Since before the insatiable itch of trading card games (TCG) hit me, I have always wanted to design and play my own battle card game. Now card games have come a long way and have several classifications, like CCG (collectible card game) and LCG (living card game). After the introduction of Pokémon — which I was a casual collector of the cards but never actually played against anyone — I was hooked on the battle card concept. Now TCGs have evolved and come a long way.
Adventure and dungeon crawling games have been created, real-time fighting games, as well as live action card games have come to the forefront. As many card games have come and gone, I’ve started to notice the pattern. I was beginning to understand more about the core mechanics that make up a balanced card game. I was open to a lot more variety of card games. Mix in chance with strategy and offer a plethora of cards which allow for unimaginable combinations and you have a barn burner. It doesn’t hurt to have a popular animated series to tie in the culture and lessons. For a little history on Collectable Card Games pop on over to Wikipedia and get your dose or foundational fibre. It does a creative mind good.
Recently after a month of browsing the web for any kind of tool and resource for creating my own cards, I’ve compiled a short list of what I consider the best. I’ve done this hunt several times over the last several years and not much has changed in the landscape of producing your own stuff. More tools, more tutes, more resources, but the game’s still the same. I’ve used most, if not all of these in some degree and found my own comfort zone. What works best for me may not work for others, hence the list. Experiment with each one when you are ready to start creating your own TCG. You may find your creative comfort zone in a mix ‘n match of desktop, online and manual options. So, you still want to make a TCG? Well, let’s get to it!
Desktop publishing tools
Windows or Mac based programs that can help you create that custom card game you’ve been wanting to build.
Deckromancy – (FREE / Paid)
A great program that is both flexible and easy to use. Works on WIN and MAC OS as well as your iOS and Android devices. For the price of the software you get freedom to build and manage your custom decks. Setting up templates, customizing layouts and colours, and adding your own icons makes this one of the best I’ve used. It’s more than worth the price tag. It goes by a few other names online but they are all the same tool.
nanDECK – (FREEware)
Another good tool, nanDECK is very flexible, but that comes at a cost… coding. If you’re more of a visual learner and prefer to drag-n-drop, double click and type your way to a custom deck, then this program is not for you. It’s not to say it’s any harder than the others. Quite the contrary. It’s MAC OS, WIN and LINUX friendly, and from what I gather its primary focus is to build and manage decks based on scripts; referencing images, colours and text through lines of code. Systematically it generates a full deck of cards within mere seconds. nanDECK is great for prototyping (where you don’t require heavy graphic design) and want to generate a functioning deck that can be edited without the time consuming graphical edits. I used it, I love it for prototyping.
CCG Maker – (FREEware)
This tool was the second piece of software I ever tried when I first started my search for desktop card creators. It’s simple and to the point, very customizable, and allows you to save and print your cards. The saved cards can be re-edited if needed but the print resolution JPG is poor for high quality output. It’s primarily for online or digital presentation. You can create and save up to 10 of your own templates for manna symbols, set symbols or cards. The application has a feature which allows you to import or export different symbols. You can add, remove or position your own set symbols to this program.
Magic Set Editor – (FREEware)
This piece of software allows you to design your own cards for popular TCGs. MSE can then generate images of those cards so that you can print or upload them to the internet. One great thing about this tool that the others don’t have is the ability to export it to an HTML file so that you can import it to Apprentice or LackeyCCG and play with your own cards online against others.
Adobe CS/CC – (30 day trial / Paid )
Adobe suite tool provide tons of power for designers and developers. I’ve been using Photoshop since 5.5 so my design instinct is to draft on paper, then create digital version. With Photoshop you can build a single card, then build a sheets and edit them all in one shot. Set up a print document, set up your measurements and create your template. Then fill in the blanks. Adobe also offers programs like InDesign and Illustrator that give your more design and layout power, the former of which can automate text on your cards through data merge. All in all, if you’re looking to go right to the visual presentation out of the gate this is the tool for you.
GIMP / Inkscape – (FREEware)
An alternative to the paid Adobe CS tools is GIMP and Inkscape. Both are all-OS friendly, being open-source, and very well respected photo editing and vector tool respectively. For TCG creation they can do pretty much do everything you’d possibly need creatively. From templates to designs, typography and manipulation – your creativity is the limit. GIMP is a freeware program that boasts great tool sets which rival such applications like Photoshop and CorelDraw. Inkscape, with it’s flexible drawing tools, wide range of format compatibility and powerful text tools, make you are no lesser a force than any other designer with paid software. If you’re strapped for cash or just looking to dabble with full-featured editing/design tools, these are your answer.
Other digital tools – (FREE / Paid)
Depending on how technical or creative (or in some cases just bull headed) you are, you can really develop TCG cards with any program you can type and import artwork to. I’ve seen people using MS Word or OpenOffice Docs to design cards. Some really talented folks have created cards in PowerPoint, MS Paint/Paint.NET (both of which are free and default with Windows), Pages (which is a OEM program on Mac OSX), and many other no graphic design software. Snicker if you want, but a veteran MS Excel user could probably write a macro or two to automate a whole deck in a matter of hours, artwork and all.
The bottom line is if you have some type of digital software that you can draw, erase, type and import you have the tool(s) to create your very own card game or supporting cards for a board game.
Find all the links to the whole series right here. And for any tools and services that you feel are worthy to mention, please let me know in the comments below.