Faeria – Designing a CCG – An Interview with Abrakam CEO Jean-Michel Vilain

The Art and Design of Faeria the Game

Faeria is a well-liked digital collectible card game from developer Abrakam Entertainment and published by Versus Evil that recently released a new expansion, bringing the game up to over 500 individual cards across 9 DLCs.

The game was also recently the Free Game of the Week on the Epic Games Store, bringing it to the attention of a whole new audience. Some have likened to a cross between Magic: the Gathering and Settlers of Catan.

When you are not Wizards of the Coast, we ask how an independent can manage, balance, and sustain this amount of original art and content, and stand out in the market. So we sat down with CEO of indie studio Abrakam – Jean-Michel Vilain – to get a better sense of the ideation, development and production process of a beautiful-looking game like Faeria.

IndieGameReviewer: People say that the market is too crowded with collectible card games. Magic is the ruler. Why make another one? Why is Faeria so different?

Jean-Michel Vilain: We had no idea that the market would be crowded because the first concepts for Faeria predate 2010. Faeria had been through a lot of iterations before the name of Hearthstone hit the crowds. And that in itself explains why Faeria is so different from post-Hearthstone games: in reality, our original reference was Magic, not Hearthstone.

Sketch art for the Apex predator card in the digital card game Faeria
Sketch art for the Apex predator.

IGR: How do you differentiate in a crowded market?

JMV: When starting a game of Faeria, players are first going to have the battlefield by creating lands over a hexagonal map.

The game has an important board game vibe, and constructing the board is entirely part of the gameplay. This ensures the title to have a never-seen-before depth compared to other card games.

Already in games like Magic, you could say that no two games are going to be the same, but Faeria is taking this to another dimension, since the board is going to be different every game. Plus, lands can be moved around or even destroyed with specific cards.

Apex Predator final card art
Apex Predator final card art

The other key difference is that Faeria is not a free-to-play. We really didn’t want to have microtransactions messing with our gameplay experience. Purchase the game and play. All cards can be unlocked in under 100 hours, and if you want more, we have a few DLCs out already.

Balancing Act

IGR: How do you balance the many cards and characters?

JMV: The balancing of Faeria has been in a very nice spot for the past months; we’re happy with it, and it’s the result of many adjustments. Many different deck archetypes are considered to be competitive, not just four or five.

To get the right balance of Faeria has been hard work; there have been countless balance patches, and the way we usually take action is a mix of watching games, listening and talking to the community, and of course, analyzing data. The game has 500 cards now, so you definitely need to take the data shortcut, but at the end, making the tough choices is a matter of anticipating how the changes will affect the meta-game, making sure we’re going to relieve frustrations without adding new ones in order to create a more sane competitive playfield.

IGR: What is the inspiration behind Faeria’s card art? Do artists get briefed to consider other outside influences or inspirations, or are they pretty much left to their own imagination?

JMV: We use a lot of references, ranging from things like the tribal worlds to Ghibli anime. Concept artists were given a lot of freedom on the concepts; I think that’s the reason why the world of Faeria looks so rich and diverse.

Faeria - Color Rough
Daring adventurer – concept, color – rough

Rendering New Worlds and Beings

IGR: What are the backgrounds of the artists? are they primarily freelance artists who work in the fantasy art and movie realms?

JMV: We don’t really look at the artist’s background or at what company they used to work for. We’ve been looking at hundreds of portfolios and have contacted the ones that we found were fitting Faeria’s spirit and vibe.

Faeria Color Final
Daring adventurer – color – final

IGR: How long does a typical art piece take for a card, and how many different versions does the design go through before it’s approved to be deck-worthy?

JMV: Usually between two to five days, depending on the complexity of the illustration and the number of retakes necessary.

Faeria is available on Steam, the Epic Games Store and where most digital games are sold.

Have you played Faeria? Are you designing your own game or trying to break out as a digital artist? Let us know what you think of this interview in the comments!

Watch the official Faeria trailer below: