Dev Diary—Fray: Humble Origins

Dev Diary—Fray: Humble Origins

Last year, on June 7th, we officially announced Fray: a new card game by Smunchy Games. This was a project which, frankly, I never expected to get so far. Fray was created around mid-2017, if memory serves. Back then it was just a fun little experiment.

My name’s Adam Bassett, and I’m the designer behind Fray. It exists as this neat in-world game for Paths: World of Adia, and is also a stand-alone game able to be played outside that context. A player who enjoys Paths or its lore might see a few familiar characters, but somebody who doesn’t know about the Fire Eternal will enjoy the game just as much. 

It’s been a little while since we spoke about the game, though, so I think it’s time to share a bit more.

Before the Fray

It was not uncommon for me to feel like I needed to design a game. When I was younger I created tabletop games on large sheets of cardboard with graph paper taped to the surface. My friends and I used eraser tips as our characters and it seemed like each summer I would revise the game. In 2017, though, I decided I was not just going to make a game, but get it professionally printed too. I wanted to be simple, but contain interesting decision making, and give all players equal opportunity at success. I’d been thinking about all of this for a few reasons:

First, I’d been playing a little Magic: the Gathering at that time and although I was having fun with my friends, it was so easy for one person to completely control the game. These situations were only fun for one player, and often left their opponent frustrated for 15-30 minutes while the game went on. Because of that, I knew I needed faster games, and to give players equal access to powerful cards. The solution to this was simple: they needed to share a deck.

Second, I’d been playing a lot of Exploding Kittens at that time. It’s a very fun game, and quite different from Magic. This was part of my inspiration for the single deck system, but also made me realize I wanted to have players be able to count cards. They shouldn’t always have the answers, but players should be able to make educated guesses about what was in the deck or their opponent’s hands, similar to how in Exploding Kittens you constantly need to judge the odds you’ll draw a card that will lose you the game.

This, and a bit of further research, culminated in a three-day sprint to create a new card game. When it was finally done and I created the cards, I needed art, and pulled much of it from online sources. It was all for personal use—the game would never be published so creating custom art or getting art with the correct rights didn’t really matter. After about three days of work I sent it off to a printer and that was about it. I called the game Landfall and played it with my friends once or twice, and otherwise it collected dust. Still, I was proud to have done it.

Landfall was the original version of the game that would become Fray.

Then I Got a Publishing Deal

So it’s clear that I don’t have a future in fortune-telling.

When I began working with Smunchy Games on what would become Fray, I had to change two major things about my initial concept: (1) reduce the deck to a smaller size, and (2) rebrand it to fit in the world of Adia. We had grand ambitions to fit in important characters from Paths: World of Adia, and somehow I had to turn a sixty card deck into one half that size.

We tossed around a lot of ideas, but in the end we made a few simple but impactful changes. The original concept had four suits and Fray would have just three. That allowed for ten cards from each suit, but the original game had thirteen cards per suit. We eventually had to condense this, carefully considering the ratio of total units to spells. In the end we resulted with our current structure of seven units and three copies of the suit’s signature spell. That’s 21 Units and 9 spells, which worked well to make sure a player could draw spells somewhat reliably, but didn’t often get too many in their opening hand! Conveniently, it also made the deck easier to keep track of. Now, with a deck of thirty instead of sixty cards, you had a much better chance to estimate what might remain in the deck still, or what was in your opponent’s hand.

Illustrating Adia

As for the second change to the game, making it look like it came from Adia, we ended up with a hand-drawn look for the cards. Magic and Gwent have very detailed and realistic card art, while Pokémon and Hearthstone are more cartoony—we hadn’t seen much that looked hand-drawn before though. It felt like a natural fit, especially as we fleshed out the origin story of Fray:

Created during the First Abyssal Wars by the soldiers who fought on the front lines, Into the Fray quickly grew into a beloved pastime. The soldiers brought the game to their homes, played with their families, and it has changed over the years. What we have today is representative of that original game, making use of and honoring the races who entered the fray during those brutal times: the Dwarves, Duanine, and Bjorn.

Coming to a Battlefield Near You Soon

Fray cards with the tuckbox they came in.

Fray is nearly here. I am proud to say that we plan to put it on Kickstarter on March 3rd. In the meantime, as we finish preparing everything, I’d like to explore a bit more of it with you. Next we’ll take a look at the design, breaking down the goals and why we made some of the decisions that we did. After that, we’ll take a trip through the art of Fray, look at some old versions of the cards, and give you all a first look at some of the final versions.

We’re all very excited about the Kickstarter event and later release of Fray, and can’t wait for you to get your hands on it. You can learn more about Fray by watching Smunchy Games. Click here to visit our official page to learn the basics about it, or join our Discord server to chat with our team! 

Adam Bassett is a lead game designer at Smunchy Games (Fray), and a UI designer. He also volunteers with Worldbuilding Magazine, and works on a host of other projects.

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