Design Article #7: Putting the "Ship" in Shipfic

by N.A. Larson

"At one point, we tried taking the ships out of the game entirely, actually! And we were ASTOUNDED at how bad the game was. The life had totally left it."

-Pixel Prism, "How Did You Come Up With/Create/Fund This?"

A Ship card represents a situation that would bring two ponies together, often romantically. In terms of game mechanics, it is used to attach a Pony card to the shipping grid, or to connect two Pony cards already on the grid. Ship cards are overshadowed by Pony cards because of their simplicity, and because they are literally covered by Pony cards while they are on the grid. However, they truly are the lifeblood of TSSSF as mechanically they enable Pony powers to activate, and flavor-wise they give TSSSF its je ne sais quoi. In this article we will consider the design of both of these aspects of Ship cards.

Ship Mechanics:

A Ship card doesn't need a power. In fact, more than half of Ship cards don't. A Ship card's essential function to attach a Pony card to the grid. When they do have powers, it's usually to change symbols or keywords on one of the attached Pony cards in order to help it count for Goals, or allow you to play it with a Pony card that isn't in your hand, like Play From Discard Ships and Love Poisons. Ship cards with powers have a keyword that serves as a shorthand for the power text. This is equivalent to the power type on Pony cards. If you do choose to give your Ship card a power, and don't want to use a standard power (Style Guide 3.2.1-3.2.7), the guidelines for coming up with Ship powers is pretty much the same the same as for Pony powers: don't make powers you wouldn't want to play against, and playtest a lot. Also like Pony powers, there are some Ship powers that just don't work well:

Ships That Can't Be Used As Normal Ships / Ships That Don't Activate a Pony Power:

Attaching a Ship card to a Pony card is normally what activates that card's power. Therefore, the number of actions you can make on your turn is equal to the number of Ship cards you can play. If you can't activate any powers to get more Ship cards (and don't have any Replacers), then you can make 3 actions. If one of those Ship cards can't be used to play a Pony card, then you can only make 2. You might be able to make a third action if that Ship card can activate the power of a Pony card that's already in play, but this is highly dependent on what's in play. This is why Play From Discard Ships and Love Poisons are both optional.

Also, it bears mentioning that a Ship card that just flat-out can't be used to ship two Ponies goes against what this card type represents.

Changes That Last Beyond The End Of The Turn:

TSSSF does not have a way to track such changes, and so players are imposed upon to remember these changes themselves or fetch a notepad and write them down. This is the reason all the standard Race/Gender/Timeline/Keyword Change Ships say "until the end of your turn".

Ongoing and Triggered Powers:

Ship powers that have an ongoing effect, or are triggered by certain game events, don't work well because the card is covered by Pony cards, and so isn't seen by players and is forgotten.

Pony Powers on a Ship Card:

There's no rule that says you can't put a power that would normally be found on a Pony card on a Ship card, but you should avoid it for two reasons. The first is that it blurs the line between Pony cards and Ship cards. The second is that can result in weird timing issues, since the Ship power activates before the Pony power.

Ship Flavor:

Each card in TSSSF tells a story, but players use them together to tell their own stories. The artwork and flavor text of a Ship card tell a story of specific ponies in a certain situation. This can be funny/poignant/etc. in its own right, but based on what Pony cards it's played with, it could become even moreso, or change tone entirely. For this reason, the title and situation portrayed on a Ship card should be generic enough that they could apply to other ponies as well. If the situation only makes sense if one or both of the Ponies has a certain trait (race/gender/keyword/etc.), then you can add a power to grant that trait. If the situation only make sense with a specific character or characters, you should consider making it a Goal instead, which we will discuss next time.


I've said it before and I'll say it again: TSSSF if a game about shipping ponies. Hopefully this article has shed some light on how Ship cards figure into this paradigm, and given you some useful things to consider when designing your own Ship cards. As always, you can ask us questions on Twitter, Email, Discord, and our Forums. Join us next time, when we will conclude our discussion of card types with Goal cards!