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.


Icons vs. Text, Part 1

Publishers occasionally ask my design group to be involved in late-game development.  This frequently includes evaluating the game’s graphic design.  Two of our team are color blind. This gives us something of an investment in game components being as clear as possible.  We have had several extensive conversations about the place of icons and text in game components.  As with many other aspects of game design, there is no one best choice.  Each has its merits, each has its limitations.


Today we focus on the merits and limitations of text. Friday will be all about icons.



Game Component Text

Arkham CardsSome game components rely heavily on text to supply relevant details.

This is particularly common in collectible games like Magic; the Gathering, Pokemon, and The X-Wing Miniatures Game.  It is also common in character-driven games like Arkham Horror or Schlock Mercenary: Capital Offensive.


The main advantage of putting text directly on a component is immediacy.  When all the relevant game effects of the card or character appear directly on it, there is significantly less need to consult the rulebook during play.  This keeps the game moving at a steady pace.  A steady pace enhances the flow of your game.  Enhancing the flow of your game increases player engagement.  Component text can be a good thing.


Another major advantage of component text is portability.  When I put a card from a trading card game into play, the card’s text proclaims its purpose.  There is little need to carry any rulebooks or reference sheets to clarify what the card does.  There may be fringe cases or card interactions that require a consulting the latest FAQ but otherwise the cards literally say everything there is to say.  Component text can be a very good thing.


Foreign CardText is not perfect, however.  It has its limitations as well.  Most prominently, game text makes your game components language dependent.  If you wish to publish a text-reliant game in multiple countries, you will have to manufacture a different edition for each nation’s language.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, this was a perennial hurdle for German game enthusiasts.  Web-based translations of game text were a component all of us routinely added to the boxes.  Component text can problematic.


A big limitation of component text for the designer is surface area.  Sometimes, those words just won’t fit.  This issue hit us during the layout phase of Sentinel Tactics (Kickstarter campaign running now!).  We repeatedly found that we’d created abilities with too much text for the space available.  The text fit on our prototype cards because it used a different font and because prototype cards had no art.  Readying the game for publication meant hours rethinking details and shortening explanations.  Component text can indeed be problematic.


How about you?  How do you feel about text on game components?  If you’re a player, what do you prefer to see when you open the box?  If you’re a designer, what do you prefer to put in the box?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create and account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.


Next time we get together, we will look at game component icons and how they compare with game text.  I would suggest that they tend to excel where game text fails but that the reverse is also unfortunately true.  Come back in four days and see if you agree!