How to Make a CCG From Scratch

Imagine you’re making a CCG. It’s new, so there’s no metagame yet. There are no established dominant strategies to address, no underperforming deck styles to buff. There aren’t any neglected mechanics to investigate or card types to add since everything’s new. And there’s no player feedback because there are no players. Where do you start?

You start with factions.

Factions lead into basically every other facet of a CCG’s creation. As the Card Set Designer for Nova Blitz, they suggested mechanics to aim our card designs at. The Nature faction has druids and powerful wild beasts? That says healing Powers and high-stat Units to me. Tech has grav tanks, hackers and satellite surveillance? Presto! That means Units with Armor and deck & hand manipulation. Working this way focuses the design and makes cards more directed than working in a vacuum.

Strong faction theming tells us not just what to make, but what not to make. Factional divisions, along with a casting cost system that requires players to have the right kind of resource as well as the right type, make it possible to prevent players from having the best of everything all the time. CCGs where one faction always wins are bad, and ones where one deck always wins are worse. We want to make a good game!

Naturally, the themes we use should be ones that readily come to mind upon hearing the faction’s name or seeing a few sample cards. Nothing stops us from filling the Chaos faction with Machiavellian schemers who counter your moves from the shadows and strike only when the moment is right — nothing but the fact it would be a bad idea, since that’s not the mental image anyone gets when they think of chaos. But there are images that players do get, like goblins and flamethrowers and rocket sleds — images that lead directly to individual card mechanics.

Individual card mechanics aren’t the same as a faction’s theme or a deck’s play style, but the first one links the other two inexorably. Strong attackers, but weak defenders. Area-effect damage. Risky gambles. Cannon fodder units. (Okay, maybe they’re slightly Machiavellian after all.) These individual mechanics lead naturally to an aggressive playstyle deck comprised of a mix of low/mid-cost Units and strong Power support.

You’ll notice that design can influence faction choices too, not just the other way around. We certainly could envision a faction based on the theme of enormous, unstoppable, firebreathing kaiju-style monsters, but the resulting combination of huge stats, damage-blocking Armor, and recurring direct damage would be a tough act for other factions to follow.

As fate would have it, I’m not the only one who benefits from designing around factions. They give our brand manager something clear to market and tell our community manager what tribes to expect our fan base to fall into. They help our art director establish a consistent look among some cards and clean distinctions between others, rather than just having “a couple hundred really cool pieces of art”.

Once we have a first draft on mechanics for every card planned for the game’s launch, we’ll iterate on card costs and balance deck types against one another. If a faction can’t field a deck type we feel is appropriate for it, or it’s better at a playstyle that should be another faction’s strong suit, we’ll adjust some cards to address that.

That, however, is the next step. For now, Arcane, Chaos, Divine, Nature and Tech give Nova Blitz a solid foundation for a wide array of cards and an intuitive set of deck types, both for launch and future expansions.