By Hayden-William Courtland and David Ugorek
In the early 1990s the gaming industry experienced new life. Richard Garfield's idea of a collectible, customizable card game (CCG) spawned one of the most popular and profitable game genres of all time. Marketed by , was the premiere game.
In June of 1994 TSR joined the crusade with their very own CCG entitled Spellfire. Despite it's drawing on the familiar characters, items, and realms of the , the development of Spellfire into a sophisticated, yet enjoyable game, was no easy task.
Although released a few months prior, the real endorsement of Spellfire came at the 1994 . The initial "no edition" set could be purchased in deck format at TSR's GenCon booth. Alternately, you could send TSR 60 Magic cards and they would send you a "no edition" double deck. As far as the players were concerned, the trade was less than ideal. The problem was that most of the cards had no powers and three of them (Defiler, The Bone March, and Joliet the Rash) bestowed negative modifiers. These aspects, coupled with recycled art, are generally accepted as the reason for Spellfire's initial failure.
The initial setback posed by the "no edition" set was not enough to discourage TSR. They released the 1st edition later that month which featured the first AD&D champions. The release of the first expansion set (Ravenloft) in August of 1994 introduced Rule Cards, Limbo, and the first major consideration of power activation. The second edition set was released within the same month and caused some confusion as 20 rares were removed from the first edition set and replaced with new cards. With the release of the Dragonlance set in September, champions were given racial definitions such as dwarf, elf, and kender as well as landwalking abilities (swimmer, earthwalker, etc.). In November TSR released Forgotten Realms, the fourth, and a arguably most powerful, expansion to date. Cards such as Cyric, the Bell of Might, and the Cold Cup of Calamity make this a truly unforgettable set.
The Artifacts expansion (May) offered many artifacts for different worlds and Dark Sun finally had enough realms to become a viable deck theme. Many disagree with the overall strength of the September 1995 Powers expansion, but this set did introduce the avatars. So powerful were the avatars that they required a champion to be discarded before they could be played. In October, a year's worth of mistakes were finally addressed in the third edition base set. Approximately 150 cards from the previous base sets were edited and "beefed up" to enhance gameplay. In addition, the official game rules were modified to prevent unreasonable game mechanics. Originally, the 7th expansion was to be entitled Spelljammer, but when TSR was unable to buy back the rights to Spelljammer, The Underdark became the next expansion set (December). The Underdark set is one of the more peculiar expansions, but contributed a number of good cards for players with attack-oriented decks.
In February, the release of Runes & Ruins saw TSR slip back into their early days of misprints. Nevertheless, unique artifacts, unarmed combat cards, and a solid chase set kept Spellfire alive. The Birthright expansion was released in May of that year and the introduction of blood abilities gave the game a whole new twist. These abilities were useable only by champions with a lineage from the gods and are still very difficult to counter. July saw the release of the infamous fourth edition base set. This completely new set of 500 cards + 20 chase cards brought back all the key cards from previous sets and strengthened the game tremendously. Also at this time was the release of the 10th booster expansion, Draconomicon. Dragons were the theme of this set, although many of the cards are useful outside a dragon-themed deck. In September, TSR released the Nightstalkers expansion and clearly had some fun as every card in the set has a photo instead of the standard fantasy artwork.
Dungeons! appeared as the 12th expansion in October and offered a new card type, yes, the dungeon. This personal rule card is played before a player's first turn and gives him/her a specific advantage during gameplay. Also of note is that the chase set of 25 cards was created entirely by fans at the 1996 GenCon game fair. Two more booster sets were to be made in this year: Fiends (focusing on bringing Planescape into Spellfire) and Incantations (focusing on support cards for all champion types). However, the acquisition of TSR by Wizards of the Coast, Inc. halted these projects indefinitely.
The future of Spellfire was uncertain. Rumors that Fiends & Incantations would be released by Wizards were everywhere, but evenually proved to be unfounded. Wizards eventually decided to produce limited sets of classic card games including Vampire and Spellfire, but with the supposedly poor sales of Netrunner, all classic cards games were officially retired.
With Wizards no longer actively endorsing classic card games, Spellfire was turned over to the fans under the management of an appointed Council. The is a completely fan-based booster and is a computer program enabling fans to play Spellfire with people all over the world. Two tournament legal sticker boosters are slated for release in 2001. The first set, entitled Inquisition will contain 100 new cards. Thus, in these forms, Spellfire continues to endure in the new millenium!