The Challenges of Game Design (Part I)

adamDev Diaries

Hey All!

Happy April Fool’s Day! We’ve got a lot going on these days, and part of it is to make some fun things for you and to keep the process going for making new expansions. In this series of posts, we’ll be talking a bit more about what we do for our designs and some of the challenges we get along the way. Imagine something like a retrospective diary thing.

This installment will be mostly intro, but I promise to touch on some fun/interesting topics (or at least I hope – you tell me on Discord!) :D

So obviously we need to make bunches of cards at any point in time for Phoenix Covenant. I mean, we’re building out a card game after all. Part of that process requires an approach where we need to cover a wide range of possible mechanics and possible themes. But at the same time, we need to cover new ground and also tell a story with some of the cards, whether new stories or old ones.

This is our first big challenge. How can one design a game with depth, but also accessibility, and yet also make sure to keep things progressing in terms of interesting mechanics being added to the game and compelling storylines and characters that offer both cool, rich story as well as (when made into real units, spells, or structures) usefulness on the field.

Most of the time, we approach this by having really broad brainstorm sessions, and then focusing the cards down and down. The brainstorm is “broad” in the sense that we let a lot of things on the table. So if you have a crazy idea, just get it down there (and you’re welcome to share your own suggestions!) and we’ll think about it – that’s the philosophy. More is better.

After that, we will usually vet things with our goals for the expansion, cart set, cycle, whatever we’re working on at the time. Sometimes those goals are broad, e.g. making sure we have more territory control in the game, and sometimes they are very specific, such as “man, we are low on Tenskan Shamans in this game right now, but the Shaman paragon is really important to Story X or Character Y in order to evolve, so let’s make sure we have such-and-such character or group featured with such-and-such abilities.”

With a good goal vetting done, we’re ready to start honing the mechanics more and more – and here we might be doing this in a unique way when compared to other card game designers/developers out there. We tend to make cards in groups with some intended synergies and combos. This has helped us so far in being able to think of the tactical nature of the game, where units and spells tend to work in groups at critical points in time while a game unfolds. Once we see the groups that we intend seem to work well, we move on to checking out cards individually, which usually requires us to “shuffle” our prototype notes out-of-order and the cards out-of-grouping so we can truly see cards on their own or in context of other possible groups that you all could make in your decks.

But the key to this approach is to get to testing as fast as possible. We usually will make a concept for a card, and then using our tools for prototyping (perhaps a series on that, folks? Talk to me about it on Discord!), we get to playing around with the concepts and mechanics practically within a day. Why a day? Well, sometimes it’s best to let an idea bubble around in your head first and let it simmer.

Like a fine stew. Yummy. Game. Stew.

And it’s important because the more interconnections between cards and combos that get created or discovered by the community, there are more things to consider, and while getting to testing as early as possible is really important, letting your brain make its connections on its own is also really helpful. SO GET SOME SLEEP IF YOU GAME DESIGN. #LifeLesson.

OK, well after that point, if we have any ideas or any other things to check on, then you write those down and get into playtesting the concept. We usually track a bunch of data about the cards and what people like, etc, and we have to thank all of our playtesters and Evangelists out there for the great help! Their comments and suggestions are truly, truly vital to making things work, so that’s another reason for you all reading this right now to take a second and join our mailing list, chat with us on Discord, or make sure to email us if you’re interested in helping playtesting move forward and make a difference in Phoenix Covenant.

So that’s it for this first installment – I really would appreciate your feedback and such in order to keep creating really good insights and other fun stuff for you. Tell me what you think and more specifically: have you thought of playtesting and designing your own game? Tell us more about that!

Talk soon,
/A