Contributions

Parts of Magic that are all my fault.

Creating a game or product like Magic: the Gathering is, without question, a team effort. There are parts that are primarily from one person (the design from Richard Garfile, the look from Jesper Myrfors), but everybody at the company had a chance to throw ideas out and bounce things around, and a lot of the final result is fairly evolutionary. However, there are a couple of phrases and details that I can point to as things that I specifically contributed to the game.

“Summoning Sickness”

(prob. January or February of 1993) When Richard was first explaining the game to us at Wizards, with a handful of little white prototype cards, one of the more confusing bits was how when you played a creature, you couldn’t use it right away, as opposed to a land card or enchantment or, well, pretty much anything else.

“Aha,” I said. “So when you summon a creature, it’s got sort of a ‘summoning sickness,’ and needs a turn to recover before you can make it do anything that would tap it?”

“Yea, like that,” Richard replied.

“Flavor Text”

(March 1993) When we first started laying out Magic cards, some of them, especially creature cards, had blank boxes where the text would go. The Craw Wurm, for example, just needed the “6/4” in the lower right corner. There was no “Flying” or “{B}: Regenerates” to keep the text box from looking lonely and abandoned. I have no idea who’s idea it was to make something up about the creature to put in the box, but it was an excellent solution.

At first, we were calling that non-functional text “color text,” as in color commentary for a sporting event. Merriam-Webster has this definition for color: “analysis of game action or strategy, statistics and background information on participants, and often anecdotes provided by a sportscaster to give variety and interest to the broadcast of a game or contest.” That’s what it was for, after all, to add ‘variety and interest’ to the cards. The problem was that calling it ‘color text’ was kind of confusing, because we also had to talk about the colors of mana; ‘color text’ could also mean mana symbols. So one day I proposed that we should call the incidental italiziced filler text that we were adding “flavor text” instead of “color text.” Our lead editor Beverly, who was the person who had to wrangle all the text, thought that was a fine idea, and the two of us switched over to the new terminology, dragging the rest of the company along with us.

To my great amusement, and I think as a testament to just how profound an effect Magic has had on the game industry, “flavor text” is now a Wikipedia entry.

The Tap Symbol

(around October 1993) Alas, not the current “rectangle with arrow” symbol, but the previous one, the “tilted T”. However, since I also came up with the idea of a tap symbol, I’m still going to include this.

Magic historians and rabid fans know that the first edition (“alpha” and “beta”) Magic cards said “Tap to...”, as on, for example, an Island card: “Tap to add {blue mana symbol} to your mana pool.” Some artifacts required that you tap them as well, but they didn’t say “Tap to....” Instead, there were “Mono Artifacts” and “Poly Artifacts.” You had to tap mono artifacts.

On the other hand, we did have the “cost: benefit” notation, but only for mana costs. “Helm of Chatzuk” was a mono artifact that said “{1}: You may give one creature the ability to band until end of turn.” Richard and I were trying to figure out a better way to explain mono and poly artifacts, and I realized that tapping was just another type of cost. “So why don’t we create a new symbol of some kind to put in the text block along with the mana costs that means ‘tap this card?’ Then we can just have ‘artifacts;’ mono artifacts will have tapping as a cost, poly artifacts won’t.”

And, for the record, the “tilted T” symbol was retired when we started making Magic in other languages. “Tapping,” when translated, doesn’t always begin with a T.

“Eurogame”

(1995) This last one isn’t actually about Magic: the Gathering, but it seems silly to make a whole separate web page for it. We were developing all kinds of games at Wizards, after all, not just Magic. The Great Dalmuti, Roborally, Jyhad, Everway, and more, as well as playing and discussing lots of published games.

One distinction in board gaming that was even more dramatic back in the mid-1990s was the difference between “German games” and “American games.” The problem (to me) was that “German game” didn’t mean a game in German, or even necessarily from Germany. “Ticket to Ride” was a “German game” even though it was from an American designer and first published in the USA. I felt calling something a “German game” sounded too much like something we’d have to sit down and translate the rules into English for, so I started thinking about what I could use as an alternative term. What I came up with was “eurogame.”

I quickly found that this worked perfectly. If I told somebody who knew the term “German game” that Carcassone was one of my favorite ‘eurogames,’ they knew right away what I meant. If I was talking to somebody who didn’t know the term ‘German game,’ then ‘eurogame’ didn’t mislead them into thinking I was telling them that the game under discussion had been imported from overseas.

I’m 99% certain that I first used the term after we’d moved into the “new headquarters” south of I-405, which means sometime between late 1994 and December 1995. Merriam-Webster’s reference archives had their first known use of the term in 2008; the earliest reference I could locate was a UseNet posting from 1999. (Note: Merriam-Webster doesn’t have this word in their dictionary yet; I contacted them directly to find out what they had in their files, and ended up chatting on the phone with one of the editors for fifteen minutes or so.) Admittedly, it’s possible somebody else independently coined the term about the same time I did. I’d love to find an earlier verifiable use of the term, especially because the UseNet post that I ran down clearly uses it with the expectation that the reader is familiar with the term, so it’s almost certainly not the first time it had appeared in public.

So, can I prove I coined the term “eurogame?” No, not yet. I think the circumstantial evidence is pretty strong, though. Whether it spread because the research & development guys were using it when talking to other game designers, or I used it on Wizards’ mailing list discussion groups, or our customer service staff used it when demoing games at conventions, it certainly had plenty of opportunity to ‘get loose,’ and the explosive growth of Magic put Wizards at the epicenter of the hobby game world in the late 1990s, which meant an awful lot of gamers were paying an awful lot of attention to everything we did and said.

If, by the way, you happen to have any old posts or magazines or even a personal memory that might either support or contradict my theory, please do share! Either with me, with Merriam-Webster, or both. :) You can email me at “magic” @ the domain of this web site.