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The Game Design of Zems Part 3

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The Game Design of Zems Part 3


Lots of progress has happened since ludum dare 29, where we received a lot of very important and critical feedback on the design plan presented two years ago.

As game designers, we have to ensure we create a unique experience without alienating our players. In Zems specifically, we started based on a desire to bring the collectible card genre to the digital screen. Times have changed since then. We have seen the rise of other digital card games such as Shadow Era, HearthStone, and perhaps our biggest competitor Duelyst, which is still in pre-alpha at this time. But we are still unsatisfied.

Our present vision is no longer to just bring online card games to the digital screen – that has been accomplished already by other games. We still feel there is a gaping hole in the genre that needs to be fulfilled. In this post, I will explain what is missing and how the new direction of Zems aims to achieve it.

Environment-Based Gameplay

From our very start, we wanted to create a game that combined the deck editing and customization of card games with the tactical positioning and movement of strategy board games. But we were not alone in this desire. We played Scrolls for some time because it shared our same vision, but we ultimately left the game feeling unsatisfied. We believe an environment-based card game should be more than just moving around on a grid: The environment itself should be a centerpiece of battle strategy.

Our current direction captures this concept in two main ways:

  • The grid is not separated into player-specific zones. A card can theoretically travel to every space on the grid.
  • Grid spaces can get status effects such as burning, poison, frozen, etc.

You may have noticed in the feature image for this post that some of the grid spaces have different effects such as burning and frozen. We have yet to see this in another online card game and are excited to be able to show it off in a public playable late this year. We are looking at October 2015 for the earliest possible open beta.


One challenge we’re struggling with is how to represent our units on the grid while delivering justice to the beautiful artwork of our cards.

Our first approach was to make them look like tabletop markers:


Early concept of tabletop figurine style.

We’re currently trying out a more cut-out style from the illustrations:


Early concept of cutout style.

We believe the cutout style looks better, but it also comes with challenges we will have to overcome. In the worst-case scenario, we will fall back to the tabletop style, but we are going to do our best to make the cutout style work.

Closed Alpha

We’re continually seeking more players to help test the next closed alpha. If you are interested, please message us on one of the social media channels and we will get back to you shortly.

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