010 – Faction Design & Color Identity in Card Games
Hello fellow adventurers,
In today’s podcast episode we’re dealing with a topic that made me ponder and sometimes even despair during the last week. It’s about dividing game elements into logically connected groups. In other words. How can I divide my cards into different factions or colors? I was wondering if my game even needs factions? And if so, how many? Why do you need distinguishing criteria like a color system in card games? And what influence does that have on the other aspects of the game like deck building or the resource system? These are the questions that I’ll try to answer today. As always, to do so, we will take a look at other games like Magic the Gathering, Keyforge, Artifact, Dragonfire, Star Realms, Lord of the Rings LCG and Pathfinder to learn how they incorporated a color identity or faction system into their game.
Topics in this episode are:
- How to use NanDeck and google Spreadsheets to create simple prototypes for your card games
- Questions to ask yourself when designing factions and color identities
- What are the reasons to divide card games into factions and colors?
So my preferred process to produce prototypes is:
- Step 1: Trying out the core mechanics using pen and paper. Once I have a rough idea of how the mechanics should work, I’ll go to step 2.
- Step 2: Creating a list of cards in a google spreadsheet
- Step 3: Print the cards using nanDeck
- Step 4: Create a digital version for tabletop simulator. I’ve read that NanDeck also supports output for tabletop simulator, but I have not tried that yet.
Question to ask yourself when designing factions:
- How many factions do I actually need? Or do I need them at all?
- How do I decide what a faction actually is?
- And what should colors represent in my game? Different guilds? Different kind of elements? Different emotions, feelings or motives? In my game I differentiate between physical, mental and social skills. Maybe these are a good way to separate the cards into colors?
- I also asked my self which role different character classes play in that sense?
- And which game mechanics belong to which faction?
- And where do the factions get their resources from?
- And what kind of roles and playstyles do I want to distinguish?
- Add what influence do the factions or colors have on the Deckbuilding Restrictions and the resource system?
- All of these questions are a subset of the question: how to divide the cards into different groups?
What are the reasons to divide card games into factions and colors?
- Create a Distinguishing Characteristic
- Optical Diversity → Helpful for players to order cards on their hand, on the battlefield or during deckbuilding
- But more important: you can reference the faction or color in a mechanic. This means you can create cards that work only with or against a certain color.
- Create Restrictions
- Our main goal as a game designer is to create mentally challenging tasks for our players. One key method to that is to restrict the tools they have available to solve the challenges we throw in their way.
- If you attach a faction to a resource you can limit any one deck from having access to every tool in the game
- This forces deckbuilding choices and limits the tools every single deck has access to.
- Image Magic the Gathering without a color system and you will understand what I mean.
- Define Flavour
- Factions help you to create thematic identities with which players can engage.
- Factions also create story. Even if this story is told outside of the actual game play. Players can see clear conflicts between different factions. This can help you to draw the players into your world and create player engagement.
- In Magic the flavour aspect is even one of the most important roles of the color pie. In the color pie, flavor dictates function. Flavor tells function what it can and cannot do. It clarifies each color’s philosophy and then extends them to the game by bending mechanics around it.
- If you want to create interesting stories around your factions you should define Conflicting Motives and Priorities for your factions and create strong personalities as faction leaders with compelling background stories that people can remember and identify with.
- Summarize a certain playstyle
- Not only the flavor can be attached to a faction, but also a certain playstyle:
- Diversity in playstyle is generally the goal. You want each faction to feel different.
- To define a certain playstyle it helps to create clear mechanical strengths and weaknesses for each faction. This is useful both for the players to know how to approach the game, and for you as a designer, so you know how to craft the mechanics in a balanced and interesting way.
- Create Game Balance
- In every game, at least in the competitive ones, game balance is very important. There shouldn’t be a dominant strategy and every deck must be beatable. Every archetype needs its strengths but also its weaknesses. As a game designer, you can use the faction to define not only what they can do, but also what they cannot. Thereby you can build weakness into each color of the game. In Magic, for example, each color has a certain card type that it cannot easily deal with.
- Guideline for Development
- If you have clearly defined Motives, playstyles, strength and weaknesses per faction, it gets way easier to create new mechanics and cards because your guidelines restrict what you can do. Your design space of each particular color is restricted. And in that case. This is a good thing.
Games analyzed in today’s episode:
- Magic the Gathering
- Star Realms
- Lord of the Rings LCG
Music by Mathew Pablo
NanDeck Tutorial 1
NanDeck Tutorial 2
Colors in Magic
Mark Rosewater on the Value of the color pie in Magic
Discussion on Faction Design on BGG
Why you should divide your societies into factions
Be a better faction master (RPG)