Kosai: Yes, I like typos! Especially if they completely mess up the sentence :D
Behind Interstellar Marines - The Card Game
Okay, here are some ramblings for those interested in game design theory. Well, my take on card game design theory :D I recommend you read/skim the rules to understand the context.
First of all, do not underestimate the value of making your cards FEEL like cards. Suddenly it felt like a game and became a very strong motivation. Even while playing we had ‘outsiders’ walk in saying: “Hey, what game is that?!”! Yes, it actually looks pretty awesome when you are well into a game!
So, stepping back to the first prototype. I did a bad thing. Ish. I started by designing the cards before knowing the system. I got lucky, but I wouldn’t recommend it! It took longer to change the cards after I came up with some ‘obvious’ rules and feedback from people who play card games more than me (like having the logo on each card, d’oh!).
Playing the game showed many flaws. I wanted players to play their chosen card at the same time, but my ‘this card goes before this card’ was very unhandy and I hadn’t really pre-thought who gets to ‘place’ their cards first if there were identical!
So we ended up fighting while trying to place cards and moving them around until the other player had ‘let go’ of his card. So we came up with a “write a number that equals your position” system which was very clunky. Rule nr 2: KEEP IT ELEGANT!
For this game I had this idea of simultaneous turns, I could keep the players more engaged. No need to be ‘waiting’ for your turn. I wanted to keep this value.
That is how the Initiative system was born. Now each card has a unique number that will determine several things. The essence of elegant: Use one simple solution to solve several problems. After trying it out, it proved to iron out all the wrinkles of simultaneous play (even adds a tactical element if you really want to adapt to your opponent!).
Randomness vs Determinism
So if you have been following the development over the last few days, the biggest change in the latest ‘edition’ is the main deck has been divided into Territories (previously Locations), Units and Equipment/Tactics .
While playing the old version, my opponent brilliantly pointed out: “You are asking me to play tactically, but I don’t have enough control to adapt” (or something like that). This made me start asking: “So how much randomness vs control does the game have?”.
In this case, too much randomness. You share the deck, so you can never be sure what cards are left (or in the hands of your opponent). You don’t know what type of card you will have or what hand composition you will end up with and you don’t know what your opponent will play. Everything else is more or less known.
So we wanted to keep some randomness, but give the player just a tad of more long term control. We decided to give the player the option choosing his hand composition. We divided the main deck into the three categories and gave them different colored backgrounds (in this case, card sleeves). This became another elegant solution as it added a deep sense of suspicion when you could see what from which deck your opponent is drawing cards!
Tomorrow we will try this new card division system on some unsuspecting soul.
 I’m still considering renaming equipment/tactics to be the same ‘type’ to make it simpler.
I’ll get back to you on that.
 Enough randomness to make the game unpredictable (unique) and thus requiring a slice of adaptation to win …
I pad myself on the back for using very, very simple numbers. What a headache it could have been. Even the first game we played was reasonably balanced - and the things which were unbalanced were easily adjusted. The only two big ‘adjustments’ was the MCT (Minimum Controlled Territory) and reducing the defence value of all units with 2 to 1.
 We introduced MCT so players would think twice before spawning a very powerful unit early game.
And finally … Documentation and rules
Probably the most ‘hard work’. BUT, nonetheless, I needed it to be downloadable and understandable by the Zero Point team who are 5000 miles away. So I made my poor colleagues read it through before playing and then just letting loose. This revealed a lot of obvious misconceptions or details I took for granted. The sentences that were kept simple were the ones that were never questioned - everything else got bashed until I rewrote it (coders are evil … in a good way!)
And remember: Pictures/Drawings are your friend :D
I am starting to sense it could be one of those games that are easy to learn, but hard to master. Not that it by any means is finished or compares to the masterpieces out there, but it has taught/reminded me of a few design lessons. I have to admit the process has been more fun than anticipated. Hopefully, someday when I am happy with everything, I can print them on real cards for my own amusement, and if I am lucky, others.
Enough scribbles from this madman. Hope you got something out of reading this jibba jabba!