Today I’ll be discussing the design of a race for White, a dragon/phoenix hybrid race we call Phegan. Before I begin, I would like to clarify the difference between color and race. Each Colossal has a unique color that identifies its races, and many races belong to the same color. Races belonging to the same color each have a single similar trait, but each will be designed to facilitate a different playstyle. For those who have played Magic: The Gathering, the colors can be thought of as similar to the Color Wheel except we have ten instead of five. Within each color is a number of races, each sharing a common trait all races of that color share, but otherwise are different in both look and style of play. Races can also be mixed within a deck, which allows for unique combinations of playstyles similar to multicolored decks in Magic.
For those of you who are interested in the overall design of the game, I recommend reading The Game Design of Zems.
We like dragons. I think everyone likes dragons. However, one unique aspect of Zems is that we like to mix things up and add our own features to existing fantasy creatures. In coming up with the ‘look and feel’ of the Phegans, we sought to combine the physical anatomy of both a dragon and a phoenix.
In order to steer users away from thinking Phegans are dragons, we also added a few ‘rules’ regarding their capabilities:
- They cannot breathe fire. They attack using physical attacks.
- They live in high places, but do not like volcanoes.
- They do not hatch from eggs. They give live birth like mammals.
Obviously those three rules apply mostly to the lore and artwork, but we’ve done our best to apply them to the cards as well (there are no ‘hatchling’ baby Phegans and none of the Phegan creatures have any indication of ‘ranged’ attacks). One thing we like about dragons (and phoenixes) is their strength and visual display of power. Dragons in other card games such as MtG are usually ‘legendary creatures’ that are able to hold their own without the aid of other allied creatures. Phegans also embody this concept in both visual design and card stats. They are designed to both look and play like ‘hero unit’ creatures.
When designing for a card game, you have to consider existing games that are similar. Most people who will play your new online CCG come from some sort of existing card game background, so it’s always important to have a faction or race they can relate to. For Phegan mechanics, we looked towards Poke’mon TCG as our reference point. In Poke’mon, the core mechanic is evolution – the creatures you play start at a base form and then you evolve them to become stronger creatures over time. The Phegans operate the same way – they start small, and then grow large.
This approach solves a lot of problems we encountered when we first set out to create a race of massive strong flying beasts. If they started off really strong, we would have to raise their cost in order to balance them out. This means a player wouldn’t be able to actually play a powerful Phegan creature until later in the game. We don’t want people associating Phegans with weak smaller creatures, so we opted not to have “big, strong phegans” in addition to “small, weaker phegans”. The solution was to adopt the Poke’mon TCG approach, where you start with a relatively weak form that you only control for (at most) one turn before it turns into something bigger. Each turn, the Phegan transforms until it reaches its ultimate form.
Designing and Implementing Transformation
There are several challenges to handling transformation that pertain only to physical card games. In Poke’mon TCG, the higher forms (tier 2 and above) of each Poke’mon are played on top of their base forms in order to ‘evolve’ them. The fact that Zems is an online card game means we can support evolution in a more standardized (and perhaps cooler) manner. In Zems, each Phegan creature transforms itself into its next form at the end of the turn. There is no playing of a higher form on top of the card or pulling a higher form from the deck – with a virtual card game, we can have the card on the field change automatically.
The Phegan mechanic of evolution is not the same as the one used in Poke’mon TCG, but we believe players with that background will be able to relate the similarities and appreciate the reference to that mechanic, while new players will be able to see transformation as a unique digital mechanic and another aspect of Zems that makes it stand out from other online CCGs that simply port a paper game to the computer.