tl;dr: You do some roleplaying, and then make a card about it. Your opponent does the same, and judges you for some points out of 10. You judge them, and the cycle rinses and repeats.
If the idea of roleplaying via card design interests you in more detail:
Battle Boards is a forum roleplay game that takes place on The Arena: a vast, uncharted plane, used long ago by powerful planeswalkers so as not to destroy their own planes. Many planeswalkers still find themselves here, some in search of combat or adventure, others looking for a quiet life among the plane’s scattered villages, though how quiet can such a life be, with planeswalkers everywhere?
Make your Board! To start playing Battle Boards, you need to create a Board (akin to a profile or character sheet) that describes the Planeswalker you are going to be playing as. This can be as long or as short as you want, but like your typical pen and paper RPG, there are some basic stats you will need to have filled out.
Art by Milivoj Ćeran Color Identity: Multicolor Level: 2 Mana Value: 3 Card Types: Artifact, Creature Keywords: Battalion Perk: Rarity Upgrade (Can make :rare: and :mythic: cards) Can Conjure From: All Core Sets, Throne of Eldraine
While a more developed profile might look like this:
Originally a warrior from the Mardu clan of Tarkir, Atlani was skilled in many forms of combat even before beginning her trek across the Multiverse, where she's garnered a small reputation for slaying the biggest beast she can find.
Atlani can easily be found scouting out a location for a guildhall, relaxing in a tavern, or resting at camp.
The sentient blade in Atlani's hand, created by a powerful planeswalker centuries ago. Communicates with Atlani telepathically; is capable of making his wielder stronger and faster.
Selem can be found in the sheath on Atlani's belt.
Colors: Multicolor Level: 2 Mana Value: Card Types: Artifact, Creature, Instant, Sorcery, Planeswalker Keywords: Cycling, Raid Perks: Rarity Upgrade (Atlani can make " style="max-width:100%;"] and " style="max-width:100%;"] cards) Artificer (Atlani can make Equipments, Fortifications, Vehicles, and Contraptions)
Mana Pool: 20/20 Call for Aid: Core + Kaladesh + Dragons of Tarkir + Fate Reforged + 3 unspecified
At the very least, your character should have a name and preferably an image to go along with it. MSE rules apply for artist credit, as always.
Now, a character is not much without some skills or abilities to describe what they do, so you are probably thinking “What can I buy to represent my abilities?” First, let’s cover a list of things you can do without buying anything:
You can make custom Magic: The Gathering cards. Said cards will represent interactions with other players. What you can make is limited by the skills you have. We’ll get to that in a moment, but keep in mind at the start, you technically can’t make anything until you buy type mastery (or a perk) for at least one type of card.
The full range of things you can buy is described in the main rules, but for starting out, you should know that you start with 10 skill points and can buy the following things for 1 skill point each. You also get some “freebie skills” at the start to give you a starting point to make cards.
Those skills are: • You can make colorless cards. • You yourself start with a mana value of 0. This means you can make cards of maximum mana value 0. • You can make cards using the evergreen keywords in Magic. • You can make cards that are Common or Uncommon. • You can make tokens for any kind of card to represent an appropriate effect. Generally, the tokens can be of any type, P/T, mechanics, or name you’d like, including existing tokens like Gold, Clues, and Food. You are free to make tokens featuring keywords you don’t ‘have’, but try to keep it appropriate for the situation.
As a rule of thumb, whatever you’ve bought lets you use that property on cards the character can make. So if I bought access to White mana, I can now put White mana symbols on my cards. • A color symbol. (1 of )
This lets you put the color symbol you’ve brought on any cards you make.
• Adding 1 to your color identity level.
You start with a color identity level of 1. For each color identity level you have, you can add one mana color of mana symbol in the card’s mana cost or text box. So for example, if I have a color identity level of 3, I can make cards that use WBR mana symbols, UR mana symbols, or G mana symbols. I cannot make cards that use WBRG mana symbols.
• Increase mana value by .
Your mana value stat determines the maximum mana value of cards you can make. For example, if I have a mana value of 7, I can make a card that costs 6U.
• Add a type mastery. (1 of artifact, creature, enchantment, instant, land, tribal, planeswalker or sorcery.)
Much like mana symbols, this lets you put the type you’ve brought on the cards you can make. There are some side effects to buying certain types as a result of Battle Boards’ and MTG’s various developments: If you can make Planeswalkers, you can make them Legendary without any worries. If you can make Creatures, you are able to use creature subtypes (e.g. Ape) Due to their generally minimal presence, buying Instant or Sorcery means you can also use Trap or Arcane subtypes. (For more ‘important’ subtypes, see main rules.)
• Unlock an existing non-evergreen keyword or mechanic, or create a new keyword or mechanic. You may choose to make a new type of non-canon token you're creating canon for yourself. (E.g. Making a Clue-like token called Vial.)
• Unlock a perk. These are abilities that affect the combat flow of Battle Boards or aspects of cards not covered by the above list, such as making Rare of Mythic cards.
This pretty much covers keywords and ability words like Phasing or Battalion that you would normally see on cards. Same applies here - if you own it, you can put it on the card’s text box.
(You can make un-keyworded versions of these kinds of effects if you’d prefer not to buy a certain keyword - Battle Boards allows for some flexibility when it comes to staying in character.)
There are five main “gameplay actions” one can take in addition to any roleplaying done during a post: Attacking, Gifting, Defending, Assisting, and Conjuring.
Attacking and Gifting
If you start an interaction on someone else’s board, you are either attacking or gifting. This means that you can make any card you like that is within the rules of what your character can make. Rule of thumb is to have the card you make be related to the roleplay going on, though this isn’t necessary. Make clear in your post whether you are attacking or gifting: while this has no effect on what you’re doing, it will affect how the defender responds. If you make a follow-up attack, you will rate the card sent by the defender out of 10. The defender will gain that much Valor and that much Score.
If someone else posts on your board, you will be defending. In order to defend, make a card that responds to the card that has been sent to you. If it’s an attack, try to counter it, e.g. make something like Naturalize in response to an enchantment, or a bigger creature in response to a creature. If it’s a gift, try to enhance it, i.e. a helpful Aura in response to a creature, or something like Raise Dead in response to a spell that mills. You will rate the cards sent by the attacker out of 10. They will gain that much Valor and that much Score.
If you see that two other characters are fighting and want to step in to help, there are two options: If you want to help the attacker, you will be regarded as a second attacker, see the Attacking and Gifting section. The defender will rate your cards, you will not rate cards. If you want to assist the defender, make a card as though you were defending. The attacker will rate your cards, and you will not rate cards. If there is more than one attacker, whoever attacked first will rate your cards.
Conjuring is unique in that it should be done in addition to another action. Conjuring can be used to combine the card you make with another, and lets you ignore character restrictions for the card you’re conjuring.
Characters begin with the ability to Conjure from any Core Set. At every 100 Score the character attains, the player may unlock the ability to conjure from an additional set. In addition, players may spend 50 Valor to unlock an additional set from which they can conjure. Masterpieces from each set (Expeditions, Inventions, Invocations, etc) are considered a separate set; in other words, if you want say, Kaladesh Inventions and Aether Revolt, those cost 100 Valor. Mythic Editions are considered separate sets. You are responsible for managing your free unlocks accordingly. If a player wants to unlock a set created by another user on MSE or some other website, they may do so, provided the set is linked (your opponent has to be able to know what card you’re conjuring). Good and bad usage of Conjure can and should be reflected in the rating an attacker/defender gives the conjurer.
“But Zephyr, what am I getting from interacting with other players?” Well, how does cold, hard, (in-universe) cash sound to you?
Whenever you Attack, Defend, Gift, or Assist, someone will rate your card out of 10. When they do, you gain that much Valor and that much Score.
Valor is similar to EXP, in that you use it to unlock more skills, and can be traded as a currency for various ingame services or objects (usually established by players.) . 100 Valor can be used to buy 1 Skill point, which can be spent to do anything done in character creation.
Score is used to keep track of how much Valor has been earned across a character’s life. At 500 Score (or 300 if it’s your first character) you can reincarnate, casting your character aside and making a new one. While your first character started with 10 skill points, your next might start with more, depending on what achievements they earned. Achievements are granted for various reasons. Some are for spending skill points (have access to all 5 colors, master all card types, etc.), some for not spending points (have only one color, have only one mastery), others are for coming up with new things, and some are meant to be challenge runs. See the Achievements section of the main rules for the full list.
This section covers the more flavorful/less mechanical aspects of Battle Boards that more technical questions might miss.
Is there an established setting?
Not really. The plane is called “The Arena”, with the ‘base’ plane being sparsely populated (because the original intention was to be a safe zone for planeswalker fighting - that has changed in the years the game has developed.) The plane is currently sparsely populated with a few villages (I think all the "NPCs" are human), and that it's currently early winter (and parts of the Arena are cold enough to get snow) There's no map, and the only specific locations are ones that players have come up with. It's been described as "there is what you need there to be." i.e. no one really knew or cared whether there were oceans on the Arena until someone started playing as a pirate, and decided there were seas worth sailing in.
Otherwise, it’s a virtually infinite plane that can have whatever you want on it (within reason - there’s a difference between having a chunk of the plane on fire, and having the entire plane on fire.)
If you want a more controlled space/plane/area to operate in, parallel Nyx-like dimensions are fair game.
Any restrictions or requirements on characters?
Not really. We've had robots, cats, humans, at least one angel etc. Basically, if you can planeswalk, you’ve got carte blanche. It’s recommended that you write some description of who you are regardless - this is an RPG, the more we know about your character, the better!
If you’re not a planeswalker - you would either need a way to get to the plane (e.g. Kaladesh style portals), or write some kind of backstory about living in some region of The Arena. Feel free to exploit the infinite nature of the plane for this purpose.
What's motivating characters?
That’s entirely up to you. We're all being motivated by our own characters’ motivation. For example, PWW’s character Altani is here because she knows there are planeswalkers here and wants to fight them to get stronger. Other characters are here for economic, diplomatic, and exploratory reasons. No external force of the game is motivating characters. Sometimes people will have more than one "character" using the same "stat block", because they'll be playing as both a character and an "antagonist" for that character, which makes it easier to start conflict, though there's enough stuff going on that it's easy enough to end up involved in an interesting conflict.
How should you make/judge cards?
If you're attacking, then make whatever card you want. It's usually easier if the card you make has something to do with the roleplay of the attack (I teleported away, so the card I make returns a creature to my hand), but that's a suggestion more than a rule. If you're defending, then make whatever card you want, but it should interact with the card you're being attacked by. (I'm being attacked by a creature so I'm defending with a kill spell).
The only hard rule judging follows is that it’s always out of 10 points, but it’s generally advised to form your judging criteria around the same kind you would use for a forum game. For example,
“A well balanced but boring card like Grizzly Bears would get an 8, and then I'd give more points for being interesting and take points away for being poorly made. I think of it like grading in school.” How to make sure your character fits in?
Well, keep in mind that you’re generally playing a character in the context of Magic: The Gathering, and thus you probably want a semi-plausible character that would exist there. You certainly can make breaks from the lore (e.g. Planeswalking Angels), but your typical ‘flavor’ should be something you would convincingly accept at a tabletop roleplaying session.
If you’re going to make a silly or less plausible character, you can either go one of two routes:
1) Ground it within the typical fantasy feel and make it work. This is the route people usually take, for example, an ant character that is a Grist-style hivemind of ants, or a mostly sci-fi character that is from a plane with a different color of mana and more technologically advanced than other planes. Both of these are real character concepts that have been used by other people.
2) Own it, buy the Jester Perk (1 skill point), and be a silver border character. You should still be “tasteful” about your humor or non-fitting-ness (think about how more recent Un-Sets try to balance good mechanical design and unusual flavor), but if you have a convincing theme (e.g. Your character is a time-traveler that has cards constantly affect the next game.), you should be able to make it work.
In general, talk things out with the people you play with if you’re not sure about something, similar to Commander games. As long as you communicate what you’re doing and are willing to improve it, you should be able to make things work.
What if I want to organize a larger event using the Battle Boards System?
Generally, some kind of group thread is organized or created as demand for these events rises, and falls back to obscurity when it’s no longer needed. By default, the Tavern serves as the default thread to post on to organize group-based battle board activities, with the thread going into detail about previous types of events that have happened in the past.
At the end of the event, each player rates the event organizer (10 x number of card design rounds) ÷ number of participants, rounded off to the nearest whole number. The organizer gains that amount in Score and Valor.
It is generally recommended to award a Trophy to the winner of the event. This trophy can be purely cosmetic or have a minor effect like creating a 0/1 token each fight for free.