Tao of the Machine

Programming, Python, my projects, card games, books, music, Zoids, bettas, manga, cool stuff, and whatever comes to mind.

Designing a card game (6)

So far, the card game (which is still nameless, by the way), is coming along reasonably well. Although I haven't designed any actual cards yet, everything is still in the rules design phase.

One thing that bugs me about the current setup is that players will most likely end up with lots of creatures in play. This will make the game sluggish, unnecessarily complex and difficult to understand.

One way to prevent this is to limit the number of creatures that can be in play at one time. I'm thinking about a Pokemon-like "bench", but different. The first creature that comes into play will automatically take position #1, the next one #2, etc. If a creature leaves play, the ones "after" it move up one position. (This is easier to do than it seems, all you have to do is put the creatures in a row, and it will become obvious.)

This "bench" would have a maximum size (5, 6, 7?), which restricts the number of creatures in play. Some rules will have to be added: Can you arbitrarily remove creatures from the bench, so there is room for others? Is the position on the bench relevant? Once you have a bench full of creatures that you like, is drawing cards still useful?

Also important is how this "bench" thing will be explained in flavor. Right now, it's just an artificial restriction. In the Pokemon CCG, it is not (there is one "active" Pokemon, others are "waiting" to replace it; the cartoon and game reflect this, so it does not feel awkward in the CCG).

In a fantasy/magic setting, it could be explained by stating that the player (the "wizard") can only maintain a certain number of creatures, much like there is a limit to the number of subordinates that a manager can handle, or to the KLOC that a programmer can handle, etc.

Of course, extra rules also add extra opportunities for cards. What about creatures that increase/decrease the maximum bench size? Creatures that affect their neighbors on the bench (in good or bad ways)? Creatures that effect the opponent's creature on the same bench position? Creatures that affect the way you add/remove creatures to/from the bench? Etc.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-02-06 19:56:05   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: CCGs


Progress on the card game can be found here. I worked out mechanisms for playing creatures, and battle. (Much like Magi-Nation, aside, but not exactly the same.)

In other news, I'm currently working on making Firedrop more user-friendly. If nothing else, there should be an easy and straightforward way to create a site/weblog. Until recently, this wasn't a problem because I was the only person using it. :-)

I haven't had really interesting content lately, from a Pythonic point of view. This is mostly because work has been picking up (note: this is an anti-complaint emoticon:smile). I've been busy, and I haven't had much time to dream up interesting blog posts or articles. Then again, I never said this was a Python-only weblog, and this was a good opportunity to write about other stuff, like card games and things I'm researching (like Groovy).

Groovy 1.0-beta-3 is out, by the way, I'm going to test it one of these days.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-01-23 23:27:07   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: CCGs, Firedrop

Designing a card game (5)

A summary of what I have so far can be found here.

There are some "variables", like NUM_CORE, HAND_SIZE and NUM_DRAW. The actual values of these are not extremely important, and will be decided later.

The more interesting stuff has yet to be decided... What will creatures be like? What properties will they have? Any "keyworded" abilities? (Like Magic creatures have flying, first strike, trample, etc). How will they battle? What kind of effects and powers will they have? Etc.

I envision that there are at least two kinds of special abilities:

  • Powers: These can be activated and played whenever you want. E.g. "Deal X damage to target creature." "Heal 1 damage on target creature." Some may have a cost: "Sacrifice ~this~: Take 1d6 points from target opponent." A Power is considered to be an Action.

  • Effects: These are triggered by events that happen during the game. E.g. "During a battle, you may deal 1 damage to target battling creature." "When ~this~ comes into play, lose 2 points." These might have an additional cost as well. An Effect is *not* an Action, and can be played during opponent's turn as well.

Hmm, isn't this how Magi-Nation does it? Something like that. That game has an elegant mana/resource/casting cost system, by the way. Your Magi has a certain amount of mana, which grows every turn. To play a card with cost X, you simply move X mana from your Magi to the card. If the card is a creature, X is also its power. ... I want to strive for something just as elegant, without copying it.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-01-22 21:39:27   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: CCGs

Designing a card game (interlude)

Maybe I should make a redneck-themed game, that should sell well around here (or so I hope :-). I could include such staple cards as:

  • Roadkill
  • My Cousin, My Wife
  • Monster Truck
  • Bubba
  • Wide Load
  • Burping Contest
  • My Brother Daryll
  • My Other Brother Daryll
  • Roach Infestation
  • Huntin Dawg

I wonder if people here would see the humor of it and buy the damn game. Hmm... I won't hold my breath. emoticon:smile

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-01-21 22:01:49   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: CCGs, ideas

Designing a card game (4)

This "thread" will probably go on for a while... bear with me.

Decisions so far:

  1. There will be a potentially unlimited number of cards.
  2. There will be Goal cards. (See comments by Michael Chermside.)
  3. All other cards will be creatures. (Creature cards will have special abilities.)
  4. There will be a core of N cards. For a game, players add M cards of their choice to this. All these cards together form the draw pile.
  5. Each turn, a player draws 2-3 cards, chooses and keeps one, and puts the others back at the bottom of the draw pile.

While I ponder the rules, here are some more questions...

1. What would be a good theme for a card game? Commercial CCGs often use themes derived from books, movies, cartoons and the like; obviously I cannot use those, because of copyright reasons. (It would be cool to make a CCG based on the world of Valdemar, in Mercedes Lackey's books, but I'm afraid that's a no-no.)

I would still like to do a medieval/magic/fantasy theme, but the problem is that there already are so many games like that these days.

I could come up with my own theme and/or fantasy world, but see question #2.

2. Should the cards show art? They would look better, of course, and pictures would illustrate the theme and add flavor, especially in the case of un unusual theme. (Would Magi-Nation have become popular without the art?) The only problem here is, where do I get the art? Gazillions of pictures can be found on the Net, but I'm sure most of them are copyrighted. I suppose I could try and write to selected Elfwood contributors, and inquire if they would like to see their art on my card game... Hmm, it's a thought.

Given enough time and energy, I could do some of the art myself, but I don't have a scanner, and it would take a looong time to draw and paint art for (potentially) hundreds of cards. emoticon:nooo

Other thoughts:

There will be counters, points and dice, I just haven't decided yet how they will be used. There will also be some form of creature battle.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-01-21 21:45:36   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: CCGs

Designing a card game (3)

A summary of the rules we have so far:

  1. There will be a potentially unlimited number of cards.
  2. There will be Goal cards. (See comments by Michael Chermside.)
  3. All other cards will be creatures. (Creature cards will have special abilities.)

The interesting thing here is, that if the goals vary in each game, then it doesn't make much sense to prepare a deck. I envision that a game goes like this:

  • Goals are defined. (How this is done, is yet to be determined. You can pick your own goals, your opponent can pick them for you, maybe they will be randomly assigned, etc. The number of goals isn't determined yet either.)

  • You start playing, either with a pile of arbitrary creatures, or with the ones you brought (or both).

  • During play, you try to make the best of the cards (creatures) you get, trying to meet your own goals or to disrupt your opponent's plans. (Or help them -- this game will be less about winning or losing than most others.)

I think that would actually work well... players make a draw pile of creatures (maybe from all players' collections), and during their turn, pick a random creature from this pile.

Still, I would like a mechanism to get rid of creatures you don't like, or that don't match your plans... maybe, draw 2 cards, keep one, put one back at the bottom of the pile? Maybe even 3 cards. If you get a random stream of cards, then meeting your goals or not is just a matter of luck, or at least largely dependent on it. If you get to pick and choose, then you have more influence, to a certain extent.

With that random draw pile, there's a chance that certain goals cannot be met. For example, let's say that there is a creature named Golem (to follow Michael's example), and a Goal that tells you to destroy the Golem. In this particular game, you get this Goal card, yet the draw pile (which consists of random cards) doesn't contain the Golem. Such a situation would not only be bad, but also frustrating for the players. On the other hand, providing a "core" of the same cards is not enough... there must be room for other cards as well, or you would always see the same cards. Maybe yesterday's "3 draw piles" idea is not so bad after all... one pile of core cards, one with cards of your choice, one with those of your opponent's.

A simpler solution could be: N cards form the core game, and all players add M cards of their choice. All these cards together are shuffled and will be the draw pile.

Comments welcome. Things will get more interesting when it's time to design the creatures and their mechanics...

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-01-20 21:02:34   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: CCGs

Designing a card game (2)

(There will be more posts in this "thread" as the design goes on. To understand what I'm talking about, some knowledge about existing CCGs (like Magic the Gathering) is useful. Those not interested in card games don't need to worry, I will still write about other things. :-)

I like the idea of having a potentially unlimited number of cards, so that will be the first design rule.

Now, not all of these cards will be in a game at once. Players will come to the table with their selection of cards. This does not necessarily need to be seen as a "deck", however. It can also be thought of as having an army of creatures, for example. (Another possibility would be, that players pick at random from a large card stock.)

If at all possible, I'd like this to be a tactical game. The "deck" principle makes this difficult. In most CCGs, your deck is like a little machine that you want to get started as soon as possible. When your strategy unfolds, it hopefully leads you to victory. ... Nova is different in this regard. There is no deck, no strategy. It's actually more fun to play than other CCGs I know, and not just because I created it. There's more interaction with the other player, there are more crazy twists, more situations depending on insight (and luck).

Let's say that each player brings their "deck", but there's also some kind of random factor. Not sure what yet. :)

Or, we can abolish the "deck" principle altogether, and just play with 180 cards, coming from any player's collection. Imagine 3 stacks of 60 cards each, face-down. At the beginning of a turn, a player takes the top card from each, picks one, and puts the other two back. That way, some kind of strategy can be developed during the game. 1)

One of my goals is to strike a balance between elegant simplicity and interesting, flavorful complexity. In other words, the basics of the game should be elegant and simple, yet individual cards should allow for interesting situations, and rules should be complex enough that meaningful flavor can be used. 2)

Another idea (unrelated): Creatures are cool. Newbies love creatures. Maybe this will be a creature-only card game. Creatures could have the usual stats (some kind of power, toughness, etc), maybe some abilities, and some kind of special effect. Maybe they should also have a cost, depending on whether we will be using "decks" or not.

Again, more later. These posts may seem a little (?) vague right now, but will hopefully be clearer once I got some basic rules fleshed out.

1) Of course, this raises a number of questions... Should the cards be put in the same pile where they came from? What happens if one of the piles runs out of cards?

2) What does that mean? A card game's "flavor" is closely tied to its rules. For example, by using a life counter (starting at 20), you can define cards that "drain life", "gain life", are "healthy" or "unhealthy", "good" or "evil", etc. That's just the life counter; Magic has a plethora of rules and abilities that allow for strong flavor. The new card game should not have quite as many rules as Magic, yet it should have enough to provide a reasonable basis for flavor.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-01-19 21:03:51   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: CCGs

Designing a card game

In short: I want to design another card game, and put its rules and card sheets on the Net, so people can print the sheet, cut out the cards, and play the game.

Sounds good, but let's not forget that many open source projects are started by enthusiastic people, expecting to get lots of feedback, bug reports and contributed code. Reality is usually different. The same may be true for an "open" card game.

Indeed, the idea is that people who are interested in CCGs (and other games) like the game, play it, ask rules questions, maybe even make new cards, etc. Whether that will actually be the case, is yet to be seen.

Either way, this game has not been designed yet. I created another card game, called Nova, a coupla years ago. People keep saying that I should sell it, otherwise I would have made it available online long ago. Nova is:

  • not a *collectible* card game
  • played with 60 cards, that's all you need for both players
  • a tactical rather than a strategical game

I wonder if the new game, call it "Game X" for now, should be similar. I kinda like the idea of being able to add more cards over time, without hitting an artificial boundary. (Or a practical one -- a game that requires all cards to be in play, shouldn't have 1000 cards. That would make shuffling the draw pile kind of awkward, for example. emoticon:smile)

Nova doesn't use counters, dice, tokens, or anything. Just cards. Game X can be the same way, but I'll probably use some form of counter.

Other questions to ponder:

  • Are duplicate cards allowed/encouraged?
  • Is deckbuilding possible/encouraged?
  • What flavor will be used?
  • Will cards be versatile, like Nova's, or more like other CCGs?
  • Will the cards have pictures?

Re flavor: This is the general "look and feel" of the game, a theme or a number of themes, and the way they tie in with individual cards. I like a magic/fantasy theme, but that has already been taken by lots of games, most notably Magic the Gathering. I do not want to make another Magic clone; this game should be different in both flavor and rules.

More later. Ideas welcome, by the way.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2004-01-18 12:32:40   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: CCGs

NeoPets CCG

Cool, there's a NeoPets card game now. (It probably has been out for a while, but I am not so sensitive to trends and such...)

I might be a bit too old for it, but it's still cool. emoticon:smile Then again, whether a game is worth playing or not is mostly in the rules... all the rest is just sugar.

Here's how to play it. Hmm, in some ways it resembles Nova a little... It's more of a tactical game than a strategical (like Magic or L5R), and luck plays an important and very direct role.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-12-12 18:46:14   {link} (see old comments)
Categories: CCGs


Magi-Nation is a cool CCG by Interactive Imagination. When it came out a few years ago, it was not just a Magic knockoff, but rather it had some new, refreshing ideas, an interesting storyline, and cool art.

Like most CCGs, it has factions... Cald (fire), Naroom (earth/forest), Arderial (air), Orothe (water), etc. Where Magic uses a player's life points, Magi-Nation uses Magi that need to be defeated. There are no resource cards, allowing you to fill your deck with useful spells and creatures rather than lands. The basic casting mechanism is simple: to cast a spell with cost X, you discard X energy from your active Magi. If you cast a creature, then X is also that creature's power. (See more rules.)

Also, it plays right out of the box. Buy two starter sets and you're ready to go. I like the art as well; it's nice and colorful.

I'm not sure the company is doing very well though. There were layoffs last year, and quite a few of the promised goodies were never delivered -- no GBA game, no second GBC game, new expansion sets are late, etc. There used to be a lot of news sites too, but I can't seem to find them anymore.

This may be a good time to support them by buying a cool t-shirt with a card on it. All cards can be found here. I like the Ash Hyren. ^_^

Posted by Hans "gentlemen, start your junjertrugs" Nowak on 2003-11-08 12:22:01   {link}
Categories: CCGs

Recognizing Magic cards

To assess the (market) value of the Magic card, you need to know its expansion set or edition. Recognizing this is not always easy. Modern sets all have their own unique expansion symbol, but for older cards it's not always that simple. So here's a quick guide.

N.B. These rules are a concise version of what can be found at CrystalKeep.

1. Does the card have an expansion symbol? If so, then you're all set... unless it's Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends or The Dark. For other sets, just look up the symbol if you don't know it.

2. For Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends and The Dark: look at the border of the card. Is it black? Then the card is really from those sets. If it's white, though, it's a reprint from Chronicles.

3. OK, so we have a card that has no expansion symbol. Now look if there's a copyright notice at the bottom. Not with the artist's name ("© Anson Maddocks" or whatever), but something with a year in it, like "© 1995 Wizards of the Coast, Inc. All rights reserved."
If it's there, and the year is 1995, it's a 4th Edition card.
If the year is 1997, it's a 5th Edition card.

4. The oldest cards lack both the expansion symbol and the copyright notice. The edition can be determined by these rules:

  • Limited (Alpha, Beta): black borders; Alpha card corners have a wide, circular shape; Beta card corners look like those of all the sets after it
  • Unlimited: white borders; double border around colored area
  • Revised: white borders; *no* double border around colored area; colors of art look washed out

In the meantime, I've added more cards to the list. Check them out if you're interested in acquiring some uncommons and rares for cheap.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-09-01 18:17:22   {link}
Categories: CCGs

Cheap goodies

I'm selling some stuff. Right now there are only Magic cards, but books etc. will follow. See the trade section.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-08-31 16:48:06   {link}
Categories: general, CCGs

So you want to be a...

In the category "weird stuff": Whigger Dressup. (From the makers of Jesus Dressup, I reckon?)

Is it spelled "wigger" or "whigger", by the way? Google says:

whigger: 1,170 hits
wigger: 42,700 hits
wigga: 4,460 hits

Nuff respect. Google's da bomb.


In other news, here's an ongoing Mirrodin spoiler [mtgnews]. The new set seems to focus on artifacts and has some interesting new features. Provided these rumors are true, that is. Most things here seem reasonable, except for Fiery Gambit -- I thought R&D didn't like coin flips anymore? Of course, I could be wrong.


More Mac weirdness: I still have the strange connection problems described yesterday (to the Apple site no less); however, they disappear when I connect directly with PPPoE. So I tried Sherlock again... it finds the channels now, but for Yellow Pages and Movies it says, "You need to upgrade to Mac OS X 10.3 or later to use this version of the Movies Channel." Cool, I would do that if 10.3 was out yet!

This doesn't make any sense. Maybe it has something to do with the security updates I installed yesterday. These features are so secure now, that even I cannot use them. ^_^;

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-08-18 13:15:05   {link}
Categories: general, CCGs

Shake the cards *

Two years ago I developed a (not-really-collectible) card game called Nova. It's a bit like Magic, but only a bit... it's definitely not just another MtG clone. I don't want to go into too much detail right now, because I might try to sell the game.

Anyway, I have always wanted to have the cards printed and have "real" (cardboard) cards. (Currently I just print sheets, cut out the cards, and stick them in card protectors. It works for playtesting, but that's about it.) For a number of reasons I didn't get to it though, laziness my busy life being one, and not knowing much about PDF generation being another.

ReportLab to the rescue. The user guide [PDF] describes everything I want, and more. It's really easy. It only took me a coupla hours to find out everything I need. So, I can now generate the card sheets with a simple Python script. All hail ReportLab. emoticon:worship0

If marketing the game turns out to be too costly, and/or if nobody here wants it, then I might turn Nova into an "open" game and put everything on the Net, including PDF sheets people can use to print their own cards. That could be interesting too... people could add their own cards, or submit ideas, etc. We'll see.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-08-02 22:02:49   {link}
Categories: CCGs, Python

Scornful Egotist

(As seen here. ) This is a perfect example of a card that really sucks all by itself, but which gets a lot better in certain environments.

Nobody in their right mind would pay 8 mana for a 1/1 with no special abilities besides morph. However, the Scourge set contains a bunch of “converted mana cost” cards, and this does the trick. Scornful Egotist’s has a converted mana cost of 8 (never mind that you don’t actually have to pay all of it), which is fuel for cards like Torrent of Fire. Nifty.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-05-16 10:28:33   {link}
Categories: CCGs

Decree of Silence

I don’t really get it. Is this supposed to be a good card? (See article with preview here)

Let’s see… you pay 6UU to counter three spells. Doesn’t seem like a great deal to me (the original Counterspell costs UU). Or, you can cycle for 4UU and you get to counter and draw a card. An excellent bargain for 6 mana? I think not.

The black supercycler, Decree of Pain, seems much more powerful. Then again, I could be wrong, of course… :)

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-05-09 11:04:05   {link}
Categories: CCGs

MtG for game console?

If they will really release a Magic the Gathering game for a game console, then I will buy that console. Yes, even an Xbox. And a forkin' TV...

Unless it will be just another Magic Online. Do console go online these days? I don't have a clue.

I would have been a subscriber to Magic Online long ago if you didn't have to pay for the cards. Pay for a subscription is one thing, but paying for virtual cards? I don't think so.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-03-14 18:52:06   {link}
Categories: CCGs

The new frame

Magic the Gathering card frames will change. As expected, many people protested, and as expected, Mark Rosewater explains why the new frames are a good idea. Curiously, he repeatedly brings up that the new font is more readable "from a distance". Yes, I always put Magic cards a few feet away and then try to read them, I'm sure others do too. Also, one alleged reason is that the textures of the frames don't always match the "flavor of the colors". "Look at a white card, for example. The background is a lace doily. What does a doily have to with white's flavor? I have no idea." Maybe you should have thought of that earlier. This "lace doily" has been the hallmark of white for ten years, and has appeared on more than a thousand different cards.

Then there's this:

"Probably the biggest aesthetic change with the new card frames is that the focus is now more clearly on the art. For starters the art box is larger, but more importantly the card frames now focus the eye to the art. This is why, by the way, I don't agree with the assessment that the new frames are less "fantasy" than the old ones. I believe that the fantasy focus is merely different. The old frames added fantasy elements all over the card. The new frames instead draw the focus to the one card element that I believe is the most effective in capturing the fantasy flavor: the art."
Yes, except that the art all too often is *not* fantasy-related. At least with the original font, cards always had a fantasy flavor, even if the art did not. It was a consistent fantasy element on the card. That is gone now.

The new design isn't bad. One could wonder if it was necessary though.

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2003-01-27 09:30:50   {link}
Categories: CCGs

30 cards

Apparently, Magic the Gathering can be played just as easily with 30 cards. (The normal deck size is around 60.) We played a game with 30-card decks yesterday; this seems a good format for casual play. Some thoughts:

1. This format is meant for casual play.

2. There should be a rule about what happens when you reach the end of your deck. My first thought was that when that happens, you just look at the life totals, and the player with the highest total wins. This can be abused though; e.g. millstone decks run through a 30-card deck much faster than through 60. Also, including a lot of cantrips and other "draw a card" effects can give a player an unfair advantage. Then again, as said, this format is meant for casual play. If you are abusing the rules because you really must win, maybe this casual format isn't for you. :-)

3. There should be a maximum of 2 of the same cards. 4 is just too much, since normally you will have something like 10 lands + 20 other cards. Personally, I think it wouldn't hurt to make those 20 cards all different.

4. New forms of deck building. Wade through your commons, pick cards that generally look OK, or try using a coherent theme (e.g. a goblin deck, still possible in 30-card format). A Falcon deck becomes possible as well (don't forget to include Soraya the Falconer). Etc, etc.

5. Playing is more important than deck building. This roughly translates to, having fun is more important than winning. Don't enter the place with a well-oiled tournament deck; rather, use some interesting cards that will delight friend and foe.

And shuffle well, so you won't get 8 Forests in a row like I had... ;-)

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2002-12-29 11:19:35   {link}
Categories: CCGs

Greatest misses

magicthegathering.com is a nice site, but sometimes they goof up.

Like the time that Mark Rosewater did his darndest to explain why leaks (card spoilers coming out before WotC officially released them) are bad for us. That was laughable, and purely written from a marketroid point of view.

This week they goof in a different way. It's the holidays, and to celebrate the editors have decided to give us... repeats of the best articles of 2002. Yes, that's right, we get to look at old articles every day. For those who don't know the site: every weekday a new article is posted, which is usually informative and/or funny, so it's worthwile to come back every day and read the new stuff. Except for this week, when we get old articles.

But wait, maybe articles are taken off the site after a certain time, so it makes sense to read the best old articles again? Eh, not really. All older articles can easily be retrieved in the archive.

Even the Q&A section rehashes old questions! But at least they're funny.

Elaine Chase: "I'm actually the only girl who plays Magic. Besides being a Magic developer and a level 3 judge, I'm also on the Magic rules team, so I make sure to tell the templating team to use 'she' a lot. Every time you see a 'she' on a card, it's talking about me."
Let's hope they start writing again after this week...

Posted by Hans Nowak on 2002-12-24 09:17:17   {link}
Categories: CCGs

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