Quasi-Instant Classic – CCG Design

I was going to originally just post something here as I don’t get much sense that comments I make on forums are paid much attention to … which was one of the major impetuses for having a blog.  But, the level of obsession over rating card design now that e-sets of V:TES, official and unofficial, have been coming out provoked me to comment on the forums.  Taking the gist of my most recent comments on vekn.net, I get this:

But, there are a couple of things that come to mind about general card design from someone who has playtested half a dozen CCGs, has specific card design credits, has been on a card design team for a published CCG, and who has been added to the game credits for another CCG for activities including design, development, and playtesting.

1. Designing a single card isn’t hard.
2. Designing a set is very hard and takes more skills than designing a few cards.
3. Not every card is intended for every player, something Magic’s lead designer mentions frequently.
4. Most card ideas are bad. I’ve been tasked with going through a player submitted file of card ideas in preparation of designing a CCG set before. Tons of ideas, 90%+ sucked.
5. Many of the bad card ideas have some element that isn’t bad.
6. There are many ways to design the same card. And, whether doing top-down or bottom-up design, many, many times people will come up with the same idea, so there’s little point to the concept of “This is my brilliant idea, the rest of you don’t steal it.”
7. You don’t know how cards play until you actually play them, no matter how much of a genius I am.

On a side note, about the PCK “drama”, while there were personal elements to the drama I wasn’t privy to and while I have respect for the PCK group as individuals, I do go back to 6. above.  Designing for a game you love isn’t for credit, which is always going to be in question because other people can just as easily have the same ideas you do, it’s to make the game better.  If it happens that you do a better job than those who get published, well, that’s the nature of the world.  Vast numbers of CCG cards are suboptimally designed/developed.

Maybe this will be interesting:

I have two specific card credits for the Babylon 5 CCG.

The first is Gerontocracy.  I didn’t design the card.  I was just the one playtester willing to continuously point out how bad the card was in playtesting.  I developed the card to the point where the concept wasn’t different, but the mechanics were far stronger.  (If you’ve played with the card, that should give you an idea how awful it was in development.)  For making it arguably playable, I got associated by the publisher to the card.

The second is Megalopolis.  I was hanging with the B5 crowd at Gen Con (I think, could have been the one year I went to Origins in Columbus or even a Los Angeles con) one year and we were walking to get dinner or some such.  I was talking to Kevin Tewart, B5’s game manager at the time, as we walked about what new homeworlds should do, as I didn’t like the new homeworlds ideas I had seen (I think this was after they were in development, but it might have been earlier).  He asked me about ideas for mechanics and I threw out a couple, including having a “Level the Playing Field” effect.  I vaguely recall saying something about how that was a bad idea at the time, but it was an idea.  I never liked the card Level the Playing Field because it (frequently) led to goofy/negative interaction and the ability to make your decks more focused on specific abilities.  Now, for the most part, I didn’t have strong opinions against it as it also enabled good interaction for a game that had severe interaction problems early on – okay, there were times I found it annoying and I often considered it overrated.  But, as a permanent effect, it was a terrible idea.  Babylon 5 had gone from a game of largely mutual solitaire in its early days where there was nowhere near enough interaction to a tedious grind in its later days as winning was so often easily stopped.  This card idea was in the later days.  Level the Playing Field and, thus, Megalopolis weren’t cards to help you win but to prevent others from winning.  The original homeworlds were about helping you win.  I particularly hated how the new homeworlds were designed as hosers, having the ability to replace the originals, but that’s getting off on a tangent.

Bottom line – I designed Megalopolis and I thought the card was bad for the game.

So, maybe these experiences with design/development have given me a different perspective where I don’t think there’s anything terribly sacred about producing cards.  I didn’t even get into playtesting the original Wheel of Time CCG set and how suboptimal that was …

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