Designing a Card Game

Alright. Wow. That’s about all I can say with respect to the current US political situation. Wow. WE have some serious problems. Most of them are in congress and senate. There’s a loud one in the white house. So toxic and loud.

A FEW YEARS AGO IN A STRANGE PLACE CALLED *COUGH*

I have been working on a card game on and off for about 2 years. The first idea of this hit me when I was reading The Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell. Campbell’s descriptions of the space combat were engaging and provoked a creative response – I instantly started filling quadrille composition notebooks with diagrams and relationship structures for a card-based game that would simulate two fleets passing, or at least in my head it did. I had a good outline of something. Not a game. But a concept to build a game around. Sort of like bones that needed to become a skeleton to actually function together. I spent several months drawing different ideas. I had at the time no working title (I called it the Very Lost Fleet game as a joke). It has since been named Clash. We’ll see how long that sticks, and its probably already copyrighted. Might have to spell it funny, like Klash, or Claash, or Clasch, or something even more stupid. I’ll have to work at it.

HIT A SNAG, START ANOTHER PROJECT

SO, I had pages of notes. I distilled what I had to a few pages of diagrams and relationships, values, ideas I wanted to include, and put it aside for a time.

Then I started a big board game project that I am affectionately calling TUCA (Total Utter Complete Annihilation) which is basically a 4X game in a fantasy setting at the dawn of the discovery of a powerful new fuel: Slick (heavy handed much?). The game has a lot of stuff I want to include. The combat is card driven, with a rock-paper-scissor structure at its core. And there is a set amount of slick in the game world, and after set amounts of Slick is used to do things in the game, an Apocalypse strikes, and radically shifts the game rules and environment. All while you are fighting over territory, setting up mining operations, building forts, and other stuff in the terrain between city-states.

So yeah, another project entirely. Then I got to a point where it needs a big shift in thinking to get to the next playtest phase. TUCA is as of this writing about 30% something like a board game that I might want to play, which is basically the baseline for my even creating a game.

BACK TO CLASH

After getting through a few playtests of TUCA’s combat card mechanic, I had the ideas needed to make Clash a possibility. So I went to work. About 10 revisions and 4 months later, I have two working prototypes. It plays in the manner I envisioned it, and has a variety interwoven structures all in a rock-paper-scissor style format. The game revolves around forcing your opponent to discard cards until they don’t have enough to play the next round. It is possible to have both players lose.

Game Structure

The fleet cards are double valued, and are spun 180-degrees to change their ‘facing’ value which is the side of the card facing your opponent’s fleet card. Each player will have 12 cards (6 sets of pairs) for a basic game, or 18 cards (1 additional advanced card per pair) for an advanced game. Both game modes are encouraged to use Leader and Location cards, but its not necessary.

Game Play

Each round starts with both players (its a two player game) choosing and laying out four cards from their hand, face-down, in a row along the game placard. Then players reveal their first card, enact any card text if applicable, and make adjustments to your formation cards as per the rules in play. After all cards are revealed, the fleets “pass” each other for their attack run, and you deal damage to each other’s formation cards, and any tactics in play may or may not deal damage to your opponent’s hand of cards directly. Each move has a counter. Each counter, an exception. Every hit to your hand makes you lose a card. Every Formation card with a losing value (rock beats scissors, or bigger rock beats smaller rock) is also discarded. As you lose cards, you lose access to your tactics and your fleet’s ability to fight shifts, pushing you closer to defeat.

The game play should feel tense as you start losing things. New players should feel

TAKING IT FOR A SPIN

I will be heading to a FLGS to playtest this in a couple Wednesdays, and get some feedback. I know it needs refinement, but I need minds outside mine to see it and play with the system I’ve assembled to expose its weaknesses to me. And whether its even fun or not, which may depend entirely on taste. This is a direct conflict game, as best as I can manage to make right now, and that doesn’t always appeal to everyone’s sensibilities, especially with board gaming as diverse as it is. I have a particular taste in games, and most board games don’t come close to modeling that experience. They model different ones, but not what I enjoy burning my brain on (Quantum and Kemet and Inis to name a few).

I hope it works as its suppose to, or maybe works in a really different way (which would be very cool as well). Hopefully folks will show up to try it out.

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What I played, Thoughts on Uchronia, and Inspiration

WHAT I PLAYED THIS WEEK

I had an opportunity to play Uchronia recently (a well-designed card game, by the maker of Glory to Rome, Carl Chudyk), with a great friend and a favorite adversary, Christian. Both of us have only a couple games of Uchronia under our belts, and most of them have been played with each other. I had picked up the game during Christmas, and was immediately excited about the streamlined mechanics from Chudyk’s previous card game, Glory to Rome. Both games share a lot of similarities, but Uchronia is its own beast, and a damn fine direct competition game. I mention my buddy because he is one of those gamers I enjoy delving into a new game with. He’s is a gracious winner, unafraid of losing, loves to try new things and test interesting ideas, and always learns from sessions he plays. I often think about how a game environment is a vulnerable space, and a great place to fail in. He helps create such environments.

I played about 5 games of Uchronia from last Friday through Monday. Christian played in three of them, and each game we tried out new facets of the game, and got to see some incredible synergy bonuses become not as useful, and more subtle ones becoming much more important in tighter games. After I taught Christian the game about three weeks ago, we have been chomping at the bit to play again and again. A real fun sandbox for shifty, fluid minds. I knew I was going to really enjoy playing this game when Christian pointed out how it reminded him of the parsed out mechanic in Ascending Empires (I shall write of the Cult of Ascending Empires, but at a later time). I will be getting at least one game in this Friday, and I can’t wait to sink in again.

INSPIRATION – PLAYING TO WIN

I enjoy seeing what happens when an adversary knows they have the upper hand, and how that manifests in the game environment. Victory is an awesome thing to watch – either your own or an adversary’s. The losing position is a fragile place to be, and I admit I have acted poorly as a loser and poorly as a winner. I think we have all been there – its not a great head space.

Its a brutal thing to accept failure, but its so worthy of doing – because doing so usually shuts up that gnawing beast of pride. And speaking only for myself, pride has only ever hinder my ability to learn important lessons in both victory and defeat. The more I experience good competition, the more I don’t believe that achieving victory means as much as seeking victory. Victory is a fleeting emotional thing – fun and exhilarating – but hollow without analysis. What is more important is playing to win. In fact, I linked to Sirlin.net in last week’s post, but utterly failed to express how important reading this has been. He talks about the importance of playing to win, and how it pushes the competition forward in new, interesting, and necessary ways. Again, the similarities to good competitive practices, such as within various disciplines of the martial arts, where adversaries are welcomed, and new ways of utilizing a set of moves pushes the collective forward.

AN EXAMPLE OF DIRECT COMPETITION – UCHRONIA (By Carl Chudyk)

So, WTF is Uchronia?! Uchronia is a very good example of a direct competition game. Players will compete to construct buildings for points, and acquire monopolies by further defining their actions within the game environment. Each component of the game is interwoven into the other components, creating a latticework of actions/consequences.

The play area has three basic parts:

  • The Forum, where resources are waiting to be taken into your stock or used to start buildings. Cards used as Actions are placed in the forum at the start of your turn – thus, cards only come into the Forum when they are used as actions.

  • The Domain (a placard that you play from, with the rules on it), where you place your ordered Action, and where you tuck cards as resources or activities, when directed.

  • The Draw/Discard piles, where players draw new cards, and where cards get discarded when buildings are started, or buildings are finished.

Each card has three basic uses: Activity, Action, or Resource (will explain shortly)

Your personal play area consists of several locations of note:

  • Buildings Under Construction are placed to the left of your Domain

  • Buildings Complete are placed to the right of your Domain, and associated text and victory points

  • The Stock (bottom of Domain) is where you tuck cards as Resources

  • Activities (top of Domain) is where you tuck cards as Activities – this is what gives you the ability to do MORE stuff in the game environment.

  • Your Hand, which is where you hold your cards you haven’t played.

Most turns will require the players to order one Action from their hand to manipulate the game environment.

  • Production. Tuck a card from the Forum into your Stock. Take +1 card from the Forum for each matching Activity.

  • Exploration. Tuck one card from your Hand into your Stock. Tuck +1 card for each matching Activity.

  • Draconians. Show one card from your Hand, then tuck one card of this type from the forum to your stock; in addition, each player who has a card(s) on their Domain must give a card of the same type from his hand, if possible. Show and take one additional card for each matching Activity.

  • Trade. Take one resource in your Stock and ‘launch’ it as an Activity. Launch +1 card for each matching Activity. (Activity limit is 2 + X, where X is the number of completed Buildings).

  • Construction. Start a new building (by discarding a matching color resource from the Forum) or transfer a resource from your Stock to a building in progress. Repeat for each matching Activity.

WHY I LIKE UCHRONIA

The card drawing mechanic seems to affect all players equally as playing cards fuels the Forum. The context of the game changes, and so must the players adapt as best they can. The point gain actions are parsed out over several staging actions. However, the staging actions can be used aggressively to control the game environment, and deny resources to other players. Its a game where the environment is in flux, and the players must keep up and outthink adversaries. Because the point gain actions are parsed out, there is a rhythm to the game. This rhythm is strictly defined by the players’ actions, and those show you their possible future actions. As such, you can attempt to block an adversary’s future moves by reading the sequence of actions they are performing. Uchronia allows several avenues to this end, and their usefulness varies depending on the current game environment.

And I haven’t even delved into all the functions that come online when you finish construction of a Building. Each building gives you either an immediate benefit, or a new exploit of some kind (usually a bonus when using a specific Action, or modifications to the Draconian/Trade actions). And your number of completed buildings directly increases your Activity limit (2+buildings completed). Your power grows the more your build it and the more activities you have. And how you leverage it depends solely on your ability to exploit the synergy of bonuses, and with the good timing.

As the game doesn’t immediately end when a player hits the victory point threshold (20 pts in 2 Player, 18pts in 3 player, and 16 pts in 4 player, and 14 pts in 5 player), but instead the game plays forward until the holder of the Last Turn card plays the final turn of the game. This is important for two reasons – hitting the Victory Point threshold doesn’t mean you win. You must STILL have more points than your adversaries (ties go to the player with the most buildings constructed).

The second part requires explanation of a vital part of the game, which are Monopolies. When a player has tucked the most of one type of Activity (e.g., 3 Production), they get the Production Monopoly (cheers! have a pint on you!). While you hold the Production Monopoly card, you get an extra +1 Victory Point for each Activity of matching type (e.g., 3 Production Activities would net 3 Victory Points). Here’s the sitch you and all the other players are in – these Monopolies will move instantly when a player exceeds the amount of Activities you have, plus one. So, in our 3 Production example, your adversary could claim the Production Monopoly with 4 Production Activities. That means the new Production Monopoly holder would gain +4 Victory Points (for 4 Production), and the player who had until recently held the Monopoly would LOSE 3 Victory Points. In this way, the holder of the Last Turn card has some unique advantages, if you can stay close enough to steal someone’s Monopolies at the last minute. Proof that the game isn’t OVER until its actually OVER.

I have played 2, 3, and 4 player games. I have had the most fun in 2 player games, but Draconians are very fun in games with 3 and 4 players. In short, Uchronia is a fun, chewy card game. It can be a pain to teach to less engaged people (choose your adversaries well!), but with the right individuals, it is a great game to sink your mind into.