Going to California

Making Magic — 11

In terms of how to build a collectible card game, we got a lot of details from the Wizards of the Coast guys, who had of course invented the idea. We would print four large sheets of card stock: two for the most-common cards, one for the uncommon cards, and one for the rare cards. Then you print a lot of the common cards, a dramatic percentage fewer of uncommon cards, and even less of the rare cards. After that, the trick is to get all the cards trimmed off their sheets and sorted so that you end up with the correct distribution of common, uncommon, and rare cards when they’re packed into boxes of starter decks and little plastic booster packs.

There are several things that make real playing cards different from pieces of cardboard of the same thickness. One of them is that instead of being some kind of card stock, what you actually have a very thin layer of plastic sandwiched between two layers of paper. The plastic in the middle is part of what makes a nice playing card snap so satisfyingly.

Magic cards had been printed like real cards, though we weren’t going to be able to go the real-card route ourselves. Very few printers did that sort of work, and they were booked months in advance. On top of that, they can then take as long as a month getting the product from the plant to us, because they’re probably located in Belgium.

Andy was busy calling all the large-scale pharmaceutical packaging printers in the northern-most states of America, since it made sense that someone like that could be the best match in terms of lots of custom die-cut boxes, and they probably give serious attention to detail in the finishing, and they’re probably used to receiving huge orders on short timeframes. Also, their proximity to the Canadian paper mills gave them a lot of flexibility in terms of access to different kinds of paper stock.

While waiting to be called back, we had a good long afternoon of brainstorming.

“What are events from the last ten years,” Steve asked, “that should be included in a new Illuminati?”

“Raid on Waco,” I said.

Steve frowned. “I don’t want to talk about Waco specifically,” he said. “But the rise of militia groups plays into this, yes.” He made a note. “Good.”

“The Internet,” said Jeff.

Steve nodded, scribbling with one hand while pointing at Jeff with the other.

“Communism is a problem,” I said.

“In what way?” asked Steve.

“End of the Cold War. International Communism is no longer the scary bad monster it had been ten years ago.”

“There are still plenty of Communists. China —”

“Sure, but in the media that’s not what the story’s about anymore.”

“Go on.”

Groups in the game, not the secret conspiracies themselves but controllable groups like California and Wall Street, can have alignments, like Straight or Violent. Some of the humor that people like the most in Illuminati comes from the alignments used to describe the various groups. Each alignment opposes some other alignment, like Straight is the opposite of Weird and Violent is the opposite of Peaceful. Not all groups have an alignment, and few groups have more than one or two, but it’s very important in play: when a group with one alignment tries to control a group with the same alignment, the attack is easier — imagine the Mafia wanting to control the Loan Sharks; you could see that being fairly low-risk. Opposing alignments make things harder — imagine the Pentagon trying to control the Hippies; that might take a lot of power or a lot of money, or both, to pull off.

One of the original alignment pairs had been Government versus Communist. Now, besides being a poor characterization of communism as being unable to govern — not that I think the 20th Century is full of sterling examples — it no longer seemed relevant.

“The whole ‘Red Scare’ thing was strong when I was growing up. And I know there are still communists in the world, but now, in what is basically the mid-1990s—” Deep sighs from all the people who suddenly felt old. “—I don’t see anyone talking about the communist threat at all.” I scanned the ten or so people hanging out in the editorial bullpen for contradiction, then I went on. “From the perspective of the ’90s, I think the opposite of Government is Corporate.” Everyone nodded. “Then you can show the banks and the media fighting against government conspiracies.”

“Hmm,” Steve said. “Let me think about that.”

“Wouldn’t it be cool,” Andy said, “if we had something like ‘George the Janitor,’ who you can send into another player’s power structure — you know, to get information out of the trash cans or something?”

Steve pointed and paused as though he was going to say something, then he looked up at the ceiling, finger still extended in a half-pointing gesture. Then his mouth opened slowly, and he said, “That sounds more like a Special card.” A few special cards were mixed in with the group cards, much like one-time tricks you can play to help yourself or to hurt your enemies. “But…people cards would be very different.” Slowly, he tapped his knee.

I was going to say, “You can’t control people,” when the absurdity of it hit me. Of course, you could. It happened all the time.

“People cards would be great,” Andy said.

“They couldn’t be very powerful, though,” Jeff added. “I mean, is any movie star as powerful as the Mafia?”

“No, no,” Steve said. “Very small, more powerful than the Boy Sprouts, but with interesting personalities.” He thought about it. “Special abilities,” he said.

“Rock stars,” said Andy. “Politicians.”

“Presidents,” said Jeff. “Former presidents?”

Steve kept scribbling.

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