Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Around 400 units of medieval-era set card game “Lagim” have been pre-ordered, an off-the-chart response, says the team who made it.
Fiction Minds CEO and founder Augusto Ayo’s art roots lie in skateboard design, crafting deck art for the thrasher and extreme sports market. He was able to parlay his love for local mythology to make “Lagim” a game where players can take turns defending their Baryos while they master the creatures of the dark forest to unleash attacks.
“Based on our launch, we have two types of customers: the gamer and the collector. We wanted to satisfy both kinds,” said Ayo. “We wanted the whole game to be a series of art pieces, like a functional art piece where they can appreciate the craftsmanship. Hindi lang yung lalaruin mo a couple of times tapos itatago or itatapon na. We wanted our fans and customers to treasure it.”
The claim that Lagim is both a card game and a collectible piece of art isn’t throwaway hyperbole. The card art, on lengthy 13cm x 7cm thick paperboard material, is beautifully opulent in detail and damn atmospheric, the illustrations gloomy and moody, like something out of a medieval palette done with a tropical gothic flair. It’s the 17th century in the archipelago and witches writhe in the ecstasy of the dark arts, wise espiritistas and bold heroes strike a pose in defense of all things mortal, manananggals swoop down from the shadows of the night sky, and altars of blood and viscera emanate power in desolate cabins. The back of the cards have a shining, glittering foil print depicting magical ley lines of an oracion octagram that reflects under the lights.
Where the craftsmanship of the designers shine though is in the physical objects of the game. The Soul and Dark Soul Coins, thick and heavy octagrams, feel like the weight of true ancient coins and are respectively in silver and bronze. You pull them from a leather pouch with a drawstring.
My personal favorite card in the game is the Sigbin, variously described in oral traditions as a lycanthropic boar or a feral dog with two heads, one on each side (thus you can never be sure if the monster is advancing or retreating). Popular in Visayan myths, Lagim’s artists have chosen to depict this creature as a malevolent, grinning mule. Coincidentally, the Sigbin card is one of the limited editions of the Lagim creatures, it’ll cost you ₱650 to add this powerful creature to your deck.
Visual and concept artist Cara Valdez explained that the art’s allusions to Goya, William Blake, and medieval art are intentional, but it was really how this art style put you in a storytelling mood that made them choose that direction.
“Dati we’d get together and swap horror stories especially during All Souls [Day], but now we’ve noticed that there’s a big gap between the older generations and now the millennials and the Gen Zs,” said Valdez.
During a play test — where Valdez invited her young nephews over to play with the cards — one of them started asking: ‘What are kapres? What are tikbalangs?’” Then his father jumped in to explain, in the way it was told to him by his own parents.
Valdez said, “What inspired us was bridging this gap between generations through curiosity and storytelling.”
AJ Noguerra, the lead narrative designer, recalled how the first of around 50 test playthroughs during the pandemic happened on Skype, with the cards printed on bond paper. “Sometimes it was just ballpen sketches. I remember one of us would say ‘hey, so this is my card and this is yours.’ Honesty system lang!”
Over the years, projects in digital and analog role-playing have given us 2017’s Tadhana, a traditional pen and paper tabletop RPG, a figurine and card game combo called Engkanto (by Australian Dwaine Woolley), and the cult, hit all-digital, horror-leaning RPG Karunduun by JK Saavedra. All make use of the vast regional and often pre-Hispanic mythologies of the country to fuel and build their worlds where players can have their adventures.
Playing Lagim is a straightforward affair where your objective is to survive the long and lightless nights of the 17th century to be the last Baryo standing. The Filipino language is used for all the major actions, so Pinoys will think in the vernacular; to attack is “maghasik ng lagim,” while a counterattack is termed “pagtauli.”
Norbert Bae, the games system designer, was inspired by his long years of playing Pokemon cards, Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards, Magic: The Gathering cards, and a host of MMORPGs. “We made the gameplay unique and streamlined so everyone can play and relate from tweens to even seniors,” Bae said. “We didn’t want anyone getting frustrated with the rules. We cut out as much of the complexity as we could.”
It’s an apt claim. The combat, the meat of the game, seriously has no-frills: you can only attack another Baryo if you are in possession of one of the four kinds of monsters. Specially designed gear cards for these mythological monsters (called Hiwaga cards) are also available and if you’re lucky to have one that matches your monster, you can buff your attacking creature, making it more powerful.
A great mechanic, and one of the few games that has this I believe, is in how one acquires a monster (or a Lagim card) that enables you to attack your enemies, the other Baryos. You literally pay the price of a coin (Dark Soul Coin) for access to dark magic. If you can’t pay, then you can opt to capture one of these creatures by drawing from the Lagim (monsters) deck. But beware, like a Faustian pact that can always turn when you least expect it, the random creature may prove too powerful to wrestle under your control. If you fail, you end up losing one of your in-game hit points (Soul Coins) and the creature escapes back to the wild.
While we often found the decks hard to shuffle in the traditional way (I don’t recommend shuffling in the usual way at all, since it will fold or at least dogear the thick cards), one of the major and common sticking points became misdeals; simply not getting enough Lakas or any defender cards. We often had enough gear, but nobody to wield them and gameplay would stop. This was solved by making sure we had shuffled the deck better and scattered all the Lakas cards throughout the thick Baryo deck.
The folks at Fiction Minds have also made sure you can cure yourself of the proverbial misdeal by simply letting you get a fresh hand, by paying one of your hit points (Soul Coin) to the Dark Forest.
On our six playthroughs with just two players over two nights, playing music of doomy classical tracks or instrumental scores from horror movies during the run created the right atmosphere for us. (You can also play heavy metal or some of these new goth artists, whichever may be more suitable for your taste.)
“What’s important is total experience rather than just the game,’ said Ayo. “People poring over it like vinyl or cassette tape albums of old is what we want and that was very satisfying.”
The Lagim Card Game can be bought at the lagimcardgame.com.