Design Diary for the Unnamed Card Game, Part 2

I have a small apology to make. In my last post I said that next up would be building the alpha deck and starting playtesting. Well as soon as I started writing this post I realised that I was skipping over one of the most important steps in the process: creating the rules!It may seem like a daft thing to forget but then it’s not exactly a discreet part of the process. there was a fair chunk of rules that I needed to figure out before I could think about playtesting but there was no way I could have the mechanics complete until I had determined exactly what every card in the deck would do. Every element of the game can affect and unbalance any other element but even as I was working through the initial concepts for the game I was also piecing together the basic framework of the rules.

The structure of the game was fairly clear, and effectively Rummy. Players take turns to draw a card and play a card, when they have a fully loaded ship they can launch it removing the cargo and the burnt fuel from the game. Draw 1, Play 1, turn-about may be as run-of-the-mill as card games come but so far I had no reason to do anything more complicated. Given the choice it’s almost always best to take the simplest route if you can. Also, keeping the core simple left me a little leeway with depth and complexity later on when working on the game’s more unique features.

And what is this game’s USP? Well it’s back to the initial concept that I wrote about in part 1: the evolving gameplay caused by the ever-changing composition of the deck representing the deterioration of the planet as it’s last resources are launched into space. For this to work each game would absolutely have to cycle through the deck multiple times and on each pass through the deck some cards would have to be removed.

I realised straight away that this would not be an easy mechanic to implement. Balance is key to so many things in all forms of gaming. Give one aspect of a game a little too much influence over the rest and the knock-on effect can do anything from confusing a single player to ruining an entire game. In this case I needed enough cards removed through play on each pass through the deck that the next pass felt different but I also needed to ensure that there were enough cards left in the deck that successive passes were still playable. Not to mention that I wanted each game to last at least three or four passes through the deck.

I figured that first of all I would make fuel resources limited. Any time a fuel card was used or destroyed in play, it was gone, back in the box to await the next game. People and Item resources were already partly limited as they were to be removed from the game when launched into space (although they would be recycled through the deck if destroyed before they could be launched). I wasn’t sure if that would be enough. The deck would change but I wasn’t sure if it would change quickly enough to have the desired impact. The only way to find out would be to put a deck together and start testing.

I was also a little worried that after a brief period of cut-throat action where all the players fought over the last few launches we would then be left with a deck full of useless spaceships and action cards.

My game needed an end point.

Next up: How to stop playing and start playtesting. Hopefully.

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