Now, I don't know the formula to make a perfect card game; if I did, I'd be on a yacht in the Caribbean right now, but I have played Trading Card Games for half my life, and I have noticed certain things about popular games, as well as things that tend to bog down games that do poorly.
1) "At the start of your turn, draw a card", a standard for every popular game, where you draw the top card of your deck. So ingrained is this symbolic start of the turn that seasoned gamers do it unconsciously, whether the rules call for doing it or not. Messing with this step is likely to cause confusion, so it tends to be best to accept "At the start of your turn, draw a card" as something that will happen. (Magic, Yugioh, Pokemon, too many others to count; violators are Monsuno, Magi-Nation, and Chaotic)
2) There are certain cards that can only be played once per turn, usually resource cards such as lands and energy, or one monster per turn in games without such resources. Those things that can only be played once per turn are there in order to keep the game from rushing by too quickly and allow a slow buildup of power. (Resources: Magic, Pokemon, WOWTCG, Monsters: Yugioh, Cardfight!! Vanguard (When playing Vanguards))
3) The fewer extra doodads you need, the better. I'm talking about things like coins, dice, damage counters, dark-boxes, life counters, you name it. An ideal game can be played with just the decks(Kaijudo, Cardfight!! Vanguard), it's okay to need a coin and a calculator or another way to record life points(Magic, Yugioh,), additional damage counters and other such items which can be easily obtained but take up space are okay but pushing it(Pokemon, Magi-Nation, WOWTCG), and requiring large and expensive devices that can only be obtained through special purchase such as a card dispenser, video game, or smart phone is just too much(Redakai, Eye of Judgment).
1) A restricted number of actions per turn(Harry Potter, Monsuno, Humaliens). Aside from a few things they can only do once a turn, such as play their once-per-turn card or perform their once-per-turn attacks, players should have the freedom to do as many things each turn as their resources allow, not some arbitrary number. Drawing cards and Once-Per-Turn actions are pretty much all the restraint you will hopefully need.
2) A static army that cannot be replenished(Monsuno, Redakai, Chaotic). Drawing a card is like the cavalry arriving, so having a set number of characters causes a slippery slope once one of them goes down and eliminates swarm strategies(play lots of little monsters and overwhelm with numbers). It takes a lot of the excitement and malleability out of the game. An Avatar is the only exception, since this is supposed to be you (Magi-Nation, Bleach, WOWTCG).
3) A lack of Deck Control outside of Mad-Draw or Mad-Discard. More on that, later(Redakai, Monsuno, tons of other games).
Now, not to say that these are absolutes for your games, they are just the sorts of things that tend to have a positive or negative effect on their performance and fun-factor. Otherwise, go wild! I'd like to see what sorts of creative solutions that designers come up with for the next big thing in card games. Just remember to have the proper mindset when putting your rules into words(Check out the tutorials for Ophidian 2350 for some particularly tasteless writing).
While developing your game, some of the more important things to keep in mind is your presentation and use of identifiers as well as how your various aesthetic choices affect the game.
|Playing Cards use identifiers, as well!|
Identifiers: Identifiers are the things that help tell a card apart: card types, the card's name, elements, clans, Archetypes, keywords, powers, even the way the card is placed on the table. These identifiers can also be rendered with words, numbers, or icons. One can figure out the logistics of identifiers even from a deck of ordinary playing cards which rely on the identifiers of "Element" and "Power". The 10 of Spades, for example, is a card with the "Spade" element, which is represented by an Icon, and a "Power" of 10.
The Card's Name is a basic identifier, as it can distinguish what a card does and someone can simply hear the name to know what it is before a description is required. Iconic and important cards should have the simplest names to learn. There is also a trend of sub-names or "versions" of cards with the same name. These are often used in licensed card games or cards with an ongoing storyline to represent the growth or changes a character experiences during the run of the series.
The Card Type: Also fairly straightforward, "Is this a monster? Is this a spell? Is this a resource?" but should also be easy to identify so that players know what they are holding when they glance at the card.
|Charizard has Fire Element icons.|
|Spellstutter is in the "Faerie" and "Wizard" clans.|
|Naruto has LOTS of Keywords in red.|
|A card from the "Fortune Lady" Archetype.|
|"Light" lets you search the deck.|
Deck Control: One of the big reasons that Identifiers exist and something I pound on with every TCG I go over. Deck control is the ability for a player to get what they want out of the deck, often by playing cards that allow them to search their decks for another card or affect what they will draw next. Deck control gives players the feeling that they are in control of the game, not merely the victims of the whimsy of the top card. Then again, being able to grab anything you want from your deck is obscenely powerful(even with a life-point loss, you get the better deal), so using Identifiers and timing to restrict the deck control is how you temper this ability. Archetypes run on Deck Control and players love having expanded options and a feeling that they are controlling the flow of the game.
Aesthetics: Aesthetics refers to the use of imagery, colors, layout and feel. This is how you place your identifiers and text on the card in a way that is comfortable to read as well as give a general feel of your game.
|Art is important for Bushiroad games.|
Also, don't forget that whole "decency" thing I was talking about in the previous article.
|Yugioh has a simple layout.|
Concerning layout, something you do want to copy is the card size of competing brands, as a host of products have already been made to support cards in those sizes such as sleeves and boxes. If someone can pull out their old sleeves to use with your game, that is one less barrier to entry.
|Magi-Nation uses Pop Culture.|
Also, one of the most important things during this development process, is to find the fundamental difference between your game and other games that already exist. Like I say in my video, the important thing is to see what others have done successfully and figure out something different. Who knows what the next big Card Game could be and what its connection is? Aside from the Big Three card games(Magic, fine on it's own; Pokemon, tie-in game; Yugioh, Merch-Driven), some other things that have been tried with less success are: An Internet connected game(Chaotic), a Video-game powered game(Eye Of Judgment), Smart Phone-powered games(Nuko, Power Rangers), use of clear plastic cards(Redakai), use of folding or opening cards(Quickstrike), punch-out miniatures cards(Pirates), oddly-shaped cards(Hecatomb), Cards that merge into a bigger card (Magic, Pokemon, Yugioh), etc.
Not to say that those are not applicable to your designs, just don't count on them to be the magic bullet that gives your game the edge, as your game will be inevitably compared to others. Msot importantly, have fun and figure out a game that works for you.
Again, we visit Redakai and see how they are doing: well, after developing it as a toy with gimmicks, it's time to cover up said gimmick's shortcomings with design! The game has several elements, but those elements serve little purpose and do almost nothing for the game. One is locked-in with a static army, as well. Due to the see-through card mechanic, the cards have to be stored in a dark box so one cannot see what is coming next; the characters are placed into a tray so that the various stats and gaps align properly, the hand is placed into an opaque card-holder so your opponent cannot see your hand, and the power tracker is attached to it. All of this bulky stuff destroys Redakai's portability. Well, a portable case was made but, uh-oh, nobody checked to see how many cards it actually held! Oh-no, it doesn't hold enough cards! Why did nobody notice this?!
Getting more serious for a moment; the instant that I discovered that the Redakai "X-Reader Case" (The dark box REQUIRED to play the game) was six cards short of being able to hold the bare minimum number of cards needed to play a full game, I was horrified. I realized then that Spin Master had not thought their game through. Either somebody had okayed the design, knowing that it could not hold enough cards, or nobody bothered to ask. Either possibility is equally terrifying.
Pay attention to what you are making and don't end up like Spinmaster. If someone requires more to play your game than a pencil and paper and whatever they can dump out of their wallet, either think things over or make sure that they actually work. You have to consider everything, which is where our next article will come into play.