056 – How to Design Quest Cards Players won’t forget

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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.

This week I have been studying quests. Especially the design of quests in card games. How do you get an epic Hero Journey, which is what a quest often is, represented on a single card? How do you get the theme of your game transported on a single quest card and how do you design the quests to be as interesting as possible? What tasks do you set for your players and how do you reward them for the effort they put into the quest. I have asked myself all these questions. Especially because I am currently working on the quest cards for my drafting game. I took a look at some of my favorite games and researched how they have implemented their quest cards. Let’s dive into the topic and start by defining what a quest means for me. 

What is a Quest?

A quest is some form of a task that a player or a group of players may complete in order to gain a reward. Quests are most commonly seen in role-playing games and massively multiplayer online games. For completing a quest, players typically receive some form of loot or reward such as items, currency, Victory Points or access to new levels, locations or areas. Often the reward is also ingrained into the character development system and by completing quests players also increase their character’s experience in order to learn new skills and new abilities.

Oftentimes a quest is also described as a difficult or exciting journey towards a specific goal. 

In literature, the object of a quest requires great exertion on the part of the hero, who must overcome many obstacles, typically including much travel. The aspect of travel allows the storyteller to showcase exotic locations and cultures (an objective of the narrative, not of the character). The object of a quest may also have supernatural properties, often leading the protagonist into other worlds and dimensions. The moral of a quest tale often centers on the changed character of the hero.

Bloodrage

Structure: Quest cards are drafted, then played hiddenly as a free action and grant bonus Victory Points if the requirements are fulfilled during the quest phase.  

Hidden/Revealed: Hidden

Task: x units died before Ragnarok, most power in a specific province.

Reward: Victory Points & 1 clan stat upgrade

One Time vs. Continous effect: one time

Track Process: none → one time yes or no check

Resolution Timing: After all the combat happened during the quest phase

Limit: only limited by the number of quests you drafted 

 

Drafting Quests:

In Bloodrage quests are cards that are drafted together with all the other cards. 

Play Quests as free actions:

Take a Quest card from your hand and commit to it by placing it facedown on your clan sheet, on top of your clan’s animal symbol.

During this phase, try to fulfill the demands of the quests you commit to, reaping the rewards listed on them during the next Quest phase. However, there’s no penalty for failing a quest.

Quest Phase:

Each player reveals all quests they have committed to. If you have met a quest’s demands, you gain the amount of Glory indicated on the card, and may also raise any 1 of your clan stats 1 step.

If you fail to fulfill a quest, you get nothing, but you also lose nothing. Discard all revealed quests, whether successful or not.

Most quests involve having the most STR in a given province. Add together the STR of each of your figures in that province (including the supporting fjord) and compare your total to the total STR of each other clan in that same province.

If your total is greater, you fulfill the quest. If you tie with an enemy, you fail the quest.

Magic the Gathering

In Magic the gathering quest cards have been introduced in the Zendikar expansion in form of enchantment cards. These enchantments gain quest counters as triggered abilities for fulfilling specific quest specific events. After building up enough quest counters, players receive a reward in the form of a strong game effect.

Structure: Gains counters on events specified on the card until a threshold is reached → Reward

Hidden/Revealed: Revealed

One Time vs. Continous effect: both

Track Process: Quest counters on card

Resolution Timing: Immediately once achieve or Activated Ability for the player

Limit: No Limit

Example: Quest for the Gravelord

Whenever a creature dies, you may put a quest counter on Quest for the Gravelord.

Remove three quest counters from Quest for the Gravelord and sacrifice it: Create a 5/5 black Zombie Giant creature token.

This is a very good cost-ratio. A 5/5 creature is something you have to spend 4 or 5 mana for and not just one. But you have to wait until you receive the reward. The interesting thing here is that you can adjust your gameplan. You may be willing to sacrifice creatures more frequently than you would without the quests. 

Some quest have one time effects once the threshhold of quest counters is reached. That means you have to sacrifice them. Others remain on the battlefield and grand a ongoing global effect. 

I really like the implementation but most of the quests have never been really popular. At least in competitive play. Probably because their effect is delayed and not predictable enough for competitive play. You will only be able to reap the rewards in the late game which sometimes is too late and you often cannot afford to play a card that has no immediate effect on the game. As far as I know they are more popular in multiplayer formats such as commander. 

How Quests in Magic came to be:
Before quests became quests in Magic they were actually called Maps during the design process. They were artifacts that required you to have three things before you were able to sacrifice them to get some effect. 

The idea was that each map had a series of tasks you had to fulfill, and once you did it would lead you to your “treasure”—a spell effect that was much cheaper than it should be.

An example (the predecessor of quest for the gravelord) :

Map to the Scary Graveyard

1 Artifact

T, Sacrifice CARDNAME: Put a 4/4 Zombie token into play. You may only activate CARDNAME if you have an equipment, a zombie, and a cleric in play.

In the end they changed it to quests because they wanted them to be enhancements in the different colors instead of colorless artifacts. That has something to do with the color pie in Magic that restricts the designers to assign certain ability and keywords to colorless cards. 

But they did not only change the card type but also the “how to accomplish a quest”-part. 

They liked the idea of cards that you cannot use until you have done or achieved something. Rather than have each quest require three different things, they instead changed the quests to have you do one thing multiple times. That allowed them to vary the number of times you need to trigger a quest in order to achieve the reward. That helped them balancing the quests. 

Other Magic implementations that feel like quests:

Flip cards are two cards in one. When something is triggered, the card is flipped and becomes the “other” part of the card.

You ignore the information on the bottom half of the card until the creature in play “flips” when certain heroic conditions are met. When you flip a hero, you turn it upside down and play with the other half of the card. All of the flipped versions are legendary and have powerful abilities.

Double-faced cards in Magic have a regular card frame on each side. 

Thematically, double-faced cards represent something that undergoes a major transformation, hence the keyword action. In the Innistrad sets, many are werewolves, vampires or zombies. In Magic Origins and Core Set 2019 they are planeswalkers whose spark is igniting. 

Hearthstone

In hearthstone you have not only quests but also so-called secrets. The difference is that quests are revealed to the opponent while secrets are surprise surprise hidden until you achieve them.

Structure: Quest cards are automatically included in the player’s start hand.  

Hidden/Revealed: Quests Revealed / Secrets hidden

Task: Do something x times

Reward: 1st implementation: Strong Card (ending the game soon after) / 2nd Implementation: New Hero Power

One Time vs. Continous effect: 

Track Process: Counters on Card (digital)

Resolution Timing: Immediately once achieve

Limit: 1 Quest per player. 

Quests:

A Quest is a spell ability and type of spell card which grants a conditional reward. When the condition of the Quest is met, the Quest’s reward is given to the player. 

Only one Quest can be in play on each hero at any given time. Any Quest currently in play must be completed before a second Quest can be played

Peter Whalen, Senior Designer of Hearthstone talked a bit about the design process of Quest Cards.An interesting quote of that text is:

“We quickly realized that the most fun Quests were the ones that asked you to accomplish something over the course of a game.”

In the beginning, they wanted quests to feel as much like normal cards as possible because that would make them easier to understand. There was one card called Quest for Epic loot which said: “When this is the only card in your hand, transform this into epic loot.” 

One of the things they noticed was that quests that transformed in a players hand were very frustrating for the opponent. Because a very strong effect happened out of nowhere and they didn’t really have a chance to interact with them. To fix that, they required quest cards to be played, and allowed both players to see their progress.

Another interesting aspect about quest cards is also mentioned in this article: how are Quests played. They tried having them played automatically from a players deck so they didn’t take up space in the opening hand, but they figured out that this would be too powerful. With no risk involved at all, every single deck would play Quests just in case they happened to satisfy the conditions, or simply to thin the deck by one card. On the other hand, having to draw a Quest felt really bad, because you couldn’t make progress on it until you drew it halfway through the game. That’s why they decided to have quest cards start in your opening hand.

Finally, we needed to decide how much mana Quests would cost, either (0) or (1). When they cost (0), playtesting revealed that players would often hold their Quest and then forget to play it before playing the card that triggered it. Making them cost (1) helped to slow the game down a little—letting the moment you played the quest feel more impactful—and required extra strategy around when to play the Quest.

Secrets:

A Secret is a spell card that is cast normally but has a delayed, hidden effect, which only takes place when a specific event occurs. When a Secret is played, a Secret icon appears on the caster’s portrait, but the name and details of the Secret are not revealed to the opponent until the card is activated by its hidden condition.

Secrets can only be activated on the opponent’s turn, preventing the player from triggering them themselves.

Players cannot have more than one copy of the same Secret active at any one time. Players are unable to play Secret cards which match one of their active Secrets. When played directly from the hand, players can have up to 5 different Secrets active at a time.
Secrets are not always something you can achieve yourself but more a game situation that needs to come up. It is hearthstones way of interacting during your opponents turn without giving the player priority. You can only try to maneuver the game into a direction. 

Carnival of Monster Quest Cards

Carnival of Monsters has two different types of quests. Season goal cards are revealed goals everyone can achieve and secret goals that are cards that are drafted and then played hiddenly so that only the owner can achieve it. 

Season Cards are revealed in the begging of each round and are a mix of a public and private goal. Each player gains some gold coins for playing a monster of a specific color and at the end of the round, the player with the strongest monster in that color receives the season goal card which grants additional Victory Points at the end of the game.

Hidden Goals, however, are not revealed but secretly drafted just like all the other cards in the game. After a player picked one of those they have to pay 1 gold to place it in their hidden pile (I forget the name of the pile). And at the end of the game these secret goals grant additional victory points for specific cards. For example 1 VP for each Monster with strength x or more. Or 1 VP for each employee that you drafted, and so on. 

Gloomhaven 

In Gloomhaven you of course have an overall quest goal per mission. But that goal is not printed on cards but in the campaign book instead. That is not what I want to talk about today. I want to focus on the hidden battle goals every player received per mission. Battle Goals are cards drawn at the start of a scenario, representing targets needed to be achieved in a scenario by each character individually. Each player draws 2 cards at the start of a scenario, from which they choose one and discard the other. Each player keeps their character’s Battle Goal secret from other members of the party.

E.g. 

  • Take only Short rests during the Scenarios
  • Your current hit point value must be equal to your maximum hit point value at the end of the scenario
  • Using no items during the scenario.
  • Kill five or more monsters during this scenario.

At the end of the scenario, the hidden goals are revealed and if accomplished the players are allowed to check one or two checkmarks on the character sheet which is used to update their combat modifier deck.  

Why are the goals hidden? It helps with preventing the Alpha player syndrome which I’m often guilty of, but if I don’t have all the information I can’t ‘help’ people with their turns. I

Runeterre Hero Cards

Runeterra does not really come with specific quest cards. Instead each hero card comes with a built in quest. Each hero has a requirement and once this requirement is met the hero card is flipped and the stronger version of the hero with a new ability is available to the player. 

E.g. 

  • Fiora: 
    • Quest: I’ve killed 2 enemies
    • Flipped: When I’ve killed 4 enemies and survived, you win the game.
  • Vladimir
    • You’ve had 6+ other allies survive damage.
    • Attack: For each other attacking ally, deal 1 to it and 1 to the enemy Nexus. Regeneration: Heals fully at the start of each round.
  • Jinx
    • Your hand is empty
    • Start of Round: Draw 1. The first time you empty your hand each round, create a Fleeting Super Mega Death Rocket! in hand.

The combination of heroes and spells is very very nice. Each Hero has a set of cards that help him to level up. This often changes the whole gameplay experience. They are designed in a way that those quests really are the core strategy your gameplan evolves around. 

 

Dungeon Draft

Deal 5 Quest Cards face-down to each player. Then, each player selects 3 of their Quests to keep and returns the remainder facedown to the bottom of the Quest Deck.

To play Quests, players must have Heroes and Weapons of the appropriate class. Quests have no cost other than this requirement. For example, a Quest’s cost could be that you need to have at least 3 Mage and 3 Rogue cards played. Unlike Heroes and Weapons, Quest Cards may have abilities that can be used over multiple rounds

  • Some are worth points 
  • Others grant unique bonuses (e.g. druids cost 2 less to play)
  • All cards cost you 2 less Gold to play.

⇒ Quest Cards: Giving the players some form of direction and guidance to develop their strategy

What I want to achieve with quest cards 

  • Give the players guidance to find an appropriate strategy
  • GIve players a feeling of satisfaction when they solved a quest (it needs to be somewhat difficult to achieve it and not just a delayed effect that is going to happen anyway. It should also not be some form of no brainer that just gives addition VPs at the end of the game no matter what you did for it.) In my eyes it should be something you really have to work for and to 
  • They deliver flavor and tell the narrative of your game

Resources:

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