Sorcery: Contested Realm
Sorcery: Contested Realm is a new Trading Card Game that completed a record-breaking $4M Kickstarter campaign in April 2022.
All artwork for the game is hand-painted, commissioned from legendary fantasy and RPG artists, MTG original artists, metal album cover artists, and card alter artists, resulting in stunning visuals that capture the essence of the golden age of fantasy art.
The Alchemy of Iconic Art
Sorcery: Contested Realm delivers a visual experience like no other Trading Card Game (TCG).
An extensive lineup of iconic artists span various industries and artistic genres.
The depth and quality of every card evokes an 'instantly iconic' emotion from gamers, collectors, and art enthusiasts alike; reinvigorating a sentiment that hearkens back to the golden era of fantasy art in the TCG industry.
The Right Ingredients - Painter & Brush
The allure of Sorcery art is rooted in the variety of world-class artists selected for the project. Sorcery Designer, Erik Oloffson, targeted a diverse group of talented artists and illustrators to fill specific needs for the project. A total of 35 artists were commissioned for the initial game release with backgrounds spanning:
Premier RPG and TCG projects
Trading card alters
Fine art paintings of mythological, celtic culture, and historical significance
Heavy metal album cover illustration
Fantasy gaming and book cover illustration
Mapping and cartography for gaming and real-world application.
The exceptional art quality instantly captivates gamers, collectors, and art enthusiasts.
The artists themselves have expressed great admiration for their peers. Metal album cover artist and musician, Mattias Frisk, remarked: "it is an honor to be part of the game, especially since one of my all time heroes Dan Seagrave has done a few artworks for the project."
Up-and-comer artist, Caio Calazens, emerging from the trading card alters scene from Sao Paulo Brazil, expressed how excited he is to be creating artwork in a peer group that includes iconic artists who illustrated the games he grew up with. The list includes several artists who achieved notoriety during the booming 1990s Seattle RPG and TCG scene:
Anson Maddocks, Melissa Benson, Jeff Menges, Drew Tucker, Margaret Organ-Kean, and Liz Danforth
Alan Pollack fondly recounted how he first heard of the project through friends and early-career artist colleagues Tony Szczudlo and Jeff Easley of Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) and Wizards of the Coast (WoTC) fame.
Note - click on any image that follows to learn more about the artist!
A significant differentiator in artistic approach for Sorcery is its use of hand-painted artwork for all illustrations.
Artists were given the creative freedom to use their preferred traditional mediums, such as oil, acrylic, water color, pen and pencil, or a mix therein. This delivers all of the authentic benefits of traditional art:
Vibrant, rich color composition
Dynamic texture from prep, natural material, and finish
Fine line work accentuating compositional elements
Captivating lighting effects
Majestic and whimsical landscapes
The traditionally painted artwork creates great intrinsic value:
From the gamer perspective, the richness of the artwork creates instantly recognizable visual cues that naturally connect art design to exciting game mechanics. This is a hallmark of golden era TCGs, where card artwork became organically iconic as associations were bonded to memorable gameplay moments.
For the collector and art enthusiast, the exceptional art quality delivers a deeply satisfying pack-opening and collecting experience. Every pull offers a sense of wonder and excitement. The satisfaction of set completion, and pride in artwork display, feels truly rewarding.
Consider, for example, ...
the warm red and orange color tones in Lindsey Crummett's "Beast of Burden"
the menacing kraken lurking in ominous waters in Dan Seagrave's "Great Old One"
The Portal of Imagination - Wide Open
Sorcery creators used an art design approach that fully maximized the creative brilliance of all commissioned artists. The team's philosophy is that card art design should be as open and diverse as the gamer's creative freedom to build and pilot a deck that suits their preferred play style.
This was accomplished by providing artists with only very high level conceptual direction. This approach mirrored 90s era game design where artists were provided little more than a card title. Many of the artists selected for the Sorcery project experienced this approach decades earlier in their career. Several highlighted the benefits of being afforded this creative freedom.
Tony Szczudlo commented that "it is every artist's dream to be allowed the opportunity to paint what they want".
Liz Danforth echoed these sentiments, stating that "back in the day, we rarely got more than the title of the card"; and "Erik makes me part of the project without hanging me out to dry. Gives me the guidance I need without micromanaging my artistic skills or creative will."
A few examples stand out from interviews with artists reflecting on their experience creating paintings for the initial set release:
Alan Pollack stated: "Erik gave me very little art direction for my Sorcery art. That's what made it so much fun...every artist had the freedom to create art in their own way, no theme, no style guide."
An early fan favorite is Alan's "Psionic Blast". The only direction given was to be a guy using mind power to blast his enemies. After submitting a couple different approaches, Erik and Alan decided the overhead view fit best with the text boxes on the card. Alan recalled posing for the wizard in Psionic Blast to use as a reference model for form composition and lighting.
In another interview, Jeff Menges shared some insights into his vision for "Monster Hunter"; a card that really captures the intended "instant iconic" essence that Sorcery strives for.
Jeff described setting a scene, and dressing a character with all the elements required - A heavy sword, a hammer/axe, and a crossbow. The monster figure lurking in the ruins was painted as a hidden and shadowy silhouette to invoke a sense of unknown for the viewer to interpret. It was tucked away in the back of the composition to create a sense of 'the hunt'.
This enabled Jeff to fully utilize his story-telling ability and artistic talent to convey his message.
Completing the Recipe - Card Design
Another important artistic decision for TCGs is the card design. Several elements of Sorcery's card design were thoughtfully selected to accentuate art elements.
Font: One of the first elements that catches your eye on a Sorcery card is the distinctive, retro font style (Fantaisie Artistique) used for cards and descriptions. This tastefully complements the artwork without distracting from the art as the primary focus.
Borderless Frames: Another design choice that immediately stands out is the borderless card frames. This leaves nearly the entire canvas of the card (minus the text boxes) dedicated to accentuate the painting composition itself, and really brings to the fore the desired 'instant iconic' impression for the viewer.
Card Mechanic Box Location: Sorcery text box placement is intentionally minimized to limit obstruction of the original painting composition. The text boxes are floating near the top and bottom of the card to create a 'wrap' effect where the artwork extends around, and beyond, the text boxes to the outer limits of the card surface.
Several artists for the game reflected on how this presented some interesting design choices.
Some elected to not adjust their compositional choices, leaving portions beneath the text box to the viewers' imagination or allowing it to only be revealed in the original painting or potential full art card variants. Others had fun with using the text box to add an element of mystique, or fun 'easter eggs' hidden for fans to discover.
This is a fun one from Elvira Shakirova!
In the final card design, the card mechanic text box largely disguises the specter's hand and forearm, exposing only a small portion of the forearm and making it difficult to interpret.
In the original painting, the stalking hand is exposed, and completely transforms the interpretation from that of a restful dream, to a perilous nightmare!
In this example, the humorous side of Ms. Shakirova's personality really shines. Knowing that the bottom of the painting would be largely covered by the card mechanics box, she decided to add a little flavor to the piece by inserting this little creature hilariously racing away from the flames!
Tony Szcudlo's "Holy Grail" is a stunning masterpiece. Tony delighted fans in the Sorcery: Contested Realm Facebook Group, challenging them to try to figure out the translation of the letters beneath the grail...
...the letters are Ancient Aramaic, and translate to:
Who passed forth the Cup at this Holy Supper?
Top-Down Design: A Sorcery card design follows a top-down design approach that begins with its Card Title.
The Card Title shapes the overall card concept, including everything from game mechanic and associated flavor text, to the high level vision that focuses the art illustration to tell the story of the card's gameplay effect.
Liz Danforth's "Royal Bodyguard" is an excellent example of cohesive card design and imaginative story-telling.
The art concept for this card was simple: A bodyguard guarding royalty ("Royal Bodyguard"), with a cool supporting game mechanic in which the bodyguard absorbs damage while protecting nearby in-game characters.
Liz Danforth's design idea for this card was to model it after Diego Velazquez's famous 1656 "Las Meninas" painting. Velazquez is the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age. Las Meninas has been one of the most widely analyzed works in Western painting, and has long been recognized as one of the most important paintings in Western art history.
Liz's approach to the card art design was to bring the bodyguard to the front to symbolize guarding the royal family; a literal interpretation of the card's title and game mechanic.
In the Velazquez masterpiece, Velazquez had painted himself in the far left of the frame. Bringing the Bodyguard forward to guard the royal family left a void in the composition where Velazquez is positioned. Liz creatively addressed this design choice by painting herself in this location; and in an act of humble respect for the legendary artist, did so in a subtle way by darkening and obscuring her self-image in a nondescript segment of the illustration.
Royal Bodyguard is just one example of the numerous game pieces with very rich themes and historical context. By design, the alpha set is not singularly thematic; but rather explores many great elements of art history and cultural lore. This adds an element of fantastic discovery for gamers, collectors, and art enthusiasts.