What It’s Like to Design Art for the Game of Thrones Card Game

From words to pictures in the Game of Thrones card game.

Aaron Ross Powell

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For a while, the card game based on George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones was pretty big. It began as a collectible card game. Picture Magic: The Gathering, but with Maesters instead of magicians. Then it moved into a “living” card game format, which is pretty much the same thing, except you know exactly which cards you’re getting in each pack and you never have to buy more than one pack of each new set. Now it’s dying, the manufacturer announcing it’s moved to a more limited release schedule.

Ten years ago, when it was still big, I stumbled into designing art for it, shaping the universe of Thrones just a little bit. I was playing AGoT, as it was called, with a group of guys in DC who were quite good. Good enough that, for three years in a row, the world championship was claimed by one of them. I wasn’t good. I’ve always been bad at card games, and I was particularly bad at this, at least in comparison. But I had just published my first novel, and my buddies knew the people at Fantasy Flight Games who produced the game, and so when FFG put out a call for writers to craft art descriptions for upcoming sets, they hooked me up.

Fantasy Flight Games sent me a spreadsheet with the details of seventeen cards: name, type, faction, cost, game text, flavor text, etc. These had been developed by the game designers and refined over months of playtesting with groups of players who’d get PDFs of “cards” that were little more than boxes with a bit of text, that they’d print out, card-sleeve, and give a whirl. To turn spreadsheets into actual cards meant going through a layout process and getting artists to paint accompanying pictures.

Which is where I came in. Like a comic book writer scripting what the artist should draw, I had to come up with little descriptions to go with all those details. These would in turn be sent to artists.

It was a fun project. I had to flip through the books, browse wikis, and, in cases like Litany of Fire, brainstorm with my gaming group just what could possibly make sense in light of the card text. I sent what I came up with back to FFG and, months later, I got to see the results.

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Aaron Ross Powell

Host of the ReImagining Liberty podcast. Writer and political ethicist. Former think tank scholar.