Crimson Company is quite different from most other card games. In fact, you could make an argument that it’s not really a “card game” at all, but rather a strategy game that happens to use cards as its core elements of gameplay.

This is because the game was designed to maximize strategic depth and make every match as interesting as possible. The following article will try to explain how the game deviates from the traditional “card battling” formula and why!

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No (private) decks!

In typical duelling card games, e.g. traditional CCGs such as Magic or Hearthstone, each player brings their own deck to draw from. …


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“In a game with randomized levels, people will keep playing just to see what comes up. But to make it more than a glorified slot machine requires putting together a collection of systems and rules that is worth understanding, behind a world that feels interconnected.”

(Derek Yu in “Spelunky”, Boss Fight Books #11)

Spelunky 2 is great, because it continues to apply many of the things that made its precursors great. Players face randomly generated worlds holding many spatially significant subsystems that overlap in their behaviors in highly emergent ways. The fact that the game is essentially a pretty traditional platformer plays a strangely subordinate role. …


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Shawn Layden, former PlayStation executive at Sony, recently re-initiated the good old debate of video games being “too long”, using The Last of Us Part II as an example. While he was primarily concerned with the sustainability of modern AAA development, all kinds of discussions about “entertainment value per dollar”, the pros and cons of short “interactive experiences”, grinding and various other related topics started happening on social media (for example below Jason Schreier’s deliberately provocative tweet).

But one question isn’t really being tackled: What is it specifically about AAA games that makes many players — not just executives, developers or critics — consider them “too long”? Of course open worlds are getting bigger, feature lists are getting longer, there’s more content in general — and all these factors create their own problems for the reality of day-to-day production as well as in terms of game design. …


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Celebrated among players at the time, but apparently largely unnoticed by game developers, Zach Gage invented a very special game mode for Pocket-Run Pool in 2018.

The so-called “Insta-Tournaments” build on the established concept of “Daily Challenges”, where all players of a single-player game are given one attempt a day to play the daily “seed” — a run featuring the same random generation for all players — to be able to compare their results. At the end of the day, the leaderboard for the previous day is saved and the next run is generated.

Similarly, in Pocket-Run Pool players try to clear the pool table after a random opening. But with his instant tournaments, Gage pushed the concept of seeds even further. Players didn’t just get one chance to compare their scores on a daily basis, but — depending on overall activity — basically whenever they wanted to. Every couple of minutes, a new tournament was generated for small groups of sometimes just a few players. …


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The ability to plan ahead is at the very heart of what makes games fascinating. Thomas Grip of Frictional Games calls it the “core reason” for why gameplay feels good in the first place. That’s not too surprising once you consider the alternative. A game lacking the possibility to make plans is doomed to drown in random chaos. Instead of pondering over interesting decisions, you have to face powerlessness and apathy. Why play at all when what you’re doing has no meaningful impact anyways?

However, and as usual, the other extreme is just as problematic. An entirely predictable system doesn’t generate interesting decisions either, once the perfect plan has been found. At that point the game breaks down to merely following and efficiently executing the pre-calculated “correct path”. …


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“Hand in hand, take flight across seven realms, solve mysteries, help others, make friends, and create enriching memories together.” (Quote from Sky’s official website)

In 2012 thatgamecompany brought Journey to the world which is rightfully still being praised to this day as one of the pioneers of games as experiential narrative. Just a couple of weeks ago Sky: Children of the Light was released for iOS as a spiritual successor. Once again players are supposed to go through an emotionally intense experience, this time with extended possibilities for multiplayer interaction.

At first sight Sky indeed seems to be a broader version of Journey. Instead of a clearly directed and linear, well, “journey”, players are thrown into relatively open areas asking to be explored more or less freely and often multiple times. Moving through these once again beautifully designed levels feels very similar to the original. Collecting energy at certain hot spots allows avatars to take flight for a short amount of time. …


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Many video games feature elements of busywork. Some of them however, end up being dominated by it. Once the infamous “grind” takes over, it’s not about skill, competence or systemic reasoning anymore. Instead, the amount time sunk into a game becomes the main factor for the player’s success. Some titles making excessive use of this type of design are very successful, even though grind, quests, loot, XP or achievements are criticized heavily time and again:

“You only get one life to live and you’re going to spend it pressing A — attack, attack, attack — so you can see the next video in a Final Fantasy game that you could have watched on YouTube. […] Think of your whole life when you’re doing this.” …


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A while ago, I came to the conclusion that the term “video games”, as it is used these days, ultimately contains two fundamentally different art forms. On the one hand, gameplay-driven series of mechanical challenge, that primarily use their theme and narrative context to intuitively explain their rules. And on the other hand, interactive fiction making use of the specific emotional impact of certain mechanics to support the story and convey their message.

Today I will provide a few concrete examples to demonstrate how drastically the ways of looking at both those kinds of “games” differ, which in some cases results in design principles that are diametrically opposed to each other. …


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Competing against others is deeply ingrained in games. Whether it’s in today’s matchmade online lobbies, the arcades’ highscore lists of old, or simply in comparing your experience of (what seemed to be) single-player experiences with others in the schoolyard or workspace — one question lingers behind every corner: “How good are you, actually?”

What kind of perspective lies in the constant distinction between “winners” and “losers” among players? Which messages does a deeply competitive system send out and how can they be interpreted? Can a game‘s design alter the perception of this message in its audience? …


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Artifact, Valve’s very own “Dota Card Game”, is struggling. The number of concurrent players has dropped below 1,000. You basically can’t find a match in the less popular game modes anymore. The game’s total Twitch audience rarely reaches above 100 viewers.

It’s a very different story for Auto Chess, a mod for Dota 2 made by a small Chinese team called Drodostudio that has become massively popular over the course of the last months, bringing in hundreds of thousands of players at peak times. Many big card game streamers made the switch. …

About

Fabian Fischer

Game designer chasing the elusive beauty of systems. https://twitter.com/Ludokultur

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