Monday, June 17, 2013

Deck Design

Deck design for me in CCG's has always been a really tough thing to get right. Not in getting the perfect deck, but as a designer to facilitate a lot of options for decks. Too open (you can play whatever cards you want!!) and people get stage freight, stick to proven formulas, people have a more difficult time piecing together EVERYTHING at once, and generally don't drive creativity. Too many restrictions (you can only play this group, and this many cards, and of this subtype) and you put the cards into place for the player, giving them little to no creativity and not allowing the meta to grow. That sweet spot is reducing your game into bite-size pieces while still not telling the player which ones he has to eat. Magic, in my mind, does a great job of this. In reality, there is one anchor: card color. You're never restricted to playing ANYTHING really, but once you start trying to diversify your deck the game's RNG begins to work against you, and it's really a natural balance to that confinement. This is further compounded by their color pie -- each color has a very specific agenda and ways to win in a game. Thus, if you want aggro, you'll generally play red. Control is blue. Fatties are green, etc. Virtually everyone refers to the colors of their deck to describe it. It's beautiful. But here's a challenge (especially if you're not a super-deep magic player): try to come up with a deck that can use any color, no restrictions. Now come up with a mono blue deck, no restrictions. How about a mono blue deck with just commons? From the last 6 sets? I bet a lot of people would have a hard time in the very beginning coming up with a truely competitive deck with no criteria, and I bet a ton of people would arrive at the exact same deck (give or take a few cards) when I impose all the restrictions.

This idea is what I see referred to a lot as a virtual cardpool. Sure there's probably 15,000 magic cards made. But when you pose these restrictions, this virtual card pool shrinks and shrinks until you're at a much more manageable level. In my example, we go from 15,000 to 86 (and that's just to make a 60 card deck, where about 20 cards are lands). It gets even deeper than that -- both deck size and copies of a card allowed in a deck go a long way too. There's a big difference between only 1x of any card in a 50 card deck vs 4x of any card in a 50 card deck. Shadow Era suffered from this originally with it's 30 card decks -- nearly everyone just played "the best in slot" with no contestion. It would be even worse if they had 4x of any card in a deck, as most people prefer consistency over variety (although that varies a bit from game to game). On the flip side, if your unique copies is too little, you have the reverse effect -- think about trying to use a pool of 86 cards to make a deck of 1x of any card in a 60 card deck vs 4x of any card to make a 60 card deck -- in the former you need to use 60 of your 86 cards, in the latter you can get away with just 15. It's all a numbers game where you aim from your hip and trust your gut.


Praxis has a few cool features that I think alleviate some of these issues. For one, the advantage feature makes it far easier to play "techy" one-ofs to deal with unique situations, because if your opponent will not pertain to that card, you can simply discard it and get a new one next turn. The fact that we churn through so many more cards is a huge advantage too, because consistency becomes less of a worry (and maybe even a hindrance, that's still to be seen) and you're much more like to see those one-ofs or two-ofs than you would be in most games. But I'm looking to build on it, and here's how:

I explained last post that I don't like rarities, assuming you're not trying to artificially lengthen your game content. I like being able to share decks with people and the people reading them be realistically able to build them if that sounds like a fun deck to them. What I AM toying with is the idea of "upgrading" cards. Each card might have three "levels", each with increasing power, but with increasing point values. So the "base" card would cost one point, base+ would cost two points, and base++ would cost three points. Your commander (for lack of a better term yet, as of now there's no commanders and no plans atm) decides the point value of your deck. If decks are say 50 cards, then perhaps you're only given 65 pts to make your deck -- you could play 15 base+ cards, or 7 base++ 1 base+, or somewhere in between. But YOU get to decide what those "better" cards are, and likely they'll be the cards that push your strategy further. On top of that, each commander says how many points can be played within its faction -- the four base commanders will let you play 2/3's of the points within their faction, and 1/3rd of the points in their ally factions. Perhaps down the line there's commanders that can only play their faction but get 1.2x points. It opens up a lot of avenues for desk customization, and two people can be following the same 'blue print' with different upgraded cards and they may play entirely differently. I'm really excited about this, I think it will be a cool direction for CCG deck design if it turns out to be a success -- it's an entirely new 'virtual card limit' that allows players to diversify in really interesting ways.

Let me know what you think (as always), and until next time!



  1. So, to be clear, you have a classical elements sort of feel to your four armies? Four points on a circle with one opposing and two allied to each army?

  2. Yup yup, with the FIRST set of leaders the humans cannot use delwar cards, and the faceless can't use "unnamed clade" cards. This may or may not change further along in the story, and if it does there will be more leaders to reflect that (: