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W27 Double Active Pokemon TCG

2017-12-15

PokemonTCGDualActiveDecks.jpg

I have always like the idea to design cards for TCGs (Trading Card Games), you always tell yourself that you know what a balanced card looks like (compared to a lot of the overpowered or worthless cards that actually gets printed) and what cards are fun to play with. But it dosn’t really mean anything to design isolated cards, they have to exist in a context, to be balanced compared to other cards and fill a specific role. I didn’t want to design a whole set of cards, thats to much. So the idea was to build to decks that have a aproximal 1 to 1 win ratio, that is equally good, to make some new cards and use some existing cards and change maximum 1 of the core rules of the game.

Design Challenge: Design two balanced decks

  1. 2 balanced decks
  2. with 5-10 new cards, the rest is old cards
  3. Change maximum 1 core rule

Heres a pdf with the deck list I made and the custom cards:

Download pdf deck list and custom cards (4mb)

National Gaming Month (NaGaDeMo)

I intended to participate in the NaGaDeMo (National Gaming Month), but a lot of things happened in November. I have at least two other ideas that I started to think about but actually never got around doing, and I started pretty late with the current idea and continued with it in December. I also made no status updated, which is something I would like to be better at. I think the reason I didn’t make any updated was because I wasn’t sure if I was going to stick around with the project, and it feels kind of unsatisfying to start to hype a project and then the next thing I do is to leave it. But I think it would have been better to make updates anyway, because it would have been interesting to read about the ideas for the other projects now.

The first idea was a jrpg-ish game, inspired by adventure atari 2600 art and Warren Spector’s talk about his game philosophy, with the story centered around three questions: school/national goals vs individual goals, how people changes over time and based on daily moods, and the creation of art and its effect on other people. The reason I didn’t make it was basically because I had issues imagining the core game play, it got to experimental or a game play not fitting the story. The other game was a mario inspired game but with more realistic themes with the first level on an airport.

I also had 3 different ideas for the 2 balanced TCG decks. All of them involved the Pokémon card game.

Idea 1: Top tier decks

The first was to make decks based on the existing top tier decks, but it was kind of boring because all of them involved getting to a Pokémon stage 3 as fast as possible, combo, or haystack which is just strong basic Pokémons. Heres a list of decks: 6 classic decks from Base Set – Team Roket era & A game Faqs article about the game boy game (Heading: 3. Competitive Decks). Because I was young when we played Pokémon cards, most of the decks I would meet would be very different from these competitive decks, so its not really what I associate when I think about the game.

Idea 2: Energy Pool

I tried to find some design articles of Pokemon cards, but could not find any. Like: magic has a lot of articles where they discuss how they design different cards, like what their goal was with the sets, the new mechanics, challenges to make the cards balanced etc. I expected there to be some articles about Pokémon because I know that wizard also made the Pokémon card game. I would later find out that wizards actually only published that game, making the translating form the original Japanese game, which was the reason why the Japanese cards would get expansions a lot earlier. So I couldn’t find any articles about Pokémon card. I just found a article by Sirlin games (they have a lot of interesting design articles overt there) (the article actually only mentions pokemon cards on they fly as a game he dislikes) where he makes a easy to pick up digital strategy game based on the original Pokémon games about having different characters with weakness and strengths the player switch between. I got really hyped a about that idea. I knew that I would break my limit about only changing one rule from the core rules, but I really liked the idea.

It was basically, instead of having a deck, each player chooses 6 Pokémons which they start the game with. The Pokémons still need energies to attack, and to evolve Pokémon you need to discards ex 2 energy cards. To get energy cards theres a energy pool that both players share. Theres a deck of cards and you show the 8 top cards in a 4 by 2 grid. Each line, 1, 2, 3, 4 has a coin cost, 2, 1, 2, 3. so to pick a card in line 3 you need to play 2 coins. Each turn the players gain 2 coins, and you can save them from turn to turn. Each turn the the lines would move down, so you can wait for a card to get cheaper or get it right away but pay more. The idea was also that if you would pick a more expensive energy you would leave coin on the earlier slots, so the longer the card stays in play the more resources you get by picking it, making uninteresting cards more interesting after a while. The coin build up is inspired by the race selection from the board game Small World. Anyway, there was also suppose to be trainer among the cards, and some mixed energies, giving dual colors, but having drawbacks etc. because the energy pool would be varied it would encourage players to play with a lot of different colored Pokémons, and to think about what energy cards your opponent would pick. I also liked the idea that each deck didn’t require that many cards, which makes it easier to balance. And I also like the idea that you could actually try to play with a lot of the Pokémon cards that I never play with before. Because in the Pokémon card game you are encouraged to play with few colors to have a stable “mana pool” and that you want to play with playsets of Pokémons, 4 cards of each, and a lot of evolution cards. If you would get a card in a boost it wasn’t like you could just put it in your deck and try it out. But in this game that would be more reasonable.

I also had ideas about a meta game, where you earn money to buy trainers in the starting hand, but they would be one use only. How Pokémons would level up, I think I scaled it down to only cover the starting Pokémons. There would have been a list for the cards ex: lv 2: start with +10 hp, lv 3: starts with a energy card, lv 4: evolution -20 hp, etc. and there would be a single player mode, with different areas with a pool of Pokémons to meet. They wouldn’t need any energy cards and would just discard cards from the pool at random, and you would get some loot cards or get to the next area, but if a Pokémon would get K.O.ed it would die so you had to deiced how far you would dare to go before you would return to a town and refresh all Pokémons. And I wanted to have a system about catching Pokémons, but I never figured out anything interesting rules for it. And some Pokémons would be face down, so you had to figure out what they was based on what energies they would get. And if you would retreat a Pokémon it would cost you the possibility to attack that turn. And the coins you had to buy energy from the energy pool it could be used for other things, ex buy 2 energy cards a turn, but pay more the second time, or pay to get any energy color but discard it at the end of the turn, etc. And this was pretty cool, I made some fast playtestes and it it kind of worked, but I would need more usable trainers in the energy pool, and more “gold” cards, that you really wanted to pick etc. but it got to big so I just opt out, and decided to make the first idea but with “equally bad cards”.

Idea 3: Two active Pokémons

So what I ended up making was a two decks with equally suboptimal Pokémons that I tried to buff a little, and added the rule of having 2 active Pokémons, which made the game a lot more interesting if you ask me :) The deck creation was pretty interesting. Usually when you make decks for TCGs you try to pick the best cards as possible. Now instead I tried to pick cards that had a weakness to cards form the other deck. The first intention was to make it a kind of circle where every card would have a counter card in the other deck. But it turned out to not work in reality, because the game really encourage you to play with few colors, tops 2 preferably 1. So what I did was to take a main color ex fire in one deck and have the other decks sub/complementary color be strong to the first decks main color, ex water. I would then just pick cards in that color that I had and that wasn’t among the cards that I usually played or would see play. I picked cards from the first generation of Pokémons and base sets (base, jungle and fossil + promo cards), I would then add some trainers, ex potion, switch, gust of wind, professor oak etc.

Two active Pokémons Extra Rule Double Active

I really like how it turn out. In the original game a lot of turns its not a interesting decision what pokemon to attack, but now you get to decide if you should attack with both of the pokemons on 1 of the two or split up. So you get 4 options just where to attack, without touching the bench pokemons. Because you can deal a lot more damage a turn you have to deiced if you want to K.O a pokemon before it can attack back to some of your pokemons, ex if you face a water pokemon, and have a fire pokemon, it might be forth to K.O the water pokemon just so it cannot attack back the next turn. Instead of say dealing damage on a pokemon you can’t K.O etc. It would also make the weakness and resistance more interesting because if you got a pokemon with fighting resistance and you have powered up fighting pokemons, its really hard to do anything. But with two active pokemons its harder to get a total wall, with two pokemons that have fighting resistance at the same time. And if you attack with a fighting pokemon chances are that you would also attack with a different colored pokemon that could side step the resistance effect and actually deal some damage.

Draw two cards

It go a little strange to draw more cards. You need more cards to get energies. I actually considered to change it to 3 cards, because you basically want to put out two energy cards a turn, and if you draw two cards odds are that they are not going to be energy cards (if you play approximately 1/3 energies, 2 cards would be 2/3 energies, which is not enough), but it kind of solved it self when I added a playset of professor oak to both decks.

BS88ProfessorOakBesides I really like that card. Its a little to strong, in that you can discards 2 cards and draw 7 cards, but most of the time you have a lot of useful cards but that you would have liked to have more water energies, so its a decision to make if its worth throwing the nice cards and get new ones, or what it out. The thing I really like about it is that it works as a kind of failsafe. If you get in a situation without any energy cards (which happens) you throw your hand and will probably draw some. I actually consider to make professor oak a action you can take any time, like the character abilities in hearth stone. Or maybe giving up some thing, a prize card or, that you can only use it if you have more prize cards then you opponent or something.

Another side note: I really like that ability: you can only do it if you has more prize cards then you opponent. If you don’t remember the rules: When you kill a pokemon you draw a prize card, when you have drawn 6 cards you win the game. Its cool because magic (or any other tcg I have tried) has no visible progression mechanic. HP I magic could be one, but because of the difference between aggro and control decks, that a aggro deck will lose if the control deck survives to long etc and that you can regain life, its not really a measure of anything. Scramble energy is a example of a card that was played that used the if you have more prize cards, then do this-ability.

Back on track when you draw more cards you also have more cards to chose from, so its more likely that you draw the evolution that you need etc. One not so good thing is that you some times end up with to many cards in your hand, like 10-12. I would play some games where I would have a nice board position and can’t relly do anything useful with the cards. I think that kind of sign that the decks was build with the old system in mind, and that they might need more buff trainers, like potion (heal 20) or plus power (deal 10 extra damage) that you can just play.

Bottleneck

I should talk a little about the basic rules of pokemon. I would say that there are a number of key differences compared to ex magic.

Cards to make

StageTrap

Stage traps

This was one of the few cards that I actually felt like I needed to make. The card is basically a removal card magic style. You remove a threat that got to big. It feels a little to good. Or I was thinking about it when I was deciding what theme the cards should have. Its a trainer card, thing the trainer do to improve the odds of your pokemon. The trainer effect from the game boy game is basically, give potion, heal your pokemons, etc. The tcg added some abstract card drawing effects, like professor oak and computer search (discard to cards to fetch a card). But most trainers are buffs or smaller debuffs, like energy removal (removes 1 energy card from a opponents pokemon) or gust of wind (which switched the active pokemon with a bench pokemon) so overall the pokemons do the jobs of actually K.O:ing the opposing pokemons and the trainers aid their work. Theres no trainers like, “deal 10 damage to a pokemon” or like “deal 100 damage to a pokemon”, like you have in magic. The team rocket set has some “dirty tricks”, considering that they are the bad guys, like sleep, which makes the defending Pokemon asleep, but that card was not really played. So I would settle with stage trap. They are battling on a stage, and theres some kind of trap, like a water stream, lava, a lot of wind or something and the defending pokemon gets caugh up in it… The reason I included the card was because I wanted the game to move away from players spending a lot of time and resources to power up a single pokemon. Like in magic, if you play a aggro deck (put out a lot of creatures as fast as possible) and you meet a control deck with sweepers (that destroy all creatures on the field, like day of judgment), you don’t want to over extend, play all your hand. You want to be in a good position, but don’t but all the eggs in one basket, spread out the risk a little. That what I want with the card. And I would kind of say that it works. Its strong to just remove a pokeom from the game, especially considering how many turns of energies a opponent can spend power up a pokemon and how much cards they might have spent to find the right evolution. They get the enegies back, and maybe you should add that you also get to draw cards for each evolution…? I had some ideas about only letting the player play that card if they have more prize cards then the opponent but it felt like the card would be to weak then. Like I can put any cards in the decks and you have to play with them, but when you build decks if you nerf cards to hard it dosn’t feel like you want to play with them. Anyway, I like the card, it make the games slightly longer, but also less predictable. Its a drag when you have spent like 5 turns power up a pokemon and then having your opponent play 1 card that nullifies, but at least you get to do one attack and gets the energies back, and you know that its not going to happened that much more that game. I was kind of thinking about having a cards per deck limit of 2. feels kind of irregular, but might work. One more thing about that card is that you usually don’t want to play it on pokeomns that already have a lot of damage on them. Beacuse then you are wasting all the attacks you have already spent damaging it. So its kind of a way to play around it. But to be honest its really a situation that occurs that a pokemon has significant damage and isn’t with in K.O range from two pokemons combined attack.

MiningOperation

Mining operation

This was a card that I thought about before I started. The card was inspired by magic artifacts from Scars of Mirrodin. I think it was Culling days and Contaigon Clasp (I remember it as dealing damage, but don’t require mana). What it basically did was that you could use the thing right now, to do something or you could wait more to do something more useful. The more you waited the more you would get, but you could also risk no get in a bad position by waiting to long. I don’t really like how mining operation turned out. Its like, if you get it late in the game its going to be worthless, if you get it in the middles, its like what I had in mind. If you get it early and wait to the end game its way to good. So the card both needs to get buffed and nerfed at the same time… But I like how

EnergyWaves

Energy waves

I made a similarly card with energy buffs, but this card ended up almost to situational so you never want to use it. Its good if you have a lot of pokemons that need energies and you opponent don’t have that. But I think I would never really but it in a deck if I could choose from other cards.

Other cards

Things I wanted to change:

 

Make slightly stronger versions of cards that are underpowered

Starmine

A lot of cards are unplayable. Some pokemon lines have good basic pokemons but bad evolutions, or vise versa. Or just other cards that are strictly more powerful. I made versions for dodrio and starmin that was slightly better. Its not much room to play around with when balancing cards. Its like, two water for 20 damage, naa, to weak. Two water for 40 damage, omg to good. Two water for 30 damage, still slightly to strong. Maybe 20 damage flip to get 10 more? Okey or to weak? Flip to get 20 more? To good? And its not that much you can do to diversify attacks. Damage, special effects, paralysis, poison, confusion, asleep, 5 flips 10 times… When I played back in the days, I tried to awoid cards that involved flips because it would just get annoying when you would miss. I played electabuzz because it was op, two lighting energies for 30 damage, flip to do 10 more or take 10 damage. Pichau has a attack that is the same but it doesn’t make extra damage, etc. So I disliked the flipping mechanic and effects that require you to flip, but as I game designer I understand it because its like a in between. “One green 10 damage, naa, to weak, one green 10 damage and poison, na to strong. One green 10 damage 1/2 poison, sure!” You can also have attacks that heal, switches pokemons, move energies, draws cards, deal damage to beach pokemon, deal damage to your own pokemons, take cards from the discard pile etc. But most effects dosn’t work in the fiction of the world. Like I got surprised how many attacks some pokemon can learn, but thay are still in the same ball park. Like Porygon has 15 attacks on the list, I never realized that they had such a big pool of attacks reused on the different pokemons.

Add minor Pokémon powers

In the base sets, only the really cool cards get to have pokemon powers and because theres usually 1 active pokemon at a time, pokemon powers are the only way to have synergies. But because how much you need to set up to get a stage 3 evolution into play you hardly have more then one, making it less about combining different cards and more about really aiming to get a specific effect, like rain dance (blastoise’s ability to put out any number of water energies per turn) or alakasms ability to move around damage counters to high hp pokemons. I want more enters play effects, or one use only stuffs.

Eevee&Friends

Friend mechanic

I ended up with the friend mechanic, which gives you more cards. The idea was that you really don’t want to play with one off pokemons because its better to have all the same pokemons so its easier to find evolution cards for them. But how could I buff weaker pokemons so you want to include them in your deck without making them stronger on the board, so you just play with them instead. The friend mechanic was a answer, it makes it easier to find basic pokemons, so it kind of encourages more one or two offs, I also nerfed it, at first it was search for a basic pokemon, but I later hacned it to the cascade effect from alara like bloodbrided elf. The effect works okay. Its kind of to much text on the cards, and tbh, when I played its not really a deal breaker…

I also changed porigons ability so its possible to use it from the bench, but a little nerfed so it activated one turn later.

Encourage to play multiple colors

I also wanted to make cards that encourage the player to play multiple colors, but I didn’t really

Trainers

I also had a lot of ideas about trainers, some of the easiest to make was based on the charm concept from magic Shards of Alara, ex Esper Charm where you get to choose between three different effects when you play the card.

BillBaseSet91

Bill

I also decide to skip bill. Its a Trainer card that basically says draw two cards. Its that good. I remembered that they nerfed that card in the newer Pokemon card expansions, like made it a supporter trainer which means that you can only play one supporter trainer card per turn, and professor oak, or similar effects would also be supporter cards so there was a cap how many good trainers you could play per turn, which was needed. But I was like, “no I like my Bill so I want to play with it anyway”. The thing I like about Bill is that you draw you cards and then you get Bills so you got to draw more cards. Its a easy choice, you just play it right away and get more cards. Some times it can be extra lucky, you play one bill, and then get a extra Bill so you draw three cards in total. It feels good. It also thins out the deck, you basically only play with 56 cards, because the 4 Bills are getting drawn to other cards, so you draw you other cards more often then if you wouln’t play with Bill. Like you could still play it if it just said draw 1 cards, although it wouldn’t be so obvious that it was good. I mean energy search is basically draw a card, but you get to search a basic energy card, which is better then a normal energy card, that is just one type. I think the reason I never played with it is because I always played with one colored decks, so you don’t get to pick different energy types when you search your deck. And tbh, its kind of annoying to need to shuffle your deck all the time. The reason I removed the bills was because there was to much card fluctuation between the decks and matches. Like one deck could have 2 extra cards suddenly early in the game, or the other would not. And some other games, both decks would never draw bill, and wouldn’t get energies etc. I might be exaggerating the effect, but it felt to uncontrolled. And it didn’t add any interesting choice to the game, you just play it. So professor oak adds more decisions, it might be stronger but at least theres is something to play around with.

Flavor text

I enjoyed writing flavor text for the cards. Theres a lot of info on the Pokémon wiki bulbapedia for each Pokémon. They have a entry for each Pokémon where they list all the pokedex entry’s from each game, example Starmine, a summery of biology data, and a list of all different attacks. Each attack also has its own entry with description of how it looks and a list of every time the attack is used in the anime.

Solo playtest

One of my biggest issues about designing board games is that its a lot more messy to stage playtest sessions. If I make a mario game, I can just playtest it alone, any time I want, and the game is going to be tops 5 min. I get people to playtest the game to test difficulties or if the game is vague, like have to complex mechanics etc. But when I get to the playtest with others odds are that I have played the game like 50 times or something, and fixed a lot of the things that really annoys me. Board games have a game time of 1-2 hours, and require usually 2-4 players. If I make a 1 week game project I might get a early playtest if I’m lucky, and then one or two in the end. And thats not enough. So what I did now was that I played both players and tried my best to ignore the information I know by having seen both of the players hands. I tried to just look at the board and base decisions on that information. And it kind of worked. I don’t know if I’m starting to get goldfish memory or if its just that theres a lot more cards and possible actions in the double active version, but I actually enjoyed playing the game alone! That said I played 5-10 games, and made a lot of changes after the first games, so its still not that much playtest, but a lot more then nothing.

Decks

Fire – Fighting

11 Fire 9 Fighting 4 Colorless 14 Trainers 21 Energy
4 Charmander

2 Charmeleon

2 Magmar lv. 31

2 Growlithe

1 Arcanine

4 Machop

3 Machoke

2 Hitmonchan

2 Porygon (New)

1 Scyther

1 Meowth (Gameboy Promo)

4 Professor Oak

4 Potion

2 Energy Removal

2 Mining Operation (New)

2 Stage Trap (New)

11 Fire Energy

8 Fighting

2 Double Energy

 

Lighting – Water

Lighting 9 Water 7 Colorless 5 18 Trainers 21 Energy
2 Pikachu lv.12

2 Pikachu lv.14

2 Raichu lv.40

2 Electabuzz

1 Jolteon

 

 

2 Staryu

1 Staryu & Friends (New)

2 Starmine (New)

1 Articuno

1 Vaporeon

1 Eevee

1 Eevee & Friends (New)

1 Doduo

1 Doduo & Friends (New)

1 Dodrio (New)

4 Professor Oak

4 Potion

2 Energy Removal

2 Warp Point

2 Pokémon Trader

2 Energy Waves (New)

2 Stage Trap (New)

10 Lightning Energy

9 Water Energy

2 Double Energy

Rules

Extra Rule Double Active

Double Active

  • Each player has 2 Active Pokémons.
  • Both active Pokémons can attack each turn. The active player decides what defending Pokemon to attack in any combination.
  • Starting hand size is 10 cards.
  • Draw 2 cards each turn.
  • Attach up to 2 energy cards each turn, only 1 energy per Pokémon.
  • Both players have 6 Prize cards.

I have some more ideas on how to change the game, but I decided to just post this before I forget the details.

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