Why do card-based video games work? It is a legitimate question, since these pieces of cardboard are born from a medium other than ours, and yet video games seem to be full of them. In this text we want to talk about why we think card-based systems and mechanics are so popular, with special emphasis on genres that, a priori, do not use them.
Card games have the word “Luddism” printed on the back. Not only are they one of the most explored and widespread forms of game in the world of board games, with big names like Magic: The Gathering as references impossible to ignore, but they have also become a very popular genre within our own medium, with works such as Heartstone by the gigantic Activision Blizzard, Legends of Runeterra by Riot Games, and even Magic The Gathering’s own digital version, Arena, as some compelling examples that these words reaffirm; titles that move several thousand players on a daily basis and whose journey seems inexhaustible.
The CCG genre – Collectible Card Game in English – is popular in video games, and a lot. So much so that many of its mechanics seem to have impregnated other genres that until now were alien to the cardboard cardboard shape of the cards; sometimes with relative success or jubilation on the part of the players, as is the case with works like Griftlands , while examples like Star Wars: Battlefront 2 , with its unattractive bonus system, have a less satisfactory result.
In any case, it is undeniable that there is something within the intricate mechanics and “know-how” of this genre – so to speak – that manages to permeate others. In this text, our goal is to discuss why we think this phenomenon happens, as well as to talk about some of the positive and negative implications that the use of these mechanics has on many of the titles that wield them with such joy. Prepare your cards , let’s get started.
A deck of cheats available to the developer
Talking about “cards” as a unified mechanic within the video game is something relatively complicated. Normally, in CG – card games from now on – these cards move around a framework of rules, in such a way that the cards complement those rules or break them in a controlled way or completely. In this action, together with elements such as the fact of drawing up a cohesive list of said cards and their possible combinations, they are usually the mechanical basis of these titles. However, there is no single framework of rules for this type of game, since a game of Pokémon TCG is not developed in the same way as the aforementioned Hearthstone; so “taking CG mechanics” in a video game in a non-CG genre can be abstract.
Instead, we like to define card-based systems in games of non-CCG genres as a series of mechanics in which a series of rules are encapsulated in a playing card or virtual card, understanding that the use of these causes a special effect on the game environment. That is, cases such as the political options within Civilization VI or the mechanics of obtaining and creating decks in Slay the Spire would fall into this “bag” of mechanics, since they are integrated, to a greater or lesser extent, in a gameplay that it does not belong to the CCG genre, but it does make use of its concessions.
Civilization VI and its card-based policy system
The reasons why a developer can choose to integrate this type of mechanics can be terribly diverse, and respond to reasons of design, intentionality, and even management of the resources of the development itself; but, for us, the three main reasons why people choose to integrate these systems so frequently are the following:
- Integration. It is very easy to adapt satellite systems and CG mechanics in gameplay that do not revolve around them in the usual way.
- Simplicity. If a powerful and not excessively complex set of rules is developed, it can be easily expanded without the need to introduce elements outside the player. Furthermore, playtesting within these systems is usually simple -although restrictive-.
- Personalization and replayability. The combinations between cards, the means to obtain them or the aforementioned extensions to the original rules make these types of mechanics very long-lived when they are correctly planned.
Ancient Enemy is a solitaire RPG review
These pieces of cardboard have conquered our screens in the same way as tablesThese three ideas are integrated into what is called “High-Level-Rules” which is nothing more than the way in which we call the game systems that support their bases in a battery of simple rules that unfold and break at through special gameplay elements, a quality that is the basis of any CG worth its salt. As an example of the latter, we can think of how games such as Solitairica -which has recently been given away in the Epic Games Store- or Ancient Enemy play with the expansion of these rules , both a more or less elaborate variation of such a classic card game as is the lonely.
We don’t always talk about a winning hand
Even despite the virtues that we have exposed in the previous section, not all the advantages derived from typical CG tools are valid for all types of games. Developers who are working in works where the “Luddite” aspect of its gameplay have more weight than other intrinsic away from the game itself could be seen as the typical mechanical in CG not marry the pace of his work; while others more focused on the diegetic aspect of the video game may find it very difficult to justify the existence of these cards and their effects in the game world.
These are just two examples of the various reasons why these kinds of mechanics don’t work – or they do it badly – in all video games equally. And this is only if we focus on the added systems over other mechanics , if we stop to observe those titles that are built around CG mechanics to end up giving rise to something else, these kinds of errors can be even more lapidary; But of all of them, for us the two most typical mistakes when building these mechanics are the following:
- The foundationson which the rest of the mechanics are based must be solid enough to support the weight of the bulk of the gameplay, otherwise, the title will not be fun in the long run.
- While it’s easy to tweak and add content to the set of CG mechanics, balancing those mechanicscan be a daunting task that determines not only the longevity of a title, but also how easy it is to create an environment that is fun to play.
We name CG-based mechanics thinking of games they don’t belong toTitles that are able to work well around these two issues are able to offer pleasant experiences with these kinds of mechanics; Examples like KARDS in the area of more traditional GCCs are a good example of this; while others, like Signs of the Sojourner show us how CG mechanics can be integrated into the heart of a title that, as a whole, has little to do with more classic examples. The latter is a good example, in our eyes, of the implications of a correct integration of these mechanics in a thematic way.
To close this text, we did not want to say goodbye without mentioning the designer Nicholas Kinstler , who specializes in CCG titles and their mechanics, and in his Gamasutra blog he regularly talks about the errors – and possible solutions – to these kinds of errors; We urge you to take a look at his work if you are fluent in Shakespeare’s language. Finally, as we usually do, we list some of the texts belonging to this section that we think may be of interest to you.