021 – Level up – Character Progression in Card Games

In Episode 21 of the Nerdlab podcast, we will talk about level ups and progression systems in card games. We will talk about character progression by upgrading cards or adding new cards to a deck. We will talk about roguelikes, deck builders, deck construction games and adventure card games. All of these games have progression systems but their implementation is very different from game to game. I have analyzed the differences in order to give you some design guidelines for your own progression system.

Why do we need a progression system:

  • to add a long term strategic goal
  • to give players something to do in between sessions
  • to personalize characters based on players prefered playstyle
  • to introduce more complex game elements step by step to reduce barriers of entry
  • to deliver narrative of the game based on decisions players make

Differentiation criteria for level up mechanics in card games

  • Type of Progression
  • Frequency of changes
  • Requirements for enhancements
  • Random vs. Planned/Deterministic Rewards
  • Character specific vs. random rewards

Mentioned Games:

  • Gloomhaven
  • Pathfinder ACG
  • Warhammer Quest ACG
  • Arkham Horror ACG
  • Shadowrun Crossfire
  • Magic the Gathering
  • Faeria
  • Solforge
  • Slay the Spire
  • Cardquest

Thank you for listening and until next week keep leveling up and nerd like a boss.

Important Links:

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Music by Mathew Pablo
Reddit Discussion on Level Ups in Card Games



  • Hi, I enjoyed listening to this episode.

    I am playing a rogue lite digital card game on Steam in early access. It is called Erannorth Reborn and I think you might like to have a look at it. (I have no affiliation with the game.)


    I posted a link to this podcast on the steam forum for the game.

    Have a great day!

    • Thank’s Paul for your feedback. I watched the videos of Erannorth Reborn and the game looks promising. The character progression seems very deep. But to fully understand how the skills and cards interact I will have to try it, what I will do. Thanks for the recommendation.

  • Paul Drury /

    I hope you enjoy it. The developer is enthusiastic. Have a great day!

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