014 – Cardpocalypse and Legacy Elements in CCGs with Angelo Nikolaou

In episode 14 of the Nerdlab, I’m very proud to talk with Angelo Nikolaou about the game Cardpocalypse and the specific design process of a single player CCG. We also discussed a lot about legacy elements in games and why we think they make a game more interesting through personalization.

Angelo has a lot of practical advice that he shared with me and I am sure you can benefit from it as much as I did.

What impressed me the most was Angelo’s attitude in the situation when he had to throw away 6 months of work to start all over again. Instead of watching his baby die, he just had in mind to enhance it step by step in order to develop the best possible end result of the game. He used the same attitude when he had to decide whether the game should be physically playable or not. Again, he made the decision for the best possible end product. With some distance, these decisions always seem relatively simple and logical, but when you’re in this situation, it takes a lot of focus and discipline to make them that way.

Topics we discussed in this episode:

  • Cardpocalypse Soundtrack (da da da daaaa)
  • Cardpocalypse (What is the game about)
  • The genre of narrative-driven single player CCGs and the differences compared to traditional CCGs (e.g. Magic the Gathering)
  • Legacy Elements
    • Main Advantages
    • How to transfer to a digital game
    • Resistance to legacy elements and effects on the target audience
    • Design challenges
  • Lessons Learned during the design process

Important Links:
Angelo Nikolaou on Twitter
Cardpocalypse Website 
Cardpocalypse on Twitter 
Cardpocalypse Discord 
Cardpocalypse Announcement Trailer

Nerdlab Website 
Nerdlab Facebook Page
Nerdlab on Twitter
Nerdlab on Instagram

Music by Mathew Pablo



  • Hello Marvin and Angelo,

    It’s very TRUE the part where you decide to “bring together” X, Y, Z mechanics and everything looks great on paper… until you actually sit down with a “prototype” of that game… And … Figure out… That it sucks! (LOL) Or that it is “cumbersome” … and the most fundamental: NOT FUN!

    I’m mainly a Card Game Designer. I am working on my 3rd Card Game Design… Early test show great strategy in what I call “Monster Keep” (MK). MK is a CCG: Customizable Card Game. Players will be able to “collect” cards and build 12 Card Micro Decks. The game plays either 2 Players or 4 Players. This is because of the Tile Laying Mechanic inspired by Carcassonne which allows players to dynamically “build” the Monster Keep as they play the game. It is also partly inspired by Chess due to it’s “Attacking Positions” which determine HOW card can attack.

    The Chess inspiration is very important because an earlier iteration proved too SIMPLE when cards could attack any “adjacent” card in play. It just was too easy and did not have sufficient “strategy”.

    My LAST inspiration mechanic is “Special Abilities” which are in a way inspired by Magic: the Gathering. Each card has a special ability you can use to get the upper hand over an opponent. Some abilities act like “penalties” and have “negative” effects too.

    I have not yet playtested the “Special Abilities” … I was listening to this Podcast as I worked on the Game. Having to backtrack on 6 months of work is … a real pain. But I understand with MK, that I too had to go back to the drawing board 7 times. My current version is version 10.1. Version 1 to 5 and then when I had a FUN design, I skipped to 10.0 and have since incremented the count by 0.1! (LOL)

    Anyhow keep up the great work … and ta ta ta taa!

    Aka QuestCCG
    Game Designer of “TradeWorlds”
    BGDF Moderator — Publisher List

    • Thx for your reply and your empathy regarding the backtrack I had to make. At least it only affected one of my mechanics. It felt terrible, but it was the right thing to do. We all have to make these sacrifices 🙂

      Your game sounds very interesting. Is there a specific reason why the size of your decks is exactly 12 cards? I am just curious how it came to that decision.

  • Hello Marvin,

    Actually … the card count was ONE (1) of my “Design Constraints”. Part of the goal was to reduce the footprint of a CCG in such a way ANY “Casual Gamer” could easily play MK. I don’t have huge Magic experience … but I do have one occasion of playing Yu-Gi-Oh! BOTH decks were constructed by the owner and as I played, I understood that I didn’t understand the “Master Strategy” of my own Deck and eventually lost when my opponent executed HIS “Master Strategy”.

    This got me thinking about LOW “Adoption” rates in CCGs. Many try, many fail. Because all of those games focus on the Booster Sales Model … And require repeat sales when it comes to boosters. This is very HARD to achieve when your CCG is not very popular and in some case virtually unknown.

    While MK is not a “household” name like Magic, I do have one very ambitious goal for the game: have a SMALL “Customizable” Micro Deck (12 Cards per player). Why 12??? That all fell into place when working on the design. But the PHILOSOPHY is this:

    Each “Customizable” Micro Deck is divided into four (4) Blocks: A (Melee), B (Ranged), C (Support) and D (Command). Each of those Blocks have three (3) cards (so 4 x 3 = 12 cards in total per player). Twelve (12) cards is about the limit that a NEW player can easily choose a deck and play by consulting the 12 cards. It’s also rather quick to “customize” a Block (A, B, C or D). You just need to replace the cards in one “A” Block with ANOTHER “A” Block of cards (Note that I am still working on tournament play and standard vs. flexible rules to deck construction). But the point is that it is meant to be EASY to ADOPT & PLAY.

    This quick and dirty way of dividing the Micro Deck allows more “Casual Gamers” to engage with the game and not feel “LOST” when they try their first game. Even if it’s a 2 Player Duel, a new player is in control of his cards and has a good understanding about how simple the game really is.

    And that’s the KEY that Angelo stated: they had to drop 6 months of work because it was too complicated.

    Same with MK. It needed to be SIMPLE, UNDERSTANDABLE, STRATEGIC and HIGHLY REPLAYABLE. Obviously the important point for me was that the game needs to be FUN! You want “Casual Gamers” to become INTERESTED by the game so that they TOO decide to “buy some cards” and get into the whole “Deck Construction” to make their OWN fully “Customizable” Micro Decks.

    So that explains how 12 Cards came about and what I hope to achieve with my game “Monster Keep”. If you have any other questions or want further detail, please let me know and I’m sure to reply with additional information.


    Aka QuestCCG
    Game Designer of “TradeWorlds”
    BGDF Moderator — Publisher List

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