Hocus Poker PNP Update

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Progress continues on Hokus Poker. Progress cannot be stopped.

It's been a few weekends of work, but we're pleased to release the next update of the Hocus Poker PNP. Yes, you read that name correctly. More on the name tomorrow...

Before I got into details, here are the quick links:

The most significant change in this patch is the graphic design of the cards. Other than minor text tweaks and tiny balance issues, the cards are largely the same. If you downloaded and printed this game in the past month, you DO NOT need this print to get an accurate version of the game. Print this if you've never printed, haven't printed in the past month, or really love the game and want our best effort to date! Please read the rules regardless to see our clarifications that may have hindered your enjoyment in the past.

The first reason for the update was that our graphics files were just old, tired, and crufty. If you've worked in software, you know how every so often you just need to go through the code and audit things. We needed that! After 4 months of constant testing and iteration, our Photoshop file looked war torn and needed a fresh start.

The second reason, and a primary driver for this, is that Hocus Poker will be at Origins in limited form. Corey Young, designer of the award-winning Gravwell and soon to be award winning Santorini, GRACIOUSLY volunteered to hand out copies of the game at the Origins convention in just a few weeks. He'll have 10 copies to give away. TEN. You just need to find him and get one. We're really proud of these copies and we spent a bit of time and money to make them. They will be printed on 310 GSM (which is nice) cardstock with a linen finish. As far as print on demand goes, they should be top of their class. I used Printer Studio for the print. I was very pleased with their interface, less pleased with their shipping costs, and don't know yet about their final quality.

I was inspired to do this Origins giveaway by Adam McIver, who handed out Coin Age at last year's GenCon. It was a brilliant idea and it put Coin Age on the lips of a lot of people. Due to the card count of our game I can't quite match his distribution numbers, but if 10 people turn into 40 players, that's great and well-worth the expense. If this Origins experiment works for us, you'll see more at GenCon handed out by the excellent Chevee Dodd, then more at BGG Con, handed out by yours truly.

In case you missed this note in a previous update, Josh and I are currently planning to self-publish Hocus Poker under Hyperbole Games in the winter of 2015. That gives us about 9 months to test, market, and complete art development.

Back to Origins. We needed to make the cards, and quickly! It takes a few days to print and a few days to ship and we didn't want to miss the boat.

Our third reason for the update is the new size of the cards. Up until now we've used the standard Poker size due to the ease of PNP. However, the poker card was a bit snug for our game and we always planned to use Euro sized cards. Well, we're ripping off the band-aid. The new PNP is built from the ground up for Euro sized cards. The slight increase gives our Spells the room they need in landscape mode. It also means our spirit cards have more room for gorgeous illustrations.

Enough reasoning!

Let's get into the specific changes. We had a list of tiny things we wanted to improve and we finally integrated them all. We spoke to many of our key testers, including Robin Less and Mike Mullins, for input. We also used feedback from our UnPub testers. Really, we used every data point possible.

Note: The cards below are the files I sent to the printer. The PNP files have a border around them to facilitate cutting. I didn't include them below because I think they are ugly.

Spirit Cards: Here is a basic Spirit Card example -- a 1 of Froggles.


  1. We changed the typeface to one that is more legible and displays the numeral 1 appropriately. Ringbearer made a 1 resemble the letter I.
  2. We increased the font size of the number, which is the card's strength.
  3. We added a smaller suit icon to the top left so players can easily fan the cards in their hands or on the table to take up less space.
  4. I made the colors darker and more distinct from each other.
  5. I removed the bottom right number as it wasn't necessary. It added clutter to the card.

On the final version of the card, we intend the center image to be a nice illustration that isn't just a bigger version of the suit icon. One of our biggest reference points is Cockroach Poker, which I think does this well.


Arcana Cards: Here is an Arcana Card example -- an 11 of Hexis.


  1. We separated the Arcana action mechanic (Show above, Build and Formula for the others) on its own line to make it easier to see.
  2. We moved the Tarot name to the top of the card to further separate it from the actual game text on the bottom.
  3. We reduced the size of the action text and anchored it so it has a consistent flow on all cards. It's a subtle thing that looks much better.
  4. The Arcana suits would have a similar illustration style to the basic Spirits.

Common Spells: Here is an Common Spell example -- Summon.


  1. We previously had a very inefficient use of space. We had the spell class icon (common/basic/advanced) in the bottom left, which hurt longer spells as it effectively removed an entire line for text. Now, the spell class is baked into the banner behind the title. Currently, I just use different colors (it's a prototype, I'm testing function!), but the plan is to have a different shape and color for a real version. This will make it color-blind friendly.
  2. Instead of listing multiple mana icons for the spell's cost, which was tedious to count and looked bad, we now just list the number between the mana symbols.
  3. I revised the background purely for fun. Just imagine what a real artist can do!
  4. The text now uses a consistent box shape which made it easier to update. We were also able to preserve our 18 point font!
  5. We've entirely removed the notion of illustrations for spells. We would have had to use cost-inefficient card sizes and the art costs would have increased dramatically. 28 Spells means 28 illustrations.
  6. Removed the visual flourish from the bottom right corner. It didn't add much. A real graphic designer can add a proper frame, but as of now it's not useful.

Basic Spells: Here is an Basic Spell example -- Vanish.

B_Vanish copy

  1. Notice the different banner color.

Advanced Spells: Here is an Advanced Spell example -- Fissure.

A_Fissure copy

  1. Notice the different banner color.
  2. Notice the 3 dots at the bottom of the card. This means the card is for 3+ players only and isn't used in 2 player games. Previously, we had a "3+" on cards that looked bad and was an inefficient use of space. This new icon is easy to find during setup, but also easy to ignore during the game when you don't need it.

Action Cards: Here is an Action Card example -- Surged Void.

Action_SurgedVoid copy

  1. To distinguish the Actions from the Spells, I changed them to portrait.
  2. The actions are all very simple and never change from game to game. They act mostly as references, which is why we believe large images will help to remind folks of what they do.
  3. Many Actions act as "holders" for Mana tokens, which is why we left open space to place them and not cover text.

Reference Card: Here is a Reference Card example -- Set Reference.

Ref_Sets copy

  1. We switched it back to a standard card instead of a big, custom card. This will save on component costs. It also takes up less table space and is easier to pass around to other players.
  2. Instead of using images, which can be misinterpreted (ex: does it require only the symbols shown?) and worse, require a LOT of space, we just wrote the precise example of what each hand is.
  3. Instead of using a double sided card for the Basic and Advanced Sets you can play, we just color-coded them to match the spells as well. This merges them to a single side. Therefore, 3 of a Kind is a Basic Hand. Crossways, Straight, and Straight Flush are Advanced.
  4. By freeing up the back side, we added back a simple reference to remind you how much mana you use at the start, the steps before a round, and the steps during a round. We are convinced people won't need these 2 games in, but at the cost of one card, it's worth it.
  5. I realize the background is a disservice on this card, but I was tired.

Card Backs: Because we did a fancy print, I spent a few minutes making some card backs. The first is for Spells, the second is for the Spirits. I actually like the idea behind the Spirits, though we'll need to make one that doesn't list all the Spirits. In the case this game is actually successful, we'll absolutely make more Arcana to support the game.



Updating the Rules

Most of our mechanic changes came in the form of minor polish issues that are the result of our continued testing. Every fresh set of eyes reveals new bumps that need to be polished. Test test test test test.

  • People didn't like the term Bog for the Community. We've changed it to Square, as in Town Square.
  • People didn't like the phrase "Play Sets." We've changed it to Release, as in Release Spirits.
  • We added the term Possession to mean everything in your Hand or Shown in front of you.
  • Our experiment renaming all the hands (ex: Straight changed to Run) just didn't work. It was too confusing for poker players. Plus, new players who DON'T know poker have to learn the names regardless. They might as well learn the proper ones.
  • We removed the fourth Vanilla suit of Fairies. It was a waste of 12 cards and not really needed. People instead are instructed to use Hexis and ignore the text.
  • When we added the Junior variant, we suddenly had two types of Advanced Spells. This makes them difficult to reference. To fix this, we renamed Basic Spells to Common Spells, as they are Common to every game. Basic is now used for Spells meant for the new player or Junior players. Advanced Spells are for experienced players. They also have subtle visual differences (as you saw above) to make them easy to separate.
  • Some people asked for a longer game. We added an Epic variant and will make one tiny component change to accommodate this.
  • Our rules needed more visual aids, so I added some.
  • We were doing a poor job integrating advanced features into the rules. I've now integrated them within the main rules, but I call them out differently so it's easy to see and ignore them. I borrowed this from Academy Games' Conflict of Heroes rule book.
  • I polished our Arcana rules section to remove confusion.
  • We now recommend first time players ignore Arcana AND do not use Advanced Spells. It's entirely fine to ignore this, but it'll be a smoother experience for those who actually heed our advice. Demos for Farmageddon that do not include the FrankenCrops always proceed far better than ones that do. I'm going to use that lesson.
  • General polish that comes from reading the rules a million times.

If you're curious, here's an example of the old cards. The changes we've made aren't monstrously differently, but they'll have a slight impact on the quality of the experience. Really, it's all about tiny tweaks as we crawl towards GREAT. Game design is often a game of inches.







Thanks for reading! Please share any thoughts in the comments below.

Here are the links again.