Design Aims

Welcome to the first article about snazzeus, a card game I'm developing.


It was with some excitement that I realised that several printing companies now have a playing-card print-on-demand service, and I could make my own commercial-grade card game.
I'd been toying with the concept for some time, so I already had a rough idea in mind. I wanted the it to be fairly easy to get into, but to have some quirkiness to the play.

I love some of the concepts of collectable card games[1] - the metagame of deck building, and having varied cards, carrying their own rules.
However, they're generally prohibitively complex, and I really dislike the actual process by which the collecting is implemented.

Fortunately, the things I liked appear to be separable from the parts I didn't.
The plan was to use rules on some of the cards to reduce the length and complexity of the instructions while having many 'spot effects'. However, as I've worked on the game, I'm not sure how much of that will actually remain - many of the mechanics are spread across enough cards to be best described once, in the instructions. Perhaps there is something of a dichotomy between pack-based and open games - for the former, all the rules can in theory be centralised while for the latter this is impossible. This is likely to affect the gestalt of the game's basic design.

Thought process

A few playing-cards

Every article should have an illustration, right?
[source images: wikimedia commons]

So, having established that I wanted to make a pack-based constructed deck card game, my design arose through iterative consideration of several desirable factors:

Easy to begin

This covers not just making the game easy to learn, but also having enough opponents to play a game.
It didn't take long to settle on the minimum number of people for a multi-player game, i.e. two.

To avoid the issue of needing two people to independently invest in the game, it is highly desirable for a single pack to be sufficient for at least some sort of game.
One solution would be to double up the quantities of the necessary components, effectively making it a double deck. However, this would increase the cost of the game.
Instead I decided to design my game such that alternative modes of play using a shared deck would be possible.

Good accessibility

Even when enough people have the game and want to play it, it can still be hard to actually play. For this to happen the game has to be at hand when there is enough time and space to play it. As there are several components to this, any design at a particular 'weight' will involve a compromise.

I quickly decided that the game should be of fairly short duration, and easy to carry, as this fits with the model I had in mind - a game which will fit in a short break.

Given that, I opted to go for an all-card game. That is, a card game with no counters, no dice, and no need for score pads, or otherwise writing things down.
This dictates that the the game can only hold 'state' in the layout of the cards[2].

For short break play the game needs not only to be quick, but also bounded - that is there shouldn't be a long setup, or have potentially protracted play. To this end the number of turns could be restricted, or even fixed.

One design decision I've made which isn't 'minimal' is to require the use of a flat surface. This is pretty common, but isn't essential[3]. While this does mean that my game can't be played in quite so many situations, this does open up quite a bit more potential for holding state.
Games in which the entire state is embodied in the deck order may be quite dependent on shuffling, and in my experience this is either slow or incomplete and unreliable.

In games with each player bringing their own cards, it is very important that cards are not mixed together. This was easy to forget while designing for the single-pack modes.

Unique cards

Given the sort of game I'm aiming for, I decided that every card in the pack should be different, and ideally, 'balanced'. Obviously I didn't want to design a game which easily mapped to the 'standard' 54-card deck, but it's not quite that simple. Large CCGs tend to have 'resource' cards, and allow multiple copies of individual cards in a player's hand.
However, these games have much larger pools of cards than I intended on having. I want to maximise the value of every card in a much smaller set; this is clearly favoured by aiming to make every card useful under at least some circumstances, with no repeats.

Balance is of course a difficult thing to achieve in practice. I consider it to be achieved if every card could be considered for inclusion in a game deck either as part of a strategy or a counter-strategy. This doesn't mean that every card will be played an equal proportion of the time, but more even usage is preferrable.
My design distributes a certain amount of resources over each card, with special benefits subtracting from the total. As always, only iterative playtesting and modification can approach a reasonable approximation.


While this may not seem like much progress, the above factors took me quite some time to solidify. So much so, that this article has been quite hard to work into a coherent form.
The actual design and basic gameplay will have to wait until next time. Hope to see you then.

(Published 5th March 2015)


[1] Collectable Card Games, or Trading Card Games, are games in which the player builds his own set of cards, or 'deck', from cards primarily sold in random assortments or 'booster packs'. A starter pack is often available, and cards may be traded with other players, since a particular card's value in a game depends on synergystic effects with the rest of the hand. ↩ return

[2] There are legal issues with some interpretations of that. There is a patent on 'tapping' cards to indicate some state.
I believe that this does not impinge on what I want to do. However, this is involved enough to perhaps be an article in its own right at a later date, if necessary. ↩ return

[3] For example - Top Trumps is played using only a shuffled deck split into two hands, with reference only to the top card. This is probably not coincidental in it being a popular game in school playgrounds.↩ return


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