Achroma is a trading card game that started out as a bedtime story: of a world painted to life by fairies. As you may guess from the lovely artwork that looks like something straight out of Studio Ghibli, publisher Realm Runner Studios is aiming for a form of fantasy that resonates with kids as well as adults. “We could go darker, but there’s a lot of that out there,” says company co-founder Jack Constantine. Achroma is also a card game with a morality system, where good and evil forces, colour and shadow, do battle. Which one players choose to side with will shape the story of future card sets.
There’s two ways to win a game of Achroma. You can build up your shards of colour (both your main resource and your life total) to 30, or you can drain your opponent’s shards down to zero. So your deck can be positive and heroic, building up shards; aggressive and damaging; or a sort of grey middle ground. Constantine says he’s had comments that the TCG “feels like a kind of Tableau-style game or an engine builder in some ways, because you don’t have to do this all out attacking thing all the time”. In fact, you can win as a total pacifist.
Constantine adds that this pared-down system took a lot of effort to develop because “to make something simple is hard work”. He also says the game grew, almost naturally, from there, as trying to balance and fine-tune this overarching shard mechanic created “opportunities and complexities”, and obvious new design space.
Where the morality system comes into play is Achroma’s companion app. Developed over lockdown prior to the game’s first set release in October 2021, the Achroma app lets you carry a digital copy of your collection with you at all times – thanks to unique codes printed on each card. “Players have really enjoyed seeing a digital representation of that collection, slowly getting filled in in their profile, and being able to then see them at a glance wherever they are,” says Dan Renton, Realm Runner Studios brand manager.
The app also keeps track of your Achroma games, and holds each player’s Achrometer. These meters measure each player’s ‘morality’ based on how they choose to win games. And the amount people lean to the dark or light side will shape the plotlines of future sets. “We collate [that information] at certain times,” says Renton. “And that is really the narrative of the universe. The universe is evolving, and is evolved by the playerbase.” The company has a choose your own adventure game in development, which Renton says will also be connected to this morality meter.
Constantine says it’s been a challenge to inject Achroma with just the “right amount of tension and jeopardy” – keeping exciting danger in the world, without falling back on the dark fantasy aesthetic he feels is such well-trodden ground in games. “At night time the skeletons come out,” he says. “It can be spooky, but it doesn’t have to be no longer appropriate.”
Renton says the tone and artwork of the game may be what has helped make the Achroma community such a diverse bunch. “We know that families are playing it, we know that kids are playing it. We know that adults, gaming groups of various experiences are playing. So from that point of view, I don’t think I don’t think there are many other card games out there that have quite that diversity in the player base, where they’re all enjoying it equally.”