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|Playing time||Approx 90 min|
|Skill(s) required||Card playing
Basic Reading Ability
Spellfire: Master the Magic was a collectible card game (CCG) created by TSR, Inc. and based on their popular Dungeons & Dragons role playing game. The game appeared in 1994, shortly after the introduction of Magic: The Gathering, in the wake of the success enjoyed by trading card games. It was the second CCG ever made, preceding Wizards of the Coast second CCG Jyhad by a mere two months.
After the successful launch of Wizards of the Coast's Magic: The Gathering card game in 1993, TSR entered the fledgling CCG market with their take on a fantasy-themed card game in June of 1994. The core creation of Spellfire's gameplay was completed by James Ward, Vice President of Creative Design for TSR at the time. Spellfire was designed by Steve Winter, Jim Ward, Dave Cook, and Tim Brown.
Spellfire was widely anticipated by Dungeons & Dragons fans, as it used characters, locations, magic items, artifacts, monsters, events, and spells from the intellectual properties of TSR's gaming worlds. However, it faced criticism immediately after release. One concern was TSR's use of artwork on Spellfire cards that had already been used on TSR's products like AD&D and Dragon Magazine. Another source of debate was Spellfire's use of completely different game mechanics. Many fans[who?] who purchased Spellfire expected a similar style of gameplay to that of Magic: The Gathering and when Spellfire provided a different set of rules and style of play, they rejected the game.
The first release had a selection of 400 cards, which included cards from the Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, and Greyhawk settings. The basic set came packaged in a double deck (55 cards per deck), in three levels of rarity (Common, Uncommon, and Rare), and booster packs were also sold which included 25 additional cards not available in the basic set.
The second edition starter pack fixed some misprints and replaced 20 first edition cards with 20 different chase cards. The artwork for the new chase cards consisted mostly of photos with fantasy-related artifacts or people in costume. The rest of this set remained identical to the first edition. The Ravenloft, Dragonlance, and Forgotten Realms booster series were released soon after the second edition. These were well received by players.
The third edition starter made some significant changes by adding powers to cards that previously had none, without changing the names and artwork. There were also significant rules corrections and updates. The Artifacts, Powers, Underdark, Runes & Ruins, and Birthright booster series added many new dimensions to the game.
The fourth edition came in a red and black double-pack, and featured 520 cards taken from every expansion and mainline set, augmented by over 200 new designs. Cards missed from re-evaluation during the 3rd edition shake-up have been revitalized here. The red box in this twin-deck pack includes a 55-card deck playable directly from the packet, while the black box includes a set of revised rules and a booster pack of 12 cards from the Dragonomicon expansion. By the time the fourth edition starter pack made its debut, the future of TSR was uncertain, leading to production problems. Three more booster series, Draconomicon, Nightstalkers, and Dungeons, were released. Though they all sold out immediately, these sets were produced in small quantities. Shortly thereafter, Wizards of the Coast bought out TSR.
Before it was discontinued, Spellfire was released in six languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, and French) and five editions, as well as having eleven expansions or "booster sets". Several years after Wizards of the Coast acquired TSR, they announced that they would be re-releasing Spellfire, but the project was canceled.
Currently, a fan appointed Spellfire Council is keeping the game active by producing unofficial boosters available online. Some of these are deemed legal for tournament play. These so-called sticker boosters are to be printed on sticker paper and attached to the front of normal extra cards that a player may have.
Spellfire maintains a fanbase of worldwide players who keep their favorite game alive through online interaction. This includes an email list-server and a shareware program entitled CrossFire, which was released several years ago and primarily allows Spellfire players to battle each other online.
Spellfire can accommodate any number of players with no need for changes to the rules. The players try to put six Realms cards into play, and can play one per turn. Holdings cards can be played on a Realm (one per Realm) to give it special qualities that help defend it from attack. Heroes, Wizards, Clerics, Monsters, Spells, Magic Items, Artifacts, Allies and Events are used to defend a player's realms and also to attack the realms of other players. After a realm is successfully attacked, it is considered razed and turned face down, and can only be restored through the use of other cards.
Realms - Realms represent kingdoms, cities, and empires from the AD&D worlds that have sided with the player in question. The game can be won only by playing realms. It is common for a player's opponents to attack his realms or to destroy them by other means, such as spells or events. Realms are played in a pyramid-shaped formation and must be played from front to back; i.e., the first realm played goes at the top (or point) of the pyramid, the next two go in the spaces below that (left then right), and the last three go in the spaces below that. These spaces are typically labeled by letter, with the first space "A" and the last "F". In other words, the formation looks like this:
A B C D E F
Champions - During his turn, a player may play champions into his "pool." He may also outfit them with magic items and artifacts. Champions are probably the most important cards in the game, as they are used to attack and defend realms. The types of champions in the original game were heroes, monsters, clerics, and wizards; later, psionicists, regents, and thieves were added.
If the player at any time had no realms, razed or unrazed, in his formation, all of the cards in his pool would be discarded at the end of his turn.
Scott Haring reviewed Spellfire for Pyramid #9, published in October 1994. Haring felt that the game was going to be "just the first of what is sure to be a long line of games trying to take advantage of the market that Magic opened", but found that he was "pleasantly surprised by Spellfire". He called the game "quite good", and liked how the game was simple to play with very few exceptions to the rules, and "a lot of subtlety to the design, and there are many opportunities to find strange new combinations of cards that affect the game in strange new ways". Haring felt that the lack of original art was tempered by TSR's twenty years of art archives. He felt that the art was "very good" despite not having the same sort of "edge" found on most of the original art on Magic cards. He was least impressed by the art on the Realms cards, the most common type of card in the game, as the cards are illustrated with excerpts from maps.
Chris Baylis reviewed the Underdark booster pack for Arcane magazine, rating it a 7 out of 10 overall. He found that virtually half of the 100-card set was accounted for by its main deck-building features, namely the high-level clerics, the surplus of clerical spells, a heavy influence of powerful monsters, and the underground Realms. He felt that these cards "go a long way towards redressing the balance upset by Powers (set six), which made Psionicists almost insurmountable". He noted that the set's Realms "reach deep beneath the existing Realms, granting access to otherwise unreachable Regions, and, for once, Holdings are introduced into the game as more than deck-building makeweights, ensuring that attached Realms have better than token immunities and powers". He observed that the artists were not named on the cards, but that it was clear that each artist had been given a specific block to work on: "the contrasting styles complement each other in a way that no preceding set has managed. For the first time, there is new artwork for the majority of the cards, following complaints that previous cards had mainly featured artwork butchered from well-published paintings and magazine/scenario covers". Baylis concluded by saying: "The Underdark is, in my opinion, second only to Ravenloft boosters as the most important addition to Spellfire.
Baylis reviewed the Birthright booster pack for Arcane, rating it a 5 out of 10 overall. He noted that the expansion adds a new effect specific to the Birthright setting called "blood abilities", along with new champions with the power to use them in a similar manner to spellcasting or psionics: "Most Birthright champions also have either cleric, mage or both spellcasting abilities, which make them extremely powerful, and also unaffected by the spell-blocking powers of 'Midnight' or 'The Arch Druid'." He noted the Anwnshegh, evil champions of the setting, but that "the Spellfire designers seem to have glossed over this alignment simply to include Anwnshegh characters into the game. It appears to me that TSR's game designers' collective imagination is beginning to pale with the development of each new Spellfire expansion, because effects are beginning to repeat themselves too often. New name and different artwork with the same or similar abilities as already existing cards do nothing to encourage interest." Baylis concluded his review by saying: "Overall the Birthright expansion is of very little interest to anyone other than card collectors, with only one of the 100 cards immediately springing to mind for possible consideration as an addition to my personal gaming deck."
Baylis reviewed the Draconomicon booster pack for Arcane, rating it a 7 out of 10 overall. He noted that this expansion was mostly researched from the Draconomicon handbook from TSR: "As you would expect with spellcasting Wyrms, it is accented towards magic, though the set is also bolstered by events and allies that are associated with Dragons and dragonkind." He found that, again, "most of the artwork used is from various larger masterpieces, but in general extra care has been taken to prevent absurd dissections and to ensure the pictures and text have common connections." He notes that "the manner in which the cards are distributed means that you are likely to receive more than one card of a kind in a booster, and the chances of obtaining a rare card are slimmer than Kate Moss on a diet. It is quite noticeable that, as Spellfire expands, each new continuing set is being aimed at remedying the causes and effects of the previous boosters, thus several Draconomicon cards parry or block the blood abilities first made available in the previous Birthright expansion."
Baylis also reviewed the fourth edition of Spellfire for Arcane, rating it a 6 out of 10 overall. He found the pack "striking", considering the fourth edition to have "the instant eye appeal that none of its predecessors could muster. With this latest set, I would say that it's almost dead to rights. I say 'almost' because TSR has unfortunately wasted a good opportunity to lose the poor and cutaway artwork on some of the earlier cards." He felt that the revitalized cards that were missed from the changes in third edition help to "ensure that this becomes the best way yet to start playing Spellfire". He found the twin-deck pack "a little misleading" because it did not contain two 55-card decks, but he did consider the selection of cards to be "fairly well conceived - it includes many of the powerful and imaginative cards along with the usual basics". He felt that some of the rules were changed because they didn't work or were too complicated, but that others were changed just for the sake of it or to force players into using cards they wouldn't otherwise touch. Baylis concluded by saying: Spellfire will never seriously rival Magic, but it does provide light, sometimes intense entertainment at a reasonable price, and when you come down to it, that is surely the essence of games playing."
- "The History of TSR". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on 2008-10-04. Retrieved 2005-08-20.
- Miller, John Jackson (2001), Scrye Collectible Card Game Checklist & Price Guide, p. 520.
- Pyramid Picks
- Baylis, Chris (October 1996). "Games Reviews". Arcane (Future Publishing) (11): 70.
- The Spellfire Community Page
- CrossFire Frames
- Baylis, Chris (March 1996). "Games Reviews". Arcane (Future Publishing) (4): 82.
- Baylis, Chris (July 1996). "Games Reviews". Arcane (Future Publishing) (8): 70.
- Baylis, Chris (September 1996). "Games Reviews". Arcane (Future Publishing) (10): 74.