Posted on June 8, 2018

Built for Speed: How we designed Card Brawl to be both fast-paced and strategic


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The team’s goal with Card Brawl is to take the excitement and strategy of a turn based tactical game and distill it into a 5 minute action packed match. We felt that many turn based games take far too long to play, and we want players to feel that accomplishment in a shorter amount of time. This has been a philosophy driving our game design to make the game more exciting from Day 1.


The first thing we did to help accomplish this goal was give players lots of tools to avoid dead turns. In many card battle games, you will have a turn with very few options - sometimes multiple times in the same game. To avoid this, we start players with 3 mana, and made it so players always draw until they have 5 cards in their hand each turn, regardless of how many cards they played in the previous turn. This way, you will always have multiple options for cards you can play.

In addition, we added the ability to cycle a card each turn - that way you can always shuffle your high mana cost card for later and get a chance at drawing it when you need it the most.

To maintain a brisk pace, we added an Overtime mechanic that forces the game to end quickly after the first 20 turns are played. We didn’t want Overtime to be a factor in every game, but we wanted to make sure that there was a smart way to ensure fast and exciting matches.

Between these three changes, we found that players always had something impactful to do every turn, but some games were still taking too long. So next, we focused on cutting out the tedious parts of gameplay.


In other games, choosing which unit attacks which other unit is core to gameplay and provides a lot of strategic decision making. We had that in Card Brawl originally as well. While we enjoyed that part of the mechanic, we also found that it cost the player a ton of time - picking individual attacks for multiple units, in addition to using abilities and spells, can take almost a full minute per turn. If we wanted to hit our 5 minute goal, we knew we needed to think of another way.

Our grid-based game board presented an opportunity - units had spatial context and a goal: to reach the enemy Champion on the other side. By having units automatically advance towards the enemy Champion, we could remove a bunch of work from the player’s plate and still give them a lot of control over the outcome.

The results were immediate and outstanding - everyone loved the change! It was an amazing game flow improvement and cut down on game time - a win-win. It also gave the game a unique angle compared to many other card battle games, where planning and looking ahead to future turns became more important. Our playtesters really enjoyed having the play and counter play of other tactical strategy games without the headache of re-doing a bunch of work each round.

This change was a big hit, but we were still seeing a lot of matches end up in stalemates where both sides sent units into the melee at the center of the board. We wanted every interaction to matter towards the end game - but how? By exploring this, we came up with our most exciting design change and the thing that makes us stand out the most from other games: Overflow.


In Card Brawl, if minion damage done to another minion exceeds its HP, that extra damage is dealt to the enemy Champion as Overflow. This is a revolutionary approach to a card battle game, but is not a totally crazy idea - it is mechanically similar to the ability “Trample” from Magic: The Gathering. However, when all units deal Overflow damage, it changes the way the game is played in profound and exciting ways.

The most important aspect of the Overflow mechanic is that every interaction matters. Even a fight between two early-game minions where both die will advance the game and bring one side closer to winning. It creates interesting tradeoffs, where you might have a minion with high damage and low HP that can kill your opponent’s minion in combat, but it will ‘cost’ you a lot of health in return to make that trade. In most similar games, your goal with minion combat is to ‘win the trade’ - will my minion kill the enemy’s - and your minion’s HP isn’t really relevant. With Overflow, both are important.

Additionally, Overflow provides a great additional way for players to interact with their opponent - this time directly with their HP total. We want to give players more ways to interact and make strategic decisions around those interactions. It also gives a sense of progress: you can really get a sense for how the battle is going based on how much damage your Champion has taken so far and what units you and your opponent have left on the board.

Once we implemented Overflow, we saw great feedback during playtest and were able to start consistently hitting five minute game times, and often even less!. Mission accomplished! Of course, we have lots left to do, but hopefully this was a fun deep dive into how we thought about and tackled this game design goal!

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We’ll be posting to this blog every week as well. We can’t wait to share more about Card Brawl: Duel of Champions!

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