"Bifrost" old card game prototype!

#1
Everyone was sharing prototypes, which made me also want to share something!

This is one of the first real "elegant" "interactive merit" games I ever attempted to make. It's gotta be around 4 years old or something at this point. Looking back on it, it was actually a really ambitious design, something I maybe never would've attempted had I read more design theory stuff before starting. Either way here were the design goals:

* 1 deck of cards, very portable and small.
* Very low amount of content.
* No words or numbers on cards, only the image
* Rainbow based mechanics
* Mechanics that led to huge combos
* Very "loose" rules (no exceptions or fiddly interactions)
* Less game designy, but I was hoping to make something that felt like an ancient abstract or something.
* Hopefully deep!

I have been tentatively calling it "Bifrost" after the rainbow bridge in norse mythology. The original intent was that it'd be a bit like poker, allowing you play with a dynamic number of people, but I only ever tested it 1v1.

The basic gist of the game is that there are 6 "color cards", you shuffle these first and then lay them out randomly in a row. Placing the deck face down to the left of them BifrostBoard.png

Then you deal out 5 cards to each player, and the game begins (super quick set up, which is awesome)

Players can play any card from their hand onto a space, granted a color on the card matches the color of the space you're playing it on, any card that is on a space also "covers up" that space. This is important because you can also play cards on top of other cards (so for example, you could place a blue/green card on top of the blue space, which then allows you to play a green card on top of that even though the green doesn't match the blue space).

But there can only be 1 card on a space at a time. When you place a card on top of another card, you "displace" it 1 space to the right, and furthermore if you displace a card onto a space it no longer matches, you "knock it off the board". This is basically the core action of the game.

BifrostCMsmall.png

At the end of your turn you can do 2 things with cards that get knocked off the board. You can discard them, or you can "add them to your rainbow". The victory condition in this game is to collect a rainbow of all six colored cards in the order of a standard rainbow (ROYGBIV), though it can start at any point the following colors have to follow that pattern.
BifrostWinCon.png
This is a win, the player has assembled a rainbow going "Purple, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red". The intent of needing to have them all in the proper order was to give your opponent a chance to potentially starve you of the color you need, like any good set collection game. If you saw they needed green next, you'd be wary about putting any green cards on the board.

And even though the colors need to be in an exact order, they don't need to be knocked off the board in the right order. For example, if you had a Yellow card in your rainbow and you knocked off a blue card and then a green card in the same turn, you can add them to your rainbow in the correct order. Think of the "knocked off the board zone" as kind of like a resource pool that you interact with at the end of your turn.

Anyways, this is a pretty simple system by itself, but the deck is made up of several types of special cards of all different colors which makes things a lot more interesting.

BifrostCardTypes.png

Crystals are the most basic type of card and the most plentiful in the deck. They simply displace cards 1 space to the right.

Wind is a lot like crystals, but it displaces cards and gets displaced by cards 2 spaces to the right instead of 1 space.

Rain acts just like a crystal except, when a Rain card is on the board all cards get displaced to the LEFT instead of the right.

Fire cannot be displaced and instead if any card gets displaced on top of a fire, that card gets knocked off the board instantly (even if their colors match). The only way to get rid of a Fire card is to get a Rain card on top of it. (Rain essentially acts like a Cyclops when interacting with Fire, see Cyclops below!)

Snakes also operate like crystals except when you knock them off the board you immediately have to discard a card from your hand. Snakes are sort of interesting because you can sometimes leave them as "traps" for your opponent. I wanted to make more cards like the snake for this reason but couldn't really think of anything else.

Ravens are maybe the most interesting card in the game, instead of displacing other cards they put them into your hand allowing you play them yourself.

Cyclops is a rarer card (only 6 in the whole deck), instead of displacing cards they just automatically knock them off the board. The only card it cannot knock off the board is a Fire card. Cyclops is the weakest card in terms of design I'd say because it's too direct in what it does, it's a little boring. It is very strong though!

The Rainbow Heart is the rarest card in the game, there is only 1 in the entire deck. It's not too amazing though, it's basically just a crystal that counts as every color. I know it's a bit random and probably bad to have a card like this, but I wanted there to be something that you get really excited when you see. Like kids playing a CCG and their friend has a legendary card or whatever.


On your turn you play any amount of cards from your hand one by one. Basically you try to craft the biggest combo you can to knock off the most colors you need that turn. Decide if you are keeping any colors you knocked off and what order you're putting them in or if you're putting them in the discard pile. Then you draw back up to 5 cards and play passes to your opponent. First person to collect a 6 colored rainbow is the winner.

Oh I almost forgot, there are 2 weird rules I made to mitigate bad randomness a bit. You can play any card sideways if you want, which turns it into a "colorless" card. Colorless cards can be played on top of any color, but obviously no longer count towards your rainbow as the color they were. But, in case you just aren't getting the color you need next, you can also collect 3 cards of any color (including colorless), place them sideways and face down in your rainbow and those will count as any color you need.

I'm quite fond of this game, but it has some glaring issues.

* Despite my attempts it's still way too random
* Falling behind in card collection is a death sentence. No real comeback mechanics
* No real long arcs, gameplay is just doing what's best on a turn for turn basis
* Very low player interaction. It's more of a race than a game.
* Very calculation heavy, lot of analysis paralysis.
* It can become very fiddly having to move several cards around the board.

That being said, I still really want it to work and it's one of those things where, given the huge limitations I had given myself, I don't care so much about some of the things I would normally care about when making a strategy game. Like if it's a bit too random I think I could handle that, if it's not all that deep that's okay by me. So I dunno, if you have any suggestions on how to improve this game, mainly on the fronts of longer arcs and stronger player interaction (I have a feeling that you could get 2 birds with 1 stone there), I'd love to hear if anybody has some ideas I haven't thought of.

thanks for reading if you made it this far!
 
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#2
Woah! Really interesting design! I also love the idea of making a simple card game that feels like an ancient classic. This feels like it could have just the right amount of content for that.

A few thoughts about it. (Apologies for rambly discussion, as well as multiple misspellings of "color"!)

My first thoought was the calculation problem like you said. I think maybe there needs to be more uncertainty during a player's turn. At the moment it seems like a turn could be a bit like a Minos turn where you have to plan out a complicated sequence (and even then you sometimes mess it up haha - or is that just me?!)

I used to think this was an insoluble design problem, because it seems like a key part of the fun in these kinds of things is thinking through the possibilities .... and thinking .... and thinking .... and then suddenly BAM!!! ... you spot a great combo! And you go through the steps and bask in the applause (or points or rainbow colours). And introducing uncertainty inside the timescale required to do the whole combo would mean you could never have these BAM!!! moments because the combo would never be assured. But I've changed my mind on that. I think it can be just as satisfying to spot a promising *chance* of a combo, and embark on it with the intention of adapting as you go. E.g. in Auro it used to annoy me that the monster movements were random, but in fact that's a strong feature because you can't calculate far ahead. In some ways the experience of starting a promising sequence and seeing events unfold even better than you thought is just as exciting as the version where you see it all and then do it. It also makes it feel more natural to include longer-arc heuristic thoughts into your move evaluation when you aren't totally focused on deterministic short-term thoughts.

So here what about if for every card played by a player, a card is turned up from the deck and has to be played before the next one can be played from hand. Might add just enough uncertainty without totally disrupting combos?

As you said, another problem with this game is the lack of player interactivity, since all the tactical shenanigans is focused on acquiring benefits for the active player. Players should probably be just as concerned with actively spoiling their opponent's rainbow as they are about building their own. I don't know if this would be too literal with the colour theme but what about if you knock off a blue, you can play it on your opponent's orange and 'cancel it out' somehow? Likewise red/green, violet/yellow. Or just forget complementary colours and say you can either use a blue card to add blue to your rainbow, or remove blue from your opponent's.

Or, and this might be too crude an insertion of a mid-term arc, what about if at any moment each player would be 'in control' of 3 of the 6 colours? E.g. I'm player 1 and I currently control blue, yellow and violet (the game would come with 6 beautiful figurine tokens for this purpose, hand-carved by HAPPY SNAKE!) So then I can only add those colours to my rainbow, and I can only 'interact with' (whatever the mechanic is) those colours in my opponent's rainbow. If I want to do stuff with red, say, I first have to perform the step of 'taking control of' red by knocking off a red card and using it do do that. In a way it's just another step of process to go through, which is why I thought it might be too crude and boring. But it would add to the interactivity because if I take control of red, I have to gift my opponent control of blue, yellow or violet, and would have to decide which would help them least. Seems like it could be a tricky decision. Perhaps also some of the special cards would be tied to colours, so you might know e.g. snakes are green (obviously!) so you can only get their effect if you control green. Or the special cards could have 2 benefits, one colour-bound and one not.

All in all it seems like a really interesting design! Like Keith I'm inspired by threads like this to start digging through the old-designs folder to see if there's anything worth sharing in there!
 
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#3
So here what about if for every card played by a player, a card is turned up from the deck and has to be played before the next one can be played from hand. Might add just enough uncertainty without totally disrupting combos?
I think my fear here is that currently there is a bit of "undo-ing" involved which feels okayish to me in table top games (as long as no new random info has enter the game and it's still your turn and what not). Like you start doing something and realize very quickly that it's not a good idea so you take it back. In this system there would be no take backs because new info gets introduced.

Could be that that would be a good thing though, I'll definitely try it. That's an easy change to playtest.


I don't know if this would be too literal with the colour theme but what about if you knock off a blue, you can play it on your opponent's orange and 'cancel it out' somehow? Likewise red/green, violet/yellow. Or just forget complementary colours and say you can either use a blue card to add blue to your rainbow, or remove blue from your opponent's.
This is a really good idea! At least this line of thinking is really good!

One of the biggest challenges with this game is that all cards become "neutral" when they're on the board, which I think contributes a lot to the low player interaction. Taking the player interaction off the board and allowing you to attack your opponent's rainbow is maybe a good way to get around that. I think early on in designing I tried not to have players be able to touch each other's rainbows (weird statement out of context), but maybe that was the answer all along. Only concern is that you could get a bit into a stalemate situation where you just can't win, one player keeps attacking the rainbow and the other keeps trying to build it and nothing happens basically. Maybe someway to avoid that, something to think about at least.

I also really like the idea of having "control" over certain colors. I'd be worried about that getting a bit confusing or something, and I also am not a huge fan of adding more components to the game, but could be worth exploring! I will legitimately try all these ideas and report back with my thoughts! One of the best parts of designing this game with no text or numbers on the cards is that it's actually pretty easy to try a bunch of big changes like this.

Also this idea of certain types of cards being a certain color is interesting. I never really thought of that. Currently how it works is that each special card has a version with other colors, so there is an even amount of, say, red snakes as there are green snakes. It might add an interesting layer of decision making if certain cards were more likely to be a certain color. That's something to explore maybe. Though this would be a more significant change, and would require making a new deck.
 
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