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Making A Card Game


  10:42:14 pm, by Nimble   , 1135 words  
Categories: Distractions, Thoughts

Making A Card Game

I don't know how far I can go with this card game I've put together, but it might actually be worth pursuing publication.

Without giving away too many details, a short history...

There was a board game I had been working on, once upon a time. Board games, especially ones that require a lot of research, can be pretty time-consuming. Last I remember, just getting the board layout right was demanding too much effort, so I've had it on the back burner for a few years.

Armando, a friend of mine, gave me the book The Game Inventor's Guidebook (ostensibly as a little bit of inspiration) which is a small but surprisingly dense and interesting book on resources, advice, stories behind popular games and game companies, interviews with people in the game industry, and what not to be paranoid about.

I read quite a bit on the daily commute to and fro. (No, I'm not driving!) A few things that I read about in the book tweaked something in my head, and I just had an itch to scribble out my ideas once the commute was done.

Some things the book goes into a little detail on:

  • Board games are typically a much harder sell than card games, since they're a lot more expensive to produce
  • Good games often introduce a slightly different way of relating to/interacting with other people
  • Self-publishing requires one heck of a lot of free time and ground-pounding
  • Fear of the game companies just copying your game are not very rational
  • Hasbro and the like may not be your first target as a newb

On to a few more mechanical things. I designed the rules first. In some ways, that's really the easy part. Well, at least the least manual. Running some of the ideas past friends, coworkers, family can tell you whether you're on the wrong track. Robert Fewster, my officemate at the time, was intrigued enough, which gave me an even better feeling about pursuing it.

Prototyping and playtesting are key. Having been through four short iterations of revising the game a little, these are utterly necessary to get the spit and polish on your product. My main idea has not changed one whit, but there are a few niceties and a few things I would never have considered that added a lot of fun to the game.

A way of putting your cards together that is relatively easy to edit is ideal. In my case, the cards are custom cards - I can't just make it work with a regular poker deck - and I actually put together a piece of software to help me (a little learning project to figure out how .NET printing worked using Turbo Delphi for .NET), and I gave it spots to enter things like graphics file locations, dimensions, captions, etc.

Word or Print Shop or the like work just fine as well, but I have used those for cards before, and I found that substituting graphics or scaling things was an intense manual effort.

As far as prototype cards go, Avery's 5390 badge holder inserts actually work pretty well. You can shuffle them almost normally, they're not too much smaller than normal playing cards (a little narrow, mostly), and they don't seem to get terribly damaged or bent by play.

The only big problem I have with them is that they are not always cut evenly - not a big problem for badges, I suppose, but the playing cards can end up a little off-center or bleed onto other cards. I nearly drove myself crazy trying to get things to align, until I just broke out the ruler and realized I couldn't predict the card size that finely. It's still not too bad for prototypes.

I needed timers for this particular game, so I went hunting online. Game timers usually require much shorter times than timers for any other use, like cooking. The educational supply site Kelvin has many suitable game parts, including timers. As you can see, if your kids ever wanted to put a game together, it really is the site to be at :)

Playtesting. Ah, playtesting.

It was a little hard to get people interested at first. I had my set of black and white prototype cards, the timers and some prototype rules printed out. One of my coworkers (thanks, Wenbiao!) finally got intrigued enough to play a quick round with me, and quite liked it.

When Robert came by work to pick up things and to visit, we went down to the café and had a round with three people, including Wenbiao. It was an awful lot of fun with three people, and most of the useful playtesting feedback came from there.

For example, if the content of your cards matters a lot, and you must hold the cards in your hand, make be sure to make "pips" for them representing the contents of the card, just like poker cards have a little number (2,3,4...) or letter (J,Q,K,A) in opposite corners. Common sense in a way, but it takes playtesting to figure a few of these things out. (The pips weren't necessary, but they really helped)

A couple more play-tests down in the café, and I was actually getting pretty close to the ideal game I had in mind.

Since my in-laws are off overseas for Christmas, I hustled my buns yesterday to implement the last set of playtesting changes, printing out the cards and adjusted rules, and we gave the card game to my in-laws as an additional Christmas gift. Dena's folks are definitely game players.

I must admit, I was a bit nervous, thinking that it might be received as, at best, a cute gesture. We broke out the deck for a game before dinner.

This was the first time I had played the game with four people. I have to admit, it was a lot of fun. There are plenty of surprises, the game goes pretty fast, and there were a lot of laughs. With four people, the game is utterly nuts (in a good way). I think we ended up playing close to ten rounds, the third of which involved Dena's father sneaking two extra cards into my dealt hand so I wouldn't win. My lower back muscles feel exercised (it's just the way you play this game *laugh*)

There are a couple more rather minor changes to make (I think I'm going to having the honour of starting player simply rotate from player to player).

I think I could very well pursue this to the publishing level. It's been pretty well-received so far and plays a lot like I imagined and hoped it would.

Then maybe, just maybe there will be some time for that board game in the far distant future.


Comment from: Nimble [Member]  

Hi Lily! :)

Is that Valley of the Mage? (I don’t know it - I just found it on a discussion on BoardGameGeek)

We occasionally poke our noses into Games People Play and, more rarely, the Sentry Box. Plenty of non-mainstream games in there. There are a few games I read about in said book which I might have to go look up. Mage Knight is like a Warhammer Light - no painting the figurines, and the necessary game stats are kept track of on rotate-and-click bases on the bottom of the figurines. I’m not sociable enough to be a steady game player, though :)

The one thing I’m a little worried about game-wise is whether it still works if I’m not there to explain everything… and nobody else who has played it is there to explain everything. There are a couple of parts to it which are slightly confusing but well worth it to know strategically.

I’m trying to figure out places that might be good at printing totally custom cards: fronts and backs. I think I might need to order the regular and special cards separately just so I can get a different back on the special cards. Making an order of 100 or less would be important to be able to do, too. I can do a fair bit of up-front legwork to save me the hundreds of dollars it might cost to make others do it.

I should have ordered more timers, dangit. At least more than the 5 I did *slap forehead* Two folks have already pleaded for a set as Christmas presents, and three timers are already spoken for with the set at the office, the set at home, and the set I gave to Dena’s parents :)

I hope you guys are doing okay! Coming back down south into this Calgary market: decent for jobs, sucky for actually getting a place to stay.

12/18/06 @ 23:35
Comment from: Nimble [Member]  

Yep, that’s the place. I’ve only been there once so I can never remember the name. I haven’t been to the Sentry Box in a while and I haven’t figured out where Games People Play went ever since they were out of Sunridge Mall.

Games People Play moved into North Hill mall up by SAIT. They’re in the entrance one entrance away from the one to Safeway on the 16th Avenue side.

How detailed are your written instructions? Is there a lot that can be open to different interpretations? Maybe you could have a set of simple and then a set of advanced rules or something.

Well, I have been trying to figure out how to keep the rules simple enough, and it’s mostly clear on interpretation, but there have been the odd snags, like “if I give a card to the player on each side, can I give it to somebody who’s already out of cards?” or “what happens if I erase the sole card on the table?", or “what if I’ve already laid down a ‘clever’ combo when someone yells ’stop’?”

Apart from that, there haven’t been too many snags :)

Heh, now you’ve got me intrigued that I’d like to try out your game sometime, if possible. :)

I think you’d enjoy it. You’re evil and quick enough to enjoy the game play style, I think.

I’m trying to figure out whether I should get a professional run of decks done, though, or whether I should keep chewing through the Avery badges. Anything $10 a deck or less at this stage would be well-worth it, because that’s about how much worth of the darned Avery badge packs per deck I chew through on my ownsome :) Of course, it lets me go off and make up new cards and mix them into decks I already have this way!

If you’d like to play it, I’m sure we could schedule something. Perhaps you could be the testbed for playing it with just the instructions first without me there to show you through it, and then write down all your questions you wished I could resolve ;)

Cary’s done his CAPPA course and is in the process of job hunting but December is not so great for it. We are still living in the basement of one of our friends (actually, the ones who know the game store owner) and it’s going to get even fuller since they had a baby girl to add to their two boys last month and my baby is due next month. :) Hopefully we’ll be able to start looking for a place next spring.

Is that the petroleum accounting course? Did he enjoy the material? *laugh* Wow, what a lot of babies! How’s Robert doing?

I hope the job hunt goes well. Kinda crappy when they get you to move and then drop your employment - feh. (More common a phenomenon than it ought to be)

12/24/06 @ 00:41
Comment from: Nimble [Member]  

Alrighty - trying to figure out the best place to get some decks printed. I have two deck sets: one has 80 cards, the other has 32 cards, so I will have to see whether these companies can do decks with non-standard numbers of cards.

Playing Cards R Us seems pretty reasonable, as long as I can figure out a way of getting PDF output into my game card program, which I ought to be able to do, even if I have to find a “PDF printer driver” of the sort I have used at work. They claim specifically to be able to make custom card games with anywhere up to 700 cards, which I imagine adjusts the pricing somewhat.

Your Playing Cards might be okay as well. They need all the cards as a single PDF.

Dr. Finn’s Card Company seems pretty reasonable, though the cards are not on the same sort of professional stock as other links (that said, still miles better than Avery badges)

There just aren’t that many manufacturers that have low minimum number of decks (i.e. 100 or less) or for a reasonable (i.e. less than $25 each) price (here’s one that’s particularly un-low: http://www.usplayingcard.com/uspccustom.html needs a 10,000 deck minimum!), or that publish their prices.

Playing Cards R Us seems to be the winner at the moment.

12/30/06 @ 11:25