How Crimson Company maximizes gameplay depth

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!

In typical duelling card games, e.g. traditional CCGs such as Magic or Hearthstone, each player brings their own deck to draw from. This often conflicts with the decision-making during a match in several ways:

  • The decks brought by the players can be of different strength levels. A player who just started their collection will have a weaker deck than a veteran who collected all the rare cards and has a deep understanding of the “meta game”. So a match might be decided before it even began.
  • One deck might counter the other. Most of the time players go into the match “blind”, i.e. they don’t know which deck their opponent is going to bring. So they can easily run into a situation where one player brings a deck that is designed to counter the other player’s deck. Again, there is a huge impact on the outcome of the match, but no actual in-match decisions have been made yet.
  • You deck might just “not work” from time to time because you’re just not getting the right amount of “luck of the draw”. You’re drawing all the wrong cards at the wrong time and don’t really have a say in the outcome of the match.
  • Depending on the deck you’re playing, your strategy can be quite pre-determined and there is little space to deviate match to match.

That’s why Crimson Company gets rid of all of that. Players share a single deck of characters, so you simply can’t get ahead by bringing the stronger cards or countering your opponent’s cards. Neither will you be able to go into a match with a pre-made strategy, as things will change a lot depending on how the duel goes. This means you’ll always have to think on your feet and concentrate on how the cards are revealed during the match.

Of course some cards counter others and some combos are better in certain situations, but all of that depends on your skill and ingenuity as a player, not on factors outside the match itself. Similarly, the order in which cards are revelead changes the framework for your decisions, but never dictates how things go and who will win in the end.

Most cards games are chock-full of hidden information. Not only do you not know the order of cards in the deck, but players also hold a hand of, usually 5–10, hidden cards. This means that most of the time you’ll have to guess on what they’ll be able to do and play around estimates and percentages.

Crimson Company on the other hand is a game of mostly open information. You can see everything happening on the board (the characters in play) and in the offer (the characters you or your opponent can hire). This increases the strategic depth of the game dramatically as you can never be “surprised” by a card you didn’t even know existed in the context of the current match. You don’t have to focus on learning the meta-game chances of every card’s usage or memorize pre-composed deck lists. Instead you can fully concentrate on what’s happening right there in a match.

At the same time, the game doesn’t turn into an “analysis paralysis” calculation contest either, because there’s still the uncertainty of the deck’s order. You can see the four cards currently on offer and also one upcoming card, but more cards will only be revealed as soon as one has been played.

A standard format for CCGs is to print cards with a set resource cost. For example, a card might cost “3 mana”. This means this card will always cost 3 mana, no matter what the current game state looks like. This way of doing things lends itself well to the meta-game-centric structure. Players can build their deck around specific pre-determined strategies, plan for a certain “total power value” they are going to generate per match. However, this also means matches become much less dynamic than they could, as players have partially solved the decision-making process outside of any match context.

Therefore cards in Crimson Company don’t have fixed costs associated with them. Instead you’ll have to determine a card’s value every time you encounter it: How strong is this card given the game state? You don’t just have to ask yourself how well a card might work for you though, but also for your opponent. Every bid you place on a card is also a chance for your opponent to take it from you for that price.

This means, while there are certain cards that tend to work well together, everything can change depending on how a match goes. Combos can’t be pre-planned, but alaways have to be built on the fly. You don’t solve the game and just go for the “best cards” every time, but you have to re-think every card’s value constantly.

In other words, building up your skill as a Crimson Company player is not about memorizing rules and combinations, but about improving your ability to “read a match” and assess cards in its context. And after all there is basically an unlimited amount of possible variations there to explore!

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