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"Open" vs. "Closed" deck building

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N_Andersen
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Joined: 01/07/2013

Here's some background for my question:

I'm designing a game that combines resource & building mechanics with tactical combat. There is a game board, which is the map of the world that the game takes place in, game pieces that go on the board (buildings & armies), and decks of cards for each player. The cards are intended to allow each player to use whatever strategies are the most fun & appealing to them, and to also add a moderate amount of randomness/unpredictability.

I've designed the game thus far with what I will call an "open" deck building mechanic - like a CCG. Prebuilt starter decks would be shipped with the game, but they could be customized (by adding & removing cards) outside of the game. But lately I've been in kind of a boring stage of the design (revising & organizing my first draft of the rules), and naturally I've been coming up with new ideas... one of which is to make the deckbuilding a "closed" system - think Dominion.

My question is for others who have thought through a similar problem - how did your thought process work? Did you have some sort of method that you followed, or did you make your decision on instinct & inspiration? Or did you prototype & test two very different sets of mechanics? What were some pros & cons, or just differences between the two systems, that pushed you one way instead of the other? I would be especially interested in hearing from anyone who has designed some games with an open system and some with a closed, and why they made those choices.

Personally, I have some thoughts on pros & cons of each approach, or merely differences between each approach, but I think I will save my thoughts for now because I'd really like to hear from someone with more experience than me. Thanks in advance for any input.

Shoe
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Joined: 12/21/2012
I considered some level of

I considered some level of construct ability in decks for several of my games. In the end, most play testers I surveyed preferred static decks to the extra time it takes to build something of their own. The group of gamers who will even bother to customize seems to be a minority in my limited realm of inquisition

That being said, if you can make deck construction part of the play experience, I woul think that would be the most successful

Shoe
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Joined: 12/21/2012
I considered some level of

I considered some level of construct ability in decks for several of my games. In the end, most play testers I surveyed preferred static decks to the extra time it takes to build something of their own. The group of gamers who will even bother to customize seems to be a minority in my limited realm of inquisition

questccg
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Joined: 04/16/2011
To me it's all about margins

N_Andersen wrote:
*Snip*
I've designed the game thus far with what I will call an "open" deck building mechanic - like a CCG. Prebuilt starter decks would be shipped with the game, but they could be customized (by adding & removing cards) outside of the game. But lately I've been in kind of a boring stage of the design (revising & organizing my first draft of the rules), and naturally I've been coming up with new ideas... one of which is to make the deckbuilding a "closed" system - think Dominion.
*Snip*

If you ask most people on this site, they will tell you going the route of the CCG is nearly impossible. And it is very true (personal experience). Everyone that has played my CCG points out: "Could I just buy the game in one shot - all the cards?" And the reason I say No is because of money: it should cost about $50.00 to buy all the cards (plus shipping). That is a HIGH price point for a game. Had I used something like The Game Crafter, well I could have reduced the cost to manufacture to $9.00 and then sold the game for about $20 (Had I known - you live and learn...) I had a limited production run of 10,000 boosters made.

At a local Game Club, that same question popped up and they said: "You could sell expansions to your game, just offer a starter deck." Well for my game that was not possible (the way it was designed).

But I spoke to people on this site and elsewhere and everyone says CCGs come and go like the wind. A better model is Fantasy Flights LCG (Living Card Game) which is a base/core product and then game expansions.

In my current endeavor, I too would like "Booster Packs" for Rewards/Treasures. Something like a collection of 300 cards that players could buy. I like the anticipation of getting NEW cards to play with... But it is highly unlikely that any publisher will venture into that territory. I think I could DESIGN an EXPANSION for a particular Class. For example: The Fighter, create a EXPANSION just for that class... Something like 25 NEW cards for maybe $15 (Pricey - but still affordable). That probably would be more appealing to a publisher. There is a low cost to produce it and a high yield with regards to the margins. Same goes for *Storybooks*, low cost to produce and value in re-playability and also yield high margins.

Anyhow I am always on the look out to see where there could be more interesting margins (in terms of sales) because publishers want to know where they can make money on a product...

N_Andersen
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Joined: 01/07/2013
Thanks for the responses

Thanks guys for the responses. They've prompted me to do some additional reading & thinking. I'll share some of those ideas, with the caveat that I'm a hobbyist and still very early in the stages of designing my first game, so of course take my opinions with a grain of salt. But maybe they will help someone think through a similar problem later.

I can see why the CCG market would be tough to crack. The secondary card market for M:tG makes buying boosters seem like an economically justifiable decision, which fuels some amount of purchases which would not be made. And then the large number of players creates demand for the secondary card market. Game & hobby stores dedicate their very best retail space to M:tG precisely because of the secondary card market. Could such a market plausibly be spread amongst a lot of games? Or does it only work where one game is dominant? E.g. if the demand is split equally amongst five competitors, does the secondary market crater to a point where some players stop purchasing boosters? Just a thought...

Regardless of which deckbuilding mechanism I use in my game, I'm planning on using cards in the game, and the game can be expandable/modifiable. I want this for multiple reasons:

- I enjoy the type of game where I can customize my strategy, if there are combat elements then I like to customize how my units fight, what equipment they use, etc.
- I want replayability, I want players to refine their strategies from game to game, and for each game to be different
- I want a lot of strategic depth
- My game will contain more information than I can expect player's to memorize by associating certain actions to certain game pieces, and I don't want players to have to thumb through a reference manual while they play
- Cards will give players something to reference, but I believe it will be in small enough doses that it can be absorbed

So the choice is really, will deckbuilding be done inside the game or outside of the game? I thought through what that would mean, without trying to put value judgments on the differences, though some value judgments are obvious. The implications of the different systems:

Outside of game deckbuilding:

- Game would ship with pre-built starter decks
- May create a "best collection wins" or "whoever owns the game wins" problem
- Already have the mechanics/interactions thought through to a point where I can prototype
- Strategic choices made before game would be very deliberate
- Gives players something to do between games (when their gaming group isn't around, they can tinker with their decks)
- No "building phase" at start of game, players just pick a deck & then get started
- My game has a Civilization concept - each Civilization is unique, each card belongs to a Civilization. Thus, a player's deck will represent one Civilization.
- Expandability does not have to mean Collectibility
- Players wouldn't know what's in the other player's deck until they play it
- Would probably attract comparisons to Magic: the Gathering

Inside of game deckbuilding

- Interactions between cards & pieces would have to be redesigned from scratch (e.g. conditions for drawing a card, player actions to meet those conditions, making those conditions & actions make sense within the theme)
- Would abandon Civilization concept
- May reduce cost of the game (if no Civilizations, fewer unique components are required)
- Game would feel more "self-contained"
- Would need to add a somewhat longer "startup phase" to the game
- Every game would be different
- May be other wide-reaching implications that I haven't realized yet
- If all players have access to same cards, no "best collection wins" problem is created
- Players would learn what their opponents are adding to their decks
- Would probably attract comparisons to Dominion

Ultimately I've decided to continue on my original path, of having outside of game deckbuilding (but pre-built decks). My primary reason is because I need to prototype core mechanics that I've worked out so far. If the core mechanics are lacking, I can come back to this idea later. The most compelling reason to change the deckbuilding is to avoid the "best collection wins" issue, and make the game feel more self-contained.

Shattered Empires
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Open vs Closed Deck Construction

With games like Board Games that offer a variable choice in constructing your own deck for strategy, one thing to consider is offering the customization as an alternate rule. The game comes with X number of cards for each deck. The owner of the game may then expand those decks through Expansion Packs that offers new cards and strategies. Then, while setting up the game, you can offer the players the option to tweak their decks.

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