Crimson Company - A Board-Drafting Game

Nachtfischer

Moderator
Staff member
#1
For a year or so, together with a design colleague of mine, I've been toying with the idea of making a card game that combines all the lessons we learned from the likes of Magic, Hearthstone, Gwent, Dominion, or Prismata, but also more eurogame-ish titles such as Race for the Galaxy or Through the Ages.

We had some design goals in mind from the very start:
  • emphasize strengths & minimize weaknesses of comparable games
  • provide intensive and short 1v1 matches
  • build the game around an elegant core system
  • skill-based gameplay with little (but just enough) randomness
  • every match should feel different than the previous one
  • a fair meta-game (no private card collections or pre-constructed decks)
What we came up with after lots of tinkering and testing is Crimson Company.

Here's a little visual aid to give you an idea of what it's about.



How does it work?

The game is centered around the core mechanism of "board-drafting" and goes roughly like this:
  • Player A bids coins on a card currently on offer
    • If player B matches the bid, all the coins go back to player A (essentially doubling the original bid)
      • B then gets to play the card immediately on their side of one of three lanes
    • If B passes, A gets to play the card and the coins go back to the bank
Note that players never hold hands of cards or draw from a deck. The only random element is which 4 cards are on offer when. And to push out the information horizon a bit further, the upcoming card is always visible on top of the deck.

Now, over time players will assemble squads of characters in the three lanes. Each character comes with a strength value and a unique special ability, some of which are instant, while others trigger under specific circumstances or grant you value over time (e.g. by increasing your regular coin income). Of course some of those work better together than others.

A lane is scored once a player owns 4 cards in it. There may be some scoring phase effects triggered at that point by cards in this lane. The player who managed to gather more strength after those effects are resolved, receives the castle in the lane's center. The first player to hold two castles wins the game.

What does it achieve?

In the end we created a card game that doesn't really work like a card game in many aspects.

However, we think that our drafting system avoids problems of solvability (Dominion) and uncapped look-ahead (Prismata), while also being more stable and way less random than later deck-building games (Ascension, Star Realms).

We also think that three lanes give just enough spatial meaning to decisions, while simultaneously providing us with a dynamic round-like structure (Gwent).

Last but not least, we strongly believe that the core mechanism of "board-drafting" holds a lot of potential as it requires players to re-evaluate the value of specific cards all the time depending on the current game state. There are barely any no-brainer plays (Magic, Hearthstone). The game is designed to make you think on your feet.

Where do we go from here?

We're currently having the artwork made and are doing more testing and tweaking all the time (even in tournament settings). The game is coming along quite nicely, so we can hopefully get it to a releasable/crowd-fundable state later this year.

Over the coming months, we'll regularly be revealing artwork and info bits over on our Facebook page. Leave a like if you're interested.

Also if you have any thoughts so far, I'd love to read them! :)
 
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#2
This will bring me to Kickstarter. :)

How do you approach combos? Do you try to avoid them overall or target them specially? And what are reasons for the way you go?
 
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Nachtfischer

Moderator
Staff member
#3
How do you approach combos?
Very good question! :)

We took a more holistic approach to combos. Meaning we didn't want to go ahead and say: "Okay, make those 2 specific cards work super well together but don't do much with the rest." That would just result in lots of passive waiting around that's not unlike playing a combo deck in a classic CCG ("Will I draw into all my combo pieces?"). We want players to do more planning and less hoping.

However there are still a lot of synergies between cards, because our base system is pretty tight. There aren't dozens of different mechanisms on the cards. We don't have tons of "buff something by 1" or "deal damage" or "modify this number over there" stuff. In a sense, our effects work within the system, not next to it.

For example, one of our card effects is "flipping". Turning a card face-down transforms the character into a "ghost" with 0 strength and no effect. So on the first level, you can use that to gain a strength advantage or disable a value-over-time effect on your opponent's side.

However, flipping works both ways. Turning a card face-up again resurrects the character, re-triggering its effect, which can be extremely valuable. That means all instant-effect cards have some natural potential synergy with cards that can flip. It also means flipping your opponent's cards can be a risky endeavour. ;)

In general what we found when testing the game is that almost all cards change their value drastically depending on the board state (another simple example: the very few "destroy" cards become very valuable when there are lots of long-term engines in play). That's mostly just a result from having a tightly designed core system.

Now, did we "design for combos"? Not really. We definitely kept emergent qualities of card effects in mind at all times though. We tried to optimize every card effect so that it can interact with as many other things as possible. However it's definitely a much looser, more fluid approach than the classic "combo" idea you might know from other card games, where it's often like "If you can gather X, Y, and Z in your hand, you win".
 

Ryt

New member
#5
This looks great. It's difficult to give feedback without playing it, or seeing it played.
Any possibility of a print and play version? Even something without fancy art would be nice for playtesting.
 
#7
This looks great! Board-drafting seems like a really clear and elegant way to manage the flow of uncertainty from a common deck.

I think one thing that normally puts me off card games (in addition to the collecting meta) is the way players have hidden hands, whereas here the entire match state seems like it will be visible on the table. IDK really - perhaps that's why this looks very approachable. Sort of like when Keith talks about larger-grid games I always find myself thinking, "but I like seeing the whole board at once!" Maybe the type of thinking involved in trying to visualise what's in somebody else's hand, or what's happening off the board, just tickles different braincells to thinking about a system you can see all of? Not sure.

Really looking forward to seeing where Crimson Company goes :)
 

Nachtfischer

Moderator
Staff member
#8
I think one thing that normally puts me off card games (in addition to the collecting meta) is the way players have hidden hands, whereas here the entire match state seems like it will be visible on the table.
As I mentioned it's the entire match state except the deck (of which you only see the top card). So once a player bought a card, the upcoming card will take its place in the cards currently on offer, and a new upcoming card is revealed on top of the deck.

It's way less hidden information (and thus randomness) than typical card games, but enough to keep it from becoming super calculation-heavy.

Glad you like it so far! :)
 

keithburgun

Administrator
Staff member
#9
This does look really cool. I'm not sure what you mean by "board drafting", exactly. But yeah I mean it sounds like it hits all the right notes!

Keep us posted when there's updates. Also if you need help playtesting obviously I would be more than happy to.
 

Nachtfischer

Moderator
Staff member
#10
I'm not sure what you mean by "board drafting", exactly.
Haha, pretty much just what I described in the opening post. You "draft" cards (i.e. you buy them from the public offer section; if you get them your opponent can't etc.), but only to put them into play (onto the "board") immediately. You never put cards into a personal deck of yours, or into your hand.
 
#11
The game is centered around the core mechanism of "board-drafting" and goes roughly like this:
  • Player A bids coins on a card currently on offer
    • If player B matches the bid, all the coins go back to player A (essentially doubling the original bid)
      • B then gets to play the card immediately on their side of one of three lanes
    • If B passes, A gets to play the card and the coins go back to the bank
Are you sure about that "doubling the original bid" principle? I think the correct strategy is pretty close to "never bid unless you have more coins, only counter-bid".
 

Zera

New member
#13
If you cannot "not bid", what happens when you run out of coins?
Also, I noticed your inspirations list does not include Codex. Have you learned from it as well?
 

Nachtfischer

Moderator
Staff member
#14
If you cannot "not bid", what happens when you run out of coins?
You can't. You get a regular income of 3 coins (which can be increased by specific cards).

Concerning Codex, the biggest lesson I'd personally draw from it is probably to not overwhelm the player with dozens of options at once. And also not with tons of tokens (like damage counters; hence our cards don't "deal damage"). Other than that there are some similarities to other deck-building games, such as cycling your own private deck, that we deliberately tried to avoid.
 
#18
Some comments

#1. "Randomly decide who goes first. The first player starts with 3 coins. The second player starts with 4 coins. " is inferior to the following

"Each player starts with 4 coins, then each player secretly puts a number of coins in their hand and reveals simultanously, the person who bid higher goes first and puts the coins they bid into the bank. (randomly choose if both players bid the same amount)"

This allows you to ignore P1/P2 balence for the most part, one just has to be certain there are no major break points. Via the mean value theorem there exists a point A such that players are indifferent between accepting A and not accepting A. However due to the countability of gold we end up at a value N such that N+1 favors going 2nd and N favors going first. So players should bid that value N every time. (it's best to reveal the initial offer before bidding so people can go "OOOH that card is worth bidding 5 on i'll bid 2 this time to put 5 on the card)

#2 Have you played the drafting phase as an independent game to determine if counter-bidding is a good or bad idea? Let's say I bid 7 on something, if they counter bid the swing is 14 but then the player who bid 7 may never be able to spend all their gold. I noticed this in Legend of the five rings LCG, in L5R they used a similar honor bidding mechanic, but it was a win condition as well as a resource (kind of like mtg life) at the end people started viewing the honor game as 1 honor=1 card rather than 2 honor=2 cards.
 

Nachtfischer

Moderator
Staff member
#19
I agree that your suggested rule is superior in terms of being a hardcore competitive game @ussgordoncaptain. I'm not so sure it is in terms of accessibility though. In other words, I'm not sure it's worth its complexity cost overall. It could be an optional "tournament rule" probably.

the player who bid 7 may never be able to spend all their gold
In our tests this was pretty much never the case. Typically gold swings grow over time, but then strength points (and cards themselves) also become much more valuable in the late-game. There are situations where one player heavily invests and essentially "gives up" the next couple rounds due to being low on coins. But those situations usually even out rather quickly.
 
#20
I agree that your suggested rule is superior in terms of being a hardcore competitive game @ussgordoncaptain. I'm not so sure it is in terms of accessibility though. In other words, I'm not sure it's worth its complexity cost overall. It could be an optional "tournament rule" probably.


In our tests this was pretty much never the case. Typically gold swings grow over time, but then strength points (and cards themselves) also become much more valuable in the late-game. There are situations where one player heavily invests and essentially "gives up" the next couple rounds due to being low on coins. But those situations usually even out rather quickly.
1. How about also adding "for your first game we recommend having player 1 start with 3 gold and the second player start with 4"

2. Ok sounds good