Our last column looked at several hypothetical cases to illuminate the proper use of asymmetric card decks. In this column, we look at four examples which are not at all hypothetical. These are published games which feature asymmetry. I found that each one found an interesting way to make asymmetry serve its core engagement.
James Spurny’s Rocket Journey casts players as tramp freighter captains delivering goods from world to world within our solar system. At its heart, Rocket Jockey is a rail game in the “elaborate = better” tradition. Players make these deliveries inefficient to earn more points.
Early in the game’s development, Spurny decided that the back story of the game should center space development around Earth. For this reason, he concentrated the game cards around Earth. Earth cards are the most common. Venus and Mars are second-most common. They drop off steadily from there.
James Spurny used asymmetry to support his game’s setting and to concentrate player focus.
Stephen Glenn’s Piñata–first released in 2003 as Balloon Cup–uses complementary asymmetry to balance player decisions. The rarest commodity has only 5 cards but only requires that you collect three of it to score a trophy. The most common commodity has 13 cards but requires a comparatively massive 7 cubes to score a trophy. Piñata pushes this asymmetry further with the inclusion of 10 wild cards.
Should you collect common goods, knowing that you’ll need many of them? Or should you focus on the rare, hoping for a quick win? Stephen Glenn used asymmetry to put players in a quandary.
Lord of the Fries
From the 1996 through 2006, James Ernest helmed Cheapass Games. CAG released a number of excellent games. One of his best was Lord of the Fries. LotF is a hand management game. Players worked with hands of ingredient cards to supply customer demand at a Friedey’s, the fast food restaurant chain in hell. Like Glenn, Ernest uses rarity to imply value. The common and lowly 14 buns score only 1 point each while the delicious but rare 4 Berry Pies clock in at 6 points each. Of course, Earnest also made it pretty easy to score those buns and difficult to score the berry pies. He’s sneaky like that.
James Ernest used asymmetry to keep players looking for the most valuable options.
As an aside, Cheapass Games began releasing new titles in 2011. Like their classic counterparts, you will be happy you checked them out.
Magic: The Gathering
It’s been more than 20 years since Richard Garfield’s idea to meld trading cards with gameplay hit store shelves. There are many reasons for its enduring popularity. Player-controlled asymmetry is one of the best. By allowing each player to construct her own deck, Garfield empowered players to create their own asymmetry. Players are limited to 4 of each card which is not a basic land but even within this restriction there is plenty of room for the active deck constructor’s play. Cards that formed the backbone of your deck appeared the full 4 times. If you wanted a certain card for emergency assistance, you might choose to include only a single copy of it.
Richard Garfield used asymmetry to empower his players.
There are a great number of ways in which asymmetry can boost your designs. Consider the achievements of Spurny, Glenn, Ernest, and Garfield. Then add your name to that list.
What do you think of these examples? Do you know another which should have made this list? Share them with your fellow designers in the comments below. And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, subscribe. It makes a big difference.
We will be together again in three days to take a look at game design conferences and how to get the most from them. See you Friday!