Announcements and Articles: The Gatehouse Quarter => Exilian Articles => Topic started by: rbuxton on April 22, 2019, 11:59:11 PM

Title: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: rbuxton on April 22, 2019, 11:59:11 PM
Permitted to gather wood - but for how long?
The Betrayal of the Card
By rbuxton

They’re the most important (or only) component in many games: randomisable, concealable, invertible, portable, rotatable, categorisable and packed with information. Cards have huge potential for a game designer, but my mechanics have always lacked something crucial. Take a look at these:

1. A combat system in which players use cards to increase their strength. Imagine a Risk variant in which the more cards you have, the more you can increase your die roll.

2. A second combat system in which strength is tied to how many action cards a player has used this round. Time your attacks for the end of the round for maximum effect.

3. A game in which “worker” pieces are placed on the board to collect resources. Some resources will be off-limits until you hold a certain number of cards.

Have you spotted it yet? I haven’t really told you what those cards do because it is largely irrelevant. Only the number of collected cards matters – I might as well use boring counters instead. My playtesters are also getting frustrated by a lack of interesting cards:

Does it matter what's on the other side?
“I completed my quest. What do I get?”

“You get a relic card!”

“Cool, which relic is it?”

“The relics are all identical, we only care about how many you’ve collected.”

“That sucks. Couldn’t it be a magical sword or something, which gives me new powers and makes everyone else afraid of me? Wouldn’t that be exciting?”

“…. I don’t do exciting.”

It’s a good point, but for now I’m preoccupied with something else: Decks. Decks are to cards what cubes are to squares: much more complex, but with many characteristics in common. I recently improved a deck by splitting it into three smaller decks, which had to be used up one after the other. I put the strongest cards in the final deck – this meant that there were no over-powered upgrades appearing early in the game.

This change also allowed me to improve game flow by categorising cards as “weak” or “strong”. If the weak version of a card was sitting unloved on the table, the strong card would eventually replace it. But there was another logical way of looking at this mechanic: perhaps the weak card was still present, it had simply evolved into the strong card.

So now we can imagine a new game in which weak cards are drawn early on, but bring with them a deck of two or three strong cards. Shuffle them up with your existing cards, draw them as the game progresses, control your deck so that the strong cards appear after the weak ones. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That’s right, watch this space for Pokémon, the Copyright Infringement Game...

Editor's note: You can read rbuxton's previous article, Game Design's Ultimate Challenge (https://exilian.co.uk/forum/index.php?topic=5748.0), here, which contains some of the mechanics discussed in this piece. All connected!
Title: Re: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: Jubal on April 27, 2019, 11:59:11 PM
I'm never sure how I feel about decks that run in phases like you have in the final part of the article - or at least, I feel like for me they demand some narrative logic. If we suddenly have a whole new bunch of possibilities (and don't have the old possibilities), then it feels to me like by and large something ought to have happened to explain that change that's more satisfying than "we're later in the game and you need bigger challenges now".

I think the general framing of card as counter vs card as information is a really interesting one though - makes me think of e.g. catan and the fact that there is little reason why that game shouldn't function with counters instead of cards for its resources. There's one reason I can think of, which is that it makes stealing cards simpler with the robber, as the victim of the theft just holds all the cards out face down for someone else to pick one, and that'd be harder to do with a counter system. So perhaps there are physicality elements like being shuffle-able that are important to consider that do give non-informational cards a reason to exist. I do see where your players are coming from re relics though - if someone says "this is some wood", I'm happy not to ask too many questions, but "you find a relic!" feels more narratively exciting and in a case like that it's good if the card helps the player with their mental storytelling about what's going on.
Title: Re: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: Clockwork on April 29, 2019, 09:23:11 PM

Why are cards good? In this instance they built a whole world with flavour text. So... Yeah I think sometimes it does matter what's on the other side. Just my 2c :)

P.S Yes I know I always post Colville but he's such a babe.

EDIT: Yes, also see MTG. But Legend of Five Rings is less well known :)
Title: Re: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: Jubal on April 29, 2019, 10:52:21 PM
Yeah, I've seen Colville's L5R video before, it's very very good. What I really like is the partial information aspect of the system. I really want to design a game sometime that properly leans into that idea, but the effort and time it would take really eludes me at the moment.
Title: Re: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: rbuxton on April 30, 2019, 09:17:15 PM
Jubal - Each of my decks is a different era in history - ancient, medieval etc - so that was the justification for splitting them up. I wondered if this would result in a sudden change in gameplay each time a new era was reached, but in fact the evolution of gameplay remained fluid. Catan is an interesting example, I think you're right the only purpose cards serve, besides practicality, is the ease with which they can be fanned out for a randomised theft. Another plus!

Clockwork - thanks for sharing the video, I really like the idea of new cards evolving out of gameplay. Great way to get the audience involved in the lore. I don't know L5R so I have to say I was picturing MTG for most of it, but I think I got the idea. Bringing out personality through mechanics as well as flavour text is really interesting. I've also been wondering about creating a Legacy game, in which each play through builds on the one before it mechanically and narratively (if that's a word), and using actual playtesting events to influence the plot. For example, if playtesters favoured a certain faction at one point in the design process, there could be a scenario in which that faction is dominant.
Title: Re: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: Clockwork on April 30, 2019, 09:25:05 PM
@Both Yeah I think I posted it in reference to another dev diary type post but reposted because I think here it's a nice additional point as to alternate ways to use cards as opposed to using counters.

@Jub Forgive my ignorance but what do you mean by partial information aspect?

@rbuxton Yeah you can very easily sub MTG for L5R with regards to lore-building :)... Personality through mechanics is (imo) what the tribes system from MTG is all about - i.e. You got an Elf leader, okay then, your elf cards get a boost. In addition to what you've said re:legacy, I think it would be a really interesting way to balance an iterative game (like MTG, hearthstone) whereby as one faction is played more, the lesser used factions get new decks of cards at a quicker rate because a) thematically they need to adapt to the dominant power and b) mechanically, likely the most used/winning faction is the most statistically powerful.
Title: Re: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: Jubal on April 30, 2019, 11:43:19 PM
Re partial information, I mean the aspect of giving some players some parts of a story, and others different ones, based on their factional allegiance, and requiring them to talk to find out the full picture. I think that's an extremely cool thing to do in storytelling and like Matt I'd really like to work out a way of doing it nowadays. It wouldn't necessarily just have to be faction either - like I could imagine doing a really cool thing where players signed up on a web system (to which they'd report their results) for different locations or battle theatres within a conflict, and then only got directly told the results in their area by the devs, with players having to pass things on by hearsay through the rest of their faction.
Title: Re: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: Clockwork on April 30, 2019, 11:56:27 PM
Ahhh okay, if you check out Adam Koebels DM turns for Far Verona (Stars Without Number system), there's that. 12? maybe factions each with their own discord server influencing the game being played at the table. There's battle theatres, economics, social maneuvering, politics etc. Like a game of diplomacy in the background, crowdsourced.
Title: Re: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: Jubal on May 03, 2019, 10:22:32 AM
Yeah, I guess that what all these things come down to is good, continual, DMing, even if you're sort of remote-DMing a grand campaign in a more strategic game. And that's a major reason why I shy away from trying this stuff myself, because the effort involved in that is immense.
Title: Re: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: Clockwork on May 03, 2019, 06:23:26 PM
Oh yeah it's his full time 9-5+ job. It would be a great thing to do with a host of DMs but then you're creating a monstrosity of a game and probably will end up managing that! :P
Title: Re: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: Jubal on May 03, 2019, 11:10:28 PM
In theory with a CCG or strategy grand campaign it's less work, because you're not having to narrate continuously for each player - instead, the players basically provide aggregate statistics and occasional anecdotes that you work into an ongoing story. But having a card/strat game with enough players to do that for is a hard enough starting point!
Title: Re: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: rbuxton on May 04, 2019, 10:50:27 PM
Hi both, I haven't quite managed to follow but this RPG your mentioning has reminded me someone who had, with a co-DM, run an entire roleplaying session for about 30 people in one room simultaneously. Somehow he managed to let the players be self sufficient, and he was mostly just referee. So maybe DMing on grand scale is not too much work if you plan it out right?

(Jubal - this was David from our old group)
Title: Re: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: Clockwork on May 06, 2019, 12:37:22 AM
Yeah this sort of thing is prevalent is the one-shots they do in MK (Milton Keynes, UK... I mean they probably do them in this style elsewhere but... ehhhh...) which are all apocalypse level events that the players go through and not all of them turn out to be on the side that's helping stop it. All epic from what I've heard though I've never been to one!
Title: Re: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: rbuxton on May 06, 2019, 04:13:56 PM
I know people who swear by this event, but I've never been myself https://www.profounddecisions.co.uk/empire;jsessionid=3lvi1oxie57x2v8jqjj8qr5g?0 (https://www.profounddecisions.co.uk/empire;jsessionid=3lvi1oxie57x2v8jqjj8qr5g?0)
Title: Re: The Betrayal of the Card
Post by: Clockwork on May 06, 2019, 07:58:38 PM
I have some friends who are dedicated LARP'ers and they have a blast with it! I think one has 5 separate LARP on atm?