Design Article #3: What is a Pony?

by N.A. Larson

Now that we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, it’s time to delve into how to design each type of card, starting with everyone’s favorite type: Pony cards. Since Pony cards are so central to TSSSF, we’ve devoted the next few articles to them. Today, I’m going to talk about what a Pony card is, what it does for the game, and what to consider when designing one.

A Pony card represents a character. The character’s name is conveyed by the card title, and the character's traits are conveyed by symbols, keywords, and the power (I’ve covered the basics of how to choose these over here, but these topics will be covered in more depth here and in future articles). Name, symbols, and keywords are what win you Goals. Powers will rarely win you a Goal directly (Coup d’Etat being one of the few exceptions), but rather they will help you get what you need to win Goals, or hinder your opponents from doing the same. Here is how each of the six standard powers serves one or both of these functions:


Draw lets you draw a card from the Ship or Pony deck. If you choose to draw a Pony card, it might be the one you need for a Goal, or it might have another useful power. If you choose to draw a Ship card, you will have the same number of Ships in your hand as before you played the Pony with Draw, so effectively you played a Pony without it costing you a Ship card. This is useful if there is a Pony on the grid whose power you'd like to activate, but no adjacent Pony to ship it to: you play the Pony with Draw adjacent to that Pony, and play the Ship you draw between them for a net cost of one Ship card, whereas using a Pony with a different power would cost you two. If you have several Ponies with Draw, by drawing Ship cards you can play a lot of Ponies in one turn, which is useful for some Goals. It’s also useful when you don’t have Ships with powers, because it gives you a chance to get some that do.

New Goal:

New Goal lets you discard an active Goal and draw a new one to replace it. This is helpful if you can’t achieve any of the active Goals. Also, if you notice that the conditions for a Goal are partially met, and you can’t achieve it yourself, you can replace that Goal to prevent others from achieving it.


Replace allows you to play a Pony card from your hand in place of a Pony already on the grid. This is advantageous because you don’t have to use a Ship card. If the Pony is part of a Goal, you can put it exactly where you need it. Also, you can use it to remove troublesome cards from the grid, like Queen Bee Sunset Shimmer, or cards which could be advantageous to your opponents. Of course, Search is a thing, so this isn’t as hard of a shutdown as New Goal.


Search lets you search the discard piles for a card of your choice. Assuming there are cards in the discard pile, it’s better for achieving Goals than Draw, since you have multiple cards to choose from, instead of getting one card at random. Note that if you search for a Ship, it saves you the way Draw does.


Swap lets you get Ponies to where they need to be, or to where your opponents don't need them to be. This is probably the most basic of powers.


Copy lets you copy the power of a Pony card already on the grid. This makes it a kind of wild card: it gives you the power you need, when you need it (assuming the power can be copied). The second is that it speeds up the game by allowing powerful Special powers to be used more often, like how nitrous oxide (NOS) is used in auto racing to produce more powerful combustion. To carry the analogy further, just as too much NOS can create enough power to damage the engine, having too many cards with Copy can result in long combos that leave the other players at the table twiddling their thumbs (only three cards in Core Deck have Copy).

So what does all this mean for you, the card designer? It means that a Pony card should provide some advantage to the player who plays it, and you need to consider this when choosing its symbols, keywords, and power (name is not as much of a concern, because the character is who it is). You should stick to the existing symbols for gender and race (assigning a race to a non-pony character is described in the link above as well as in the Style Guide). If you don’t, your card won’t count for Goals that require them, and won’t work with other cards that refer to them, such as the Core Deck Changelings. Similarly, existing keywords should be used to count for Goals and work with other cards that refer to them, however there are some circumstances that merit the creation of new keywords (this topic will be covered in detail in the next article). If you choose to give your Pony card a power other than one of the six described above, you must consider how it will help the player or hinder their opponents. A Pony card with no power will do neither, or indeed may help the other players if it has a name, symbol, or keyword they need for a Goal. Cards with powers that prevent them from being played are even worse, because those cards get stuck player's’ hands, which means they will draw fewer cards at the end of each turn. (There is a lot to consider when designing Pony powers, which we will cover in upcoming articles.)

Thank you all for reading, and we’ll see you time when we talk about Pony keywords! If you have any questions or comments, please email us at, or check out the forum threads for discussion of these articles!