Dissection of a "card game". It's long!
So, I recently ran a game I call "Kung Fu the Card Game the RPG". It's not actually over, yet, but it's far enough along that I'm comfortable writing about it.
Frankly, it's a mess. But my games are always exercizes in controlled chaos. This one simply exceeded the scope I expected of it. Still, there's lessons to be learned from it, both for me and for, presumably, everyone else.
First, a quick description.
KFtCGtRPG is a game which is largely driven by rock paper scissors: there are various action cards, and each action card wins over various other action cards in a straightforward and relatively easy-to-remember way. It also ties with certain action cards.
Statistically, there are twelve normal action cards, each which wins against four, loses to four, and ties to four (including itself). There are also two special cards - item and stance - which lose to everything.
Now, from a statistical standpoint, each card has a 6-4-4 win-loss-tie ratio. But not all cards are played equally, and this is something I was very careful to design in.
Each action has a different result if it wins. Some do damage. Some interrupt your enemy's rhythm. Some increase your own rhythm.
In addition, you can play adjectives on your actions to do other things - wildly varying depending on the adjective. When making a character, you get to buy "schools" of martial arts at various levels, so everybody has wildly varying adjective sets.
Now, if you get through your deck three times, you tie the entire match. And people wanted to win. However, in the early days, they didn't have much in the way of damage-dealing adjectives. So they had to stock up on damage-dealing cards, weighting action selection heavily. So, other people would adapt to this, and weight their deck with the actions that counter the actions the first wave preferred.
In addition, as characters got more powerful, they would likely find they were choosing their actions primarily to win the rock-paper-scissors, rather than to do damage or not. Also, I predicted that the heavy rhythm damage moves would be unpopular to begin with, but popular later, as decks got more rhythm-intensive.
I had planned this, and it worked wonderfully.
I also knew there would be a bunch of special abilities. It is a bad kung-fu movie, so this is pretty much required. I created a unique method of revealing plot which put in a fair negative feedback loop, so the players who shot ahead of the pack would need to go back and pull up the players who didn't.
Those parts didn't work so well.
The negative feedback loop is easy: the only problem with it was that it simply wasn't strong enough. I know how to fix that for the next run, many months from now.
The special abilities didn't work quite as well as I wanted them to. First, there were a few rather critical typos. Still, the game adjusted - such is the joy of rock-paper-scissors. However, more critically, I totally underestimated the lethality of the later decks.
For example, there are two martial arts styles called "Classic" and "Exploding Platypus". They're awkward, clumsy styles (from a gameplay perspective), and although I had a soft spot in my heart for both of them, they were widely considered inferior to more balanced martial arts styles like "Crazy Ivan" and "Raging Kitten".
But, in fact, the first player to win the game did it without understanding an inch of plot. He simply attacked the boss and beat her - without knowing the weaknesses or anything. This boss was someone who regained 10% of their hit points every round, gained rhythm every round, and had a killer deck. But by combining the clumsiness of Classic and Exploding Platypus, he came up with a way to deal enough damage to beat her. It was extremely impressive.
It was then I realized I might have a problem.
Nobody else has beaten the bosses yet (as far as I know), but there are warriors out there who are just as powerful as many of the bosses. As an example, both warriors generally have 7 HP. But there have been single rounds in which 30 damage is dealt to one side (usually accompanied by 16 damage to the other side). The lethality took off from the early game, where two damage was considered damn sweet.
Looking back on it, it seems obvious. The way to fix it is also obvious. (I haven't explained the rules clearly enough for you to know, so take my word for it.) But it didn't occur to me.
I could look ahead and see how the decks were going to change, how the people would operate, but I didn't notice that the players would become so fatal, so fast. Geez, talk about missing the forest for the trees, eh?
However, the game is evidently still fun. I tried to put in something for every kind of player type I could think of: there's a complex, puzzly plot for people who like that sort of thing. There's the card game itself, for people who like that sort of thing. There's pretending to be "The Nekomancer" or "Steve of the North" and shouting move names, for people who like that sort of thing.
However, I was still surprised - stunned, actually - when another kind of play popped into the game. The architect.
The architect is a player who builds. He likes building. He likes creating things which are impressive. I knew he existed, but I didn't incorporate him into the game, or, in fact, care about him at all.
Until people created their cards. Some people created cards which had pictures, many people put on flavor text. These people personalized a game which was, until they came along, about some scraggly text on half a notecard.
I think these decks added greatly to the play of the game.
Now, on another subject, there are several players who joined that didn't care for the game. About 15%, which is about average for me. They got fired up by the concept, but the actual gameplay was a turn-off.
This is the same problem MMORPGs have. The way they solve it is to let people play on any axis. They don't have to fight. If they like creating decks, hook them up with people who need decks, but don't force them to fight.
The problem with that is -win condition-. I'll have to think about it. This game was made specifically as a competitive game. I could make it so that you can participate without trying to win, but some of the players want to do the plot part without doing the combat part, and that doesn't work.
I'll have to think about it, but the point is:
You can't think of everything. But you can try.