Indexodus Era (December 2009 - December 2010)
Spell Saga is created by Todd Michael Rogers & his cousin, Lauren Rogers.
Because the game grew out of the circumstances of Todd’s life, it is sometimes hard to separate the history of the game from other moments that might have otherwise remained private.
On December 6th 2009 the seeds of a solitaire card game was born on a scrap of paper at a cubicle in Nashville, Tennessee. After a week of sketches on various scraps of paper, the name of the game was set as "Spell Saga". These first notes show ideas for various generations of the game, as well as several packaging options. For the game he was designing Todd decided on a story about a Lonely Minstrel named "Exodus" and a sex-worker named Abilene. Early ideas were discovered by driving through the cold and listening to music from Japan & Scotland.
Since Todd was busy finishing the first draft of a novel, he chose to spend the rest of December pursuing ideas for the Spell Saga game system. While taking a shower he hopped out to scribble down a vision of a cassette tape. The deck of cards would start on on side of the table, the right side, and be flipped over and moved to the left of the playing area, creating in essence a deck of cards that moved like the reel of film on a cassette. In order to realize this idea, he decided upon a double-sided prototype.
During the Christmas holiday in St. Charles Missouri, Todd sat down with a stack of blank index cards, his notes for the game and the rough knowledge of how it should feel. Over the course of two hours he had made several cards as he played through the blank deck. These included a lost pixie to befriend (or eat to gain Armor), a haunted revolver from another story of his called WHYLC, and the crumbling tower still present in the finished version of the game. Between each session he would write his friends and tell them of the adventures he was having. Plans grew to start the sort gaming company they had envisioned as young adults.
After the holidays and only a week left until he would return to his novel, Todd spent all his time compiling notes for the game and working on ideas for the story and it's gaming system. By January Todd had given a name to the fledgling game company: French Toast. The last thing he did before putting the game away to work on the novel was to meet Sakroka & Paxson of Ashgarden at a Chinese Buffet, to explain the plans and worries he had about Spell Saga.
A year passed.
As the end of year holidays grew closer once again in The Winter of 2010, Todd once again put the novel away and dug out Spell Saga. Another month of development commenced, only this time the goal was to make the gaming system feel simpler and less chaotic. Pieces of Deck 2: The Forest were also first thought up at this time. These included a male wizard who became a fox who followed during the day, and a full grown man at night. It was originally decided to have a dream sequence/sex scene between the protagonist and the wizard but this idea was dropped in later versions of the game.
The game was growing, and Deck One ~ The Highlands was building itself out further with each play through. The biggest impediment was the fact that only Todd could play the game. The scribbles and pictures he provided were barely legible at the best of times.
In order to move forward with development and share his game with others, Todd used a very crude knowledge of Photoshop to make minimalistic black and white cards. These were designated between Card Types by using different shapes and designs. They were not only more legible, they were also shrunk down so as to fit in standard CCG card sleeves.
With another month of development and a playable game. Todd put everything away to return to his novel, hoping to finish it and devote more time to Spell Saga.
Gen Con Era (May 2011 - August 2011)
Todd spent his time focused on finishing his novel, but in the back of his mind was Spell Saga. Lunch hours and breaks at his office were spent walking the perimeter of the parking lot, worrying about how to get it published.
When the first draft of his novel was finished in April of 2011, Todd put it away, intending to pick it up in three months for a second draft. But without a big project to finish, a monotonous low-paying job and a failing marriage began to infiltrate his reality, and Todd decided to focus on Spell Saga (the second draft of the novel would appear in fits and starts until finally beginning in January of 2016).
But even of the game were finished, it would still need a publisher with distribution channels. To this regard, Todd contacted Peter Adkison, ater guessing his email correctly on the sixth try. Adkison was a legend in the tabletop world, as both the founder of Wizards of The Coast (publisher of Magic: The Gathering) and owner of Gen Con (The world’s largest tabletop gaming convention (established in 1968 as a wargames convention by Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons).
Adkison agreed to meet with Todd about Spell Saga—which was promised to be “the next great thing in gaming”. Plans were then set to demo the game in private at the 44th Gen Con in August of 2011. Peter owned the convention (the world’s largest for tabletop gaming) and was also one of the world’s most successful tabletop publishers. The only problem was Spell Saga didn’t “work”. It no art, no rules and was essentially a stack of useless cards.
It was May of 2011, and Todd had three months to create a solid & enticing playable prototype of the game.
Todd set up shop in his living room, using a dining room table against a wall as his workspace. On the wall were tacked no small number of notes, and homemade calendar increasingly covered in sharpie colored X's. Wanting to make the game look as enticing as possible, Todd began emailing family and friends, asking anyone who could hold a pencil to help out with artwork. He also began sketching ideas for the packaging, including how the rulebook might look. Weshoyot Alvitre, an illustrator Todd met in 2005 on Myspace.com, and had already been producing art for another French Toast Game (first called Chain-Sepell, and then eventually called EPIOCH). She was the first to draw The Last Minstrel.
The next step was to take the ideas that worked in the deck and expand on them, cutting away anything that didn't feel right. One glaring problem was how the battle system might work. There were enemy cards, and hero cards, and items made for attacking, but the rules of engagement were missing. Like most of Spell Saga’s early design, this problem fixed itself through the sheer broedom of a day job—the battle rules appearing all at once on a piece of paper, as if by magic.
With a finished deck of 125 cards, Todd began to teach himself how to Photoshop the new game as best he could.
Spell Saga ~ Version 3.0 ~
After a month of work, Todd drove an hour into the country to have Sakroka play the game on his dining room table. Within just a few minutes it was apparent the game was not good. Todd drove home to nurse a beer and called Sakroka, who had continued playing the game in his absence. The prognosis was not good: Spell Saga was clever, but it wasn't fun. And with only two months left until Gen Con, Todd was back to square one.
It was apparent to both of them the double-sided cards would have to go. In a heightened flurry of design Todd found himself halfway through another version of Spell Saga before realizing a whole new idea for the game. He scrapped what would have been Spell Saga version 3.5 and began work instead toward a final untested version of the game's core mechanics.
Todd even created a 20 card "prelude" deck meant to help teach the player how to play the game. This included a rudimentary story of how The Last Minstrel received his revolver.
~ Version 4.0 ~
Todd drove back to Sakroka's house and had their friend John Fly join them with his son Gabriel. This time they played on John's old pool table, which became a sort of hallowed ground of play testing during this era of the design. Todd excitedly showed Sakroka the new gaming system and how to use it, The game was now made of 125 one-sided cards. And unlike it's predecessor, the new 4.0 mechanics were deemed both fun and clever. They were so fun John Fly started playing The Prelude Deck while waiting for Sakroka to finish the rest of the game. After two hours of testing, the three friends adjourned to the front porch. There they discussed the future possibilities of French Toast Gaming co.
With little to no time left, Todd received more art from an unexpected source, his 17 year old cousin Lauren Rogers, whom he had contacted even though she was busy with her senior year of High School. Todd was so enamored with the pieces he asked her to do more. Within a week of late nights emails, Lauren had realized a new art style for the game, and sent Todd the unexpected cover to the game along with several other pieces for the Item cards.
Todd set about to finishing the rest of Spell Saga. This included five decks, a new type of rules booklet, a play mat, and a fully functioning box with a secret compartment and reflective silver sleeve. To construct boxes for each deck, he took apart a cigarette cases and resized them on sheets of silver paper. There was even a microchip that played the game's theme song to play when the box was opened, but Todd accidentally snapped the chip in half while working on the box.
The rest of the game's story was created from the cobbled notes and ideas Todd had kept through the last two years. Deck Two was based on just a page or so of notes. whereas Deck Three, intended to be a massive dungeon crawl filled with too many possibilities for adventure, was built from random scribbles on torn paper and keeping track of ideas made on the fly while Photoshopping the cards for it.
With only a few days left before the drive to Gen Con, Todd met Sakroka at his house, where they tested the game by having Sakroka ingest an energy drink and play for five straight hours before declaring he couldn't go on. During this time he had reached the very end of Deck 3 and both of them declared the game and it's meticulously designed packaging as exciting and fun as they could possibly manage.
That week they showed the game to their friends, including Paxson of Ashgarden, who had been kept away on business and had not seen the game until this final version. With no time left to play Todd read them the end of the story and everyone hoped the meeting would lead to a production deal and further development. It was time to take three days off after ninety days of work before heading to Gen Con.
The meeting was a disaster.
The following italicized words are taken from Todd’s Journals in August of 2011:
Two days before the con my wife told me she wanted a divorce. I spent the night sleeping across from my finished game, and awoke bawling my eyes out. It was the worst night of my life, until the rest of the week hit.
The next morning, Sakroka and I drove to Indianapolis. On the way up we talked about the terrible night. And we talked of other things too; always circling that dark knowledge.
At the hotel I kept checking the bag to make sure my game was safe and not somehow ripped, or on fire. My meeting was the very next day, at 10 in the morning, so Sakroka and I decided to go ahead and check out the con…get a lay of the land and etc. The best part of the entire day was when he ripped his pants in half during a sword-fight against a bunch of other dudes.
That night he made me drive to the nearest (and I use the term loosely) Wal-Mart just so he could buy what I think he thought was a decent pair of jeans. On the way back we got lost. And so we drove around through the dark of foreign highways, the divorce now at the center of my thoughts. We eventually found a gas station, and a very non-reputable looking (and tasting) commercial chain diner. At this point it was well past midnight. I scarfed down something that looked almost like food, and we retired to our hotel across the street.
And then it happened.
Sakroka couldn’t stop snoring. And coughing. Did I mention he was sick? Yep. He looked for the most part like he was about to die at any given moment. I kept telling him he was going to be patient zero at the con. And we would laugh. oh, how we would laugh! No one was laughing anymore. It was 2 AM, my life was falling apart, and I had to get up in five hours for the meeting. This was when I started losing my grip on reality.
“This isn’t happening. Satan, can you hear me? Strike my friend down with your dark power…”
I woke up with three hours of sleep. At one point, I had tried to sleep in the bathtub, but to no avail. Sakroka said good morning, and I told him I was going to kill him.
We drove into town and parked at the con. Peter had invited me to meet him in his penthouse suite. Sakroka wished me luck and we parted ways. I sat down with a coffee, and waited. It was at that point, at 9:15ish in the morning, that my mind just broke.
It wasn’t the meeting. Or the sleep. Or my life falling apart just the night before. It was everything. It was my whole life culminating up to this sick and single moment. I was clicking a button to go up the elevator and have a meeting with the guy who created my childhood. But I found that god damn door, the penthouse entrance, tucked away in the corner of the top floor. And I knocked on it, and I did not throw-up. Or shit myself, or explode in a cloud of nervous bats.
Peter answered the door and was funny, and charming, and excited. I showed him my game right away, and pretended that I hadn’t forgotten half the rules. He thanked me for taking the time to work on not just a game, but the look of it as well, and said some other nice stuff I would only tell you in person. We played the game for a few minutes, and he took the time to look at the art, and read the words I had written.
The entire event was capsized when he told me he would be interested in publishing the game, if his company had not just closed its doors, perhaps only days earlier. He gave me a list of companies and publishers I should meet with, shooed me out the door, and I spent the rest of the day hustling, attempting to pitch my game to any company I could find.
Sakroka and I drove home, the weight of everything upon us. As we got closer to home, the game faded from memory, and the horror my life had become enveloped the last two hours of the car and left us in silence. When I got home, my wife was gone, the divorce as good as finalized in my absence, and I cried harder that night then I ever had in my life.
The she kicked me out and I moved in with my Aunt. The end.
In November, Todd met with Lauren in Florida, & showed her the finished Gen Con box. Then he put the game away, and did not look at it for another year.
Kickstarter Era (November 2012 - November 2013)
In August of 2012, an accidental year to the day since the failed Gen Con meeting, Todd & Sakroka met for lunch. There they discussed the possibility of self publishing the game, and how much capital they might need for a small print run. (their projections that day of $2000 were off by about $28,000 dollars). Sakroka also mentioned using Kickstarter, something Todd was against. But they both parted ways with plans to research self publishing.
In December of that year, Todd and his fiancée Meagen Crawford brought the Spell Saga box to a house party. It was here that Todd showed an old friend named Josh Rizzo how to play the game. Those attending the small get together watched from the couches above them and passed the box and its contents around.
The next night Todd called Sakroka at work and told him they would Kickstart the game.
Two weeks were spent on research. Todd would leave work at the end of his day shift and meet Sakroka who was working a night shift across town. They spent the evenings planning and trying to find the most cost effective way to create the game and ship it. Among these ideas was the idea to have the cards printed on thin card-stock sheets and have their friends help them cut the cards. This idea was eventually deemed unfair to both players and the worth of the game. The search for a cheap but effective solution continued.
The next step was figuring out how to finish the illustrations for the game. Lauren's illustrations had become so inseparable from Spell Saga that Todd began to wonder how they could achieve the same look. Lauren was in college now, and far too busy to take on such a massive project. One night during a long phone conversation between them, Todd pulled the game from the shelf and read her the prose of the story cards, filling in the missing pieces to tell her the entire story. Afterwards Lauren agreed to help where she could.
The two of them set up art nights together where they could use the cameras in their computers to act out poses and watch Lauren's screen as she drew. They called these get togethers "ArtSkyping". The first month of this were spent with Todd trudging across the street to a neighbor's dining room as he did not have internet at the time. By the end of the first month it was tentatively agreed Lauren would illustrate the entire game, including pieces for the game's Epilogue.
Slowly Todd and Sakroka began setting up a web presence. Todd started a tumblr and began writing a design blog. It was the first time the idea for the game had ever been mentioned in public. The first post on the Spell Saga Design Blog was the game's theme song, "Grain", by “Cricket Engine”. Sakroka set up a Facebook page with the limited amount of art and information they had. The night it went up, Todd found the page so upsetting, that he made a very quick logo for the banner of the page. This is the very same logo they still use today.
In January, Sakroka notified Todd that he and his girlfriend were now expecting a baby, and his involvement was likely to suffer. After a night of alcohol inspired deliberation Todd called Josh Rizzo and left him a voicemail, asking to join in on the project. Josh found Todd a few nights later and said he was in.
With a team now solidly in place, new art arriving every few nights via Skype and a design blog updated strangers of their progress, it was time to begin redesigning the game for it's eventual release. This involved not only redoing the graphics in what would eventually become an ill fated illuminated manuscript look, but also deciding how to balance the game, rewrite many of the cards, and what they would do for cards that had no illustrations (such as the Story & Place cards). With an original goal of having the Kickstarter no later than 4 months into the year, Todd began to work on Deck One: The Highlands.
~ Spell Saga 5.0 ~
After many false attempts for the looks of the cards Todd settled on the illuminated manuscript look, hoping to match the nostalgic feeling of the fantasy games he and his friends remembered from their youth. To solve the problem of the Place cards not having illustrations he borrowed the design of the Story cards, using graphically stylized and poetic descriptions to force the player to imagine each Place they were visiting. During this time the “falling" minstrel” design was finalized for use on the Spell-Song cards and overall branding.
In March of 2013, after three months of continual design, version 5.0 was ready for play testing. Todd, Josh & Paxson of Ashgarden met at Sakroka's new house to help move furniture and play test the new cards. For most, it was the first time seeing the finished cards. The redesign was considered a rousing success between the four of them. The mechanics were fun and functional, the gameplay was strategic while exciting, and playing the cards caused a different story to unfold for each person. But the game also felt unwieldy, and Todd began to have doubts about it. Lauren printed her own batch of cards and began to play test the game in Florida. It was apparent during the following weeks of play testing the cards could be too easily interpreted. Not only that, but the general impression was the graphic design made the cards hard to read.
The intended launch date for the Kickstarter was May 13, 2013. With only two months left, Todd made two PnP demos of Deck One ~ The Highlands available to the public. One was a full color version, and the other was a black & white version missing many of the backgrounds and textures. Both files were accidentally missing the “Item Eater” ENEMY card.
During this time Lauren started her first sketches for Deck 2 ~ The Forest.
A small group of players began to crop up online. But as the date of the Fundraiser drew nearer, feedback and self doubt began to have its effect. And having a small audience was enough for Todd to rethink his plans of producing the game as cheaply as possible. With two weeks left before the launch, Todd put a halt to the entire operation, deciding once again to go back and redo everything based on feedback from helpful players. But the biggest change was yet to come: the entire project had become too important to produce cheaply. Todd began to research manufacturing options. French Toast Gaming Co. would now need three times the amount of money they were originally hoping for. And the project, now delayed until August of 2013 would have to be completed over a very long Summer.
Afraid of losing any momentum, Todd & Josh began the process of rewriting the rulebook based on notes received from helpful readers. It was during this stage the rulebooks were split into two separate entities; a gold rulebook used to reference any rule during play, and a silver rulebook to teach new player's how to begin the game.
During this time Todd also went back to redesigning every card. A light and clean look was chosen, with each card receiving a standard new rule of design: “don't cover the art”. The look of the game had always been inspired by the fantasy games of the mid 1990's, but now it took its cues from the high production value of 2010's Japanese animation.
~ Spell Saga 6.0 ~
The cards also received something they had never had before: iconography. The budding fanbase for the game had all requested the game feature icons, in order to make play easier and the cards look closer to other popular games. Although Todd was reticent, Josh was excited. After two weeks of thought and design, both Josh & Todd realized that while using icons in the rules of the cards twisted the game too far away from the feel of a novel, using icons in the upper corners of the cards (to designate card-types) lent a much needed balance to the new 6.0 graphic design. They spent a night designing the new card-type icons for the cards, with Josh himself coming up with the idea to use a heart for the heroes.
It was during this time Todd began to sketch the first ideas out for the Spell Saga ~realmwalker ~ series.
As playtesting continued on the game Lauren discovered a major flaw in the mechanics which led to the creation of the Source Limit. It was during this time Sakroka's continued pleas for more meaningful mechanics to the Story cards led to the 6.0 convention of having each Story card add or subtract additional rules to the game. As time crept on and the Summer continued the rulebooks still weren't finished being written. And although the 6.0 cards were now finished and playable the rules began to become mired in rewrites. There were dozens of pages printed and scribbled on. Todd would share these with the others and ask for opinions.
August and the intended relaunch date was now only a month away. Todd had spent the previous months well, researching everything they would need to legally start a business, advertise correctly, and even going so far as to requesting contracts with printers and taking meetings. But time was running out. With less than a month to go until the Fundraiser, and a rulebook still in tatters, Todd and Josh realized they would have to push the date of the launch even further. This time no date was given, only the mandate that the game would be ready when it was ready.
This seemed to be the final blow to everyone's spirits. After eight months of grinding work every night and every weekend, the group, held only together by Todd driving, Skyping, or inviting people over. Now even he wanted to quit, and put the game away for another time. Several small breakdowns followed over the rest of the Summer. People became often unreachable. Sakroka regretfully tried to quit the project until Todd said he couldn't.
Things changed when Lauren came to visit in early August. Todd spent an afternoon talking with her in the upstairs guest room of their Aunt Cindy's. Together they went over what they hoped to achieve with the game. Having talked with Lauren about the future of the game, and having nearly completed the rulebooks over the Summer, he and the rest of French Toast Gaming Co. found a renewed fervor toward their goal.
It was Sakroka who solved the problem of the rulebook. After deciding to stay on with the project, he and Todd made plans to meet weekly—during his night shift, just as they had at the beginning of the project. During the first of such meetings, Sakroka suggested the game was missing an order of operations. He split this group of operations into two categories which were named Mandatory Actions & Free Actions.
With this knowledge, the rulebook was quickly finished after four months of toil. The bulk of it was edited under the watchful eye of Sakroka.
Additional help came from an unexpected source: In hopes of getting the game professionally reviewed, Josh and Todd reached out to as many reviewers they could find. Professional critic Jonathan H. Liu was one of the few people to respond. And after sending them an embarrassing list of typos and reworded phrases, agreed to review the game online.
Having developed a web presence for almost nine months, Spell Saga was now growing a small but dedicated following. One of the chief concerns of this new populace was the website for the game. Todd shared in those concerns. now that the game was on its way to being a much larger project (with manufacturing in China and a Kickstarter price tag of well over 10,000 dollars) the need for a professional looking website became apparent. Much of the time spent not rewriting a rulebook or play testing was used in learning how to design and code an attractive website from scratch, using only the barest pieces from the original site design by John Fly.
With everything now ready French Toast Gaming Co. set the date of the Kickstarter and alerted the budding fanbase. The manufacturing had been set, the cards were ready, the demo was now downloadable as a print and play file and being played by strangers. The rulebooks received little complaint, and Todd was beginning to understand how to build the website. Lauren finished the last few pieces of artwork needed after ten months of illustrating the game (this had taken much longer than anticipated, as Todd pushed to have illustrations for the Epilogue Decks, the Realmwalker release, as well as a group of Kickstarter exclusive cards he had started referring to as Collectible Content). Presentation videos were filmed. Graphics designed. One unseen item which became legendary during this time was a prototype music box Todd had constructed as a proof of concept toward the game’s special edition.
With everything in place the Kickstarter was launched on October 21, 2013 with a intended goal of 35,000 dollars. French Toast Gaming Co. would have to reach that lofty number in exactly one month, or they wouldn't receive any of the funds raised in that period.
Funding for the project stared rising rapidly, growing over $5,000 in the first twelve hours. Very quickly a small community began to spring up both in the Kickstarter's comments. People began to share pictures of their printed cards, and describe the stories of their games in long detailed comments.
Todd and his friends wouldn't have time to celebrate. They had a convention to attend. Nashville’s GMX 2011 had invited them to show off the game, a great idea for anyone running a fundraiser—but without funds for demo decks or signage the game’s first public unveiling seemed destined for disaster.
Josh and Sakroka paid for demo decks, and for signage, Todd made a looping video of artwork to be played on his old iMac. Both Jesse Paxson and John Fly, after having spent the last year forced to the sidelines with other commitments, came to support the rest of French Toast Gaming Co. The convention lasted two days and while not a complete failure, set the tone for the Kickstarter: the game was interesting, but marketed poorly.
As the Kickstarter began to reach its halfway point in November it was becoming apparent the funding goal would not be reached. Todd kept a steady stream of updates on the page. These were readily received by a growing community of player's from all around the world. Most of whom started to ask what would happen if the Kickstarter failed.
With one week left in the fundraising campaign, Todd wrote himself a “Plan B” for the future of Spell Saga. Part of this was contacting people who had offered to translate the game into different languages. Meanwhile, research was conducted on alternate ways to produce the game. Studies were also conducted on how best to harness the growing fanbase.
But the most important theory behind Plan B, which would soon become known as "Plan (B)ulletproof" was the realization that people were enjoying the game, and wanted to play it, even if that meant printing the cards themselves. Todd took notice of this and shifted digital downloads as a future priority.
The game would be available to anyone, regardless of fundraising.
On November 22, 2013, with just a few hours left before the end of the campaign, Todd wrote one last campaign update. This unveiled the details of the game's future. The news was well received. Fans of the game were invited to join a mailing list with a chance to sign up for the weather guard. Portuguese & Japanese translated cards were previewed to excited acclaim. The foreign language cards went over so well several other players from around the globe offered to help translate the game into more languages. The update also promised of Full Game PnP Files, expensive printed “zero editions”, a podcast, a new website with forums, and even some new ideas about how to spread the game amongst the community.
The following italicized words are from the opening statement of Plan (B)ulletproof:
After the campaign ended, all that was left was new. New beginnings, and new friends. New goals and new plans…
Josh, Lauren, Sakroka and I would like the thank everyone of you. As personally a mass email will allow. We did not expect the excitement, love and support you girls and guys all brought to our lives.
We tried to make a lot of money so we could publish a game. Instead we got a community.
I can’t begin to tell you how honestly happy and excited we are to find new friends, new fans, and other people who just want to sit down and play this game we love playing. It was never our intention to do anything except beg people to try our game and not hate us for asking.
Look what we did. And when I say we, I mean you.
Unfunded campaign? That’s fine. I can’t tell you how many messages I received daily from people thanking and begging us to continue doing something we already loved doing.
And we ain’t gonna let you down.
It had been exactly a year since the project had started. French Toast Gaming Co. had raised 12,000 dollars and failed to fund their campaign after 12 months of working days, nights, and weekends. But the game was a success. People enjoyed it. Reviews had been kind. And now they had a new plan, one that would give them the best shot at physical production, while making sure the game would have a chance to be seen and played no matter what happened, with the use of digital Print & Play files.
Bulletproof Era (January 2014 - January 2015)
Choosing to do nothing for a month, Todd stayed away from anything important except his wife and watching kung-fu films. But within a week he was busy developing another card game. It was his way of processing what had happened over the last year. The game was about a kung-fu warrior trapped on a planet who just wanted to get to a green paradise of a moon that hung above him. The game was called And Away.
The first thing that needed to be done for Plan (B)ulletproof was build a new commercially viable website for the game, and then build a second website for the game’s many files, sketches and necessary information. This second site was called the wikiFAQ. After these a third website was designed, this was a forum for Spell Saga’s fans to gather after the failed Kickstarter.
The first three months of the year saw the premiere of the “Work & Play” podcast, the first issue of the Spell Saga newsletter (The Weather Report) & the announcement of the foreign language editions (half of which would be abandoned).
Spell Saga was now a known entity among a small pool of fans around the globe, and French Toast Gaming Co. was beginning to sound and feel like a real thing. Plans for a second Kickstarter began to take seed. Between the fear of possibly failing in public again, another seemingly insurmountable workload on the horizon, and the reality that he had just turned thirty, Todd cashed out his meager 401k at his job and quit to work on Spell Saga full time.
For him, this seemed necessary: Deck Two ~ The Forest ~ & Deck Three ~ The Caves still needed to be designed. Luckily, at some point over the course of 2013 much of the work had been finished already. Todd was surprised to find that in the mad rush to get to the Kickstarter, he had already worked out many of the necessary logistics, writing in pen directly onto the 4.0 Gen Con Box edition set of The Forest.
Deck Two ~ The Forest ~ (version 6.0) took about a month to design in Photoshop, and then another month of game design to get it playable. Much of the work at this point went into the STORY cards (which now granted the hero cards new abilities) & The FOLK cards (which were paladins that could be summoned into a pile. ENEMY cards also got a facelift, as Todd and Lauren decided upon a “splattered blood” look.
In May of 2014 Todd, Joshua & Paxson of Ashgarden attended another local gaming convention. For this second public outing FTGco & Spell Saga were shunted off to a side room away from the public. And would no visitors at their makeshift booth.
In May of 2014 the deck was ready and Joshua played through the game with no sleep. The next day Todd played the game for the first time in months and spent 6 hours running from Deck One to the end of Deck Two.
In June of 2014 it became apparent that with another Kickstarter on the way, the cards of Deck One ~ The Highlands ~ would need to be remade from nearly scratch, all over again. This was to get better backgrounds, on the cards, more color in general (it was apparent now Lauren’s illustrations had changed the game for the better, and “color should not be feared” became a design motto), more standardized typography was needed for professional printing, and even new rules for several cards. The result was Spell Saga 7.0, which has become the standard version of the cards since.
After the horror of one month straight of redoing the same cards for the fourth time, a nastier challenge presented itself: after the feedback of the 2013 fundraiser, Todd and Josh knew the rulebook would have to be redone once more. the last tie it had taken them four months, this time, riding on a wave of design energy, they finished the 2014 rulebook in four days.
In June it was announced the “zero edition” version of the game had evolved: the cards would be plastic. Only for FTGco to reverse course the very next month. Issue 2 of the Weather-Report newsletter (released in July but cover-dated in May) made public the decision to return to cardboard cards, the use of their previous manufacturer (Panda Game Manufacturing), and to split the game itself into thirds. The upcoming October 2014 Fundraiser on Kickstarter would be for Deck One ~ The Highlands ~ only, though Deck Two ~ The Forest ~ was announced as a PnP download for the end of the year.
The newsletter also offered a glimpse of Todd’s still in progress novel, which he spent most of the Summer rewriting in-between bouts of Spell Saga design. The pressure of another campaign was mounting. Todd buzzed all the hair off of his head and doubled-down on other projects—signs of a mental breakdown were beginning to appear in his daily life. As another form of escape Todd created a new way to play Spell Saga, pushing everything aside to work on a version he called SOURCEROR—the results of which were boiled down to (1) holofoil card.
In August Todd drove to California in the midst of what could generously be described as a second failing marriage.
The following italicized text is taken from the Todd’s online Spell Saga design journal:
In August I drove to California with the poet Matt Johnstone.
This was the month I cracked, real hard, and was not sure if I wanted to live anymore.
I quit smoking.
I tried to walk through terror shakes, and only spent one day unable to get out of bed.
I spent a lot of August working on Merry Men, and pulling the last threads of my mind back together.
Whatever doesn’t kill you.
In September the threads of Todd’s life began to tighten up for the better. It was during this time Spell Saga began to arrive in translated documents. Dual Pistoleiro had completed most of his Portuguese version, and Raimund Ruppel was nearing the end of his German edition. Todd shifted focus to start recreating Deck One ~ The Highlands ~ for the eighth and ninth time, only now the added challenge was in creating Portuguese letters in a Germanic font, and shifting the card designs to fit less or more text based on the language. The original plan was to launch the foreign languages alongside the 2014 Fundraiser, but as October neared, Todd decided against this.
With the fundrasier a month away, Lauren & Todd started art-skyping teice a week to get everything ready. September was also the month it was decided that Deck Two ~ The Forest just wasn’t working—the numbers on the cards would need to be adjusted.
The night before the Fundraiser launched Todd & Josh spent nine hours re-filming a video for the Kickstarter page. The only tools they had were two iPhones, an aging iMac and no budget or microphones. Then on October 17th, 2014, FTGco launched the Fundraiser. This single act was the culmination of so much work that Todd passed out face-down in bed and woke up shouting in horror when his wife roused him with food.
The next day Todd drove to meet Sakroka at a small town public library. There they sat at a children’s sized table and Sakroka played through the latest “renumbered” build of Deck Two. Sakroka figured out what wasn’t working, and along with advice from Joshua Todd set about running the Kickstarter while re-designing Deck Two another time.
In three days the 2014 fundraiser had reached 60% of its funding. it was October 20th. Todd spent his time pulling together every last prototype he could find. In an update that night, Todd posted the prototype editions as high-dollar rewards, and included a future download of Todd’s unfinished WHYLC novel. This first of many updates was posted late at night in the middle of an ivy league college campus. By the time Todd it took for Todd to relieve himself in a nearby bush, several of the prototypes had been snapped up.
Todd drove to Sakroka’s house and paced around the front yard, wondering what to do. Sakroka told him he needed to start thinking of stretch goals now—if they were lucky, the game would continue its rising donations and they would need more products to entice and reward more backers. An online presence named Kiktraq—a free application that would harvest Kickstarter data and make predictions as to if something would fund, and by how much, was checked daily during this time.
On October 23rd, Todd awoke to his wife telling him the Kickstarter was funded—the game now had enough money to get printed. It was a fan named Derek Davis who did it, pledging an extravagant amount of money along with a private letter explaining his reasons.
Armed with the knowledge that Plan (B)ulletproof had worked, and the realization that someone (many someones) actually cared about what he was making, Todd scrapped all plans for the day and drove to the gravel part of the lot at his former job—the same lot he had walked the perimeter for years worrying about how to make Spell Saga. There he posted a video thanking everyone while still in a daze from the funding.
During this time other pieces of memorabilia were offered—including uncut 4.0 play test sheets from 2011, the original double-sided 3.0 version from 2011 (donated to the cause by Sakroka, who had kept it over the years), the first working 4.0 version of the game (before it was redone one last time and placed in a box for Gen Con), and two original EPIOCH play test boxes, courtesy of Todd & Sakroka (these had been gifts made for some of Todd’s groomsman before his first wedding), and the original 2013 prototype music box. Along with everything else, it was announced that the first publicly playable PnP build of Deck Two ~ The Forest ~ was going to be released the following week to everyone who had pledged at a higher level.
A week after funding, Todd lost almost immediate contact with Joshua. They had spent nearly every day together for two years planning for this event, but the stress of it had created a rift of silence.
The following italicized words are from the second 2014 Kickstarter update
Josh and I were drinking last night to celebrate (…)and we talked about how we don't know how to win. He said he knew how to swim towards the light of the coast, or something tips-poetic of that effect, and I told him if you needed someone to tread water instead of drown, I'm your man. We are not equipped to enjoy the excitement. Not yet. but it is wonderful.
I walk around with flashes of memories at all times--like reverse photographers are constantly assailing me. I can remember making this game for me at a table. I can remember the moment I realized it worked, and I can share it with the world, that it already is shared with the world. And I realize those things over, and over again every day. Stubborn reverse photographers. Stubborn subject with amnesia.
And then Todd’s online Spell Saga design journal, January 2015
It was at this point I lost any and all connection with Joshua, outside of social settings where we rank without speaking much a word to each other besides “congratulations”. We were both so terrified we ran away from everyone, including each other. It is an insular and lonely feeling to have a dream come true. I don’t know why, but we both felt the same about it.
On October 25th the game’s stretch goals were officially announced through a combination of “things Todd had scribbled down over the years” and “anything he could think of in time”. The only information given was the amount of cards (ranging from 1 to 3 for every extra $500 raised, the name of the general grouping of cards, and scant details. At this point the public now knew as much about the card as FTGco, as not even Todd or Lauren was sure what the cards might do or look like. These Stretch goals ran from $12,000 to (eventually) $20,000, while strongly hinting that ~ realmwalker ~ P:S//A//R would be arriving as a possible PnP.
Joshua and Todd got together and worked out how they felt and where they could go next in their partnership. ~ Realmwalker ~ P:A//S//R was indeed unlocked and promised as a future PnP download.
On November 21, Spell Saga’s 2014 Fundraiser ended at 180% overfunded. And they still weren’t done.
Using a website called Backerkit, extra funds were raised to bring the total up over $20,000—twice the amount FTGco. had originally asked for. The group got together at Paxson of Ashgarden’s house for a group pic (Sakroka & Lauren missing), while celebrating five years of design work on Spell Saga.
After the Fundraiser ended, Todd released a PnP demo on Black Friday of the And Away game he had designed while grieving the failure of the last campaign,a year to the day he had designed it. Another game was also announced, an experimental digital parlor game called Many Houses.
In December Todd flew to visit Lauren. Together they finished the Deck Two ~ The Forest first PnP version, working on Spell Saga alongside one another for the first time. During the visit both fell violently ill, and Lauren redid every single ENEMY illustration while Todd and her friends kept her company playing video games on the floor beneath her.
The first publicly available PnP version of Deck 2 ~ The Forest ~ was made available to backers through a private link on December 19th of 2014. At this time, Todd also lost his part-time job. Panicked and broke, he quickly started a Patreon page to showcase his art projects, as well as a podcast called To Be Honest. Also offered were a 15 card PnP only set of Spell Saga cards called Places + & a still as-of-yet-published “legendary edition” of The Highlands—a new form of Deck One culled from the world of the original 2009 index cards.
For a complete list of what happened after The Fundraiser ended, click here: Spell Saga Kickstarter History
The Fall of French Toast Era (2015 - 2016)
The end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 were rife with problem solving. The amount of cards being printed was changed several times, and the amount of money quoted to FTGco changed along with it. After several misquotes and misunderstandings, FTGco was left with 18 cards that needed to be printed. Since Lauren was busy illustrating stretch goals, these bonus cards would need to be done without her. The 15 cards Places + pack (originally PnP only) took up most of the empty slots, while 3 rare cards were designed to finish it out. These included two cards of palette swapped or modified artwork.
Other problems involved designing both the card mechanics and artwork for the many bonus cards offered through the stretch goals. Todd and Lauren did this together over the course of several weeks, art-skyping each other one one computer while Todd designed the mechanics and finished the cards on his laptop. All the art for the Deck One bonus cards were finished on January 11, 2015.
On January 14, the contract for printing for signed and dated, and Todd set about finishing the 18 extra cards needed due to the misquote.
After getting in touch with the manufacturer’s American graphics department, it became apparent the cards will have to be redesigned once more. Todd would have to redo The Highlands graphic design from the ground up for the tenth time, adjusting everything down to the correct colors for CMYK printing.
In February Todd began designing the 25 card Prelude Deck on a giant sheet of paper. Also that month the first online shop was opened, and gave the public chance to pre-order copies of the game, as well as give backers a chance to grab the newly added cards.
At this point FTGco was stuck. Communication with the American graphic design team was spotty at best, and the cards were now being reviewed by the pre-press team in Hong Kong. The project would have to wait on word from either team. During this time Todd began to escape from the mounting pressures by designing another game—this one a science fiction setting which borrowed the name “And Away” from his previous escapism project.
The plan to have everything printed and ready slips from March 2015 to June 2015.
On February 28th Todd finished all of the packaging files. On March 1 the Pre-Press team in Hong Kong sends us the bad news: both the packaging and the cards will need to be redone due to miscommunicated specifications. And Todd resigned himself to redesigning the graphics of Deck One ~ The Highlands for an 11th time.
By March a few things were now apparent: The manufacturer’s original shipping quotes for the game were wrong, this would affect the budget. The Kickstarter bonus content was planned poorly, and this would also affect the budget. Continual miscommunication and language barriers meant weeks of redoing the cards and packaging an unknown number of times. Unable to leave the house due to Photoshopping, Todd begins to pay himself in order to get the cards done on time.
Todd and Josh begin a second season of the podcast, where they discuss their worries about money and plans of what to do.
Among all other plans, the impending launch of the Portuguese and German PnP editions of Deck One ~ The Highlands ~ becomes imminent. Todd begins to plan another fundraiser, this time on the indiegogo platform. The hope is to get as many international eyes as possible, while giving anyone who missed the previous fundraiser a chance to grab the game, all while making up any lost money from budget cuts.
Between April and May of that year it is decided to pay for the still half-designed 25 card Prelude deck to be printed and gifted to all fundraiser patrons for their patience. A generous offer but for the fact that Todd failed to secure permission form the game’s illustrator. And after two straight years of nothing but Spell Saga, Lauren was both far too busy and as burned out as everyone else.
The previously packaging of the other decks is redone another two times due to specification misquotes, and the holofoil sleeve is redone one more time again after a cardboard mock-up of the wrong size is sent to Todd’s house.
Progress continues. The first digital proof arrives online from the manufacturer, showing the finished cards together on one sheet as they’ll appear on the printing press. Todd begins to drive to another city each week to work with a family friend on an (eventually scrapped) Italian translation. And as he finished the prelude design, Todd also set to work on getting another campaign ready for what would eventually be called The New Language Launch. Somewhere during this, Lauren found the time to illustrate three folk cards for the Prelude Deck, each based on a different backer from the 2014 Fundraiser. For any remaining art needed, Todd did his best to once again palette swap and use modified artwork.
On June 29th 2015 The New Language Launch appeared on IndieGoGo and was immediately cancelled.
On June 30th 2015 Todd made the course-correcting and embarrassing decision to move the latest fundraiser from IndieGoGo to Spell Saga’s original home on the Kickstarter platform. This was the launch of both the English 24 Prelude PnP, and the German PnP edition of Deck One The Highlands, translated by Raimund Ruppel over the course of two years. (The Portuguese edition, originally schedules for the 2015 Fundraiser, wouldn’t be available for another three months).
Todd & Joshua drove to Sakroka’s house, where Todd watched them both play through the Prelude deck.
During the 2015 Fundraiser several promises were announced: the first was a multi-player version of Spell Saga (originally announced as Super Spell Saga). Along with this were unlocked stretch goals for future expansions: Deck 1.5 The Under Sky & Deck 2.5 The Heart of The Roots. Also announced were the one-of-a-kind Paladin level Holofoil cards, and several shorter decks (titled Heavenly Level Decks at the time). The first MYTH cards are announced as PnP exclusive, but without Lauren, these cards also contained palette swapped or modified versions of other card art.
These pieces would be the last of Lauren’s involvement with Spell Saga for the next two years.
The packaging for the Prelude deck was finished for the first time and uploaded to the printer, only to be rejected. Some of the cards would need to be redone once more, and all the redone packaging will have to be remade another time. During this time Todd asks for the MYTH cards to be attached to the back of the rules-card inside every deck box.
On August 13th, 2015 the first ever pre-production copy of Spell Saga arrived overnight from the manufacturer in Shenzhen (the pre-production copy is meant as a physical representation before mass-printing. Some differences include slight color variations, laser-printed test holofoil cards and sleeve, and a noticeable difference in card texture).
Todd played through it several times, and then brought it to Joshua and Sakroka, who each had a chance to try the nearly finished cards. Paxson of Ashgarden looked through the decks at a later date, before Todd ultimately sent them off to Lauren.
This would prove to be the not unforeseen but (to this day) last involvement of both Sakroka & Paxson of Ashgarden in the Spell Saga project, who would remain sorely missed.
Also during August, Emanuele Pierangelo started translating the game into Italian, with the agreement that the PnP would be released exclusively through Emanuele’s Fever Games company.
In the fall of 2015 a second digital pre-press arrived from Shenzhen, this one filled with errors. A third digital pre-press files came and was signed for, and on October 5, 2015 mass production began on Spell Saga in the Shenzhen factory.
In October Todd started the first pre-production notes for Spell Saga Deck 1.5 ~ The Under Sky . The challenges here were worrying, without Lauren there was no new card art, the deck (as it was first advertised) had to somehow bridge an unnecessary gap between decks 1 and 2. There was also the concern that it was being designed on purpose from an emotional point of view, instead of a narrative experience. Todd knew there was a ghost, and some adventuring through massive Castle-Crashers—the ENEMY type first introduced in Deck One The Highlands ~.
Having passed the one year anniversary of the 2014 Fundraiser, and with no manufactured cards in sight, pressure began to mount. Todd began to spread himself thin across multiple projects, unsure of which to move forward on. At this point he began writing notes for the aforementioned Super Spell Saga idea, but most of his time went into escaping his worries with unnecessary creations. Both the WHYLC project (promised during the 2014 Fundraiser and now transmuted into a graphic design/comic book hybrid) and a new version of FTGco’s original game EPIOCH took up most of his free time. When Todd wasn’t designing other projects, he was practicing with his new band (eventually called EFFORTS).
Todd & Joshua still spent time playing EPIOCH together, but without a rulebook or fundraiser to plan, the weight of Spell Saga fell mostly on Todd’s shoulders. Feeling lost and alone in the project, Todd began to slip into a depression. The game had become a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
~ realmwalker ~ Prelude: Science//Armor//Romance
In late October, after choosing a priority to work on, Todd began design work on Spell Saga ~ realmwalker ~ Prelude: Science//Armor//Romance (rwPSAR).
Two massive design issues were apparent from the beginning: the first was that Todd wanted to create a compelling standalone story with modified & highly advanced versions of Spell Saga mechanics—the second issues was more practical: Lauren had provided illustrations for the heroes in 2013, but without her involvement, the rest of the cards would have to rely completely on prose & graphic design.
Todd started on rwPSAR with a handful of notes and blank index cards from 2013 and set about trying to weave them into a cohesive set of thematically married mechanics and narrative. Along with this he decided to explore his own emotions and about alcohol and gender, spinning the entire game around his thoughts at the time—as well as doing his best to deftly continue adding to the lore and story of a half-finished universe. Even still, the true scope of the game (both in the Spell Saga timeline and in the identities of rwPSAR’s protagonists) wouldn’t be known by the game’s creators until 2019.
From notes came an unfinished index card prototype—but the game design proved so tricky Todd soon found himself photoshopping a half-finished final version of the game, just so he could sit down and play test it correctly. After printing out sheets of uncut cards at a local printer, Todd brought them everywhere, from the library to the laundromat, so he could transcribe the notes and new ideas needed to generate all 75 cards.
By the end of November, Spell Saga rwPSAR was finished and ready for a first edition PnP release. Work on a rulebook would continue up until the release date: December 6, 2015, the six-year anniversary of Spell Saga.
When the cards were nearly finished, Todd brought a set to Joshua’s house and the two sat down to play the game, recording themselves as they moved through the first few turns and discussed game design choices, comparing them against the original Spell Saga and Joshua’s own unreleased game.
By November Todd had began working two jobs to make up for project funds lost to changed quotes, paying himself earlier in the year, and manufacturing woes. It would all be worth it by the end of the month, when on November 30th, Todd received the first manufactured copy of Spell Saga, including (ever better) square-cut laser printed tests of the holofoil cards and unprinted deck sleeve. But due to a misunderstanding, the sleeve was printed on gold holofoil paper. Todd makes the painful decision to eat the cost, switching the gold of the sleeve to silver.
Another issue quickly arises when it is noticed the holofoil test cards have been cut wrong—they are too large to fit nicely into the deck. This is made apparent in December, when Todd visits Joshua to show him the finished cards.
This would sadly become the unforeseen last day of Joshua’s involvement with the Spell Saga project. Though he would stay on in some capacity as a play tester for EPIOCH until the following April.
The start of 2016 was split between two languages, as the Italian edition of Deck One ~ The Highlands was ready and needed to be Photoshopped throughout the month of January. During this time Todd also received a second manufactured English copy of the game, including finished holofoil. The excitement of this was cut short, when he realized the 6 holofoil cards were again the wrong size. Only now all 1500 units had been manufactured. It was at this time Todd also started to realize the graphic design of the packaging was not up to his personal standards. Worse, it lacked a commercial appeal—something necessary to market the game properly to both consumers and potential reviewers.
This was a dark time for Todd, who now felt alone, and abandoned with the project. Worse, even with working two jobs, he was running out of money and slipping into a circumstantially-based depression. He was lost in his endeavors. Unable to see a way out the project could ever work without a miracle, he shut himself down and kept working on it. An eerie and familiar reflection of where Spell Saga had been several times before.
Several more packages arrive throughout January and February, the first is a set of recut holofoil cards. As these appear damaged, another package is overnighted from the factory in Shenzhen. Around this time it is decided to test out Print-on-demand capabilities for both the newly released rwPSAR & future editions of Spell Saga. Because of this, packaging is designed for rwPSAR.
Packaging for the Italian Edition of Deck One ~ The Highlands was also designed, and turned out so well that it would eventually become the standard for the entire Spell Saga line going forward.
The Italian language PnP Edition of Spell Saga launched on a leap day: February 29th, and was available exclusively on the Fever Games website. This would be news enough, but February and March were filled with other announcements.
In February Todd and the manufacturer negotiated a day to pay for 300 finished units of the game to be air shipped from the factory. After it was announced the cost to do this rose 400%, but Todd felt it was worth it. The fundraiser had ended seventeen months prior, and customers had started to worry the game might never reach them. Printing the Prelude Deck had been a good step, but more was needed to make good on old debt and keep the fires of “consumer interest” burning.
Because of this March brought with it more news: With dwindling resources and a reworked contract, Todd would pay to have Deck Two ~ The Forest printed overseas—and not only that, he would pay to scrap every finished piece of packaging, and spend the time and money to redesign it for another round of printing. This was more than a costly idea—the cards themselves, already printing and waiting in a warehouse in Hong Kong, would have to be removed from the boxes, set aside, and placed back into their new packaging.
This was a cataclysmic shift in the history of the game. In deciding to be as bold as possible, Todd was once again attempting to pull the fate of the game back from the brink of oblivion. But it was also such a jarring amount of additional problems that he spent much of March escaping into game design, with a new idea he was calling The Great Depression.
A picture of the Italian edition at Italy’s PLAY faire in April was the only sign of Spell Saga until June.
In Spring Todd receives bad news—the 300 units to be air-shipped are now being held by manufacturer until remaining balance of the print job is paid (standard manufacturing practices have a company pay a deposit of the first half of the total cost before manufacturing begins. The second half of the payment is due after the product was manufactured correctly). With limited funds and the re-done packaging still months away Todd and the manufacturer agree on paying a percentage of the total cost: the 300 units of the total 1500 will be paid for completely, freeing them up to be shipped from the warehouse in Shenzhen (the reprinted packaging and deck 2 cards are billed as a separate project, and the deposit is paid separately around this time).
After this, with little capitol left, nearly twice the amount of cards being printed, and through the costly mistakes of fixing his errors, Todd is forced to find other opportunities for work to make up for the loss of cash flow. At this time he is working both late at night as a cigarette sales rep in various bars across a 50 mile radius, and spending his days in restaurants, after talking his way into a bartending gig. Both the drinking and work hours would spiral into a coping mechanism and lifestyle. This would have negative consequences, both on productivity and mindset.
In June, rwPSAR is pulled from its POD home on thegamecrafter.com after it was found one typo made the game impossible to win. Because of this, rwPSAR would remain pulled from the internet for another three years. Due to this, and the growing length of manufacturing, the original online shop for spellsaga.com is closed.
But behind the scenes, progress continued. July brought with it the first attempts of finalized packaging. But without new art, Todd was uncertain how to maintain the thematic branding of the Italian Edition box.
In July work began on the next Realmwalker installment, entitled The Discordant Shore (rwTDS). This was a deck of cards based on the original plans for the promised Paladin Level holofoil uniques from the 2015 Fundraiser. Though that ideas had continued to change and evolve, Todd had made a deal with the manufacturer, paying for the originally tossed gold holofoil sleeve material to be cut into card shapes. These would be air-shipped along with the 300 units to be made into the handwritten holofoil cards. Concerned that the cards would go to waste if only one of each was made, Todd set about designing a Realmwalker deck that would include the same cards (thus ruining the intended effect or a unique holofoil).
These plans worked into the game’s design: the handwritten holofoil cards would be considered the true “original” versions of the card, even in the game, while finished Realmwalker versions would be considered echoes of those same cards.
Work on The Discordant Shore would be cut short however, with the arrival of the 300 air-shipped units.
The excitement of this delivery is undercut by two problems: the first is that Todd and Lauren will each need to autograph the holofoil sleeves before they can be sent out. This means they sleeves will have to be sent to Florida, autographed, and sent back to Todd, autographed again and then sent on their way across the world to various people. The second problem was the realization that the Spell Saga rulebook needs to be completely reworked before sending the packages to the Fundraiser patrons. The rules were fine for 2014—but Todd had spent plenty of time playing the game since then, and felt the overly-long rulebook and it’s quick-start guide could be paired down into one cohesive and simplified unit. August would be spent meticulously rewriting and designing the rules. And this time Todd had to do it alone.
In July the design of the Deck Two ~ The Forest holofoil sleeve was set, but the box design was still struggling. Undeterred, work continued on rwTDS from July through October. Because the game was based at this time around the original Paladin Level holofoils (and many of these had been named in a previous an update), design work began by bending itself around the original list of cards names, before moving into a story with emotional depth and connections to the The Last Minstrel’s story in Spell Saga.
Over the months the draft moved from notes, to index cards, to back to notes of uncut paper cards. By October, the narration, and overall game design were finished, but the mechanics and overall card rules would remain unfinished until 2019.
This was due to an overall continuing shift in how the project was presented to the public, along with the constant nudges and redirections toward getting everything finished in what was hoped to be a timely manner: In September of 2016 Todd uploaded the new rulebook and began sending out packages of cards to backers. The holofoil sleeves remained unsigned and a soon-to-hit hurricane and Florida would make sure that process took even longer. In order to course-correct the entire project Todd laid out the project’s rocky history (along with it’s promised future) in a Fundraiser Update entitled “Kickstarter Update 37 ~ New Rulebook & Cards Shipping & The Rise and Fall of French Toast Gaming Co.”
This was so important that he even recorded himself reading the update, and posted it as the very last episode of the FTGco podcast: Work & Play.
In October of that year, things got worse or Spell Saga. The 300 air-shipped units would now cost double to ship to Fundraiser patrons. This is due to a misquote from a USPS employee. If that wasn’t bad enough, concerned with a lack of progress, the manufacturer decided they will no longer be printing any new packaging, or Deck Two ~ The Forest ~ until the rest of the original deposit (the second half of the 2014/2015 printing) is paid. But all was not lost, as the manufacturer was willing to warehouse the printed product in Shenzhen until such time as a payment could be made. For a price. This means that all funds will need to be diverted toward paying the debt to the manufacturer, just so the second round of printing can begin.
With everything falling apart around him, Todd decides to lean into all promises made, switching design work from rwTDS to Deck 1.5 The Undersky. And with the arrival of the first set of autographed holofoil sleeves, he also makes a proclamation: all 300 units will be sent out to Fundraiser patrons in the following month: December of 2016.
Everything around Spell Saga was teetering on hard work and good luck. But in December of 2016 it fell apart. Todd lost both his jobs, and then his wife lost hers as well.
Lost in The Forest Era (2017 - 2018)
By January of 2017 Todd had two jobs again, one was half an hour away in his childhood hometown (this would have its effect) an the other was his old cigarette sales gig, now back from an unexpected Christmas hiatus. Todd also had growing problems beyond his finances and game: the pressure and stress of public scrutiny, a marriage living in a self-imposed poverty, and losing two jobs at once had caused his body to physically break down. Though it was not uncommon for him to work through the pain (the Deck Two ~ Holofoil sleeve had been designed during a combination jaw/tooth ache), Christmas day had found him on a couch unable to move. He would have to learn how to navigate stress as much as any financial burden if he wanted to keep making Spell Saga.
By January second, work on Deck 1.5 ~ The Under Sky continued. This time the work was transferring the notes and sketches into Photoshop so that he could test out the cards. This was a necessary as many of the cards were double-faced: spinning the card 180 degrees during gameplay would change the Card Rules and even Card Type.
The colors of the backgrounds, as well as the opening lines on the first STORY card reflect how Todd was feeling at this time: numb, lost and abandoned. The packaging for future Print-on-Demand releases was also designed around this time.
Though the 300 air-shipped units had been promised to be sent out in December, due to the loss of jobs, it took until January to start sending more cards out again. And even that was soon halted, progress slipping in and out every other month, as the invisible deadline of paying off the manufacturer now grew in the distance.
Todd continued working on 1.5 ~ The Under Sky throughout February and March. The graphic design of the “Keep” cards in particular would have a vast affect on Deck 3 ~ The Caves, some years later.
On March 3, 2017 Todd visited The Under Sky for the first time. He was relieved to find it still “felt” like Spell Saga—but design flaws were gratuitous. He played once more on March 14, and wrote out copious notes for the next round of Photoshop design. Then he put it away, not thinking about it on purpose for over a month.
But it was the beginning of March that felt like the first breath of fresh air in the project—as the final payment toward the original print run was manufactured. now they could begin printing new packaging and the cards for Deck 2 ~ The Forest (just as soon as Todd found the money to do so).
The relief of this, coupled with driving to his childhood hometown every week had an effect. Gone was the long hair and black or grey outfits Todd was wearing to cope with his depression. And gone were his feelings of uncertainty.
Bleaching his hair and then coloring it another hue every week, Todd began dressing in bright colors, tie-dyes and flashy basketball sneakers. This state of mind which reflected where he was at emotionally, and would prove to be an omen of where the look of Deck 2 ~ The Forest, and the rest of the game was headed.
In May time was split between a simplified redesign of Deck 1.5 The Under Sky, and a brand new redesign of Deck 2 ~ The Forest.
That month it was also announced that the original December 2016 ship-date for the 300 air-shipped units had been moved to July 2017. But perhaps most importantly, in May Todd reached out to Lauren Rogers, and they agreed to illustrate the rest of the game together. Starting with the most necessary piece of all: a new image for the packaging of Deck Two ~ The Forest.
Todd would spend May & June compiling a brand new art list for Deck 3 ~ The Caves & The Endlude, as well as the next Realmwalker deck: The Discordant Shore (rwTDS).
Much of this was announced in a May 22, 2017 Kickstarter Updated entitled “198 Days Later”.
Work on Deck 1.5 ~ The Under Sky continued until, June 2nd, when an attempt at problem-solving the game’s design would lead to a page of notes which solved nearly every problem. Now sure that the Under Sky was safe enough to be left alone, Todd put it away to focus entirely on Deck 2 ~ The Forest ~.
He was surprised but relieved to find that much of the work was already done—most of the deck had been through what he referred to as an “HD upgrade” the previous Summer. This involved redoing the graphic design of the cards from the ground up, and pushing the color saturation up to a candy-coated breaking point. He also spent time worrying about the backgrounds of the ITEM cards. And went so far as to switch which cards had which, add glowing outlines that changed the appearance of the art, and redoing one background entirely.
Another change would occur in the beginning of June, when Todd & his wife Meagen’s beloved pet “Ellie The Dog” died. Todd pushed some of his grief toward the design of a new game involving an ocean, but quickly put it away to focus on Spell Saga. Ellie The Dog was immortalized in Deck 2’s unexpected MYTH card: The Ellethay, based on one of Lauren’s unused Deck Two ENEMY sketches from 2013.
But the biggest change to Deck 2 ~ The Forest was in the redesign of the overall gameplay. ITEM cards gained new abilities, PLACE cards gained Attack abilities and play-testing resulted in a much more cohesive experience. but something was still wrong. Solving what was supposed to be the most puzzling Deck of the game felt too simple.
It was an old tweet of Todd’s which solved the problem: “Kill Yourself in One of Nashville’s 7 Golden Circles!” The joke, which was written sometime between 2015 and 2017 had stayed with him, and not just for the crassness of the joke. Todd began to imagine a Forest filled with magical circles, ones which would need to be activated to unlock the mechanics of the Deck.
Todd even pulled in Lauren’s illustrations of the Golden Goblin & The Copy-Cat to help him guide the player. For dialogue, he chose a specific manner of speaking, an overly-friendly rough-and-tumble approach to conversation he had learned from his job as a cigarette sales rep. Talking in this manner had allowed him to get people’s attention, and help him keep his job (which in turn financed the game). Now that same specialized drawl would help guide The Last Minstrel toward the end of The Forest.
By the end of June 2017, Deck 2 ~ The Forest had never felt so correct. But there was mounting pressure now: the game would have to go to print, and soon. And the narrow window for any last-minute redesigns was drawing to a close. Todd juggled his time carefully between Spell Saga, his band, EFFORTS (now in the middle of recording vocals for a nearly-finished LP) and a new band, called Beset. which was started in the first week of July.
Also this month it is announced that shipping of the 300 air-shipped units will now slip from July to TBD—the plan now to send them out when the rest of the cards arrive.
More play-testing and notes occurred throughout July, and Deck 2 ~ The Forest was finished on August 6th, 2017. But there seemed no rest for the weary, as the once-thought finished versions of the new packaging will now have to be redone—twice, after the manufacturer send the wrong templates more than once.
With Fall would come a triumph: In November 16, Todd received the mock-ups of the brand new packaging.
But as with everything else involving the project, the joy was not long lived, as a communication breakdown between Todd, his American contacts, and the factory in Shenzhen causes the repackaging plans to go on hiatus until the end of the year. Todd didn’t mind, as after years of work, he was happy to spend Thanksgiving playing through a final mock-up version of Deck 2 ~ The Forest.
Because of this, 2018 would start with a Skype call between Todd and his long-suffering American contact on the project. The plan to repackage the decks is cleared up, but this is quickly followed by bad news: the cost to do so was misquoted, and will now be even higher.
In February, a new contract was signed, and in March the first production copies of Deck 2 ~ The Forest, it’s holo-sleeve, and the new packaging, arrived.
It had been 1,218 days since the 2014 Fundraiser had ended, and everything was finally correct. Todd gave the go-ahead for mass production to begin.
The next few months would see a mad scramble for funds—but some good news, the shipping costs to freight the finished product from Shenzhen to TN. was cheaper than expected—followed by even more good news—Todd’s parents decided to help with a generous donations, followed by the best news: in June, due to a miscommunication it was discovered the shipping costs had already been factored into the final contract. Todd’s final payment to the factory was made on June 5th, 2018, and by the end of the month, Spell Saga was finally crossing the ocean by freighter.
Todd spent the month-long wait for the cards carefully, re-reading every single update and comment from the 2014 & 2015 Fundraisers, and making lists of all the plans and promises he had made over the years. Then he began plans for a bankrupting level of gifts for those who had spent the most, or waited the longest.
On July 27th, 2018: Spell Saga arrived on Todd’s doorstep.
His friend Giovanina “Josie” Ray, and her friend Sara were there to help. Josie worked at the restaurant with Todd and had become a secret weapon of play-testing. Her enjoyment of the game had brought a new life toward it for Todd, and it was only fitting she was there the days the packages arrived.
The joy of the moment could only be struck down by one critical fact: after opening every box, it was obvious the holofoil sleeves for Deck One ~ The Highlands were missing.