How Feedback Influences Card Design

Making games is hard. Now that I started with this delightful truism, I think we can progress onto the topic of this post, which is card design. Let us start with a few minor clarifications – I do not want to claim the title of a master in this ground, on the contrary – I am learning the whole tedium of the process along the way, finding out how it works, looking for all the details one misses during development, making iteration after iteration of every step until it clicks just right! And so, instead of the sagely approach of wisdom in this particular topic I’d rather like to guide you through the brief story of how the cards for Mishmash: Galaxy were born. Here we go!

Like any game, Mishmash started as a wild idea born… well… I can’t tell. Simply because I don’t know! It could have been a contemplative session in the meditation chamber (*aka the toilet*). It could have been a sudden stroke of enlightenment during morning ablutions. It could be anything, really. But simply on one of my team meetings disputing the progress – or rather lack of thereof! – of our other Kickstarter Project, Publish or Perish, the idea simply came to mind and was laid down with pencil on paper in the most crude and basic form.

It clicked.

It’s such a warm and invigorating feeling, isn’t it? When you feel the shape of the game in your mind, when you KNOW what you want it to be, ‘but haven’t been forced yet to cash your dreams… When you sit down to the anvil and at last hammer the rules out. But even when there was no game yet, the idea seemed fun to everyone, and further check with gamers outside our tight little circle of friends confirmed it. Jolly good!

And that, of course, was the time to start working on the cards. Too early? Perhaps… The game core mechanics were already riveted together. We knew that until testing proves it to be damaged, dull or simply lacking any spark, it is going to be set in stone. And the lessons we learned from our previous games (*like Roar!:Catch the Monster or Monsters Buffet*) did not go to waste. And one of the most crucial lessons was, that the presence is extremely important and valuable.

What do I mean by presence? Simply put, it’s how the game looks and how it feels to the player. And yes, even to the testers of the most alpha of all versions. Sure, I can test the game with crude cards and components cut by hand and printed on my trusty ol’ home printer. Sure, I can get valid feedback for how the game works and how it operates. Bah, I will even say that it’s GOOD to test a game in such a raw state, so the testers are not distracted by artwork and layout and theme and style, and so their feedback can truly focus on the mechanics and how it grinds through the game.

But good presence make games better. Sure – a beautiful game with crappy gameplay is still going to be crappy, but tell me this… When you pick a random, unknown game of a shelf at your local gaming bar or even at the shop, don’t you pick it based on how attractive and alluring the box is? How delicious the components are? I know I sure do.

And so, the evolution of cards  has begun! Below you can see the first “design” used for testing.

Word in quotes, because as you can see, it is more of a sketch, that none the less served as a firm framework for further designs, since it already established things we wanted to see on the card. The five spots for the resources. The boxes for the abilities. The score given by Technology Cards. And here came the first lesson of components design – making sure you don’t miss anything! Now, before sitting down to craft anything, we first try to make a simple list of building blocks that are necessary for players to know from the component. Name of the card, type of the card, resources it provides… All of it had to be listed and we had to ensure that everything was in place.

And that is how first proper visual design of the cards was made. This one, to be precise:

As you can see the leap in visuals is rather huge! This was the time of trying to put together everything a card needs. And once again, we learnt how little we know about the progress and how miniscule details could turn out to be of extreme importance. To name a few – how the card will work when in hand? Is the necessary information readable on first glance? Is the card going to be utterly rubbish for anyone with any sort of vision deficiency, for example for colour-blind people? All of this questions popped out during our feedback gathering and we had to sit down to the cards once more, this time making notes about all the things we have missed last time and ensure that they will be properly sorted out.

And so, the next and currently most fresh design came to life:

See the difference, eh? We didn’t just shift the colour theme entirely. We worked hard and took all feedback into consideration, to deliver cards that are not just a redesign, but an evolution of the idea. Icons were checked and double checked with the vision impairment emulators, so we could be moderately confident that information provided by a card is clear in any circumstances. Text was enlarged and so was the box for the art. Colours were put into stronger contrast, so the text is stark, sharp and clear. Icons were developed for quicker and easier identification of resources. Miniature icons bands were added to Substance cards so they are readable at glance even when fanned on the player hand – redundant as it might be, we prefer the cards to have more than enough information rather than lack it, when needed! ;)

The end result was quite satisfactory – especially, since that  all of the people that helped us shape this cards nodded their general approval in the progress! And of course, this is surely not a final card design – oh, the changes will be getting smaller and smaller, until they turn into minor polishing work on the details, but it will still take time, effort and most importantly…

Plenty of learning.

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