Dev Diary #3 – Movement

August 10th, 2011 at 10:54 am

One of the many design tricks I learned from my good friend and former business partner Ken Levine is the idea of pushing an idea to its extreme in order to find out where the boundary between a good idea and an over-the-top idea is. Often the way you might approach a design or creative issue is to start by trying to hit what you think the sweet spot is between something that is insipid and something that has “jumped the shark”. The problem with that approach is that you will probably just settle exactly where you started and then you end up leaving a lot of design space unexplored.

An alternative approach is to keep pushing the idea as far as it can go and don’t stop or draw back until you have reached a point that is clearly too far. Then pull back a little and you might find yourself with a really good idea that is more original or different than what you might have otherwise settled for.

Why am I telling this story? Because it illustrates the process we followed with deciding how movement works in Card Hunter.

One of the pillars of this game design is that everything is about playing cards. It would have been quite easy to create a card game with pieces that have additional stats and powers. So, maybe you have some special attacks that come from cards but your pieces also have move points and regular attacks they can use each turn. And that is probably quite a fine basis for a game design – but we wanted to explore the space a little further – is it possible to create a game where everything you do is driven by playing a card? Including movement?

Let’s step back a little now and talk about the actual game. A basic Card Hunter movement card is quite a simple thing. Take a look at Escaping Run, which we previewed last week:

Well this isn’t actually a basic movement card, since it has a special rule on it that says that it is especially useful if you play it when an enemy is next to you, but let’s not worry about that right now. The part of the card that tells you that it is a move card (as well as the blue color) is the little boot icon in the lower left corner and the 3. That tells you that when you play this card you have 3 move points to spend.

You spend one move point, naturally, to move one square. This move can be in any direction and you can move diagonally as well as straight. This picture shows where Sir Tristan could move to if he played Escaping Run.

It’s pretty easy to figure out where he can get to (although the game will always show you when you mouse over a move card) – just count up to 3. The only complexity is that Sir Tristan can’t get around the Kobold. That’s because of what a war game would call a “zone of control” or what we call “stopping when you move next to an enemy”. This rule stops you from just using a single move card to whip around behind an enemy. It helps tanks and other defensive characters “hold the line” and prevent enemies breaking through to your casters or healers behind. It also makes it hard for opponents to stab you in the back, where you can’t counter-attack or defend.

So, what was the point of all this blather before about pushing concepts as far as you can about? Well, we were talking about how everything you do comes from playing a card. An astute poster on our forum (hi Sir Knight!) already figured out that if movement is an ability you have only from cards, and you draw random cards each turn, you could get “move screwed” pretty easily. Move screw is a lot like mana screw in Magic – if you get an unlucky draw you end up not being able to use your attacks and other cards because you can’t move into position (in Magic, you can’t play your spells because you haven’t drawn enough land).

The opposite of move screw is move flood – where you end up with a hand of nothing but move cards. That’s also pretty frustrating because although it’s fun running circles around your enemy, it’s ultimately pretty futile if you can’t actually hurt them.

We knew when we decided to make all movement come from cards that we would end up with these problems, but we did it anyway, to see how far we could go. How bad would it be? After all mana screw and mana flood are part of Magic and, although they can be pretty frustrating, they do encourage you to put a lot of thought into the correct ratio of lands and spells in your deck. Perhaps move cards would be the same?

After play-testing this system for quite a while though, we came to the conclusion that this was actually a step too far. It was too common to get too many or too few move cards and too frustrating when this happened. We didn’t want to build a game where the outcome was so often decided by this amount of luck. So – what could we do to fix the problem?

We had a number of answers up our sleeves, because we knew this problem was likely going to come up. I’ll list a few of them:

  • Give each character an inherent move ability that they can use once per round. The big problem with this solution is that it breaks out commitment to having cards being the only play mechanic. It also complicates the UI because we have to interface to this new ability.
  • Have two decks, one containing move cards and the other action cards and let the player pick which to draw from each time they draw. This isn’t bad, but it slows down the game because you have to constantly pick which deck you draw from. It also again complicates the UI (and deck building) as we have to have two decks for each character.
  • Let you play any card as a move card by playing it face down. This is kind of nice but it again complicates the UI as you now have to decide which way up to play each card. It also makes it too easy to move by ensuring that you can move as many times as you have cards.

Hmm, I think I might stop going through these solutions we considered and discarded and just tell you what we did decide to do.

The solution we decided to adopt is one that would probably be quite annoying for a real physical card game but works well for a virtual game like this. Each character has what we call their default move card. Each round, when you draw your cards, in addition to the two cards you draw from your deck, you get a new copy of your default move card for free, so you end up drawing three cards, one of which is guaranteed to be a move card.

This is a very simple solution that enforces a baseline where you know that you will always have the ability to move each turn. Because the default move card isn’t a regular part of your deck, you don’t have to put any move cards in your deck at all – reducing the possibility of move flood as well as eliminating move screw.

But move cards aren’t gone from the deck building part of the game either. It’s still highly advantageous to have more movement than the default – if you are the kind of character who can take advantage of it. Rogues and tricky warriors will often want to have more move cards to get into good tactical positions. Even wizards might want some extra moves to get away from melee attackers. Movement is absolute key to this game. It’s easy to start loading up on big attacks and spells, but all those are meaningless if your opponent can maneuver to make them unplayable or ineffective.

So that’s how we solved the move problem and how basic movement works in the game. I should throw one last thing out there. Some of you may be wondering where the default move card comes from. Is it the same for each character? The answer is, of course, no. Your default move card is determined by your race. The dwarf’s default move card is the clunky Walk card, humans get the average Run and elves get the extremely useful Scamper card, which means you don’t have to stop when you move next to an enemy! Watch out for elves in the backfield…

I hope you enjoyed this dev diary. There’s a lot more to say about move cards, but we’ll probably move on (apologies) to defense and other topics first. However, next week, we’ll be featuring a special guest appearance from Dorian and he’s going to be talking about the more flavourful part of the game – building our first adventure. He’ll also introduce you to Alet Zhav and his legendary jewel!

14 Responses to “Dev Diary #3 – Movement”

  1. So excited for this game! I’m loving the dedication to an all-card system. Way to stick to your guns!

  2. It seems to me that getting a default move card every turn is just another way of giving a character a move stat that they get to use every turn. Just calling it a card instead of a stat.

    So I agree that this may make the UI flow better, or perhaps be easier to code into the game, but it’s the same thing as a move stat, isn’t it?

    Personally I liked the idea that any card could be used as a move card. Similar to the Warcraft TCG were any card could be a resource. It might be a little wonky to work into the UI but with a little effort I think it would be fine and add a move tactical, strategic element to movement as opposed to (what still is) a default movement stat.

    Not trying to hate or anything, I still look forward to playing the game. But I’m sure you can see how these things are the same.

  3. This clears up a lot of confusion of how move will work. It also shows you guys are really thoughtful in the fact that you understand that this isn’t a real card game but a virtual representation of a card game and taking advantage of that! Keep up the good work and I look forward toward the next dev diary!

  4. Hi Chris – you are right that the default move card is quite similar to a move ability. But there are a lot of subtle benefits that come from making everything work in one system. The “you can play any card face down as a move card” is interesting, but it does tend to lead to devaluation of movement in the game – endlessly circling each other until you run out of cards. We did play test it, along with the other ideas and the default move card was the one that came out on top. Not to say the other ideas couldn’t have worked too though.

  5. I’m curious if there are cards in the game that effect hand size and if your default move card counts towards that hand size? Since we do not know how all the pieces work together yet, it is hard to be too critical of the game though I’ll admit that the default move card feels like stat at first blush.

  6. Sounds great, but if elves have a good default run card then how will they be balanced with humans and dwarves?

  7. Indigo – yes, the default move card counts towards hand size. However, that is generally only enforced at the end of each round when you have to discard down to two cards.

  8. Zan – there are other ways the races differ from each other. What sort of fantasy game would it be where dwarves weren’t tougher than elves? :-)

  9. Another benefit of the move card approach over the move ability is that if card are used in this game as a resource, this plays into it. For example, if you have a powerful card that requires you to discard another card in order to play it (or use as “kicker” to borrow a Magic term), that second card can be the move card, as it kind of dispensable.

  10. Hey, I’m quite excited for this game, I’m the guy who asked you about the possibility of adventure creation via twitter (@MonkeyBot9k). I was actually wondering how you were going to handle movement and I eventually landed on the same idea, and also went through the multiple decks ideas, but I see that you had some other itneresting choices too! I also liked how you add the possibility of adding more move cards to the deck and handle movement as a race trait.

    I love reading these journals on how you guys figure stuff out. I really look forward to playing this game! Also, I might now some artists (and am an amateur artist myself (you can check some of my stuff at -way outdated though-) since you guys are looking, I’ll ask around!

    keep up the good work!

  11. This looks amazing, almost the game of my dreams. The only niggle that I have is this point about cards for everything, including movement. I do think the solution you’ve come up with for basic movement is a little clumsy – sorry!

    Being completely committed to “cards for everything” seems to be limiting you unnecessarily in my opinion. I just don’t see why you wouldn’t have a basic movement allowance for each character, then cards for everything else (including fancier movement options).

    It’s the only thing so far that bothers me about the game as the rest looks awesome and I’m certainly looking forward to playing. Best of luck with it, roll on launch day!

  12. i like cards for everything ….but how about the default move card only appearing if you dont draw one? ……really looking forward to a game thats cash friendly….storage friendly that i dont have to dm.

  13. Just wondering if there should be two more blue dots on that image above along the corridor with a door at the end. It seems to me that if the knight moved diagonally forward to his right (towards the right side of the image) then he wouldn’t move into the kobold’s zone of control (assuming that the zone is a square directly next to or diagonal to the kobold’s) and would could then move further.

    Sorry about the long question above I’ve probably missed something. Anyway just found out about the game from Ars and having looked through all the dev-diarys I’m really looking forward to playing this game next winter/spring and hopefully long after that as well.

    Another point my inquiring mind has is how the orientation of the character will be managed. Would it just be that you choose the direction you face after every movement, or could you change your direction at the start of a turn?
    p.s. I’ve never played a serious board game before there may already be a convention for this.

  14. @aracanid: Oh good catch! Yes, there are two dots missing there.

    The question about facing is a good one. You can set your facing at the end of each move and there are also various other cards that change it.

    I would say that “most” board games don’t represent facing explicitly. Our game is a bit different in that respect.

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