Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Game Design: The Eben07 Card Game

I have been tossing around game design ideas ever since I first tried to make my own "custom Talisman" expansion back in 2001. [Note: Yes, I actually tried to make an expansion to Talisman, 2nd Edition, back in 2001. It did not work out. The world is better because of it.] Every few years, something would spark my interest again and I would write a few notes but I never really got especially far with it. As I became more involved with the modern tabletop gaming scene, I began to realize that a lot of games had already been made. A lot of the things that I thought the world needed had been done in one way or another.

Fast forward to December 2011. One of my biggest frustrations with game design is that I like having an idea for the aesthetic. Specifically, I like having art. Two old friends of mine were well into their fourth year of publishing a webcomic, Eben07. The comic is about a government agency, the Intelligence Cleaner Agency, responsible for cleaning up after supers spies like James Bond. I started thinking about it and I realized that the comic would be a great theme for a simple card game. Furthermore, I had easy access to quality art assets. From there, I began designing.

Eben07: The Card Game

The basic idea of the Eben07 card game is that each player represents one of the different factions or organizations featured in the webcomic. These different factions are trying to complete various missions which are worth points. The missions represent any number of different things featured in the comic, from raiding Countess Vampirexia's castle in Eastern Europe to hiding a very specific Soviet ballistic missile submarine in a river.
Raid on the Vampire's Castle!
Each player plays a faction, represented by a deck of 20 cards. Each faction has different strengths and weaknesses, with the idea that each deck plays towards different strategies. While one faction may focus on recycling cards in their discard pile, another faction might focus on synergistic card assignment.

The Assignment Phase

Players draw a hand of cards from their individual deck representing different agents and minions of the organization. During the game round, players take turns assigning cards to missions (generally, face-down in a single pile). Some cards have the "Action" keyword and can be played on a turn to achieve a specific effect, like drawing additional cards or pulling cards out of a discard pile. Inspired by Saint Petersburg, I also included the idea that a player could pass but still stay in the round. The round would continue until every player passed in succession.

Ninja Dan reacts.
The goal with assigning cards to missions is to have the more of the appropriate skill than any other player. Missions can be either Cloak & Dagger missions (indicated by white text on black background) or Mop & Bucket missions (indicated by black text on white background). Each card has skill numbers in the upper left and right corners that match up with the color-scheme of the two mission types. Ninja Dan, an important card in the ICA faction, has 3 Cloak & Dagger skill and 2 Mop & Bucket skill, making him slightly better at those Cloak & Dagger missions.

Players are not required to play all of their cards and may want to retain some cards in their hand. This allows for a certain amount of hand grooming for the next round. Some cards have the "Reaction" keyword which means they can be played in response to some event. For example, Ninja Dan has the Reaction ability to "Cancel any card played as an Action or Reaction." Some Reaction abilities get more sophisticated, such as canceling reveal effects or forcing players to discard cards that they assign to missions.

The Resolution Phase

One of the more powerful
Reveal effects...
Once the Assignment Phase is over, the game moves to the Resolution Phase.  In the Resolution Phase, players would go to each mission, one at a time, and reveal the cards assigned to it from top to bottom. I realized that an important gameplay element would be to take advantage of that revelation. Some cards have the "Reveal" keyword which means that the card does something when turned face-up on a mission. Some of these are simple effects while some of them get quite involved.

Perhaps the most powerful Reveal effect in the game belongs to the Countess Vampirexia. As a vampire and leader of her faction (referred to as the Cult of Vampirexia), it made sense that she should be relatively powerful. When her card is revealed on a mission, the Vampirexia player is allowed to discard any other face-up card assigned to that mission. Thus, any card already revealed (or, assigned face-up) would be vulnerable to the Countess' attack.

Once all of the cards assigned to a mission are revealed, each player totals the mission-appropriate skill of their cards assigned to the mission. Whichever player has the most completes the mission and puts the card into their scoring area. Once each mission is resolved, one at a time, the game round ends. Assuming that no player has achieved the victory condition (some number of points, say 12-15), players draw up a new hand of cards and deal out a new set of mission cards for the next round.

Development Continues

The Eben07 card game is something that is still in development and everything here is subject to change. Right now, it is a 2-4 player game that plays in roughly 30-45 minutes. With every playtest iteration, I learn more about things that work and things that could use improvement. Hopefully, in the next few months I can go into greater detail about the different factions and how they work in the context of the game.

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