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Mechanics for mind games

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CCGer
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I am trying to design a 2 player customisable card game. It is not a deck building game, it is something like Magic the Gathering where you build your own deck before playing and then duke it out with your opponent. I want my game to focus on what I call "mind games". Some people define "mind game" as a strategy game, for example chess and go are games for the mind. But, whatever the actual definition of mind game is, I define it as somewhat a psychological game. A game with "mind games" will have bluffing, guessing, predicting your opponent, or what David Sirlin (designer of Yomi card game) called "yomi". This game will be turn-based and does not involve simultaneous action selection (so please don't recommend me Yomi card game or Battlecon). However, I have encountered some problems which will be explained below.

For a game to have bluffing elements, it has to have hidden information. For example, poker has hidden information since all players have a hand of cards that only they know and others don't. So, maybe we can say that, all games with hidden information has bluffing elements. However, that doesn't seem to be the case.

In Pokemon TCG, both players have a hand of cards which is hidden from their opponent. But this game doesn't have a lot of bluffing. Most of the time, it is more about managing your cards well rather than predicting and out smarting your opponent with bluffs.

Even for Magic the Gathering, bluffing isn't very common. For the most part, you are mostly making calculations to decide the optimum play without worrying much about what your opponent has in hand. I am not trying to say that MTG has no bluffing at all, I am just saying that it is not that common.

The most common bluffing senario for MTG is the creature buff during combat and counter spell. Both of this involves "instant" spell which interrupts during your opponent's turn. Even in Pokemon TCG, there was the card Power Spray, which is used during your opponent's turn to counter the use of a poke-power. When Power Spray was released, it was reported that bluffing skills became more important, and when Power Spray was banned, it is reported that bluffing matters less. So, can we say that Pokemon TCG has less bluffing elements because that game usually doesn't have instant cards which interrupts during the opponent's turn? If the answer is yes, then perhaps if we remove all instant cards and cards with flash abilities in MTG, then MTG becomes a game where there is no bluffing even though the game has hidden info? Does it mean that games like Kaijudo TCG (there is no instant cards that interrupts during an opponent's turn) doesn't have bluffing? If that is so, it will be a problem because I am thinking of making my game free of instant cards. I want my game to run smoothly where the players do their thing during their turn and nothing during their opponent's turn. It don't really like games where after you do every move, you have to wait and see if your opponent wants to interrupt your play.

I know that some of you might want to recommend me Android Netrunner. This game was on my radar for some time, I have checked it out a little, but I haven't play it much yet. One problem with that game is that the 2 players are playing under different rules (it is asymmetric). I am not against asymmetric games, but I would prefer a game where both players play with the same rules and asymmetry will come from the different decks they use. I find it difficult to make a game where one player does both the corporation and runner's jobs together. Another problem with Netrunner is that it uses too many different tokens. If possible, I would want my game to have either no tokens at all or only one type of token.

So now, what are some qualities that makes a good 2 player card game which focuses on "mind games"? We already have hidden information and instant cards. What are some other qualities that might be important? Please note that my game is designed to be a competitive game and not a party or casual game. Also remember that it is a customisable card game (not deck building game) which will have lots of cards with different effects. I do welcome recommendations of other games but this thread is intended to be a discussion of game mechanics.

Thanks.

MarkKreitler
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Poker, revisited

Hey CCGer,

I ran across similar problems designing a "Pokemon replacement" game for my son, so I've thought about this problem a bit.

Given that you don't want instants, you may want to revisit poker, which you mentioned above. While the "hidden info" element is necessary for bluffing, it's not sufficient, as you point out. There must be other elements that make poker such a fantastic bluffing game.

I see at least two such elements:
1) Contests are resolved over several turns instead of a single round.
2) Players must continue to invest resources to stay in the contest.

Additionally, games like Texas Hold'em reveal more information the longer one stays in the contest.

These elements create strong tension between wanting to save precious resources and investing them based on partial information.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure the variety of cards in a CCG system lends itself to this type of play. Great poker players use their knowledge of the deck to compute probabilities of opponents' possible hands. That's not practical when players can customize decks from a selection of thousands of cards.

Which leads to a fundamental problem with bluffing in CCGs: in order to successfully bluff, one must be able to suggest a pattern to one's opponent. The more possible patterns in the game, the less likely your opponent is to believe you're actually holding the necessary cards, so the less effective the bluff.

True, once your opponents have seen enough of your deck to know how you're playing, you can more effectively bluff, but this requires either repeated plays against the same opponent, or long enough rounds that one can get a good idea how the others have constructed their decks before the game ends. In either case, players must have expert knowledge of the cards over all in order to be susceptible to mind games.

Your idea is neat and I'd love to see you pull it off. I hope you'll post more as development continues.

federicolatini
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Vampire Empire is the game to

Vampire Empire is the game to check

CCGer
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1) Contests are resolved over

1) Contests are resolved over several turns instead of a single round.
2) Players must continue to invest resources to stay in the contest.

These 2 elements work for Poker, but they are not a must to be included into a game for bluffing. As for the problem with bluffing in CCGs, the players should obviously know the cards involved and understand what most decks can do.

Anyway, this is my view for why games like MTG and Pokemon lack bluffing. It might seems that I am contradicting myself. Feel free to rebut my claims. Also, please note that I am not terribly experienced in CCGs in general. Here it goes:

I think both MTG and Pokemon TCG focus more on the board (cards that are in play) rather than the cards in hand. For example, in Pokemon TCG, you will be busy setting up your field and trying to prevent your opponent from doing so. You will be more worried about that heavy hitter Stage 2 Pokemon sitting in your opponent's bench (which is in play) rather than those cards in his hand. Of course there are exceptions such as cards like Pokemon Catcher. In Pokemon, the biggest threat is usually public information rather than hidden information.

In MTG, there is summoning sickness which neutralize lots of mind games in the game. On your turn you play a creature, but it can't attack this turn. Your opponent has one turn to remove it. If he doesn't have any removal in his hand, he can tutor a card that is appropriate to handle the situation. It is like making a bet in poker after you see the cards in your opponent's hand.

Bluffing only becomes useful in MTG when your opponent can use an instant to stop your threat. In situations like creature buffs during combat and counter spell, the cards in your opponent's hand becomes important.

This is the same with netrunner. The cards in play are usually more important than the cards in your hand. However for netrunner, the cards in play are faced down (for corporation) which is able to create bluffing opportunities.

MarkKreitler
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Agreed

CCGer wrote:
1) Contests are resolved over several turns instead of a single round.
2) Players must continue to invest resources to stay in the contest.

These 2 elements work for Poker, but they are not a must to be included into a game for bluffing.

Agreed. However, these are the rules that make poker arguably the best bluffing game in existence.

CCGer wrote:

As for the problem with bluffing in CCGs, the players should obviously know the cards involved and understand what most decks can do.

Also agreed, but this presents several problems. First, it's a huge barrier to entry for new players. Second, the barrier gets higher as more cards are added. If you want bluffing to be a primary element, you need to implement systems that support it into which cards can fit as they come out. This way, players need only understand a few broad rules to use the bluffing element, and don't have to re-learn the game with every release of an expansion deck.

For example, suppose you change attack rules from "I activate my card and damage you," to "I announce an attacking card place an opening 'ante' of mana into the 'attack pool.' The defender can then announce a defending card (on the board) or play a defensive card from his hand as long as he matches my opening ante. Players then continue to play supporting attack cards, alternating face up and face down, and adding a small mana payment with each card, until one side withdraws or runs out of cards. Players then reveal all face-down cards and resolve the attack. The winner takes the mana."

This system supports meaningful bluffing independent of cards' exact strengths and weaknesses. It's something early players can grasp on to without knowing nuances of every deck.

I'm not suggesting you actually consider this rule. It's strictly for the purposes of illustrating the higher point: if you want bluffing based on hidden cards, you need game systems that allow players to use those cards, for a price, in a direct contest. Furthermore, if you can draw that contest out over several rounds, you will increase the tension.

CCGer wrote:
Anyway, this is my view for why games like MTG and Pokemon lack bluffing. It might seems that I am contradicting myself. Feel free to rebut my claims. Also, please note that I am not terribly experienced in CCGs in general. Here it goes:

Seems like an accurate analysis to me -- but I'm not a CCGer, either. I've only played a few games of MT:G and didn't care for it. That said, your description matches what I experienced.

I think we're saying the same thing in different ways. CCGs tend to be about assembling the optimal set of cards in play. Good bluffing games tend to be about what's *not yet* in play. Seems like you'll need to change some typical elements of CCG design if you want to support good bluffing.

Here's another idea that isn't related to poker. Suppose your cards can buff each other based on proximity. For instance, you could play an Unicorn that gives a mana bonus to any card above or below it. Imagine, then, that you arrange your battlefield as a matrix of mxn cards. Also, suppose it costs mana to play cards face up, but it's free to place them face down (though, to flip them, costs the same mana as it would to play them).

Now you have an interesting situation where face-down cards could be powerful buffing or attack cards. Players will have to decide if it's worthwhile to attack the unknown cards versus dealing with known threats.

Dunno, could be something there.

Interesting problem with neat design implications. Glad you're tackling it.

Mark

Zodiak Team
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Hows it going CCGer, #1 My

Hows it going CCGer,

#1 My life is card games and I've created a few unpublished ones of my own. Currently one of my card games "Zodiak Legends" is about to make that leap from dream into reality as I get ever so closer to my kickstarter launch. With that said I think I can help you.

What you're trying to do is create a bluffing mechanic instead of leaving it up to the player's skilled tongue during any table top game session. It is interesting but you maybe limiting yourself by removing instant cards. What you might want to think about is making EVERY card an instant or at least have 2 effects to it. Maybe each card can either be played as an instant or an action. This would allow players to tempt each other and trick them into playing their hand and be defensless to their opponent's attacks.

You may also want to revisit Poker (just as the person above me said). What if the cards on the field was your hand and it's kept facedown during the game. This could mean that all cards at all times are in play and can be used.

Also you might want to think about making this a non-collectible card game (if you haven't already). TCGs and CCGs are very expensive and unless you have a ton of money, they wont do very well and they support the wrong kind of game play. Do yourself and your players a favor and look into more of a expansion sort of card game.

kos
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Commit resources based on partial information

I think one of the key elements of bluffing games is that players must commit resources based on partial information. In effect, players get to choose their own risk-reward payoff based on their guesses/intuition. They key is that once the resources are committed you can't get them back, so bluffing your opponent into overcommitting on a losing hand or bailing out on a winning hand is crucial to winning the game.

Poker is the obvious example.

Bridge (and other Bridge-like games) does this to some extent during the bidding phase, where every time you increase your bid you are increasing both the difficulty of success and the potential reward/loss. You can only see your own hand, but you can make guesses about what is in other people's hands every time they place a bid. Bidding continues until none of the players are willing to increase their risk/reward ratio any further.

In a Magic-like card game, you could build a bluffing mechanic in by playing face down attackers. The opponent then plays face down defenders. This "bidding" goes back and forth until nobody wants to commit any more units to the fight. Flip and resolve combat. To create more opportunity for bluffing, you could make it so that the players commit Points to the combat as well, with the winner taking the pot (just like the pot in poker). You lose when you run out of points.

Regards,
kos

Qwibbian
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Another mind game consideration

Hi. Here's another idea (not related to bluffing). It's a bit of a stretch, but how about effects and/or rules that span multiple games? I.e., when certain cards are played or conditions met in one game, it can affect how the next game starts or is played out. This could be given a "mind game" twist, if you have things like "this will hurt me in the short term but will really help me in the long run (i.e., over several games)", making opponents think twice about how to deal with something like that.

Regards,
Qwib

PenteVPM
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Another bluffing mechanic

Hi,

bluffing can also be implemented with hidden information and expressly stated claim about that information. If you think about poker, when you are betting you are basically claiming that your hand (i.e. your hidden information) is of some value (granted, here the claimed value is somewhat vague).

In some other card games the claim about the value is more precise. For example, player plays a card face down and makes a claim "this card is Ace of Spades". If the other players buy the claim, the game is resolved as if the card is Ace of Spades, regardless what it actually is. In these cases, the hidden information is not even revealed. However, if the other players don't buy the claim, the hidden information is revealed. If the card actually is Ace of Spades, the player who didn't buy the claim suffers, but if it isn't, the player who played the card and made the claim suffers.

I think this kind of mechanic can be implemented in MTG-type games, if players have way of estimating the validity of each expressed value of a card.

CCGer
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PenteVPM wrote:Hi, bluffing

PenteVPM wrote:
Hi,

bluffing can also be implemented with hidden information and expressly stated claim about that information. If you think about poker, when you are betting you are basically claiming that your hand (i.e. your hidden information) is of some value (granted, here the claimed value is somewhat vague).

In some other card games the claim about the value is more precise. For example, player plays a card face down and makes a claim "this card is Ace of Spades". If the other players buy the claim, the game is resolved as if the card is Ace of Spades, regardless what it actually is. In these cases, the hidden information is not even revealed. However, if the other players don't buy the claim, the hidden information is revealed. If the card actually is Ace of Spades, the player who didn't buy the claim suffers, but if it isn't, the player who played the card and made the claim suffers.

I think this kind of mechanic can be implemented in MTG-type games, if players have way of estimating the validity of each expressed value of a card.

It is true that bluffing can happen this way. However, I am creating a customisable card game, meaning that cards will have many different effects. I am not sure if this method can support cards with various abilities. There is still problems with deck building, as in how a player will build his deck based on the cards available.

I think one way to make bluffing works is to make sure that the players really want to know what cards are in the opponent's hand (which is kept hidden). This might sound easy, but if you look at games we talked about like Pokemon and MTG, you usually care more about what is on the board. Although in MTG and Pokemon, you will get an advantage if you know the cards in your opponent's hand, most of the time, you don't really need it, except if you are dealing with counterspells or combat creature buffs.

MarkKreitler
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Semantics

CCGer wrote:
I think one way to make bluffing works is to make sure that the players really want to know what cards are in the opponent's hand (which is kept hidden).

This might just be semantics, but I'll bring it up anyway.

In some of the best poker variations -- 7 card stud, baseball, Texas Hold 'Em -- players have no "hand" in the sense you're talking about. Everything is on the table, though some cards are hidden.

My point is this: the important distinction isn't so much between "what's in the hand and what's in play" as in "which cards are visible, and which cards aren't." The unspoken assumption here is that the unplayed cards can make those in play more powerful than they appear. In poker, that means things like transforming a pair into 3 of a kind or a full house. In a game like MT:G it could mean creature buffs or traps/counterspells for enemy units.

You could achieve this in a CCG in many ways:
-- playing cards face up or face down into a grid where adjacent cards can buff each other.
-- building up an 'attack sequence' composed of some face up or face down cards, constructed over several turns, leading up to an 'attack resolution' phase where players resolve the contest between the sequences (for heightened tension, require an "ante" of mana to play cards into the sequence, and give the accumulated pot to the winner).
-- allow instant attacks, but when so doing, players can add "support cards" from their hands, alternating with each other, until one players chooses to fight or flee.

and so on.

As I understand it, Yu-gi-oh has a simple "two cards face down" rule that allows for some bluffing. If you haven't played that, it might be a place to start for ideas. It illustrates the basic idea, though: you need to introduce a general mechanic, independent of cards' special rules, that supports bluffing behavior. MT:G doesn't do that, as far as I know, which is why bluffing isn't a significant component of the game.

CCGer
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Actually, when I say the

Actually, when I say the players should care about what is in your opponent's hand, I meant we need some kind of mechanics or system which makes the cards in your opponent's hand matters and not just about creating special cards that forces this kind of interaction. For example, in Marvel Super Hero Squad TCG, all the cards can be used to counter certain subsets of other cards. This means that before you play your attack, you must consider if your opponent has the counter to your card. In Nightfall by AEG, there is this "chain system" which allows your opponent to interact with your chain. However, I am not too sure if Marvel Super Hero Squad TCG and Nightfall has lots of mind games. At least in Board Game Geek, they are not rated as a game with bluffing.

Anyway, does anyone played a card game similar to a CCG and has lots of mind games in it? (other than the ones already suggested and talked about)

JustActCasual
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Basics, Cards, and Magic

As long as you have Yomi, choices based on your read of the opponent, and known unknowns (don't be the kid who atomic bombs in RPS) you should be fine. What are the other mechanics in your game? What kind of dynamics and aesthetics are you looking to create? If we knew the answers to these questions we could probably provide more specific assistance to the kind of mind games that might work.

A couple more notes on mind games in cards:
~in games such as poker the common pool means that players can calculate odds, but it also lends more depth to the yomi aspect: your hand actually gives you information on what is in your opponents hand, and that opponent doesn't know what information you have. You might want to bluff the Ace of Spades, but if your opponent has it in hand this will not work, and you don't know if they have it.
~you should rethink the use of simultaneous action: Sirlin uses simultaneous action games (Rock-Paper-Scissors, Street Fighter, Yomi cards) to describe Yomi because they are very effective uses of Yomi. Turn based RPS is a terrible game. I know you dislike Magic, but the Instants allow it the same simultaneous advantage: namely that you can interact before the opponent has reaped an advantage from their play. Chicken is the simplest mind game I know, and it relies entirely on simultaneous action.
~poker is an awful game Yomi-wise, as the power of a hand is directly related to the unlikelihood of a counter, which is mostly known information. If you just bet your own hand, you can do pretty well. One reason people like Hold'Em is that YOU don't know what hand you have for most of the game.

Also, Magic actually has much better layers of mind games than you let on. For example in your creature buff scenario you can bluff removal in response: when you send your creature into the red zone your opponent has to wonder whether buffing his creature is worth it. Did you send your creature in because you think he doesn't have the buff for his? If so, he should use his buff to block your attack and destroy your creature. What if you sent your creature in because you expect him to have the buff, but have a removal spell for the buffed creature in response? Now if he spends the buff he's losing 2 cards to your one, so he should just let it through. What if you sent your creature in because you are bluffing the removal? Then he should use the buff like the first case. It's a classic Yomi situation.

Another strong example in Magic is creature deployment: should you use a low power creature with evasion or protection vs. a vanilla high power creature? Should you commit a lot of resources to the board, or hold back in case of a sweeper? The beautiful thing about using these elements in a deckbuilding game is that you get to confront these questions vs. the metagame as you build your deck as well as vs. your opponent at the table. You also notice I haven't mentioned any cards by name: it is enough to know that such a category exists and your opponent could have it.

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