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How to create a balanced card game?


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#1 pareto   Members   -  Reputation: 9

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Posted 23 January 2012 - 03:49 PM

Hi All,

This is my first post in this forum so bare with me if I don't know the culture just yet. :)

I'm playing with the idea of creating an online card game, like Magic the Gathering (I know, I'm not the only one in this forum thinking about it)

My main concern is not related to technology, but how to balance the game itself.

Do you guys know any good pointers to start gotchas or other good sources of knowledge for card games or turn based strategy games?
If there are any existing game system you know I'm definitely interested too!

Thanks for any thoughts!

Björn

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#2 Jaap85   Members   -  Reputation: 242

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 01:15 PM

hello,

i am still very new to this forum as well :)

In my opinion the best way to do this, is start simple and build from there through lots of testing. Maybe you could even build an AI to test new options in a further stage. But human testing is almost always necessary i guess.

When thinking in terms of MtG, start simple. Maybe first you only create mana (lands) and creatures. Afterwards you can create enchantments and maybe abilities for creatures like Flying. When you get this working, try to expand it further with new expansions.

MtG also started way simpler than it is today. I used to play it actively a couple of years ago, but when i returned to it last month, a huge amount of new features had been added to it.

Hope this helps a bit!

#3 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 10159

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 01:26 PM

Play some existing games, decide what the key "fun" in your game needs to be, and start designing it. Then test it. Then adjust. Then test it some more. If you find that your friends get tired of testing with you, you know that you're on the wrong track. Figure out what's wrong, make a change, then find new testers. Keep iterating like that.
-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
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Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#4 pareto   Members   -  Reputation: 9

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 02:55 PM

Thanks guys.

Testning is a must and I really like the idea of starting simple and expanding with new features and abilities as the game grows.

Any ideas on similar games I can try?

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#5 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 10159

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Posted 25 January 2012 - 08:38 PM

Any ideas on similar games I can try?


Go to the store. Toys R Us, the comic book store. A game or hobby store if there is one in your area. For this, I don't recommend shopping online.
-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
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www.sloperama.com

Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#6 ManuelMarino   Members   -  Reputation: 153

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Posted 29 January 2012 - 01:12 AM

if you need a tester, I'm with you :) I love trading card games!
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#7 Bigdeadbug   Members   -  Reputation: 173

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Posted 29 January 2012 - 05:04 AM

Shadow Era is a good example of a trading card game that has only recently (ish) found fame. If I remember correctly their initial approach was to bring out roughly 100 maybe 200 cards and then over time add to that. This would allow them to find those cards that seemed imbalanced and then tweak them before adding more to the game. The great thing about digital card games is that you can change cards post launch unlike physical card games where they often have to ban cards instead.

#8 kris10   Members   -  Reputation: 120

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Posted 30 June 2012 - 03:27 AM

I've only played yugioh and duelmasters(offline), and elements (online).

My suggestion would be to make a small amount of different factions, like colors in mtg(i've never actually played it).
2-6 factions are sufficient.Make sure they are well balanced.Many games have grossly unbalanced factions which result in the underpowered cards being unused(looking at you yugioh).

Also do you plan on making it online or physical.

Physical games should be kept pretty simple.

with an online game, you can build complex gameplay mechanics overtime.

#9 Platinum314   Members   -  Reputation: 206

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Posted 02 July 2012 - 10:05 AM

Start with a small set of cards and work on balancing those. Then once that system is working the way you want you can use those cards as a frame of reference for newer cards. For example if you have creatures in your game and they have a stat called strength, keep track of what card has the highest strength, and don't make a new card that surpasses it without having some major drawback.

Be careful you don't introduce too much power creep or a dominant strategy. If a strategy becomes too strong, introduce cards that are designed to counter them, but not overpowered on their own.
The sentence below is true.The sentence above is false.And by the way, this sentence only exists when you are reading it.

#10 Wiggin   Members   -  Reputation: 374

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Posted 02 July 2012 - 12:48 PM

Check out Spectromancer, it is a very well balanced card game. I'm pretty sure it was balanced by letting AI fight AI.

#11 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 5058

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Posted 02 July 2012 - 07:24 PM

Magic has some algebra equations underlying card creation. Something like:
Creature Power + Creature Toughness + Ability - Drawback = Casting Cost
A guideline like this helps avoid having some creatures be used all the time due to being undercosted, or never used due to being overcosted.

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#12 Valvatorezj   Members   -  Reputation: 238

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 09:14 AM

Pretty much everything stated above. Grab some card games, find what’s good, physical test first then go from there. I think it would be a good idea to have the fundamentals laid out first such as win objective(s), how cards will be played, cost for cards, deck, etc.

There is a fairly new online card game out called Carte. http://carte.gamescampus.com/
I have never heard of the ones mentioned here, Shadow Era or Spectromancer but they both look great 0_0'
I absolutely love card games :) Best of luck to you!

#13 Yrjö P.   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1412

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Posted 03 July 2012 - 08:12 PM

If instead of allowing free deck building you offer predefined decks or only allow a small amount of customization, you can make individual cards much more powerful and crazy (= more fun) while still having the decks balanced and viable.
Another good model is where you can't pre-build a deck, but instead the players buy the stuff they need in their deck from a common card pool during the game. (See: Puzzle Strike, Dominion.)
Other fun ways are Magic the Gathering's sealed deck and booster draft tournament modes where you build a deck out of a small pool of random cards (sealed deck) or pick cards for your deck from tiny card pools in competition with the other players (booster draft).

#14 LorenzoGatti   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2763

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 03:04 AM

If instead of allowing free deck building you offer predefined decks or only allow a small amount of customization, you can make individual cards much more powerful and crazy (= more fun) while still having the decks balanced and viable.

This is a very bad idea.
  • Players are going to find and exploit any little imbalance or rule defect. Making balanced but different decks is a delusion.
    Optimism shouldn't be a part of your plan; did you notice how Magic: the Gathering sets contain extremely effective and narrow "hosers" for specific strategies featured in the same or previous sets? This way if some card or card group proves more powerful than expected players have the tools to fight back, correcting design errors.
  • The freedom of deckbuilding with arbitrary cards is going to be replaced by a very limited choice between a few predefined decks. Either one of the decks is a dominant strategy, or there is a shallow rock-paper-scissor relationship. "A small amount of customization" is useless in this respect, because it simply lets players upgrade the "basic" decks to the respective optimized counterparts.
  • Depending on how you allow deck customization, it risks being trivial (if every player has all cards and there's no room for real innovation), devolve into pay-to-win (if better cards can be simply bought), disenfranchise players (if needed cards receive a limited distribution as promos and rewards) etc.

Another good model is where you can't pre-build a deck, but instead the players buy the stuff they need in their deck from a common card pool during the game. (See: Puzzle Strike, Dominion.)

This model makes the game fair, but not necessarily balanced enough to be fun.
In many Dominion setups most cards are ignored as suboptimal and games are often a rush to buy the few good cards that are part of the best strategy, often with victory being decided by bad luck (drawing a useless hand is practically equivalent to skipping a turn) or good luck (drawing a good hand allows a player to buy a larger portion of the good cards sooner, or keep opponents down with attacks, or anticipate endgame moves).

Other fun ways are Magic the Gathering's sealed deck and booster draft tournament modes where you build a deck out of a small pool of random cards (sealed deck) or pick cards for your deck from tiny card pools in competition with the other players (booster draft).

Don't underestimate the luck element; all deckbuilding skill in the world cannot offset the advantage of getting better cards than opponents or drafting first from a pool containing an awesome card.

Edited by LorenzoGatti, 04 July 2012 - 03:06 AM.

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#15 Fulgrate   Members   -  Reputation: 153

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 08:40 AM

From what I know, physical card games are hard to balance. Especially say if a single card's value is different from another, it's extremely difficult to balance the cost versus the strength of the card since the card uses up a slot in your deck, the overall deck is weakened compared to somebody that has stronger cards. Some games try to balance this out by introducing abilities that benefit weak cards (For example, in this game I played, there were passive and technique cards that made it so that weak monsters/low level monsters were able to move and attack while leaving monsters with medium and above attack power unable to move. Most average players use monsters with above medium attack power, and thus this "deck" made it so that the player would have difficulty attacking while the player with the weak monsters would focus on their special abilities to attack.

I actually ran such a deck, it was kind of fun, but a match for me would last 30 minutes to an hour before the war of attrition led to victory. My brother on the other hand could end his matches in literally 5 minutes due to his monsters attaining obscene attack powers, allowing him to end the match in a single turn once the opponent showed a moment of weakness and after he set everything up for the monster to achieve such attack power.

When I pitted my team against his team, it would always come down to if I could pick away at his hp for a KO before his monster achieved both insanely high attack power and he finds a turn where the special cards are disabled or removed.

The only upside to a game being unbalanced is when an "underdog" player with "weak" cards/characters/etc. wins against a player with "broken" cards/characters/etc. The game I mentioned, the early generation cards are horribly weak, they'll have an underwhelming ability WITH a cost to it like your hp AND the card being used up. Later cards with have a SUPERIOR ability with no cost other than the card being used up!

#16 Yrjö P.   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1412

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 12:25 PM


If instead of allowing free deck building you offer predefined decks or only allow a small amount of customization, you can make individual cards much more powerful and crazy (= more fun) while still having the decks balanced and viable.

This is a very bad idea.
Players are going to find and exploit any little imbalance or rule defect. Making balanced but different decks is a delusion.
Optimism shouldn't be a part of your plan; did you notice how Magic: the Gathering sets contain extremely effective and narrow "hosers" for specific strategies featured in the same or previous sets? This way if some card or card group proves more powerful than expected players have the tools to fight back, correcting design errors.
The freedom of deckbuilding with arbitrary cards is going to be replaced by a very limited choice between a few predefined decks. Either one of the decks is a dominant strategy, or there is a shallow rock-paper-scissor relationship. "A small amount of customization" is useless in this respect, because it simply lets players upgrade the "basic" decks to the respective optimized counterparts.

Ahem, I'm not being especially optimistic. You are missing the fact that OP is talking about an online game, which can be tuned as imbalances are found. This is no different from a RTS with asymmetric factions. Do you want to try to argue that Terrans, Zerg and Protoss are horribly imbalanced in Starcraft, or have a simple rock-paper-scissors relationship?
Each Starcraft race possesses some incredibly powerful stuff which the other races do not. If you allowed players to build their own "deck" (race) with a pool of possible structures/units/abilities/tech, you'd have to nerf a lot of things to the ground and have a much blander game. The races being fixed enables the designer to create appropriate weaknesses to balance out the powerful and fun advantages.
Then there are fighting games, which always have a cast of unique characters, and tend to be quite well balanced right off the bat, even before being exposed to the community and tuned. (It is terribly expensive to fix the game when it has already been shipped to arcades, so the developers have to take balance seriously.)
I can also point to an existing card game Yomi (with physical cards, too), which has fixed decks and apparently very good balance.

Other fun ways are Magic the Gathering's sealed deck and booster draft tournament modes where you build a deck out of a small pool of random cards (sealed deck) or pick cards for your deck from tiny card pools in competition with the other players (booster draft).

Don't underestimate the luck element; all deckbuilding skill in the world cannot offset the advantage of getting better cards than opponents or drafting first from a pool containing an awesome card.

Of course there's a degree of luck involved. That is unrelated to the question of whether the game is balanced. And seeing some good cards doesn't make you win, either. Good drafting strategy will often have you pass on "awesome" cards and give you a better deck at the end.

Ultimately you can infer the influence of luck by looking at how consistently the best players place high in tournaments; I think they place quite well in MtG drafts. In a different game and/or different drafting system, the luck factor can be less.

Edited by Stroppy Katamari, 04 July 2012 - 12:36 PM.


#17 LorenzoGatti   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2763

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 03:23 AM

Ahem, I'm not being especially optimistic. You are missing the fact that OP is talking about an online game, which can be tuned as imbalances are found. This is no different from a RTS with asymmetric factions. Do you want to try to argue that Terrans, Zerg and Protoss are horribly imbalanced in Starcraft, or have a simple rock-paper-scissors relationship?
Each Starcraft race possesses some incredibly powerful stuff which the other races do not. If you allowed players to build their own "deck" (race) with a pool of possible structures/units/abilities/tech, you'd have to nerf a lot of things to the ground and have a much blander game. The races being fixed enables the designer to create appropriate weaknesses to balance out the powerful and fun advantages.
Then there are fighting games, which always have a cast of unique characters, and tend to be quite well balanced right off the bat, even before being exposed to the community and tuned. (It is terribly expensive to fix the game when it has already been shipped to arcades, so the developers have to take balance seriously.)
I can also point to an existing card game Yomi (with physical cards, too), which has fixed decks and apparently very good balance.

Apart from Yomi, which I haven't had the opportunity to play, you are offering the two most traditional examples of games where asymmetrical resources don't really need to be perfectly balanced because
  • The interactions and rules are very deep and complex, so that players are unable to know all and optimize all.
  • They are real-time games with a reflex and dexterity skill component that dwarfs the importance of asymmetric resources: games between competent players are usually lost because of errors of dexterity, distractions, bad guesses, failed gambits, etc. rather than by having weaker units or not knowing what to do.
This is not the case in collectible card games, where everybody can be expected to play any deck more than decently making the content of the deck the main factor in determining victory; building a deck is where CCG strategy lies.
Players of RTS and fighting games choose a faction or a character because they like it, because they are particularly good with it, because they think it's strong, because it's an habit, and so on; consider how playing another game with switched factions or characters or mandating "mirror matches" is a trivial and common way to neutralize any imbalance in RTS and fighting games, while swapping decks in a CCG match makes absolutely no sense.
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#18 Legendre   Members   -  Reputation: 966

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 06:03 AM

I am an avid follower of the Magic: the Gathering competitive scene. Despite being around for 19 years, and having millions of dollars, they have failed to balance the game. Almost every year there is a strategy that dominates the tournament scene, which sometimes require banning cards.

Their current stand is that there is no way to maintain balance in the long run. The best they can do is to keep changing the game by constantly releasing new cards and phasing out old ones so that it is hard for players to figure out the overpowered strategy in time for the next change. Of course, this has the "side effect" of benefiting their pockets as competitive players constantly have to purchase new cards. :)

#19 Dir3kt   Members   -  Reputation: 166

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 06:09 AM

Duels of the Planeswalker uses pre-defined decks and is quite successful (saw it high in the Steam charts a few times). However it's more like a gateway game to teach Magic to the non initiated players.

Back to balancing. Start simple, design the core cards using a simple formula ala sunandshadow. Play alone against yourself or with few friends to get an overall feeling. Then add metrics to the game so you know which cards lead to a win, which cards don't, which cards aren't played, etc... AI vs AI could be a solution to gather such statistics however I think real players in closed alpha/beta is much better.

One last thing, more like a random though :) I believe the future of online CCGs lies in social game hybrids (what Shadowera misses btw). Recently plenty of CCGs have been released on Kongregate and most of them use such model. The most successful being Tyrant, my personnal favorite being Kingdoms CCG. I recommend you to go check the "CCG" tag on Kongregate it can give you a good overall idea of the market and the competition ;)

#20 Yrjö P.   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1412

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 06:21 PM

Apart from Yomi, which I haven't had the opportunity to play, you are offering the two most traditional examples of games where asymmetrical resources don't really need to be perfectly balanced because

  • The interactions and rules are very deep and complex, so that players are unable to know all and optimize all.
  • They are real-time games with a reflex and dexterity skill component that dwarfs the importance of asymmetric resources: games between competent players are usually lost because of errors of dexterity, distractions, bad guesses, failed gambits, etc. rather than by having weaker units or not knowing what to do.

Yes, an action game tests reflexes and accuracy among other things. A card game like Poker, Yomi or MtG can test calculation, valuation, reading the opponent, and other skills. Your point?

This is not the case in collectible card games, where everybody can be expected to play any deck more than decently making the content of the deck the main factor in determining victory; building a deck is where CCG strategy lies.

Absurd. Go play Kongai - it's a CCG Kongregate commissioned from Yomi's designer - and you'll find it is by no means trivial to play. Magic: the Gathering isn't entirely trivial to play, either. (Just for a moment, let's assume it was. Then, a random newbie could carbon copy the last tournament's winning deck list, play it at the next tournament, and would have exactly as good chances as the pro player who designed the deck and playtested the hell out of it. The tournaments would effectively be lotteries. Does this actually sound plausible to you?) If it was, I'm about 100% sure my friend wouldn't have bothered to stick with it. He's a judge and a national level tournament organizer.

Players of RTS and fighting games choose a faction or a character because they like it, because they are particularly good with it, because they think it's strong, because it's an habit, and so on; consider how playing another game with switched factions or characters or mandating "mirror matches" is a trivial and common way to neutralize any imbalance in RTS and fighting games, while swapping decks in a CCG match makes absolutely no sense.

Never heard of a Starcraft tournament mandating mirror matches or swapping factions between matches. Actually, never heard of a fighting game tournament (say, Evo) mandating either. What are you talking about?

OTOH, when I have played casual MtG with friends, we have usually swapped decks around to get more varied and even matchups. I don't have cards anymore, so if I were to play now I'd always borrow one of my friends' decks.

Edited by Stroppy Katamari, 05 July 2012 - 06:22 PM.





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