Card Game Analysis (setting up for a new project).

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Card Game Analysis (setting up for a new project).

Postby Maugh » Fri Feb 14, 2014 12:59 pm

So, Aubrey and I have been kicking around concepts for a ccg-style game recently, so I wanted to break down some of the most engaging card games I have played, and look at what makes them interesting, and where their weaknesses lie. To be more specific, these are the obsessive card games, the ones that really grip the hind-brain and won't let go. By problem solving strengths and weaknesses, hopefully I can build my own little monster. =P.

1. Magi Nation.
It's no secret, this is our favorite game ever. (except maybe Mayhem, but that may be a toss-up.) but even as a darling, it had some major flaws.

Core Theme:
Childlike Magi, dueling with fantastic critters, equipping relic gear, and casting spells. When you break it down, this was the same theme as MTG, but the application was cleaner. Giving your magi a clear identity helped the theme a lot, and relics were things you normally equipped, rather than some object of power out in your collection somewhere. It was thematically stronger than MTG, which for us as an audience, was really important.

Mechancs:
Energy. The energy system meant that everything was about efficiency. In most scenarios, winning the game was just plain about being more efficient than your opponent in what you played. Once the game broke down to this level, it became fairly simplistic. The very technical-minded, (hergot and hawker,) actually lost interest in the game early on, because such as simple formula ran dry for them. Also. You basically used your character's life total to pay for spells and creatures, which was really bad. It meant that there was supposed to be a push and pull between committing resources and crippling yourself, but it never worked that way. Any decent strategy would dump all energy from your magi, which would weaken your position. It made the game really Swingy. Inversely, once you got a good buildup mechanic it was really hard to slow it down, making board-clearing tactics necessary. Board clearing tactics, then, were equally nasty, providing for some instant-kill combos that worked in nearly all situations.

Turn Structure.Also, the turn structure was meant to be elegant, but actually slowed the game down, with too many phases.

Region Compatability. Eventually, they got a little crazy with the 12 different regions, which is also a weakness. Their multi-region mechanic was ineffective, making it very hard to play multi-region decks, in most cases. This was a major problem. On that same note, they had a lot of great creature types, but there never seemed to be enough of each to build consistent theme-decks. They really needed to have enough small variations in their creature themes, but iwhtin a larger category, to build solid theme-decks. Ideally, you'd have enough to build several different varieties on the same theme, so that there was some choice as to which build to go with.

Strengths:
Artistic Style,
Clean Mechanics, for the most part.
Great Theme.

Weaknesses:
Energy Mechanic snowballed,
Paying for creatures with character life.
Long turns, due to complicated turn structure,
Game was way too long, most of the time.
Some broken combinations/mechanics, nowhere near enough playtesting.
Too many regions
Cross-region compatibility was sketchy.
Too many creature types. Not enough variation for each subtype.

More later. I'm going to be breaking down two or three different games on this thread.
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Re: Card Game Analysis (setting up for a new project).

Postby Maugh » Fri Feb 14, 2014 4:23 pm

2. Dominion

I don't care what anybody says, Dominion is a brilliant game. Yes, it ultimately had some weaknesses, but it had a really spectacular balance between depth in mechanics and elegance/speed in gameplay. If you watch experienced players run a round, it moves really, really quickly (most of the time,) and ends up looking like a ticking watch, all smooth motion and mechanical process.

What really makes that work, I think, has to do with limiting choices and actions. You get a number each round, through your draw, which basically tells you what you can buy. That limits your options to a couple of cards in that number, or if those aren't good options, to a few cards that are just a little bit cheaper.

Actions run similarly. You get one action, and you'll have maybe one or two options for cards in hand that you can use for that action. One action, one buy, draw a new hand. Slick. Your deck rotates quickly, adding options and building your tinkering machine.

Because you have a few turns to look at your hand, most of the time, you can plan your turn, playing out your turn and moving on in seconds. Limited disruption mechanics help this, but contribute to a "multiplayer solitaire" kind of feel, which puts some people off.

The real kicker comes in expandability. Cards that draw, cards that add multiple actions or buys, you can re-shape your turn-by-turn options a little, but it builds gradually over time, so that even when you have more options and plays happening, it usually still plays fast. (weird witch/village stalling engines aside.)


Limited mechanics keep things running smooth, but eventually, limited mechanics start to get repetitive. They only have a few points where you can adjust things, really, card draw, discard, card exchange, buys, curses, which means that after you've played a couple of sets, the game hits its bottom and you're done.

Still, it has immediate depth, strategy, tinkering, building, and is really is a fantastic deck-building game. Very few have been as effective in the same genre.


Strengths:
Fast play
Limited immediate choices, but with progressive consequences and divergent late-game options.
Scenario modularity

Weaknesses
Limited player interactions.
some balance issues, (minor, in the grand scheme of things,)
Ultimately, the game gets stale. (after 60 or so games, given, but still.)
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Re: Card Game Analysis (setting up for a new project).

Postby TheMatt » Mon Feb 17, 2014 5:35 am

Emergent: When the game is more interesting than the rules, because of the interactions between things. Makes things interesting, also makes them unpredictable. Over time, they get the 'formula' right, and can produce near-duplicates without breaking the game. MTG design philosophy now strictly keeps all the complicated/experimental cards in the 'rare' slot, where most players won't encounter them. Early on, games experiment more, and are less balanced. Entire genres of decks we were familiar with (combo, lock, permission) are now extinct, because they weren't fun to play. I don't think Magi-nation ever made it to that point.
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Re: Card Game Analysis (setting up for a new project).

Postby TheMatt » Mon Feb 17, 2014 5:35 am

There are perennial speculations of a sixth color for magic. It will never happen. Every time you add a faction (color), people get excited to play something new. But then you have to support it, adding new cards, so you get fewer new cards per faction. Most people only play 1-2 factions, so that means fewer new cards overall. And more new cards to play against. So people get bored faster. So you release more factions. So you must remove a faction.

So you start releasing sets with cards for some factions, but not all. L5R frequently puts faction on 'hiatus'. Sometimes, permanently, but never explicitly so, and always as part of the storyline. The path of which is determined by the outcome of tournaments. They do so by not printing cards for them. The factions that fail to show up at tournaments are most likely to be eliminated. They are also often the least-good faction.

Small, weak, unliked factions can be eliminated, without too much fuss. But care must be taken. 7th Sea tried to kill off some factions. And so died 7th Sea. People are very partial to their faction, and when you kill it, they quit playing your game. Worse yet, your faction was not dead but 'marked for death', on the basis of a tournament winners say so.
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Re: Card Game Analysis (setting up for a new project).

Postby TheMatt » Mon Feb 17, 2014 5:37 am

Both 7th Sea and L5R made it pretty easy to play multiple factions. Or rather, to play cards from other factions. Off-color things just cost 2 more.

No one plays 5c magic, but they have made it very easy to play 2c. It was very easy early on, thanks to the dual lands. Dual lands have made a big comeback for magic in the past few years, as well. Not as good as the originals. But enough to power a lot of 2-color decks.
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