054 – GWENT – 5 Exceptional Design Choices and what we can learn from them

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Hello fellow adventurers and welcome to the Nerdlab – Where we transform our gaming passion into incredible game designs and learn how to nerd like a boss. 
My name is Marvin and I am an ambitious game designer on my quest to develop a co-operative fantasy card game.
For this podcast, my vision is to take you with me on this exciting journey. Together we will explore the secrets of different game mechanics and reach the next level as a game designer.

Today I want to analyze a game that has some similarities with the game I am currently working on. At its core, the game is about playing cards to create a higher score value than your opponent. It’s also a game about bluffing with the goal to trick your opponent into overcommitting their cards to the board and leaving them with fewer cards for subsequent rounds. The game I am talking about is Gwent the digital card game. 

When I first heard about Gwent, it was presented to me with the following pitch:

In Gwent each player has 2 lanes, a melee and a ranged one and you can play your cards into one of the two lanes. And then the player with the most points wins. 

And that’s it, was my first reaction. What about combat, what about attacking your opponent? 

When you play a lot of different strategy card games like I do, this pitch sounds super super boring at first. There’s virtually no combat between the players and I was wondering how to interact with each other in a meaningful way at all. But let me assure you, the game has much more to offer than it sounds. 

Gwent was initially introduced as a mini game within the Witcher 3 PC Game. But due to its great popularity, it was made into standalone online card game. As far as I know players started developing their own PvP versions of the Witcher 3 MiniGame (which was against the AI only). And this is what you do as publishing company. You listen to your players and develop the games they want. It is similar with Magics commander format. Also invented by the players and now hugely polular. 

In 2019 Gwent was also released as a narrative driven storytelling game as Thronebreaker the Witcher Tales which I really enjoyed. The game has undergone major reworks during this time but one thing didn’t change. It plays nothing like other strategy card games. And that’s the reason why I wanted to take a closer look at it. I mean one goal of many game designers is to make something completely new. That’s why I wanted to identify what makes Gwent special? How did they innovate the genre and what can we learn from them as game designers? 

Interesting Design choice 1: Winning 2 out of 3 rounds with a limited known pool of cards

This doesn’t sound too innovative, does it? But the fact that you have to decide how many resources in form of cards you are going to spend in round one before you pass is one of the major decisions you have to make in the game. And this can lead to some very tense dynamics. Whoever passes first can potentially obtain a card advantage for the future, even though that might mean giving up the current round.

Interesting Design choice 2: The Lanes

  • Areas / Lanes: You can play cards into two different lanes. This provides options and limitations at once. 

    • Different effect on cards based on which lane you play the card to
    • Limitation of spots on each lane 
    • Effects affecting the entire lane

Interesting Design Choice 3: First Player “Strategem”

    • Because of its structure, going first is not an advantage in Gwent. Hence, players who have to go first get a a so-called Strategem
    • Stratagem: “A single-use Immune card, which only spawns for the player who goes first, can only be used in the first round, and is Banished from the game upon use, or if it is unused at the end of the first round. Each faction has its own Stratagem with different effects, and there are also neutral Stratagems usable in any faction.”

Interesting Design Choice 4: Minimize the role of luck

While matches do always play out a little differently, there is way more consistency overall compared to other games of the genre.

    • Reasons: Mostly deterministic card effects and special abilities. ⇒  The course of a match will generally be shaped by well-planned actions and not by luck (top-decks).

Interesting Design Choice 5: Factions

Each faction has its own identity. These identities emerge through different archetypes, which encourage different playstyles.

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