In this post, we want to give you a little peek into our card design process. This will also kick off the creation of a new card built with our player community! More details on this exciting competition will be shared soon.
Step #1: Defining the card slots
An important step before designing the cards themselves, is to have in mind what the whole card set will look like. After we’ve decided how many cards we (roughly) want to add with the new set, we will create a card slot for each. A card slot defines the kingdom, card type and rarity of a card.
Step #2: Designing the abilities
As you might expect, this is the most important step in the process. During this phase, we can define a theme and determine the design space we want to have. After this is settled, we often assign a purpose or role to each card slot. This can be to use a certain mechanic (like freeze or poison) or how it can be used (aggressive, control). These goals will help with directing the design process and to later assign the abilities to fitting cards. When designing these abilities, it is important to know what rules they will have to follow.
Certain mechanics are restricted to kingdoms and shouldn’t be used outside of it as it makes them unique. Other mechanics aren’t represented in a kingdom and also gives them a certain weakness. Winter Pact for example has unique powers such as gaining mana or freezing enemies, but also lacks the options to spawn additional units or provide mass buffs.
What trigger to use on an ability depends on the card type: Spells do their effect instantly and have the option to specify a target. The abilities on structures are triggered at the start of the owner’s turn. And units have a wider array of triggers: on play, on death or when attacking.
Step #3: Assigning the values
The step of assigning values to all the cards is possibly the hardest and receives the most iterations. During the first pass, these values are often assigned in a fixed order, but when testing the cards, changes can happen everywhere!
With unit cards, the value of its movement is determined first. This is because it has the most effect on the ability itself. Abilities with triggers like “when attacking” or “on death” can be activated more reliably when they have higher movement. Units with mechanics such as spawning or dealing damage often have lower movement as their movement doesn’t add much to their actual purpose.
When designing the mana values of a card, there are a few key components we always keep in mind. First, the mana cost of a card determines how late or early the card can be played in a match.. For example, a card with cost of 5 or higher can never be used in the first turn. Cards that are strongest when paired with one or more card will often be lower in mana to facilitate the combination.. Lastly, reactive cards will often cost a bit more than the cards they are intended to counter.
The values for strength and the card’s ability are done at the same time, because a stronger ability will need to be balanced out with lower strength. This is also the point where the leveling is determined for each card, as these values are most commonly improved upon leveling. We aim for cards to become twice as strong at their max level. Special leveling upgrades, such as mana cost reduction or increasing the area of the ability, are often applied at level 4.
Step #4: The art of the card
Once the general idea of a card is settled upon, the art process for a card can begin. We do a small meeting in which we go through all the cards and define some of our expectations of the card. First a sketch is made based on these requirements and adjusted based on the designer’s feedback. Then the artist can start creating the actual shapes and coloring it.
The most important one is of course what type of card or unit it should be. The card’s Kingdom also influences the art, as kingdoms have their own art rules and the neutrals are allowed to break these. This is the reason why the neutral frostlings have such bright colors, while those in the Winter Pact are restricted to blue, purple and white.
The card also clearly needs to show it’s ability or purpose. Some simple examples are cards giving strength often contain a leaf and are green, and those which spawn tokens often contain outlines of units.
Step #5: Naming the card
The art and purpose of the card are very important when determining a proper name for the card, and is therefor the final step in this process. There are a few guidelines we attempt to follow for these, to name a few:
- Satyrs tend to have synonyms for goats or satyrs in their name
- The name of constructs is often a reference to terms used in coding
- Toads often have the color of their skin in their name