Triggered Effects, Part 1

Developing the microgame Duel has me thinking quite a bit about triggered card effects.  These effects all fit under a general “when TRIGGER occurs, do EVENT” template and they open up some interesting design options.  They can make a card situationally powerful.  They can give cardsets a mechanical theme.  They can create opportunities for counterplay.

I set out recently to codify the types of triggered effects that exist in Constructed Deck Games–Magic: the Gathering, Pokemon–in deckbuilding games–Dominion, Marvel Legendary, Trains–and in card drafting games–Fairy Tale, 7 Wonders.

Today’s column will focus on triggers.  We will discuss event types next and wrap up this series by doing a bit of mix and match to see what we get.  We’ll attempt to identify which combinations work best by game type and which do not.


Warren PilferersYour card’s effect may be triggered by simply coming into play. This is particularly beneficial to the CD designer since entrance triggers give players opportunities to exploit timing.  Common phrases indicating an entrance trigger read like

“When you play this card…”

“When this card enters play…”

“When this card enters the battlefield…”


WerewolfA card already in play may be turned or flipped to cause an effect. M:tG introduced this concept and it has continued to receive lots of love in the world of CDGs.  We have seen variations on this theme outside the world of CDGs as well. My personal favorite instance of this appears in Satoshi Nakamura’s Fairy Tale. Cards in Fairy Tale can be flipped upside down which in turn takes them out of play. Common phrases associated with this trigger are

“Exhaust this card to…”

“Flip this card to…”

“When this card untaps…”


Festering GoblinYour card’s effect may be triggered by leaving play. M:tG players refer to these as “death triggers” which seems pretty reasonable when you consider that the M:tG discard pile is called the “graveyard.”  Common phrases indicating an exit trigger are

“When you discard this card…”

“When this card goes to the graveyard…”

“When you trash this card…”


mandarinYour card’s effect may be triggered when you acquire it. Deckbuilding games use this mechanism frequently.  I’m not sure how such an idea would work into a traditional CDG but it would be an interesting challenge to take on.  Common phrases for acquisition triggers are

“When you purchase this card…”

“When you gain this card…”


Your card’s effect may be triggered by revealing it. The VS CDG system made excellent use of this trigger in its resource line. Common revelation trigger phrases are

“When you turn this card face up…”

“You may reveal this card to…”

“When this card is exposed…”



BerzerkerYour card’s effect may be triggered by damaging it. Fantasy Flight’s DBG Rune Age featured cards which triggered when damaged, even those that Hulked Out by getting stronger when damaged. Common phrases indicating a damage trigger read like

“When this card takes damage…”

“If this card is wounded…”

“When this card becomes stressed…”



Any of these triggers could be extended to your opponent as well.  Put “when your opponent…” at the beginning of any other trigger to get

“When an opponent reveals a card…”

“When your opponent plays a monster…”

“When another player gains this card…”


Closing Thoughts For Now…

Are there any triggers I missed?  If so, what were they?  What game triggers do you find most interesting?  What made you like it so much?  What game triggers do you dislike?  What keeps it from being more enjoyable?   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.


12 thoughts on “Triggered Effects, Part 1

  1. When I think of a damage trigger, I think of things like, “When this card deals damage…”

    There’s also a whole set of variants that trigger when *other* cards enter/tap/exit/etc. In MtG, a set of cards with one of these triggers are often called “_____ matters” cards. (or “tribal” cards, if they care about creature types)

  2. Interesting list, thanks for posting.

    I think that the big issue with (some) triggered effects is related to the problem of “instant” effects, which is the timing of resolution. IIRC, Magic pretty much formalises this as a “stack”, which is easy enough when all the effects are from “play & discard” cards (“instants” in Magic), as you can just put the cards in a physical row or stack, but when the effects are triggered on cards that are already in play, that can involve some mental juggling. I don’t think this is usually a big deal, but it can make a game seem very complicated at times, even if it isn’t.

  3. CRITICAL MASS would be an interesting trigger. “If 3+ X cards, then…”

    I can think of lots of games that use critical mass for scoring. Are there any that actually trigger an EVENT?

  4. Carl Klutzke says:

    This is a timely post for me. Some of the cards for my Doomed Atlantis game have become impractically complex, effectively creating a complicated AI that has to be resolved in realtime by the players. I’m converting some of the enemy abilities to triggered effects instead, which I hope will speed up the game.

    One of the best things about triggered effects is that they can lead to exciting chains of events, where one triggered effect triggers other effects. I love designing and playing with those interactions.

    One other common trigger I see is start of turn / end of turn. Many cards have effects where the end of the player’s turn or the start of the player’s next turn triggers the end of the effect.

  5. willbanalog says:

    Marvel Dice Masters uses trigger effects like ‘when blocked’ & ‘when assigned to block’ and ‘when attacking’ & ‘when assigned to attack’. But most are blanket effects that trigger ‘while active’.

    In fact it’s safe to say the the game itself is just a set of triggers effects. Though they eschew the stack that MtG uses and all effects resolve immediately after being triggered excluding those that are persistent.

  6. Jayson says:

    You missed a few but were fairly comprehensive.

    “When this card is drawn… ” (typically Reveal immediately and perform)

    “When you are forced to discard this card” (Tunnel in Dominion)

    “If X on this card is greater than Y” (Y can be another card, game state, anything).

    “When randomizer is X…” (card makes you roll dice or such, triggers on result of random event)

    Triggers can be negative “If X does not…” or even choice based “Opponent messy do this. If not, do something else instead.”

    • opiejohnny says:

      Related to “If X on this card is greater than Y” there is the trigger of when something runs out: “When there are no more tokens on this card…” (Eldritch Horror) This is essentially a game state effect like Rusty describes, but specific to or tracked with the card.

  7. Rusty says:

    I’m a bit late to the party here, but I think there’s another category of triggers that I’m not entirely sure what to call. Let’s go with “neutral” events, and hope that someone else can come up with a better name. These triggers aren’t something that you or your opponent does, but something that the game/game state does. I think they’re different from the Randomiser example above as they don’t necessarily arise by chance.

    One example is found in Smash Up, where players play their own Minion/Action cards to destroy neutral/communal “Bases”, the doing of which gives points. On some cards is the trigger: “When a Base is destroyed…”

    A hypothetical trigger of this sort (actually based on your Component Condition effects in part 3) could be “When the toxicity marker advances one level…” One could imagine certain cards becoming weaker the more toxic the environment is (or vice versa of course!).

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