Design Article #1: The Heart of TSSSF

by N.A. Larson

“Great parody is rude to the surface but loves the core. Galaxy Quest makes fun of [Star] Trek but is an absolute love letter to what it stands for. TSSSF was also a work of parody in that sense, of fanfic. We made fun of its surface issues but absolutely loved what it represented.”

-Captain Mwai, Co-creator of TSSSF

Welcome to our bi-weekly series of articles on the design of TSSSF cards! In this series, we will describe the different aspects of card design, including how to choose powers for each card type, how to playtest, and other nuances of how the game works. We are NOT the creators of TSSSF; we are just fans who take this silly game way too seriously. As such, we have spent countless hours playing, studying, and designing cards for this game, so we have LOTS of opinions on how to make “good” cards. Of course, concepts such as “good” and “fun” are highly personal and subjective, but TSSSF is very popular despite bronies having a lot of options for games. So before delving into the nitty-gritty details of TSSSF design, we will explore what makes TSSSF special.

The most important thing about TSSSF is that it captures not only the essence of fanfiction, but also of the brony fandom. It allows players to build stories with the characters they care about, with minimal restriction from the game itself. Every Pony card in TSSSF has significance, if not to the fandom at large, then at least to the person who created it. Ship cards let the player throw two characters into unlikely situations, some of which are comical, and some of which are serious. This sort of playful what-if-ing is what draws bronies to make and consume fanfiction, fanart, music, animations, etc., and that magic is captured exquisitely in TSSSF.

The other thing that makes TSSSF great is its gameplay. The rules are simple enough that they’re easy to learn, but not too complex that they distract from the point of the game. There is enough complexity that there are combos to figure out, but the communal nature of the game and its randomness make it very hard to play in a cutthroat manner. One might wonder, then, why the game has mechanics at all, and isn’t played like Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity. There are several benefits to having points awarded by the game, rather than by a judge. The first is that it allows people who aren’t familiar with the show to be able to play, since they won’t get the in-jokes. Also, it allows unfunny plays to still be relevant. Every Pony card has a power, and there are few restrictions as to how you can play them, so they are still useful to you, even if they ships they form aren't too interesting. Finally, since your plays don’t have to appeal to other players to get points, you can ship however you want, as long as you meet the Goal requirements.

So, how do we use this information to make good cards? The short answer is that the point of TSSSF is shipping ponies, and good cards will respect this. There are other games where you can laugh at inappropriate jokes, or pull off crazy combos, but this is the only game where you can ship ponies. The long answer is: keep reading our design articles! Join us next time for an overview of each of the four card types, and the role of each in TSSSF. See you then!