Designing Microgames–Duel, Part 4

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 play one, draw one.  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.

Since our meeting, I have added a new action.  Players may now (1) play a card into an empty space, (2) play a card onto an enemy card, or (3) move a card one space.

APE Games plans to release the game in two-player packs containing two unique armies.  The first deck sets selected to create will be Pirates vs. Sea Monsters and Kung Fu Masters vs. Shogunate Warriors.


Creating Abilities

Like a chef preparing a meal, I like to have my mise en place together before beginning work.  For a game like this one, that means creating a selection of powers that would enhance gameplay.

The test prototype includes a few already.  The Attack Submarine has “If this ship eliminates an enemy ship, return it to your hand. The Attack Submarine returns to your hand has if it eliminates an enemy ship.  The Aircraft Carrier deals 2 damage to each enemy card alongside it.  The Mine discards immediately after a battle.  The Minesweeper is immune to damage from mines.

What is the core of each of these abilities?

Aircraft CarrierThe Aircraft Carrier’s ability to support allied attacks was originally conceived as a way of abstractly representing aircraft strikes against nearby targets.  At its core, this ability delivers damage without putting the card itself directly into the battle. This mechanism represents ranged combat well–archers, snipers, artillery, spellcasters, or the like.

Attack SubmarineThe Attack Submarine can be used repeatedly to pick off small targets or to finish off a larger target already damaged by other ships.  It can also allow a player to extend her deck if she needs to delay endgame.  This ability is highly responsive to the strength of the card.  In the original game, a submarine can defeat 65% (13 of the 20) of the enemy’s fleet outright.  Players are encouraged to play it aggressively but with risk.  Giving it greater strength would make it dull since it could be played with impunity.  What if it were attached to a low strength card?  In that case, it would be good for delivering coup de grâce but not for direct aggressive action, forcing players to be more cagey.

MineThe Mine’s limitation as a one-shot makes it ideal for cards with high strength.  They can win one crucial battle but are then lost.



MinesweeperThe Minesweeper’s ability is problematic.  Immunity is an appealing idea but it calls out a specific card in the opponent’s deck.  This would not be a problem if sets were strictly standalone.  But they aren’t.  Any deck should be able to play any other deck in this game.  Naming a specific card is simply too confining.  It’s a shame to lose a good idea though.  What if a card had immunity to attackers of a certain strength–“Immune to strength 3 or less?” or “Immune to strength 7 or greater?”  These are ideas to play with, at least.


The Ability Categories

Having examined these abilities in detail, I felt prepared to begin creating new ones.  What followed over the next few days was a great deal of brainstorming, editing, brainstorming again, editing again, and sorting.  What emerged on the other side were these categories of abilities:


Category: Teamwork

Abilities in this category enhance one another.  They add strength to a nearby attack.  They add defense to a nearby attack.  They add strength to other cards by being adjacent or by simply being in play.  They can be stacked with allied cards to make a single stronger entity.


Category: Individualist

Abilities in this category enhance a card that plays by itself.  They win ties.  They cannot be attacked by multiple enemy cards.  They gain strength when attacked by multiple enemy cards.


Category: Movement

Abilities in this category break the normal movement rules.  They can move diagonally.  They can move to any empty space.  They must move into a battle if possible.  They are exceptionally strong but cannot move.


Category: Card Manipulation

Abilities in this category address how players interact with their deck and hand.  They give you an increased hand size.  They reduce your opponent’s hand size.  They return to hand on battle victory.  They return to hand if you discard a card from hand in their place.  They reveal face down cards.  They make your opponent reveal her hand.


Category: Exotic

Abilities in this category don’t directly fit into the other categories but are interesting nonetheless.  They are immune to certain types of cards.  They are eliminated even when they win a battle.


Another Shout Out For Microgames!

Patrick (Crash Games) Nickell wrote on 23 May his Crash Games blog entry Why I love the Microgame.  His post presents the viewpoint of a publisher of microgames quite effectively.  In summary, he puts forward that They are (1) inexpensive to make, (2) inexpensive to ship, (3) have a low barrier to sell to distributors, (4) are gratifying to play and (5) are highly portable.  Those of you interested in the business side of microgame creation will find it an enlightening read.

Next time, we look at the creation of the first decks for this new system.  See you Tuesday!


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.