolkien at some point for all of the wizards floating around, and if you want to get really technical we could go all the way back to the Beowulf poet in Old English and thank him/her for monsters fighting kings. But I am tired of it all.

I see the irony here considering the very first concept for Rival Books of Aster was “You are a wizard and your cell phone is your wand”.

As soon as we designed our way around wizards and wands and landed on the combo-based CCG concept that would be the actual basis for the game, I knew that it had to look and feel different than every other collectable card game already on the market.

Lauchie Reid, self portrait

Lauchie Reid is an accomplished painter and illustrator and happens to be a friend of mine. He is a part of an art collective called Team Macho who challenge the way that we make art and do it with a sense of humour. I knew he would be absolutely perfect for our game, so with the promise of wine I lured him over to my condo and we began to sketch out a bizarre and beautiful world called Aster.

Before the first glass of wine was done, we had agreed: No Wizards.

It was Lauchie who first came up with the idea for using real spell books as the inspiration for our world. He introduced me to an entire library of medieval grimoires filled with illustrations of crazy demons and sigils for every type of creature imaginable. In the Grimoires we had found our muse.

I always loved the idea of “Forrest Gump Storytelling” where you weave a story in and out of real historical events and artifacts. This what we set out to do with Rival Books of Aster. I went home and spent the next week pouring over these grimoires to get a sense for their construction and the lore they contain. And then I started to write.

By my next meeting with Lauchie I knew three things for sure:

1. I still hated Wizards.
2. I wanted to press on the metaphors of books in our game; pages, paper, inscription, and ink would all play important roles.
3. Our game would contain 4 rival books of arcane knowledge, each hand painted in a completely different art style.

It seemed obvious; if we were putting different houses into battle with each other, why would they look the same? I wanted to create a visual conflict on the game board that complemented the strategic conflict of the game design. Lauchie was excited about the idea, and three bottles of wine later we were knee deep in a creative process that would take over two years of our life.

There was no way around it: if our game was going to be about ancient spell books and creepy creatures, then we should actually put full spell books in the game for our players to read.

The result is that Rival Books of Aster has within it a grimoire that holds the images and stories for all 200 spells from our game (in a later article I will tell you all about how we came up with the stories). We wanted players to unlock the lore of the world piece by piece as they played. The idea that every player would experience the art and the story in a unique way became a crucial element to our overall plan.

In-game Grimoire pages

In Rival Books of Aster players don’t collect cards and fill a binder, they gather long lost pages from ancient & arcane manuscripts and slowly decipher them to reveal their secrets.

Grimoirum Verum

Grimoirum Verum illustration for ‘Beelzebuth’s Charge’

Lauchie loves Hieronymus Bosch and we both agreed that the best way to show a house full of demons was with a style that mimics some of the quirkiest and scariest art ever made. Our initial goal for the Verum was “just a little creepy”. The end product overshot that by a mile, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Theurgia Goetia

Theurgia Goetia illustration for ‘Carnesiel of the East’

The Theurgia are concerned with the natural world and all the beasts of the earth, and are painted in the style of Anglo-Saxon manuscript illuminations. We took visual inspiration from artifacts like The Book of Kells, and story inspiration from the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. When we first put the demons of the Verum beside the natural creatures of the Theurgia we knew that we were onto something.

Pauline Art

Pauline Art Illustration for ‘Amenial’

I initially suggested to Lauchie that it might be interesting to mimic the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci for the Pauline. What he came back with was very much in that style, but with splashes of colour and gold leaf to really give the house its own identity. The characters of the Pauline Art are ruled by a mad king and are a hybrid of mechanical parts and natural creatures that Lauchie appropriately described as “15th Century bio-punk”.


Heptameron illustration for ‘Ourer’

The design line for this house was “Gods and Men”, and we needed a style that reflected that. We decided that 2d murals inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphs and old frescoes left on the walls of Pompeii would be a great way to show the Gods, their worship, and also instil a sense of age within the process.

It was an incredible feeling when the final pieces of art came in and we were able to view each piece in relation to the whole. Lauchie Reid and his team spent hundreds of hours hand painting all of our in-game art and the result is that the world of Aster has been brought to life as a weird, beautiful and terrible place.

When the time comes to expand the game we will be looking to our community for input on what art styles to include next, and we promise we are listening.

Check out part three here