Term: Deck Builder

A deck builder game is one where building a deck of cards is the core mechanic of how one plays the game in play. This isn’t the same as a game where you build your own deck, like Magic: The Gathering, because in that case, building the deck is an experience you (usually) do on your own. In a deck builder game, you are typically doing something that builds the deck as part of the process of playing the game.

Utility

Deck builder games are great, because the mechanical structure of a deck builder lends itself to a lot of very satisfying things, while still being thematically really varied. Some deck builder games use the deck to represent short-term limited decisions and combat, some use them to represent the slow process of economic movement of kingdoms.

Deck builder games have a lot of room for variance. You can have games with a very rigid structure, like Dominion or games that do a lot with keeping things freewheeling like Star Realms. You can play with rarity or commonality, you can involve other elements like dice and boards. Deck building is really one of the easiest game types to approach as a designer who wants to make something really large without necessarily having the resources to make a big project.

Also deck builders, if balanced well, provide a lot of variance. If there’s no single best way to play, you can use a lot of things to make your play experience more varied and fun.

Limitations

It is one of the most glutted formats of games right now.

What makes this glut worse is that most players don’t need a lot of deck builders in their collection. One good one will usually do the trick, and some players will be dedicated Dominion collectors or Legendary collector, or maybe they just want a single big-box experience like Arctic Scavengers. The point is, everyone’s deck builder of choice tends to have a thing that sets it apart.

The other thing is it’s very, very hard to make a small deck builder. You need a certain quantity of cards, even cards that are very similar, to get the mechanism of deck building to work.

Examples

So many! Here are just a few.

  • Dominion helped to establish this archetype recently and it has a really large number of expansions. It’s also not the best-edited game in the world.
  • A Few Acres of Snow uses its deckbuilding to represent military communication
  • Legendary is a hugely expanded franchise game with a lot of high quality art and whole storage boxes and whatnot
  • Star Realms is a head-to-head deckbuilder that uses its cards to represent space ships and space stations.
  • Arctic Scavengers uses the deckbuilding to represent scarcity and garbage, and has elements of player interaction

 

Reversing Footnotes

At some point in my childhood, I remember mentioning something I’d read in a book – which I had, but since I was four, I didn’t realise this was gauche. It was immediately rebuked as ‘not interesting,’ because ‘I just read it in a book.’

Then I spent my entire life trying to hide the fact I read books.

Telling people about stuff you’ve read, ideas you’ve heard, concepts you accumulated, life underscored, was rude, and weird, and gross and boring. You had to act as if you came up with things yourself, unless you were quoting television programs. I made it a habit to synthesise things in my head – it was not so simple as to read something and learn it, I had to find some way to restate it so it sounded like me saying it.

When I hit university, this behaviour, this habit, was proven to be not actually the way you should do things. University was a process of learning that being able to point to your influences, being able to direct where your process came from, to give meaningful context of what you had interpreted and found, was pretty much everything. I did alright in university, but this was overwhelmingly the hardest and most daunting component of my work. And then I started on my Honours thesis, a process that involved literally the opposite.

My thesis, at its core, was showing how I could play a game, interpret that game, then use components of what I experienced in that game to make a new game, documenting the point of inspiration and conception of different mechanisms. And moving on, this seems to be what I’d work on next: showing the process so people can see how it goes and see if they can do the same thing.

Yes Minister

I feel old.

I’ve taken in my efforts to stave off this feeling, but it’s undeniable. I feel old, even though I know full well that ‘millenial’ talk is targeted at me. Part of why is because the things of my youth are not the things of other people’s youth. I was raised on The Goon Show and I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again and obscure Christian media. My media background was ultimately not for me – it was for my father.

Lots of it went over my head. The Goon Show had overtones of sex farce and tons of racy humour that I completely missed. I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again built on a host of tropey fantasy and panto skit comedy that I totally missed, and I only now realise what a slide whistle means.

One series of my father’s loves, which was contemporary to my birth, and therefore, completely beyond me until, well, now, is Yes Minister.

It’s fascinating actually in that it has a lot in common with Seinfeld. While the point of Seinfeld was that it was a show about nothing1., with stories that showed people spending huge amounts of effort on tiny nothings, the thrust of Yes Minister was inverted. Episodes of Yes Minister are spent ranging across spaces of days at a time, with enormous outcomes on the line, in which almost nothing ever gets to happen. But while Seinfeld’s narrative structure is bent to the frantic expenditure of energy achieving nothing, the narrative of Yes Minister is the frantic expenditure of energy achieving nothing.

It’s that kind of word play is throughout the series.

It’s also a show where instantaneous communication as we have it now would totally desolate some plots.

One of the challenges of making a sit-com is that it’s meant to be a situation comedy, a comedy that exists, as it were, in situ, in its own place. The dialogue therefore is trying to serve both comedy, with timing and wordplay, and also be some form of naturalistic. You can look at the comedy of say, Everybody Loves Raymond or Big Bang Theory with gigantic, stratified pauses between people talking to allow for reactions, which well, we’ll pretend that’s actually about the jokes being funny rather than signalling that they are meant to be. Anyway, the point is that it’s very difficult to make dialogue serve both funny and natural.

Yes Minister achieves this by having the comedy in dialogue mostly derive from the three voices in almost every given room be either deliberately obfuscating and smug, well-intentioned and prone to blurting, and wavering between the three the voice of Jim Hacker trying desperately to be funny and score a point of the others as a way to signify his own intelligence. This is a series of people being witty at one another, and in the context of the space they’re in, this is naturalistic dialogue. They want to show they’re smarter and funnier than one another.

The really interesting thing to me, now, about Yes Minister, watching it in hindsight isn’t so much that it’s funny – it is, it’s very funny, if you like a particular kind of playfully cynical word play and manipulation – or even that, it’s about how much of the narrative is things that we are dealing with now.

British Government is a fascinating warren of discretions and traditions and importantly deliberate vaguearies, and Yes Minister is set in a time when the EU is about to come into being and the Cold War was still quite cold. Countries in Africa were escaping colonial power. There’s a recognition that America is both powerful and blisteringly foolish as a global power, and there’s a reasonable expectation that the government is spending much of its time trying to move things around and that a lot of what’s going on is actually in service of nothing.

There is a fascinating intricacy to it all where largely, the sheer scope of British bureaucracy is presented as both a problem and a result. The size of government and the people involved in it, the story tells you, are related. You can’t ask for more work without asking for more people to do them. There’s talk about the UK’s role in the then-nascent EU, which was explicitly framed in terms of the very cultural reasons the UK saw the EU as an opportunity to join – or rather the EEC, at the time.

It’s all so interesting to me because it carries within it some very real but very cynical truths about the way things happened. Things that I like, things I believe in, could almost always be viewed in terms of short-term pettiness and spite. And it serves as a counterpoint to The West Wing, which was as much fanfiction of how America could have been in the late 90s as it shows an England of the early 80s.

What brought me to check this out again?

It was this quote:

Sir Humphrey: The only way to understand the Press is to remember that they pander to their readers’ prejudices.

Jim Hacker: Don’t tell me about the Press. I know *exactly* who reads the papers. The Daily Mirror is read by the people who think they run the country. The Guardian is read by people who think they *ought* to run the country. The Times is read by the people who actually *do* run the country. The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country. The Financial Times is read by people who *own* the country. The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by *another* country. The Daily Telegraph is read by the people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?

Bernard Woolley: Sun readers don’t care *who* runs the country – as long as she’s got big tits.


1. I personally don’t buy this. Seinfeld seems to really be a show about how it’s totally okay to be a self-obssessed prick.

Space Quest IV’s Really Fucking Gross You Know

Space Quest is a game franchise that was first released in 1986, and saw installments in 1987, 1989, and then we had the release in 1991 of Roger Wilco vs the Time Rippers. In this franchise, the fourth game includes something fascinating and interesting. These games had let you travel through space at light speed, eat intergalactic foodstuffs, save the universe multiple times, shoot down spaceships, create a star and travel through time and dimensions, but it was in Space Quest IV they let you have

half a conversation

with a woman.

Puttin’ a fold because cw: sexism and some transphobiaaaaa,

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MTG: Rivals of Ixalan ‘Review’

I try to work in advance when it comes to blog posts. I like making sure that I have a backlog and that gives me some flexibility to slot more current ideas up in ahead, and make sure to the blog doesn’t just repeat the same type of content endlessly. Sometimes it’ll be a short little snippet of a deck I’m enjoying, sometimes a long slow process of building one whole deck, and so on.

Still if there’s ever a kind of free content in MTG it’s the set review. A giant pile of things to look at, and the things in that set you’re expected to have an opinion on. I remember back in the day set reviews used to be both comprehensive and awful, and also tended to weave back and forth between trying to consider cards for multiple different formats, without any clear signalling. We were awful at it.

My plan with Rivals of Ixalan, then, was to use the set as a set review video fodder. Just make a very rudimentary video showing what I thought of each card and having some fun with that. I thought I’d surely get a bunch of cards out of that set that way, and maybe then I’ll learn how to make a good video out of that.

And y’know what?

I just don’t.

The thing that’s most remarkable to me about Rivals of Ixalan is how modest it feels. I know there are some cards I want to play with – Tendershoot Dryad is exactly the kind of card I love to muck around with, for example – but  was there a whole video’s worth of content? I recorded my thoughts on every single card in the set I had anything to say about, and with an introduction, it all wound up at about nine minutes.

I’m not trying to run the set down. I am sure when I get to play with the cards and put them into decks and learn about them, I’ll have a lot more fun with them and know what they’re good for. Maybe I’ll play more Standard this time and find fun decks there rather than keep going back to the Commander 1v1 format for my kicks. I do kind of wonder how much a set review has value any more – even other set reviews I’ve watched have failed to inspire the same spark. There haven’t been moments of ‘oo, I hadn’t considered that.’ Everyone has more or less the same things to say, the same comparisons to make.

I like the Forerunners. I like the Ravenous Chupacabra (and I have words about that Opinion That’s Being Widely Repeated). I really like Tetzimoc (who won’t work in Commander the way I want), and the Thrashing Brontodon is a rare card that slots into my Death Cloud Rock, dead as it is.

But that’s pretty much all I got to say about the set. Or rather, the main thing I have to say about the set is that I don’t have much to say about the set compared to just having an interest in some individual cards.

Term: Roll-And-Write

Roll-and-write games are games where there are dice and there are ways players can record information. That’s all a roll-and-write needs. It’s dizzying when I realise there’s this kind of design space I literally never considered. Now, I understand this being gamer culture, someone is going to look at me and go get a load of this guy, never played a roll-and-write, thinks he’s qualified to talk about games and to that person I will say, look, that’s very needlessly hurtful and also every day we all discover something new so maybe relax a little and try to enjoy the world we live in in the small ways we can, Chad. I don’t think that person’s named Chad, but the odds aren’t any worse than any other name so let’s go with Chad.

Utility

It’s a format ripe for print-and-play. You don’t need anything but dice, which can be standard dice or random dice or any old garbage you want. You could make it build off a literally random assortment of dice, or you could make it care about your specific D&D dice

It seems it could scale well. One player could roll a handful of die and then a whole table of people could all react to it with their own little territory. This makes it useful for games with simultaneous play, but also means the game could be a solitaire game that can be shared!

It lets players make individual choices! Players don’t just have to write standard game information on their board – it could feature rooms for things like a name for your space-ship or the character’s interests!

It’s got a lot of space for assets! Cards have to do a ton of work in a small amount of space and because cards are small objects, text and symbols have to be pretty large. But a sheet you’re meant to look at can use a lot of contiguous space to look pretty!

It can have memory! You can have sheets that give information about what to carry over to the next sheet!

I’m pretty interested to explore this space. One thing that struck me researching the genre is how many of these games are theme light and system heavy. I’d like to see if I can do something that works differently, that has a strong, meaningful theme that lets people feel connected to the thing they’re building.

Limitations

In the end, if you’re writing on pads, they want to be disposable or they want to be dry-erase. That’s not an easy cost to overcome. There’s also kinda a sad undercurrent when you print out pads for roll-and-write games – I mean in a lot of cases people play a game 2-3 times and that’s it. If you provide a pad of 80 sheets for a game that’ll only ever use 8, you’re paying extra money for your own optimism.

Examples

Castles of Burgundy, Yahtzee, Pass The Pigs to an extent.

 

The Pisscourse

Sure, let’s do this. Why not. Why not. It’s just a Daily Mail article.

In mid September 2017 the Daily Mail copy-pasted an article – more or less – which was about little boys peeing on things, and science, and gender essentialism and making women researchers look silly, and they love that kind of thing. You can almost test whether or not a story will show up on the Daily Mail if you imagine whether or not the average Daily Mail reader could read it and either dismiss the ‘expert’ they laughingly frame as an idiot, or act as if ‘well of course, who doesn’t know that.’ This one got to add a bit of gender essentialism and Terfy Overtonse, so of course this was going to be a hit.

The article is being shared around as if the Daily Mail had shared quack science proving that men are better at physics because they pee on things, and then dismissed this science with the evidence that urinals are dirty. You probably saw this joke. A few times.

There are three problems with this article – which I’m not linking. Before we go on, this article is going to talk about dick-havers and refer to them as generally male. This is not the absolute case. This is not what all dick-havers are. Just wanted to get that out there. When we talk about structural power and things Men do, however, it is very common that most men have penises, and that’s part of the assumptions of this article. So if I sound like I’m being Not Actively Trans-Inclusive enough please recognise it is a shorthand when talking about existing Men-based power structures, which are notoriously unfriendly to trans women and also tend towards disqualify and exclude them from wielding privilege.

Anyway, with that in mind: Here’s a fold!

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Making Tattered Paper

A thing I do a lot of in making card faces is making regular shapes look a little irregular, but not too irregular. I could lie to you and tell you this is an artisinal process that involves the most delicate of careful cutting and a modular straightedge device, or I could show you how I do it in GIMP.

Start with your shape. Margins are for another time, but basically remember that you want to make it a bit bigger than the text it’s going to rest under. The background in this image is that grey, so it’s not part of this equation. Heck with that grey.

Next, use the filter NOISE > SPREAD and set that value to something high enough you can eyeball and notice it. Like 2-3 will be visible if you’re dealing with a very small shape, but on a bigger shape like this one (520 pixels by 400 pixels), you want a larger value. I use 35 pixels here.

Next up, set your background colour in the palette to black, and choose the layer, then choose Remove Alpha Channel. This gives you something that looks like this.

Next up, you go to the filter ARTISTIC > OILIFY and play with those sliders. They’ll turn that noise into an edge. Now in this case you’ll notice it’s still got some softness, a bit of blurring, which we don’t want.

Then go to COLOURS > Brightness-Contrast. Adjusting the contrast up gets rid of that greyness and turns it to white or black.

Next up, you go to COLOURS > Colour To Alpha. That lets you turn one of the colour values in your layer to the alpha channel – which is to say, it just strips it out and makes that transparent. Now you just got a whiteness, see?

Next up, filter LIGHT AND SHADOW > Drop Shadow. That filter will put this shadow underneath it, and you can play with those settings.

Then grab a paper texture from the internet – you can find them on google image search while looking for pieces that are Labelled For Reuse. Put it into the document…

Then put that layer over the white image and set it to Multiply.

Now, if you do this by default, that paper texture is also going to lay over this grey background I have here, but I didn’t let it do that because I care about you. The way you keep a multiply layer under control is you put it in a folder, like this:

Anyway, the short list of steps:

  • Draw shape
  • NOISE > Spread
  • Remove Alpha Channel
  • Artistic > Oilify
  • Colours > Brightness/Contrast
  • Colours > Colour to Alpha
  • Light And Shadow > Drop Shadow
  • Add Paper Texture
  • Multiply Texture Layer

Hope this is helpful!

Gargoyles

There are two ways to approach this introduction; there’s the good, virtuous, but also incredibly self-aggrandising way, where I talk about how the root of all humanity and empathy is an ability to connect things to one another through human interfaces that we would not have otherwise thought to do, and that drawing connections others haven’t seen is what we call genius. Then there’s the meanspirited way which is pointing out that being able to point out how two seemingly unrelated pieces of media are connected is basically the academic equivalent of popping a wheelie and demanding people be impressed.

Anyway, nobody made Gargoyles.

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