color cycle (slow)

Kistaro Windrider, Reptillian Situation Assessor

Unfortunately, I Really Am That Nerdy

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Thoughts on game design
color cycle (slow)
kistaro
A hobby of mine I don't post nearly enough about: games. Not video games, although they're fun, but board or card games. Preferably board or card games I've invented myself, which is why I'm a huge fan of Piecepack and Icehouse. I've invented three Icehouse games and four Piecepack games, with only two of the Piecepack games and none of the Icehouse games up online. I'm working on typing up the rules to the most recent Piecepack game, although the first game will never be published because it kinda sucks.

I do, of course, play plenty of games I don't invent. I like to learn from them as well, to figure out what they did wrong so I don't make those mistakes in my games. A perfect case study for this sort of thing is "Sim City: The Card Game", which completely flopped several years ago. I discovered that the publisher was selling display boxes of the cards off at ludicrous discounts and therefore bought a couple boxes; I enjoy the game, but that doesn't mean it's not broken.

Very small key text sucks
A major problem with the game is the reliance on memorization of the cards. A new player will be swamped, and a seasoned player with unfamilliar cards will be confused. This is because the two most critical scoring effects in the game- Add and Complex- are not clearly labeled.

Add effects give a specific description of cards, and whoever plays such a card later in the game gets a bonus because this card was previously in the city. Complex bonuses are similar, but much more specific. The problem here is that the only way an "Add" card is marked is by having the "Add x to y within z blocks" text in really dinky print within its text box. It's trivial to overlook it. Some cards have effects for everything in the city, without a range constraint, so every play results in every text box on the board being visually scoured for bonuses. Although a much more realistic situation is simple frustration- becaus it's almost impossible to see the label unless you look explicitly for it.

This could easily have been fixed by equipping cards with large icons that can be easily spotted, informing players that the text box must be checked.

Color reliance
I am not colorblind. Actually, I'm more sensitive to color than most. That doesn't mean that I don't care that a game relies on color- I don't make strong mental associations to color, so I prefer to have a symbol as well. For that matter, there are plenty of people out there who are colorblind.

SimCity relies on the color of the pastel background of the stat box to say what phases the card can be played in. No problem once you get used to it, but one of my suitemates last year- Patrick- couldn't tell phase 2 from 3 from 4 because light pink, light green, and light tan are nearly identical to red-green colorblindness (his style). Green-yellow colorblindness would also have trouble between phases 2 and 3 (green and tan, respectively).

It's not the same issue, but those stat boxes are terribly placed for doing the extra duty of being a phase marker. They're at the bottom of the card; something like phase information really needs to be at the top.

Minimal player interaction
This is the big one. This is what really hurts a game. Players do not have any effective way of screwing each other over. The best way to play is to maximize your score with each move, because there's no way of knowing what your opponent might be able to do. Maybe xe'll be able to play on the huge sprawling Farm complex you just made ten points more valuable. Or maybe xe'll opt for the Residential zone- all because of the cards xe has in xir hand. There's no way to know, and even if there was, there's very little way to control.

High luck factor
There's very little control of the game in general. Optimizing placement so a zone will produce maximal points helps everybody, not just you. It's pure luck as to which cards you'll get, allowing you to take advantage of which bonuses- and the flow could go to someone else at any time from being shuffled a certain direction, and there's no way to know or predict. There is insufficient strategy in the game.

Collection uncompelling
This applies only to a trading card game, like SimCity tried to be: it's not interesting to collect the cards. You do not open a booster pack and think "Wow! A Dairy Farm! Just what I needed for my deck!" That doesn't happen. The only exceptions may be Power Plants and Oil Refineries.

Everybody shares a deck. It's the only way the game works. But this means that more cards does not give you a competitive advantage; it lets you build larger and more intricate decks, but it's not like the Fireball you needed to complete a combo or the Solarion needed as the capstone for a deck. Once you have enough cards for a good game, there's nothing pressing you to get more; it doesn't have that crack-like addiction that Magic: The Gathering can inflict.


I guess the two things that hurt the game the most are the luck factor and the minimal player interaction, with complicated and illegible scoring a distant but still-severe third. It's interesting to observe that in games I like, there's very little luck and lots of ways to mess your opponents up. It's the nature of competition: the interplay between players, trying to advance your own position without letting anybody else get ahead.

I also like hidden information. It's fun to bluff. SimCity has that with closed hands, but it's not meaningful hidden information; there's a lot less you can do with a handful of random city blocks than with a handful of Magic: The Gathering cards, and the secret-until-it's-too-late moves of my newest (as-yet-unnamed) Piecepack game create wonderful uncertainty and ludicrous bluffing opportunities.

I actually had somewhere I was going with this, but I guess I sort of forgot it. I enjoy the SimCity card game, really- but it's good to learn from everything that contributed to it being a total and complete flop when I intend to make more games of my own...

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I love this kind of discussion. I've found James Ernest's Xxxenophile shares most of these negative traits too -- as amazingly pretty as the cards are to look at, the game itself definitely has high luck factor, little deck building strategy, and few compelling or vivid game-mechanics differences between cards. COuld I convince you to post this analysis to gamedesigners?

I'm designing a pseudo-collectible card game (i.e., non-commercial, distributed to friends as a gift at cons and as a mail-art gift) version of my Fluorocrash RPG. Any advice or ideas on how to make a CCG that's actually *interesting* to bust into?

I'm a bit uncomfortable with posting a big long thing as my first introduction to a community, actually. I'll lurk for a week, then I'll have forgotten entirely. (I'm realistic here...)

If you're not familliar with it, you might want to check out http://www.boardgamegeek.com and read information on that. It's a great resource- you can read peoples' rants about other games and figure out what went right or wrong. Especially the Game Breakers GeekList series, one of which is at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listid=6434 and it links to the other two.

My favorite Magic: The Gathering set was Fifth Dawn. What I enjoyed about it was the generic combo style: it was possible to create some very amusing and thoroughly effective card combinations with the right set of cards, and there were lots of those sets. It's not a true "combo;" it's not an instant win or infinite mana or something, it's just a very fun and evil sort of card interaction. (This is a game where a 4/4 creature is big; I've made this deck that lets me create a 40000/40000 in eight turns with good draws... and it does that relatively frequently. Oh, and then I make it unblockable.)

The problem with excessive combo-age is when it can't be stopped. That's what happened in the Urza block; it wound up, essentially, competitive solitaire.

An interesting CCG, therefore, must also have a lot of ways to interfere with your opponents. Counterspells are Magic: The Gathering's way of handling it, along with spot removal.

I dislike the Yu-Gi-Oh card game. It has the primary flaw that there is little strategy in deck construction or play; whoever has the more expensive cards wins, every time. Yu-Gi-Oh tried to do away with one of the potentially most annoying things in Magic: land. Magic: The Gathering uses land to throttle the game. Limited mana limits your deck; these big whopping creatures can't be played until late, and you have to use small cards to survive until then. Yu-Gi-Oh has no such system for spells, and sacrificing smaller creatures to get larger creatures is nearly meaningless. You don't actually intend to commercialize this, so simple card limitation might work- but then, that's the theory Wizards of the Coast used with Magic: The Gathering when they made horribly unbalanced rares in the first sets. (They're hard to get- who would be crazy enough to fill a deck with them? A very large number of people.)

I don't know enough about your game to give you much more advice than that. Just make sure there are sufficient ways for grandiose plans, and an equally sufficient number of ways for grandiose plans to go awry.



Randomly off the topic: I invented a card game a couple years ago that you might enjoy. It's aptly named "Confusion." Start with a deck of ten blank index cards per player the first time you play. (Make sure there are at least ten cards per player when the game starts every time.) That's all the deck is.

At the beginning of the game, each player gets five cards. Shuffling isn't real important the first time you create a deck, for obvious reasons. On each turn, a player plays one card, then draws one card. (In that order!) And that's about it, actually. Get 100 points to win.

Oh, one more rule: when you play a blank card, write on it, then shuffle it in to the deck.

There are three types of cards: Action cards (play on your turn, then discard), Table cards (play on your turn in front of you, leave on the table affecting the game), and Interrupt cards (play at any time, then discard; frequently "in response" like a Counterspell sort of thing. Note that you do NOT draw a card after playing an Interrupt, so you are down a card until you can draw extra!). Also blanks, which can wind up any of the three.

It is suggested you add the rule that players can only be referred to by in-game and easily changed descriptions; for example, "players named Ted" would not be permitted, "players tied with another player" would be, and "players wearing pants" may also be because this can be changed with the speed of an Interrupt. ("In response, I remove my pants." --From when Dennis played "Inhibition Check: Action. Each player wearing pants gives you five points.")

I fear what your deck may turn out to be.

When the draw deck is depleted and a card needs to be drawn, add ten blank cards, shuffle them in to the discard pile, and that's the new draw deck.

I figure that sort of thing may actually help you brainstorm the game. And even if it doesn't, it gets every bit as ridiculous as it sounds like and I suspect you would enjoy it greatly. If there's something unclear in the rules, or you want examples of some of the cards I've got in the 400-some accumulated from some 35 games, let me know...
Yes, the game starts quite slow, until players' written cards start to cycle back through. Also, just-written recently not blank cards are shuffled in before the replacement is drawn. An alternate way to start a deck is to give each player five cards (one half of the starting deck) to write on immediately, shuffle them in and play as usual.

Do tell me what happens to your deck if you decide to play...

I'd be really, really curious to hear you analyze Puzzle Pirates now... even though it's an MMParrrPG, and so has a very different structure and strategy.

One of the things I love about the game (besides the social aspect) is that the further into it you get, the more you discover to do. The economic and political aspects really don't open up until you're a fairly established player. But even the parts of the game accessible from the beginning - the shipboard puzzles, mainly - have some really fascinating depth and dynamics.

...And I'll admit it - I want to have someone else to analyze the game with! Not many people I've run into are willing (or able?) to really dig in and figure out the principles behind it all. I think I've got a pretty good idea of everything, but I'd love to have a second opinion - and to have someone around who'll remind me what it's like to start over, and help me refine my advice to new players into something effective that makes sense. :) I think I tend to either give too much information, or use terms that aren't obvious, or.. well, you get the idea. And some people appreciate that, but most just get more confused... and I need a guinea pig. ;)

It's a timesink, though, so if you want to wait until summer, 's nifty by me. :D

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