These puppies looked amazing at GenCon 2006, and the only reason I didn’t buy any then was because they’re collectible.
Tokkens are just plain cool, and your players will love using them — but random packaging and poor use of space hurts their utility as a GMing tool.
Let’s go a bit deeper — here’s an in-depth, hands-on review of Tokkens from a GM’s perspective.
For this review, I looked at an unopened Treasure Brick containing 25 Tokkens, plus another 75 or so loose Tokkens (which arrived in two deck cases), from Volume 1 of 4, First Edition. Volume 1 includes magic items 1-400 of 1,600 total.
The first thing you’ll notice about Tokkens is that they’re made of metal — this is one of the coolest things about them, and it’s hard to convey just how nifty they are to hold. They’re the size of trading cards, which means that they should fit into standard-size sleeves, binder pages and deck cases just fine.
The edges of each card are curved back in on themselves, and the corners are rounded, so there are no sharp bits for you to cut yourself on. This gives each Tokken a flat front surface and a slightly inset back surface (adding an interesting tactile element), but still allows them to be stacked neatly.
The front of each card is divided into three sections. Full-color artwork of a d20 System magic item takes up the majority of the card, with a narrow band of black down the right-hand side and a narrow band of white along the bottom (holding the d20 System logo and the Fantasy Mint logo, respectively).
The artwork is great — crisp, vivid and evocative. It’s a mix of hand-drawn and what appear to be CG pieces, both of which work well. None of the cards in my stash fell below average in the artwork department, and most were above average; there were several standouts.
Most d20 magic items are given cursory physical descriptions at best (with some exceptions), and this is where Tokkens really shine. I compared a few cards at random to their descriptions, and found that where details were available, the Tokkens artists captured them faithfully — and that where no details were provided, they improvised with excellent results. Hats off to Fantasy Mint for not stinting on art — it really shows, and you and your players won’t be disappointed with the results.
Most of the items are shown on a simple colored background (with a variety of colors), which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because it puts all of your focus on the item, but after you’ve looked at a handful of cards, it gets a bit dull. I wish the backgrounds had a bit more pizazz.
I understand the need to brand the cards individually, and the small band of white at the bottom does this without getting in the way — but the black bar on the side is a complete waste of space. It occupies roughly 1/6 of the card’s width, and the only thing on it is a tiny d20 System logo. Eliminating the black band and moving the d20 logo to the bottom of the card would have allowed the artwork to be slightly larger.
The back is broken down into three bands. The top band lists the card’s rarity, the item’s gp value and the item’s description. On every Tokken in my review stock, this description was incomplete — more on this below. Under the description is a silver (unpainted) band with the Tokkens logo on it, and below that is a pointer to the item’s full description on the Tokkens website, along with licensing and copyright information.
I find the use of space on the back of each Tokken irritating. Setting aside the licensing information, which is a necessary evil, the other two bands could be handled better.
The middle band — the unpainted one bearing the Tokkens logo — is visually appealing, but takes up too much space. If it were narrower, or if the logo were moved to one edge and the description were allowed to flow around it, the designers could have included more information in the top band — the item’s description, which is the second most important thing on the card after the artwork.
The item descriptions fall into two varieties: almost blank, and partially complete. Weapons and armor are all in the first category: the item’s name and properties are listed, and nothing else. So for full plate, +5 of etherealness, that’s all you get — no AC, no armor check penalty, no summary of the etherealness property. That will be enough for some players, but why not put the empty space to use?
The other types of item (wondrous, rings, etc.) all include partial descriptions. I sampled three cards at random, and each of them listed the opening few lines of the item’s description from the SRD, followed by “…[more]” — how much more, of course, varied by card. Just below the Tokkens logo is an instruction to search the Tokkens website for the full description, using a unique card code that’s provided.
That’s a good fix for longer items, where there’s no chance of being able to squeeze the full description into a few square inches. But for shorter descriptions, it’s irksome — doubly so for weapons and armor, where a short summary would come in very handy.
Being made of painted tin, I was curious how durable my Tokkens would be. I stored them in deck cases until I was ready to write this review, and shuffled around a small stack of them while I was writing.
The paint is surprisingly durable — it’s easy to scrape it off with something sharp, but normal wear and tear is likely to produce only small scuffs. A good analogy would be the glossy cover of a paperback book in the bookstore: after it’s been on the shelf for a little while, you can tell it’s not brand spanking new, but what little damage it shows doesn’t detract from its overall appearance.
In addition, the paint itself seems to be coated or treated in some way. So most of the scratches and marks I made on my Tokkens were on that coating, not the paint itself — which meant that the artwork stayed intact and clear.
If you treat your Tokkens like trading cards, they should be fine. (In fact, being metal means that their corners don’t ding up nearly as easily as trading cards, which is nice.) Bend them in half or store them with heavy things, and you’re screwed — pretty much what you’d expect, in other words.
Cost and Distribution
Tokkens are collectible, so they’re sold in sealed packages — you don’t know what you’re going to get before opening the package. The pricing breaks down as follows (in U.S. $):
- Treasure Pack of 5 Tokkens, 1 worth 9,000 gp or more: $3.19
- Treasure Brick of 25 Tokkens (5 packs), 1 worth a minimum of 25,000 gp: $15.95
- Treasure Display Box: 125 Tokkens, 1 worth at least 60,000 gp: $79.75
I accidentally mixed one of my five Treasure Packs into the pile of loose Tokkens, so I can’t evaluate the whole Brick in terms of duplicates — but when I opened the other four packs, I didn’t get any doubles. That seems pretty good to me.
Like all collectible products, of course, if you’re after something specific you’re either going to need to buy lots of packs, trade with your friends or buy singles (which are available online, and possibly elsewhere; the online prices I saw were outrageous).
It’s worth noting that potions and scrolls are included individually, not lumped together. This means each one gets its own artwork, which is very cool, but also that quite a few of your Tokkens are going to be single-use items.
That’s a plus because handing a player a card representing her PC’s potion is a great way to manage one-shot items (when she uses the potion, she gives the card back), but it’s a minus if you’re not going to buy enough Tokkens to build up a good stash of both permanent and one-shot items — in which case the potions and scrolls might feel like a waste of space.
I would have preferred more consistency in the distribution of items. Personally, I don’t care nearly as much whether or not I get enough rare (as in card rarity) cards or valuable (as in gp value) items, I care about having a variety of weapons, wondrous items, rings and so forth. Even if the random element was preserved, it would be nice to have the option of buying, say, a Treasure Pack that was entirely weapons, or all wands, or that had a guaranteed number of each type of item.
Your players will love Tokkens. My D&D group’s GM got a Treasure Pack for his birthday, and we spent several minutes gleefully passing them around and admiring the artwork. I’m serious about the “gleefully” part, too — there’s just something cool about having little metal cards with pretty pictures on them, although it’s hard to quantify.
And the pictures are pretty. The artwork is consistently good, sometimes rising to the level of excellent, and the artists have done a great job of capturing each of the items. The art is unified enough to make all of the cards feel like they’re part of a set, but not so uniform in style as to be boring.
Tokkens are also a handy size — small enough to be easily stored and transported (and compatible with existing storage products, too), but not so tiny as to be frustrating to handle. Your players will have lots of options for keeping track of their Tokkens at the gaming table, from filing them in deck cases to just keeping a neat stack of cards next to their character sheets.
Taken in combination, the quality of the artwork and the cool factor of the metal cards make Tokkens unique among gaming accessories — there’s nothing out there quite like them.
Poor use of the limited space on the back of each card is a definite downside. The way item descriptions are handled makes Tokkens all but useless as self-contained tools — and if I heard them described as “Magic item cards with descriptions on the back,” I’d expect more in the way of a description.
I realize that it would have meant more work for Fantasy Mint, but to my mind Tokkens would be more useful if the description section included a truncated summary, rather than just printing the opening lines of the item’s SRD entry verbatim. Experienced players would be able to parse a good summary without referring to the rules, while novices could use the item’s code (or, more likely, the DMG) to find out all the details.
Being collectible is what really shoots Tokkens in the foot for me. To illustrate why, I’ll continue my example from above — my group’s D&D GM having gotten a Treasure Brick for his birthday. He got that pack of 25 Tokkens several months ago, and we’ve asked him when we’re going to get to use them on several occasions. Each time, he says that he doesn’t have any of the items our characters use, or anything that we’ve found since he got the packs.
Maybe he’d luck out with another Treasure Brick, and that $16 expenditure isn’t unreasonable — but there’s a good chance he wouldn’t luck out, too. This is what kept me from buying Tokkens at last year’s GenCon Indy, despite being excited about them: knowing I’d probably have to buy several Bricks to get enough items for a campaign.
From a GM’s Perspective
Taking into account the fact that while they technically offer descriptions of each item, Tokkens don’t really have item descriptions, I have to view them as more of a luxury than an actual GMing tool.
That’s not a bad thing, it just means that they don’t stand well on their own. With the DMG handy, or a nearby laptop where you can look up descriptions on the Tokkens website (or in an online SRD), you have the complete package: a nicely illustrated item with a full description. And since not all of the magic items in the DMG are illustrated — far from it, in fact — having the artwork is pretty nifty.
Lack of useful descriptions aside, Tokkens have two things going for them: great artwork, and the fact that they’re made of metal. The latter gives them an undeniable cool factor, while the former means that they’ll enhance your game — and in combination, those two elements mean that your players are very likely to enjoy using them.
Were I running a D&D game using Tokkens, I would abandon their connection to specific items, and just use them to represent the party’s most powerful, most significant items. I’d ignore the backs, and just let my players enjoy having metal cards to represent their favorite items. (In this role, I could also use them for any fantasy game, not just D&D.)
Which is why I view Tokkens as a luxury: you don’t need them to run a good game, but like all props they can make a good game even more fun for your players.
It’s worth briefly comparing Tokkens to Paizo Publishing’s comparable product: specifically, to a Hero’s Hoard Booster  from the GameMastery Item Cards line. Like Tokkens, the GameMastery cards depict magic items, with a very brief description on the back.
Unlike Tokkens, Paizo’s cards are cardboard, feature more vibrant artwork and do not represent specific magic items. Instead, each card illustrates one example of a type of item — a cool magic sword, for example — and has room for notes on the back. The artwork is in a very different style, more detailed than Tokkens, but comparing them is a bit of a toss-up: both are excellent. (Overall, I prefer the style of the GameMastery artwork.)
Paizo’s cards edge out Tokkens in graphic design (their fronts aren’t bland at all), and they’re also cheaper: $3.49 U.S. for a pack of 11 random cards ($41.88 for a box of 12 packs, 132 cards), and you’re guaranteed a card or two from each basic group (weapons, armor, rings, etc.). That seems like a better distribution than the more random approach used by Fantasy Mint.
The big difference is that Tokkens are metal, and GameMastery cards are not. That’s a hard difference to underestimate, too, as the metal cards are much cooler than cardstock cards — they feel special somehow, and I can see a player viewing a Tokken as a reward and a GameMastery card as more of a tool.
Should I Buy Them?
If you want to use Tokkens to represent every magic item carried by your D&D party, I recommend them — with the understanding that you’re going to need to spend quite a bit of money to build up a good stockpile. Even then, with only 400 of 1,600 items produced so far, you’re very likely to be missing some items that you need.
On the other hand, if you don’t like collectible products in general, or are turned off by the idea of not being able to use many of your Tokkens as intended (either because you can’t afford to buy every item you need, or because you want complete descriptions), give Tokkens a miss. As cool as they are, their downsides are going to bug you. Assuming the collectible aspect doesn’t turn you off of them as well, you’ll probably get more mileage out of Paizo’s GameMastery cards.
If you want to use Tokkens as I suggested above — as physical representations of the PCs’ most important items (ignoring the descriptions) — then you should absolutely pick up a Treasure Brick or two. For $15.95, you’re buying something that your players will enjoy: nifty props that will enhance your campaign.
Have you used Tokkens in your campaign? What did you think of them? After reading my review, is there anything else you’d like me to cover?