Bella Sara was first introduced to me by TV commercials of questionable quality. The production reminded me of those infomercials they run at 4a.m. when the world is asleep and I'm still up playing with Tinkertoys and watching Ron Jeremy hock penis enlargement pills. It was like Sailor Moon dolls all over again. A toy trying desperately to reach out for that margin of young females willing to be geek and proud. The kind of girls that spell girl "GRRL" and scrawl poetry into tiny little notebooks then clutch the book to their chest, sighing deeply in creative outpouring.
Knowing that girls take up a small portion of the gaming industry, let alone tabletop gaming, I was expecting surplus packs busting out of every store that carried cards. I took what I thought was the safe bet and dropped by my local comic book shop. Not a single Bella Sara card to be found. I had no more luck at Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Hobbytown, KayBee, Toys R Us, or Target. After 3 hours of driving and several phone calls, I had to resort to Amazon. A few days later, 2 packs of series 1 and 2 from series 2 arrived in the mail.
The boosters have a few different images on the wrapping of the packs, each one a horse with various foil embellishments. Each pack has 5 game cards and an instruction card that provides different types of games to play and even some puzzles and trivia. One side of every instruction card gives directions for "Leonardo's Game" which in simplest form runs along the lines of Uno. Players match the shapes or number of shapes printed on the top of the card and the player to extinguish their deck first wins.
I was initially just intrigued, but as I peeled back that wrapper it transposed itself into obsession. They were my ponies, my handful of horses to have and to hold. Maybe it was the prospect of gathering a collection. Maybe I wanted to unleash them quickly and free them from their foil dungeon. Really, I just wanted to see what sort of unusual breeds I'd encounter. My expectations were surpassed. Here's some of the more interesting cards in my collection.
It seems Halloween isn't really a horse, she's the ghost of a horse. Hollie has a sheer white glow and loves oats, getting brushed, and devouring your soul to power her mane and tail levitation.
It's a dolphin. With a horse head. That is some crazy trippy shit right there. I can see seahorse and horsefly but horsphin? That's all kinds of horrifying, especially with bright violet hair.
Pedro is a donkey -- wait, WHAT? I understand a donkey is a part of the horse family, but it seems quite misplaced amongst the sleek dark stallions and shiny flower laden mares. This isn't The Small One, get long ears out of here.
Pants. This card.... is pants. Sadly, not all cards are pretty pretty ponies. Some are "energy" cards. I'm sure they have some significance in one of the games, but I have yet to figure it out. Maybe your can power up your horse with pants. I'm not sure. I tried entering the number online, but it doesn't put pants in your stable. Frankly, this card is a jip -- it doesn't even have a funny little saying like, "Go one leg at a time and soon you'll be ready to ride into the sunset."
This seahorse isn't just a flaming red, jeweled encrusted seahorse, it's a seaunicorn/pegasus. Look out underwater predators because this fierce fighter can spear straight through your belly from three feet away.
Series 1 of Bella Sara features mainly Earth ponies, whereas series 2 brought in the more magical forms such as the pegasus and the seahorse. They took on a more of an Amy Brown approach and some of the horses are ridiculously supernatural to the point of being the size of a hummingbird and having weird mermaid tails.
To arouse young women, each card has an inspirational saying printed on the bottom. The blurbs are perfect to use the old Chinese Fortune Cookie trick on and tack the words, "in bed," on the end. For instance, the cow-spotted horse Nanna's saying....
Think positively. Your happy thoughts will grow.
Think positively. Your happy thoughts will grow in bed.
Which is a brontazillion times more hilarious.
The most remarkable facet of Bella Sara is that each card has a unique serial code on it. You can log in to bellasara.com and register for an account. Automatically you'll be given your first horse, Peter. Then you can enter the codes on your cards to fill up a virtual stable of all your horses.
The horses all have the same stable room with the exception of the seahorses, who have tanks instead. The horses start out slightly deprived when you receive them, and it's up to you to brush and feed them as well as cleaning up their dirty hay. You can also click the horseshoe to sprinkle magical "Good Luck" sparkles on them.
Aside from grooming and force-feeding apples, there's a few games you can play online as well. One is Bella's Beauty Box, a dress-up game where you get a generic pony and top it off with all sorts of crazy accessories, hair styles, and backdrops. They also have a coloring book, jigsaw puzzle, and a few other four-legged time wasters.
The site itself has some problems, at least with me. Often when I load it in Firefox it won't log in all the way, and it crashes IE on a regular basis. My Little Pony wouldn't have that shit, they'd send the Rainbow of Light straight up its ass until it ran as smooth as butter over a hot piece of toast. It could just be me, it could be overloaded servers, but thankfully my horses won't die if I don't make kissy noises at them for a few hours.
Bella Sara is now my favorite collectible card game, topping my previous favorite, the Harry Potter CCG. If I were to pick up a deck of Magic The Gathering cards after not having played in several years, I doubt I'd remember much of what the rules were. With Bella Sara that's not the case, and even if I didn't know how to play, I'd still have a boatload of horses to oogle.