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Design style
« on: February 08, 2020, 02:08:51 pm »

Hi all,

This is my 200th post - woohoo! Arbitrary, for sure, but I've decided that I want to make every 100th post something "special". So for #200, I want to survey opinions on design style.

We have some amazing design creation guides that have helped me immensely in thinking through some ideas (and trashing others). Whereas there are definitely some obvious do's and don't in regards to mechanics, design style is more a matter of opinion. I'm curious what others think is good / bad style when designing cards.

Here's a few topics I've considered (sometimes based on comments from other posts), with my personal opinions in ().

In other words, how much does the card match the name of the card? Dominion is a game where theme does sometimes seem to play second fiddle to mechanics, but it always pleases me when a card's text makes sense in the context of the name / theme.

(My personal preference is to err on the side of theme - I'll start with some idea, then figure out a name, then tweak the idea so it matches better with the name. (or sometimes, I'll even start with a name and go from there). In other words, I'm willing to sacrifice some on the mechanics if it helps the flavor.)

Related to theme, do you care about the setting of your cards? Official cards have expanded the setting - most cards fit well in a medieval setting, and then we had Empires and a Roman setting. I never imagined we'd have mythical creatures and spirits, then Nocturne came out. Similarly, for those who add artwork, how important is it for you that the artwork match the setting (and not use modern settings)?

(I try to fit my cards in a setting that would fit the official settings, but for the right card I'll likely make an exception - I have one as of yet unpublished card, which didn't exist in the real world until the late 1700s)

Simplicity vs Complexity
How much do you care about the complexity of the card? The amount of text?

(I prefer simple to complex, BUT find that most of my ideas end up being complex; the one time I did get runner up in the WDC was, of course, my simplest card text, though that's just because I introduced a new kind of token, i.e outsourced the text to the rules)

Mechanics from multiple expansions
I have seen some comments on custom cards that frown upon using mechanics from two different expansions (e.g. a debt cost card that gives Villagers). Is this something you consider in your design or is it a free for all?

(I am perfectly fine mixing up mechanics. If I were designing for on an official set, I would care, but since I'm not (yet!  8)), I prefer being able to explore things that can't necessarily be done in an official set)

Setup instructions
What do you think of extra set up instructions? For example, I recently had a card that had a below the line clause of: "Setup: Add 2 extra Attack Kingdom card piles to the Supply" and  received a couple comments against it.

(I ended up removing it, but am still unsure. I likened it to the Alchemy suggestion of 3-5 potion cards, so I moved it to my "virtual" FAQ).

Useless cards in some (many?) setups
Similar to setup instructions, what about cards that may not have an effect in some games? Using my worshipper tokens as an example again, I've designed an event and a landmark that would only be useful in a game with worshipper tokens.

(my general thought, again, is with the right FAQ, e.g "only use in games with worshipper tokens", this is interesting; but I can see it not being a good design for an official set)

Game altering cards
How much do you care about designs that can completely alter the strategies of a match? For example, I remember one card I had where the comments where that it would enable fast pile depletion.

(While I wouldn't want to play with such a card all the time, I do think it's great to have a card that completely flips the usual strategies. In the example above, if someone goes for the fast pile depletion card, you may have to alter your intended strategy very fast, and I think recognizing and executing that can be challenging and interesting)

Thoughts on the above topics? Any others related to design style that you've considered?

Feel free to join us at scolapasta's cards for discussion on any of my custom cards.


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Re: Design style
« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2020, 11:54:18 am »

Hey happy 200th post!

For me, it depends on what I'm doing with the card. I generally start with some idea of what I want the card to do - like, is it a variant on an existing card? I try to pick a name that's roughly synonymous with/in the same vein as the existing card.
I do generally try to come up with a name immediately after writing out a purpose for the card though because if a card refers to itself, putting in "The next time you play a <name>" throws me off and makes it hard to finish writing the card. If I have to rename it later, that's fine.

I try to make cards that'd fit with the canon as-is and the "world" that its sketched out. When I add art, I try to either use my own, or include something maybe a little more abstract or less realistic than the canon cards - I really think the focus on video game art being "realistic" has given people brainworms about what "game art" should be, and really detracted from the great surrealistish/psychedelic artistic heritage of comic books and board games.

I think my favorite card that I've found art for is Warlock:

This feels like art from a Logan's Run board game or something. It's not the funny-pages caricature like Butcher or Navigator, it's not the r/digitalpainting self-taught weirdness of Scout, and it's way more threatening than Familiar without being gore-y.

Like cards are an object to be handled and thought about - why make the images goofy or unpleasant to look at? make them interesting and thought provoking in a way that IRL and HBO aren't.

Simplicity vs Complexity
I've got no problem making a complex card, but I do try to keep the instructions straightforward and the text large enough for someone to not have to dig out their reading glasses in order to play. I think my sort-of benchmark for this is Border Guard or Native Village - instructions straightforward, good usage case maybe slightly hidden, any rules that need offloading onto other objects, do it; and then enough text as it takes to get the point across.

That said, there are some simple cards that are really beautiful with their concisety. It's just not a design priority for me.

Mechanics from Multiple Expansions
I mean, I keep all my dominion stuff in one place, so this isn't a hassle for me - the debt tokens are in the same box as the coin tokens, I don't have to find the Empires box to use them - and there's a lot of cool stuff you can do if you aren't limiting yourself to "nope, can't use embargo tokens, nope, can't make night cards". You're your own limitation.

Setup Instructions
I'm not allergic to this or anything but it's gotta be brief and concise and also ideally modular - like, Young Witch's Bane pile is probably as ridic as I'd want to go - Black Market is really pushing it but also I keep a Black Market deck on-hand irl.

Useless cards in some (many?) setups
This is why sometimes u gotta setup instructions. I used to be in team "it's fine if its useless" but nah, I've come around on trying to make it interesting in general. Sometimes that means a card has to self-synergize more, which I know people don't love because it's very game-shaping but they can always just... not play with that card also. If you don't give your table some limited veto power, people are going to have a bad time, and why are we playing a game if not to have fun?

Game altering cards
I think this breaks down into a couple different categories:
Centralizing cards
Modifying cards
Self-synergistic cards

The former should be avoided - Governor is an example of a canon one, likewise Rebuild - where the dominant strategy is trivial and the rest of the game basically boils down to a race based on shuffle luck.

Modifying cards are things like Chapel, Donate, Knights, Bandit, Bandit Fort, Wolf Den, Goons, where it may as well be a different game based on how you play when they're present. These aren't the end of the world, but some players won't like the game this makes them play. These are fine to design but you should keep your own canon in mind when making these and think about how this changes your cards - do you like the game this makes you play?

Self-synergistic cards can be either of the former two but also include things like Farmland, where buying Farmland with Farmland in your hand can help you race the Provinces, or Vassal, when you trash everything that isn't a Vassal in your deck and by playing Vassal can play your whole ass deck for hella$$$money. These aren't necessarily gamebreaking combos, but can be centralizing, can make for a trivial game. I try to keep their power level in check when I design one.

Other Considerations
One of the things that Aquila added to the Fan card creation guide that I absolutely love was the in-depth research guide. I think in the next couple months I want to try to map out a rough idea of where there's a ton of design space left (semi-cooperative cards are my first thought) and where there's only kind of trivial design space left (Pure vanilla is one of them - an Action that does +3 Cards, +1 Coffer and costs $6. Ok I guess that's a card, print it.) and then publish it to the wiki. Definitely want to wait for Menagerie to be released first though.
« Last Edit: February 09, 2020, 11:55:29 am by spineflu »
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