One to Many #1: Card Game Design

In this, the first edition of One to Many we ask designers: “What advice do you have for any designers that want to make a great card game?” Ten designers chimed in.

Welcome to a new feature here at The Indie Game Report – where we ask a single question to many different designers and then publish their answers. We hope you enjoy the results. Today’s question is:

What advice do you have for any designers that want to make a great card game?

ffdgfdgDesign 10 bad card games, then design 10 okay card games and then design a good card game! And play at least ten good card games during this period. If you can make it a hundred, it’s even better.

Antoine Bauza (7 Wonders, Hanabi)

Test, test, test the game. If you think it is enough test more. Test with many very different people and test often with the same people.

When all people say the game is good, improve it. When all people say the game is very good, improve it. If the people say it is outstanding and want to play it immediately once more, then you have done your job.

Wolfgang Kramer (6Nimmt!)

diaRemember that cards offer many design choices to make a game unique. How you get the cards, how they trigger actions, scoring etc. Do not underestimate the strong strategies that will be there just because you are using cards. Multi purpose cards being a very hot thing right now.

Mike Fitzgerald (Diamonds)



sgCard games can be quite challenging to design because they put quite a few limits on the designer. You only have one type of component to work with, and a limited number of them as well! Therefore you need to be incredibly efficient and focused with your ruleset. For me, the most successful card games are focused on one really novel and engaging central mechanism – for example, Coloretto, No Thanks! or Bohnanza. So my advice would be to search hard for an original central idea and then hone the whole design to showcase it.  

Philip Walker-Harding (Sushi Go!)

llThe only piece of advice I can give is to continue designing games. The forward momentum becomes a power, and might give you the thrust you need to make a great game.

Seiji Kanai (Love Letter/ Braverats)

pic2971371_lgPlay lots of card games that are as different from each other as possible. There’s a a long and fruitful history of regional variations on basic card game templates like trick-taking, climbing, and even CCG-style dueling. Without that familiarity of those card games and their sub-genres, you may find yourself thinking you have an innovative new idea, but that it’s already been done years ago.

Daniel Solis (Kodama: The Tree Spirits)

herbWhen designing card games, I think it is very important to provide opportunities for players to make decisions and to minimize the role of luck.  Certainly, a little luck is fine, but the function of luck in a game is improved when players are able to control the luck in some sense.  That is, when they are in charge of deciding whether to be lucky or not. I always try to find ways of eliminating very bad hands/draws, so a player can mitigate bad luck in some way.

Stephen Finn (Herbaceous)

fleetPlay lots of card games. Card games are like opinions, everyone has one (see, I cleaned that up for my friend Ryan. My grandpa always preferred the more colorful version…). There are SO many cards games out there and if you want to make one, it had better be different and unique. Most card games come down to one idea so make it an interesting one. Then like any other game, make it and play it ASAP. But the takeaway is that with card games, play as many different ones as you can.

Matt Riddle (Fleet)

colorIt would be great to have a recipe but i am afraid that will never be found. For me the fun element is most important, even if the mechanism is not very impressive. Otherwise it can happen that it feels more like a design study than a real game.

Michael Schacht (Coloretto)

doWhat’s special about cards is the amount of information you can put on them. If a card doesn’t have much information (like a 5 of spices in Medici), or if the information is all stats, then I have nothing special to say about them. Where cards are tricky is when they have rules text on them.

A big thing is just to cut down on the rules that aren’t on the cards. You get so much out of rules on cards; you really don’t need as many rulebook rules. This is usually my number one complaint when I try someone else’s game with rules on cards; they still have so many rules in the rulebook. It’s great to cut down on rules in games in general, but when you’ve got rules on cards there’s just no excuse for complexity outside the cards.
Then, if you have more than a few cards, you really want to phrase them precisely, to make card interactions clear (if you only have a few cards, you can have “friendlier” phrasings and just explain all interactions in the rulebook). This is easier said than done. I have worked on this problem for years, as have the people making Magic: The Gathering; I’m not done yet and neither are they. There are new Dominion phrasings coming out very soon, and Magic is using new wordings in its upcoming set.

If you make a bunch of games with rules on cards, there will be certain concepts you notice coming up over and over. For example if drawing cards is reasonable in your game, you will make a card that draws cards. Here a big thing is to try to figure out the unique space your game gives you, the things cards can do here that they can’t do in your other games. You will still make cards that could have been from another game, like the card-drawing card; some of those are too good to pass up. But focusing on what’s special about your game will help your game retain its specialness.

I usually put types on cards – like Action and Treasure in Dominion. Sometimes the rules make the types different, but aside from that you get the ability to have some cards refer to other cards by type. This can sometimes solve problems that are otherwise tricky.

Cards with rules on them tend to need some kind of balance, even for games where you want a variety of power levels (like drafting games). You never get all the way there; you hit diminishing returns and at some point have to call it a day and submit the game somewhere.

I recommend having as few stats as possible; one is good. If you have more than one stat, indicate what they mean with an icon, don’t just rely on where the number is located to convey what it means.”

Donald X Vaccarino (Dominion)


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