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.