Designing Microgames–Duel, Part 7

The Story So Far…

A new microgame is in development.  Duel supports two players, each with a deck of about 20 cards.  Players have a hand of 4 cards and may (1) play a card into an empty space, (2) play a card onto an enemy card, or (3) move a card one space.  After this, the player refills her hand.  The game ends if a player is down to 3 or fewer cards in hand and chooses to end it.  The player controlling the majority of a 3×3 grid wins.

Kevin (APE Games) Brusky has given the prototype a look and wants to proceed together.  APE Games will release the game in two-player packs containing two unique armies.

The first two sets have been created and tested.  The pirates were underpowered and strengthened.  New tests were run. Now it’s time to see how the New And Improved Pirates performed…


Too Much of a Good Thing

Iteration is the heart of design.  Constant cycles of playtesting and tweaking sessions between each cycle are the best way to home in on something that is both balanced and fun.  During the last cycle, the Pirates seemed to be underpowered and needed a boost.  This cycle revealed that we’d gone a bit too far.


Another Look At The Pirates

Our last column described how we powered up the Pirates.  This cycle, the pirates showed themselves to be a bit too good.  Specifically, the Pirate set went 6-0 against the Sea Monsters and two other decks as well.  We need to turn the dial back a little bit.

Before going too far down this road, I stepped back to reexamined the set’s theme.  Reviewing Part 4 (), reminds us that the main categories of card ability are (1) Teamwork, (2) Individualist, (3) Movement, and (4) Card Manipulation.  The Pirates are meant to be individually manageable but strong in combination–teamwork.  It was for this reason that so many of their cards feature support.  What we have learned along the way is that support can be a major force-multiplier. Its strength needed to be toned down a little bit.

Examples of Modification Set 2 - Dagger


Our other major discovery related to the Cannon.  raising its strength by that little +1 and allowing it to be replayed immediately made it wildly overpowered. It had become a threat too big to ignore but also impossible to get rid of.  Adding insult to injury, trying to eliminate a Pirate Cannon actually helped the Pirate race through his deck, leaving you less time to respond.  Our solution was to shelve this ability and strip the card back.

Examples of Modification Set 2 - Cannon


Another Look At The Sea Monsters

The Sea Monsters seemed to be about right when played against the first draft of the Pirates.  As the Pirates were refined and other sets created (you’ll see some of those soon, I promise) it became clear that the Sea Monsters had failed to keep up with the overall power level of the game.

I again stepped back to reexamine the theme of the set.  The Sea Monsters were meant to be individually strong with limited combinations.  They were something more of a brute force deck than a support deck.  Perhaps this was the wrong concept.

Remembering that the Pirates push teamwork heavily with their extensive use of support cards and have a dash of movement in Calico Jack’s diagonal movement.  Let’s make the Sea Monsters push individualism and movement more heavily.

In the area of movement, we already have the Tiger Shark but with strength 6, it seldom gets a chance to really roam the board the way it wants to.  We decided to raise its strength to 7 and to have four of them in the deck rather than just two.  In this ways, a beginning player will have many more opportunities to interact with this mechanism.  To rebalance the deck, we reduced the strength of Giant Squid down to 6 and now only have two of them.

Examples of Modification Set 2 - Tiger Shark

Examples of Modification Set 2 - Giant Squid


The overall notion behind Hydra was sound but putting it on the defensive limited its play.  We gave it more options.

Examples of Modification Set 2 - Hydra


To fully round out the individualist theme, the Jellyfish got a little boost–a first strike ability.

Examples of Modification Set 2 - Jellyfish

The “4?” in parentheses indicates that this stat could go either way and is actively being considered.  Rules like these are frequently included on prototype components to encourage playtesters to keep an eye it and weigh in as we play.



Another Look At The Rules

All this testing also prompted a few rule changes.  Most notably, we’re testing the idea that in the case of a tie, the attacking card wins and claims the space rather than being eliminated along with the defending card.   This change tends to keep the board more full and give players a bit more to wrestle with but also makes the closing moves of the game richer and more exciting.

Duel Rules 3-2



David E WhitcherNext week is the Protospiel main event in Chelsea, Michigan.  This is the best event for design of all those I attend.  Organizer David E. Whitcher  puts on a solid event, filled with the most helpful folks you’ll ever meet. Come on down–I’ll see you there!

And while you’re prepping your games for the event, be sure to check out our columns on what to expect.  Just follow these links toPart 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.


What’s your favorite Microgame?  What do you like best about it?  Have you written one? How did your players respond to it?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  You keep reading. I’ll keep writing.


3 thoughts on “Designing Microgames–Duel, Part 7

  1. Carl Klutzke says:

    On the Jellyfish, I assume “it” means the attacking card, not the jellyfish? Also, “discard” usually means to remove a card from your hand, not from play. How about “Jellyfish immediately destroys any card of strength 3 or less that attacks it.” (At that point, though, why would anyone attack it under such circumstances? Perhaps “Jellyfish cannot be attacked by any card of strength 3 or less.”)

    • Hm. You’re right. That text does need to be cleaned up.

      As to playing a card atop it, keep in mind that the Jellyfish could have been played face down. In general, the Jellyfush power is vanity text only but it’s not unusual for a player to drop a small card on a face down card, hoping to have pinned down a big one.

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