Posted on July 6, 2018

Lessons For Card Brawl From Other Card Battle Games

The fun part about working in the game industry is that you live and breathe your favorite hobby every day. It should be no surprise to you, our faithful reader, that we’re playing games constantly - whether it’s our favorite battle royale game at lunch or mobile games on the commute home.

Naturally, we’re big into card battle and tactical strategy games, and have been playing a lot of them with an eye towards their design as we build and prepare to launch Card Brawl. In doing so, we’ve identified three key lessons that we’ve learned from other key games in the genre and want to improve upon for our game. We felt like, by sharing those with you today, we could give you some more insight into how we’re approaching Card Brawl. Enjoy!


Lesson 1: Longer games ≠ More strategy

Slow and steady... makes for a boring game sometimes

If you’ve ever played epic strategy games, you know that there can be a lot of skill in building an empire over many hours. But when you’re stuck in a Control deck vs. Control deck matchup in a card battle game, winning can sometimes be a matter of inevitability or who-drew-what-first more than skill. These matchups often have a lot of ‘passed’ turns, where you don’t do something of consequence that moves the game materially towards its completion and instead are trying to grind out a value-based win over time.

We thought a lot about the balance between value and tempo in other games as we built Card Brawl. In a shorter game that is more tempo focused, every turn is meaningful and has a big impact – which is kind of the point, right? We generally don’t play PvP games to hang around and do nothing. But you don’t want a game with just aggressive decks either, which is why we balanced out the tradeoff with Overflow (what’s Overflow? See our previous post “Built for Speed: How we designed Card Brawl to be both fast paced and strategic”). Our hope is that we’ve struck a good balance.

Slower “Control”-style decks will have their place in every card game, including Card Brawl, but too many games have seen their typical match length creep up over the years as card collections and the combos they create get more and more complex. When you’re trying to squeeze in a game waiting for the bus or between classes, this can go from an inconvenience to an annoyance very quickly. Our goal is that we can design the game as such that Control classes don’t win by slowing the game down, but instead win through other ways (like controlling what happens on the game board, for instance).


Lesson 2: Simplifying gameplay makes strategy more important, not less

Splendor

Something that I noticed with one of my favorite board games, Splendor, is that its beauty is in the amount of strategic depth it has even though it only takes 10 minutes to learn the rules. Likewise, for mobile games in particular, game designers need to find a balance between approachability (how hard is it to learn this game) and mastery (how high is the skill ceiling for advanced players). But there doesn’t have to be a tradeoff between these two concepts.

As we mentioned in our previous post, we saw this first hand when we decided to make units move automatically in Card Brawl. Removing the ability for the player to control their units actually increased the strategic depth of the game. You now had to think ahead to when your units would reach the enemy, whether they’ll be killed by a ranged unit or trap before getting there, whether you’re setting up your opponent for a great board clear in 2 turns, and a bunch of other things. This was a big plus for the game, especially because our game is shorter matches.


Lesson 3: Players should always make progress when they play

This graphic brought to you by 1999

When I think of a number of card battle games that I play regularly, I feel like they settle into a pretty predictable pattern with each new expansion:

  1. Expansion comes out – Mad dash to acquire cards, every pack opening is exciting!

  2. Expansion meta starts to settle – You’re looking for a couple specific cards. You have most of them, so pack openings are a little bit boring.

  3. Expansion meta settles – You have most of the relevant cards. Pack openings are more of a chore than excitement.

Sound familiar? Honestly most of the time the only ‘progress’ you’re making when you open a new pack two months into the expansion is to earn crafting materials or tick away on a pity timer for a legendary. That’s something we wanted to avoid when building Card Brawl.

Instead, we’re going to have card levels and your cards will get stronger as they level up. Now every card you open is useful! 

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That’s a wrap for our learnings from other card games. See you next week for our first State of the Game update.

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