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Subject: Steps in designing a deck builder rss

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Kurt Van Hoeyveld
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So, the idea of a deck builder is born. The basic rules are written and now I'm prototyping... but, I'm having a real hard time making a prototype for this kind of game. Hence the cry for help/tips/experiences/...

How do you begin? Because a deck builder tends to have quite a number of (different) cards:

Do you create a small number (say 10 or so) and start testing, improving and then step by step adding new cards and testing again?

Do you create a whole load of cards, test and change and remove until you have a good number of cards that work as they should?

Any other methods of prototyping/testing?
 
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Crazed Survivor
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I'm also designing one. I'm taking a certain game as a model so I could always try and paste my ideas on that model's template. I haven't gone that far yet though.

Are you modeling your game after one that already exists?
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Kurt Van Hoeyveld
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Razoupaf wrote:

Are you modeling your game after one that already exists?


Not really, it has some special things that I haven't seen in a deck builder yet. But on the other hand, it's still deck building of course. Gaining cards that cycle back. But it's definitely not a Dominion or Ascension clone. It has a play area on the table made out of cards where things can be manipulated for example and some of the cards that make up this play area can be gained in your deck as well.
 
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Crazed Survivor
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Mine has some very special features too that make it really hard to design. Actually I haven't touched it in a year. But I see where the problem lies for you.

Sadly I don't really have advice.
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Kurt Van Hoeyveld
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Razoupaf wrote:

Sadly I don't really have advice.


Thanks anyway And good luck with your design!
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David Gregg
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I'd recommend making the whole set worth at once so you can be testing them all. The simpler effects will likely just need their costs adjusted to balance while the more complex effects may need more significant changes. Only adding a few at a time would take ages to test.
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Hedyn Brand
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I've been "designing" one for a decade. New deckbuilders are released all the time, and I get new ideas, destroying all my previous "work"

Lately I've felt inspired by Aeon's End, which has one brilliant thing: You don't shuffle the player decks. It's an excellent idea to steal, I think.

Apart from the initial shuffle (if you require that) it's all strategic placement of cards in the discard pile. You could even let players choose the initial hand with starter cards, or make it so you players only have one type of card initially, making shuffling a moot point.

Prototyping something along the same lines won't need many cards either, so you can make a small prototype easily.

Now it's just about designing the rest of the game, which is the hardest part. You seem to have the gain/trim ideas in place, so it's really all about balance.

I'm always for cards which do more than one thing, usually a choice/trade-off. If a card has an effect to let you get rid of another card, that's just your typical trimmer. It would be better if it has one positive effect (for example income/paying for resources), or an alternate effect to get rid of itself to make room for a more optimal card as the game progresses.

Sometimes you just use the sock method, i.e. throw them at the wall and see which ones don't stick. Design a bunch of variations on effects, with different trade-off and costs, and see which ones testers (and you!) feel the least resistance to.

One thing I'm never sure about is how many components people will put up with. Dominion, Ascension and all the Legendary games have ephemeral income - your purchase power only exists until you discard your hand.

The design I can never finish fluctuates between that and having some separate tokens to count a resource, because it's thematically fitting that it increases a lot, is used in small amounts to purchase/trade for and only drops to nothing in dire circumstances. A full reset doesn't make all that much sense for my idea. Your ideas may of course be saner.

I've also considered complicating it with more than one deck type (like Legendary), so that there's one deck where the buyable cards come from, and another slowly advancing deck for game events. The events may change costs, ban cards temporarily, give benefits or disadvantages to the player with the highest or lowest resource, and other good/bad global effects. Basically ensure nobody grows complacent, keeping the game moving.

What sort of stage are you really at? Do you have something that can demo a few turns? And how much can you reveal about it?
 
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Crazed Survivor
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gnurf wrote:
The design I can never finish fluctuates between that and having some separate tokens to count a resource, because it's thematically fitting that it increases a lot, is used in small amounts to purchase/trade for and only drops to nothing in dire circumstances. A full reset doesn't make all that much sense for my idea. Your ideas may of course be saner.


Ever heard of Vikings Gone Wild?
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Rob Harper
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s3rvant wrote:
I'd recommend making the whole set worth at once so you can be testing them all. The simpler effects will likely just need their costs adjusted to balance while the more complex effects may need more significant changes. Only adding a few at a time would take ages to test.


I'd suggest the opposite and to make a small set so you can test the core of the game before spending too much time on making a full set of cards. Once you have the basics working, you can make more cards in batches.

Mind you, I have to concede that David has a heap more experience in designing deck builders than I do!
 
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Martijn van der Lee
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Perhaps use Tabletop simulator, Tabletopia or similar? They save you the effort of printing, cutting, laminating/sleeving, etc.

If you have some programming experience, you may be able to create a computer version, which makes it much faster to iterate through designs.

You could even look at AI solutions (i.e. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_game_playing) to help you playtest or balance the cards.
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Hedyn Brand
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Tynes wrote:
Perhaps use Tabletop simulator, Tabletopia or similar? They save you the effort of printing, cutting, laminating/sleeving

Tabletop Simulator might be the best solution, because it simulates a table and components. No programming required, just art. Plus all the benefits you mentioned

Quote:
If you have some programming experience, you may be able to create a computer version, which makes it much faster to iterate through designs.

I've tried this - even got as far as a deck/hand/table simulator for cards without any real rules. That part was actually quickly made too, and if you make the CSS in real-world measurements it could be the basis for printed cards.

It's amazing how much of the production process you can get done with just a bit of HTML, CSS and JS.
 
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maf man
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+1 to using TTS, I've seen some friends use it and it seems to work well. I like testing in the physical world if I can. For your situation I just go with a ton of cheap sleeves and junk MTG cards with hand written sticky notes put in for what I want the card to actually be. As for starting big and trimming or small and adding its really up to how you think and what works as far as the game. A game like dominion its easy to just add card by card but you might need to go with groups at a time such as starting with the base cards then adding all "attack" and "defense" cards or something like that ether splitting up by what they do or how game changing they are.
I've never tried designing a deck builder from scratch so take that with a grain of salt.
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Bojan Prakljacic
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Tabletop Simulator best for quick making and playtesting.

I've made few deck building games through TTS.
Here's my latest:

https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=94609...

I can share some wisdom if you wish.
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VetruvianGamer wrote:
So, the idea of a deck builder is born. The basic rules are written and now I'm prototyping... but, I'm having a real hard time making a prototype for this kind of game. Hence the cry for help/tips/experiences/...

How do you begin? Because a deck builder tends to have quite a number of (different) cards:

Do you create a small number (say 10 or so) and start testing, improving and then step by step adding new cards and testing again?

Do you create a whole load of cards, test and change and remove until you have a good number of cards that work as they should?

Any other methods of prototyping/testing?

Computer modeling is your friend.

I have seen designers write out the cards on paper and play with those for long periods of time and ultimately get nowhere. Who wants to play with paper except the most dedicated? Not many of those out there.

By using a computer program (even ... gag ... spreadsheets) can work to move you along relatively quick. Index the cards, create a draw process etc. and there you go.

You then can add additional cards (text only) quickly and start playing with them almost immediately. It makes presentations easier also.

Good luck
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Jason Long
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It's certainly not advice, more of a request: since pure deck builders, in their essential form, are everywhere now, perhaps consider using the mechanic as only a part of a bigger whole. I'm thinking here of games like Mage Knight Board Game, where deck building is only a part of something much more interesting. As much as games like Arctic Scavengers and Thunderstone still hold a special place in my heart, and obviously many people still like Dominion, the pure deck builder, or even the game where deck building is the primary function of gameplay, is fairly played out. I wouldn't buy a pure deck builder (or even a game that relies mostly on deck building) these days, nor would any of the folks in my gaming groups. But we do all love the mechanic, when it's used to embellish theme or mixed with more intriguing gameplay.

Best of luck on the game! I hope it gets fully realized.
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patrick mullen
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You might try finding the game closest to yours and borrowing its cards.

NoDicePlease wrote:
VetruvianGamer wrote:
So, the idea of a deck builder is born. The basic rules are written and now I'm prototyping... but, I'm having a real hard time making a prototype for this kind of game. Hence the cry for help/tips/experiences/...

How do you begin? Because a deck builder tends to have quite a number of (different) cards:

Do you create a small number (say 10 or so) and start testing, improving and then step by step adding new cards and testing again?

Do you create a whole load of cards, test and change and remove until you have a good number of cards that work as they should?

Any other methods of prototyping/testing?

Computer modeling is your friend.

I have seen designers write out the cards on paper and play with those for long periods of time and ultimately get nowhere. Who wants to play with paper except the most dedicated? Not many of those out there.

By using a computer program (even ... gag ... spreadsheets) can work to move you along relatively quick. Index the cards, create a draw process etc. and there you go.

You then can add additional cards (text only) quickly and start playing with them almost immediately. It makes presentations easier also.

Good luck


I started with paper but have upgraded to a stack of blank cards I write on with a pencil or a sharpie. It would get tedious to write too many but you can make card ideas and play with them and see how things feel much faster than any other method I've tried.

I have a program that turns a spreadsheet into a TTS deck that I can use when I'm at a further state, but I still go back to those blank cards and always start there. Usually my first 10 bad ideas don't live beyond the pencil sketches

But yeah, spreadsheets are necessary, and TTS is amazing because you can take your card designs and play with your distribution really quickly.
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Ian Ranney
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I've designed two deck builders now, both with new mechanics. One is still in beta, but the other is coming to kickstarter soon.

With both games, our team decided on a few key cards, and made those first. After that, we branched out using the first few as templates. After we do a few playtests and find at least a couple cards that 'work' we design a bunch to fill out the deck, then cut out or edit the ones that aren't working.

I find that even if you can only do a few rounds, testing even just a few cards until they fit the theme is a good idea.
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Test in Tabletop Simulator or something similar.

Once you're familiar with how the decks are put together into a single image (and it comes with a Java app that will do it for you, provided you feed it images of the cards) it's a snap to update cards. The main advantages are being able to test with other people regardless of physical location and it's the closest thing you'll get to a finished RL copy outside of a lot of work with a printer, paper cutter and glue. The ability to instantly copy cards (putting multiples into play), search decks (if you named the cards) and automate shuffling/dealing is also nice. Multiple game states can also be saved.

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Kurt Van Hoeyveld
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Looks like I really need to take a look at Table Top Simulator Sadly I tend to suck at those things. But it seems it is a well regarded tool.

Besides that, working methods seem to differ quite a bit. I'll guess I'll have to find the ideal way for me.

As for sharing more information. While I'm absolutely not one of those wanna be designer who are overly protective with their ideas, I am one of those wannabe designers who have a hard time sharing their ideas out of fear of sounding stupid

But the overall idea is a deck builder about pickpockets (at this moment in the Oliver Twist time period, but if play testing indicates that modern time gives me more and better options, that can still change).

On the table there will be a grid of cards which will depict a market place (or some other place where many people are together) and cards will be locations (with actions), potential recruits (that can be recruited, duh) and normal people (that can be pick pocketed). Those potential targets will also have a difficulty level (how attentive they are and how careful with their belongings) and the higher the level the more random 'loot' cards will be tucked underneath them). Those loot cards can be gained by pick pocketing those people and are cards that go into your discard pile and help you later (as normal deck builders tend to do). There will be a number of different types of loot, each with their own way of scoring (some set collecting, some have to placed in your safe which also keeps them safe from the police, some can't be in your safe to score,...). Of course, cards in your safe won't help you in play anymore, so it's up to you to decide when to put them in your safe or to keep them in the deck building cycle to keep on using them.

I'm still working on how you determine your targets on the play area so can't tall much about that yet and the pick pocket mechanic uses dice like the way they are used in X-Com the Board Game with the cards (aka pick pockets) you use giving you D6's and the difficulty of the victim giving you a target of successes to roll. This has a push your luck element to it because the chance of getting caught gets higher, the longer you keep rolling to get to the target number of successes The threath is 1 at first and you roll a d8 together with your d6's. As long as the result on the d8 isn't equal or lower than the current threat (which goes up by one every roll), you can keep going.

If you fail, you'll have to stop (of course) and you draw at least on police card (which can have an immediate effect or can be placed in your discard pile or hand and have their trigger when drawn or clog up your hand and sometimes make you loose previously gained loot).

End game trigger hasn't been determined yet.

Wow, that's about it... of course, many things might change as it will hopefully be prototyped and playtested.
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VetruvianGamer wrote:
...
I'll guess I'll have to find the ideal way for me.
...


That's exactly right. Each designer has their own way of approaching a problem and solving it. This also goes for designing. Some people like to use programs, and other like to use the old ink and paper routine. I've used both, and each have their strengths and weaknesses.

The biggest thing you have to be concerned about with designing a deck builder, is balancing. There's always a meta curve to every game and it's important that you find yours. This meta curve is what helps you balance the game and find outliers. Also the meta curve is usually some mathematical equation that you find based on the cards actions, attack, health, things like that.

So start with trying to find the meta curve and move from there. The best way to help determine this is by just making cards and play testing yourself several times. This will help you decide what seems to be happening a lot and also what seems powerful and not, all can be added to your equation.

TLDR: Play test, play test, and play test some more. You can only ever find out how well your game flows by play testing the crap out of it. Trust me, things you don't ever consider will come up, and you will need to adjust around it. Game sounds interesting, and best of luck! Time for you to see what design style works best for you!

Edit: Oh and one more thing. Try to keep your randomized mechanics to a minimum. A large portion of people don't like too many random mechanics in the game, as it feels more like luck than skill. There needs to be a balance here too. I only bring this up, because it seems like you already have two. One being deck building (drawing will be random) and rolling dice.
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I have one deckbuilder I started designing (paused for now to work on other projects). I went ahead and made a whole load of cards at the beginning. I liked that because I had a good idea of all possible types of cards that would end up in the game and could avoid any broken combinations rather than later having a cool idea for a card and realizing it wouldn't work well due to the presence of an earlier card that was already integrated into the game. It takes a ton of playtesting though. I can definitely see the benefit of starting with a small core set and getting all the mechanics of the game tight before expanding the card pool.
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I'm also currently working on a deckbuilder.
My game has cards that can be acquired in various tiers, so when I started with the design I made a bunch of low tier cards (cards that can be acquired during the first few turns of the game) and the starting cards. Just enough to play a very short version of the game with. This was enough for me to start testing to see what works and what needs to be changed.

I started with handwritten pieces of paper placed in sleeves with a card behind it, then switched to printed prototype cards, cut out and placed in sleeves. This makes shuffling easy, and replacing a card with a new version is very quick.

Good luck with your game!
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Oloring wrote:
I'm also currently working on a deckbuilder.
My game has cards that can be acquired in various tiers, so when I started with the design I made a bunch of low tier cards (cards that can be acquired during the first few turns of the game) and the starting cards. Just enough to play a very short version of the game with. This was enough for me to start testing to see what works and what needs to be changed.

I started with handwritten pieces of paper placed in sleeves with a card behind it, then switched to printed prototype cards, cut out and placed in sleeves. This makes shuffling easy, and replacing a card with a new version is very quick.

Good luck with your game!


I have tiered cards too! What a nightmare
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Since I haven't noticed it being mentioned here, I've found the nandeck program useful for making and laying-out for printing. It's not straightforward to learn, but it's not bad. And very powerful if you want to learn it.
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VetruvianGamer wrote:
So, the idea of a deck builder is born. The basic rules are written and now I'm prototyping... but, I'm having a real hard time making a prototype for this kind of game. Hence the cry for help/tips/experiences/...

How do you begin? Because a deck builder tends to have quite a number of (different) cards:

Do you create a small number (say 10 or so) and start testing, improving and then step by step adding new cards and testing again?

Do you create a whole load of cards, test and change and remove until you have a good number of cards that work as they should?

Any other methods of prototyping/testing?


When we were starting our production of Direwild (www.direwild.com), which is a combination of deck builder with a dungeon crawler, we bought a TON of these cards off of Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01H4CZQ14/ref=asc_df_B01H4CZQ1452...

They are great because you can just mark them up, and use them as low buy-in prototypes.
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