What's a Narrative Card Game Anyway

by Dyala on April 19, 2019

The terms deck-building and card game probably bring to mind games like Magic, Hearthstone, and more recently, Slay the Spire. While we initially began by building our card game around similar elements to games like those, we quickly ran into a few really major issues:

  • The concept of winning or losing, of wanting to defeat the enemy was so deeply ingrained in our playtesters -- yet we wanted a core mechanic that could accommodate non-antagonistic narrative moments as well.
  • Keeping track of both a complex card game and a complex narrative was too much cognitive load for players.
  • The core mechanics of the card game and the narrative elements just weren't meshing well (ludonarrative dissonance, to give it a fancy game dev term).

Previous iteration of card game screen
One of MANY previous iterations

So while we stepped back from that direction and simplified the card mechanics significantly, by no means is the overall game simplistic -- it just refocuses attention and decision making on the narrative more.

The card game is now focused around sequence building -- a much better metaphor for trying to connect with and communicate with the other person. Often NPCs will be trying their best to complete the sequence with you, although you'll still meet folks who aren't entirely friendly or open to your ideas. Different characters and communities tend towards different cards and deck types, and you'll have to figure out ways to successfully connect with a wide range of communication styles and vocabularies.

To provide additional strategies and methods of dealing with new encounters, there are also a host of special ability cards that you can collect and use to get around the fact that you may not always have shared symbols with the NPC.

Side note: you'll notice we're still using basic shapes on all the cards - these are placeholders at the moment. The symbols do carry different thematic meanings and reflect different personality traits, and eventually we'll be updating the art to reflect that.

Deck building screen
You'll grow from your experiences, but also give something up

Deck building also remains extremely important with this direction. It isn't about building the most "powerful" deck that will let you "win" -- rather different decks will lead to different narrative experiences, something we hope will encourage replaying and exploring different paths.

When you return home at the end of each trip, will you still connect with your childhood friend, Elias? Or will you find yourself drifting apart as your experiences take you down different paths? How much do you compromise in order to appease others and how much are you willing to change yourself?

design
narrative