Wreck This Deck Designer Diary

Wreck This Deck is my solo journaling game of altered playing cards and I’m currently crowdfunding a print edition of the game on Backerkit. You can support the campaign here.

This post is to give you a deeper sense of the game and the influences that made it. Because it was influenced from some pretty far flung places. But before that, let’s explore what the game does.

In this game you play a type of demonologist called a deck runner. You attract and trap demons in playing cards by doing micro rituals. You then use those cards in rituals to generate magical effects and use the deck for fortune telling keeping meticulous notes in your journal as you go.  You can write about your life, your experiments, the outputs of your magic, micro fiction – whatever you need to get down and remember. The game loop can run in different directions but most times you would design a question and do a fortune telling spread with the deck to answer the question. That process would uncover some action you need to take, action which would probably involve doing some magic with the deck, summoning a demon into a card or both. Doing a magical ritual might create more problems and plot hooks etc.

In order to attract and trap a demon in a card you do something physical to the card. There are examples in the game text or you can design your own. For example, if I want to attract Beelzebub I’d take out the 2 of Clubs and smear honey on it. When Beelzebub arrives I snip all four corners of the card to clip his wings. After this trapping, everytime the card comes out, perhaps in a ritual or a fortune telling spread, I draw a little fly on the card. Over the course of play you create a full deck of these trashed, altered cards that can be beautiful art or a burned, ripped up little wreck.

You can play the game totally solo, dipping in and out as you choose or you can use the #WreckThisDeckRPG hashtag to post pictures of your deck and interact with other deck runners. Joining up your stories for a little while. One of my cards was posted over 2 years ago to a fellow deck runner, and they are still keeping it safe for me.

I chose playing cards because they are cheap and easy to get.  I would love to run a variant of this game with a tarot deck or supplement my playing card-based demon deck with cards from board games or old collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering.  There is a wide open field for how creative you can get.

Back to the influences and these go back a long long way; starting with a book called Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith encouraging you to draw, doodle, make stains in the physical book itself. Breaking the taboos of what we can and can’t create on and with, it was a total eye opener. I bought that book nearly 20 years ago and I’m still wrecking it even today. I got the book at the same time I was lurking on the edge of the artists trading card community and the altered book art phenomenon and I loved it all. Taking everyday things and making them beautiful, changed, unique and sharing that art with others. Fits right in with the DIY element of zines which flows through Wreck This Deck. I have no interest in keeping things in a mint, pristine condition. I like my books second hand; I like to see the fingerprints of humans using things, reading things, imbuing them with meaning as they touch them.

Next, I was hugely inspired by Unbound by Grant Howitt and Chris Taylor.  I adored the idea of making marks and notations on a deck of playing cards and then seeing those marks come up again later in a game in a different context.  Shifting the story and made call backs – I originally designed What The Water Gave Me with that in mind.  In WTWGM you make notes about the ghosts that come up in your game on the playing cards used in the system. Keeping the same deck for future plays of the game means the old ghosts from previous stories have a chance of coming back in later games. Haunting your future games with echoes of your past ones.

So the twin ideas of a ‘legacy’ game which builds up ideas, correspondences and story ideas from earlier games, alongside creating a physical and unique artifact during play was hugely appealing.  In the case of Wreck This Deck this artifact (the deck) exists both in the game and for you as the player. The hashtag idea was because sometimes playing a solo game can get a little lonely and being able to drop into a community for an extra bump of inspiration is nice.  This is a low effort, asynchronous way to do that and also gives you somewhere to post cool pictures of your creations!

And there is one more thing. Just before Covid, Josh and I played Pandemic Legacy from start to finish. I remember the look of horror when he realised he had to deface a card for the first time. He actually refused. I picked up the card, ripped it in two and it felt far cooler then it should have. There is a power in transgressing, a power in changing how we are supposed to treat games and books etc. A power that suits the idea of trapping demons in cards just perfectly.

That brings me all the way through to the current crowdfunding campaign. This zine will be printed physically, it will have gorgeous original lino print art and a new layout. The rules are slightly revised and there is a lot more material on demons you can summon and some sample fortune telling spreads.

Blessed are the deck runners.

June game: Polis

Polis was our June Patreon game. It has now been taken down but will be available soon on the Black Armada itch store.

Hello everyone!

It has been very busy this last month. I’ve been away at Play Modena, Becky launched her crowdfunding campaign for Wreck This Deck, and the two of us both went to UK Games Expo. Plus I have been feverishly working to progress Lovecraftesque second edition. On top of that it was our youngest child’s birthday, which is almost as much work as these.

Somehow, amongst all this activity, I’ve managed to finish Polis, which is this month’s Patreon game. Here is the blurb for the game:

Here is a settlement. It is unique and filled with potential. And from this settlement you are going to grow a city.

This is a game about the rise and evolution of a city. You will start with a simple map of a settlement, with its surrounding terrain and a some starting details. Over time you spark its growth, and watch it grow and change over time into a full-fledged city. You will populate it with vibrant cultures, build beautiful buildings and neighbourhoods. You will shape your city with festivals and monuments, wars and revolutions, bounties and catastrophes. With each change, the city will evolve and respond until you have something truly unique.

You’ll need a couple of people (or more), some index cards or a virtual equivalent, and a few hours to play. If you want to, you can play for much longer, until the process of adaptation and change leaves you with a city that has changed utterly.

Polis was developed using similar mechanics to my earlier creation, Biome, and inspired by games like Microscope. It’s a world-building game where you take turns to make changes you your world, and then the entire table makes further changes that react to what you did. The result is a city that feels like a living thing – responding and adapting to change, evolving over time. Like its predecessors, there is a lot of fun to be had just building and growing your game world, but it is also very fun to dive into the world and play scenes in it, and the mechanics make it matter when you do.

It’s a very fun game and I hope you enjoy it.

Best wishes


Wreck This Deck is LIVE on Backerkit!

Wreck This Deck is a dark urban fantasy game of solo journaling, demon summoning and deck crafting. Summon and bind demons into your Demon Deck, defacing the cards as you go. The game was first published during lockdown and saw a lot of play, and we’re now crowdfunding the print zine that it always deserved, using Backerkit’s new crowdfunding platform.

In Wreck This Deck you will:

  • Delve into dark knowledge and live life on the edge as a demon-summoning deck runner.
  • Bind demons into your haunted deck, wielding their strength for yourself.
  • Modify playing cards, creating a personalized deck spattered with paint, blood and sigils.
  • Unleash the power of your demon deck to fight corporations, right injustice and protect your community. 

Pledge now to help us get the strongest possible launch!