How I Made the First Card Game

Recently, I had a chance to create a card game of my own. I was excited to create one since I love card games and board games.

The first prototype playtest setup

In the first prototyping session, I partnered up with a classmate and created a card game using a standard 52-card deck. We used the simple “Matching mechanic like Uno, but we added a set of new effect cards for a different experience. Initially, the game is about matching the numbers or the suits to progress. In the first playtest, we decided to transform J, Q, K, and Ace cards to what we call “effect cards.” These cards can be played like other number cards, but they have special effects that affect the gameplay greatly. These cards give the player a sense of control over the opponent and keep the game interesting and tactical. We wanted to introduce “Take that” mechanic, meaning stealing, attacking, or forcing the opponent to discard their cards. However, the game is about getting rid of cards; if we steal more cards than we need to, “Take that” becomes a disadvantage for the one who performs “Take That” action. Therefore, I change the meaning a bit to “Give That,” so it’s more consistent with the winning criteria. After a few brainstorm moments, we came up with the rules as following

J: GIVE opponent a card of your choice (Amend Take that to Give that)

Q: Force opponent to DRAW 2 cards from the drawing pile (A way of attacking the opponent using “Take that” mechanics)

K: Pick 3 cards from the opponent’s hand, EXCHANGE a card with another from your hand, and return the cards back to the opponent. (This is similar to the Stealing action from “Take that”)

Ace: CANCEL effects of J Q K.

My partner and I playtested the game, and it was fun, but the Ace seems too powerful to me, so I tweaked how we use Aces as the following:

Ace: CANCEL effects of J Q K. Players cannot play Aces as a normal matching card. Players can only play Ace when your opponent tries to play J, Q, and K on you. After the player plays an Ace, they can play a new card of their choice that doesn’t need to match the Ace’s suit. If you have Ace as your last card in your hand, you cannot win but to draw a card and keep playing until you can get rid of that Ace).

I think this is a great addition to the rule, and it changes the players’ behaviors when having an Ace. We sometimes did not want to hold the Aces and tried to give it away because it hinders victory if the player holds it as the last card in hand.

To further giving more controls to the player, I suggested adding a new rule — Stacking.

After matching the opponent’s card, I can stack cards of the same number to get rid of more cards faster.

For instance, my partner played an 8 of Clubs, and I matched a 6 of Clubs, then I stacked 6 of Hearts and 6 of Diamond before ending my turn. This way, I can discard my cards faster and I can change the suits to my liking.

We played another playtest with Stacking, and it seems overpowered. First, the stacked cards are getting rid of too fast (especially three of a kind and four of a kind). Second, the stacked effect cards applied the effects too crazy. For instance, if I played a Q card and stacked 2 more Q cards, the opponent might have to draw 6 cards in total, which makes the game frustrating than fun. Thus, I mitigate the rule by limiting the Stacking ability:

• Players cannot stack three or four of a kind

• Players can also stack effect cards, but the effect won’t be stacked

The second Prototyping playtest

In the second round of playtesting, I have two other friends to help me. I first let them read the rules by themselves to see if there are any confusion in the rules. We tweaked the wording and the order of rules drastically to make the rules more understandable.

We played a few playtests and there were some new situations that I didn’t encounter before.

First, we played until the drawing pile ran out of cards, but the winner was yet to be determined, so we shuffled the playing pile to reuse as a drawing pile. It took the game longer than I expected, so I came up with a new rule — Counting Points.

If the drawing pile runs out of cards, all players stop matching cards. Then, all players add up points based on what cards they have left (number cards count as 1 point, and effect cards count as 3 points). Whoever has the least amount of points wins the game.

This used the Sudden Death Ending mechanics whereas we determine the winner based on a new set of rules. In this way, even the drawing pile ran out of cards, we had a way to determine the winner and kept the game concise. My friend suggested to count the numbers of the cards as points, but I debated that converting number cards and effect cards as 1 point and 3 points, respectively, will keep the math easier when adding up points. Also, it creates an interesting result. For instance, player one has only one effect card (3 points), but the player two has two number cards (2 points total), so even if player two has more cards than player one, player two still wins the game.

Furthermore, my friend suggested having a new effect card that can swap hands with others. I think this is a good idea, but that might be too powerful. Therefore, I decided to introduce Jokers in the game with the Swap effect. There are only two Jokers, so the chance to have a Joker is low, which keeps the game balance with its powerful effect.

A trial with a three-player playtesting session

Since we have three people in this playtest, we tried a three-player version for the first time. I decided to lower some cards in hand from 10 to 7 for each player so that the drawing pile still had enough number of cards. Surprisingly, the three-player version was more fun, so I adjusted the rules accordingly to be playable with three players.

The third Prototyping playtest

I took the third round of playtesting in class. The game at this point was pretty decent and solid. I added minor changes to the wording of the rules to make it clearer to the reader. One noticeable change that I took from this playtest was the condition to play a Joker, which I did not mention in the rules. Thus, I added to the rules:

Players must match the colors of the Joker with the color of the opponent’s card to play it.

The second change was when we reached the end game towards the counting point system. I didn’t decide whether the player who draws the last card from the drawing pile can play it immediately or not. Thus, I decided that the player drawing the last card can still play matching before counting points, which affects the outcome greatly.

Lastly, I came up with a theme to be added after the paper prototyping phase. The theme was The Best Wizard Apprentice, in which the cards’ artwork will change drastically but the core game mechanics are still the same. In this change, 4 suits will be revamped as 4 Element Symbols: Water, Wind, Fire, and Earth. J, Q, K, Joker, and Ace cards will be revamped as Spell Cards, respectively: Strike, Hypnotize, Manipulate, Teleport, and Counter. The theme adds a story to the game:

Be the first wizard apprentice to cast all the spells in hand OR be the last standing in a sudden-death battle to win the game and earn the title The Best Wizard Apprentice in town.

By utilizing the mechanics of Matching, Take That, and Sudden Death Ending, and three rounds of playtesting, my game was made successfully.

I'm a graphic design student at SJSU. My blogpost will focus on the game projects that I made in my class ART 108. Hope you enjoy my articles!