Card games are all the rage today, so we sat down with Jesse Decker, Senior Game Designer at Rhino Games, to dig into his team’s Norse mythology-infused card game, Mythgard.
Jesse Decker: Magic[: the Gathering], the game that started the CCG genre, was a massive inspiration. It’s a game we’ve played and admired for decades. For all its greatness, however, Magic wasn’t built from the ground up with a digital experience in mind. Many of its rules that work well when playing face to face become a drag on the digital game.
A great example is the Instant card type. In the paper game, you can just ask your opponent to hold on a second to give you a chance to play your spell. But in the digital game, this translates into timers and prompts that have to run after every action in the game, sometimes many timers back to back. It’s just an awkward experience.
Hearthstone is obviously another massive influence since it’s the game that really proved that digital CCGs can have success. Hearthstone and the CCGs that have come out since have much more streamlined rulesets to appeal to a very broad audience. We felt like Hearthstone, for all its charm, doesn’t achieve the depth of Mt:G nor does it hold itself to the early promise that a card can break or modify any rule in the game. So there’s a space there. In a genre defined by these two great games, there’s room for quality and innovation.
JD: There are some great games in the genre, but also a lot of untapped potential. Magic and Hearthstone are the behemoths, and both are great games in their own right. But there’s a lot of space left for games to explore different designs and include features that those games don’t offer. For example, Mythgard offers a 2v2 mode and a very different world and story, and those are just two quick examples of features we’ve been able to build. The upcoming tournament mode has a lot of promise too: players will be able to host and promote their own events within Mythgard.
JD: We’re proud of Mythgard’s world and story, and often point to it as a way that Mythgard stands out from other CCGs. For a small team like ours, what it mostly requires is resolve. It takes time and effort to do the writing and even more for the art. All of that effort has to be taken from other things. Once you have that resolve, the work is pretty much what you expect: it starts with writing, and the team poured lots of feedback into the writing at the same time that the artists worked out a concept for how we’d approach the art. From there it was iteration; we’d pair the words and art, gather around and give feedback on each section, and then repeat. For example, it took three rewrites and two passes on the art to get the opening sequence where we wanted it.
Mythgard is a strategically deep Collectible Card Game (CCG) that has both deep strategy and quick tactical gameplay. Beginning with an exclusive closed beta…
JD: We always wanted a puzzle mode. We have fond memories of puzzles that were part of the early days of CCGs, and it was just a matter of getting enough other features in place before we could add a puzzle mode. One of the two founders just gave up a weekend to write the code for the puzzle mode, and from there a couple of us added more puzzles. One thing that surprised us is how valuable the puzzles are as teaching tools. The first few puzzles are really just spotlights on how a specific rule or game mechanic works.
JD: Most players will right away think that progression equals collection growth, at least for a CCG. That’s true to an extent, but there are parallel progression paths for player skill and for the time invested in the game. To have proper player progression in a CCG, you have to address all three. Mythgard’s approach to this is to provide rewards for multiple activities on multiple cadences: you can grow your collection at a decent rate just by playing, and there is a nice array of PvE modes you can play through before jumping into PvP, if that’s your choice.
JD: The engineers weren’t available for comment, but Stack Exchange and the Unity forums on their monitors a lot. A lot. One of them claimed that there’s a system to dynamically scale the UI based on an estimation of physical device size instead of just using resolution, but it’s probably just Stack Exchange and Unity forum posts all the way down.
JD: We’re a small, self-funded indie team, so a close connection to our community is really important to us. We started our public alpha long before social features and feedback tools could be put into the game, and we needed a way to get feedback, share our progress, and build a community. We tried to reach the small early community using every tool we could, and Discord was the one that worked. It just offers an immediacy and sense of community that gamers want. It’s no surprise that we hear of other indie developers having success with this same tool; it has really helped us build a community that we’re proud of.
JD: You have to start with a game that’s fun to play. It sounds a little silly to say something so obvious, but there are a lot of games out there, and gamers are coming to your game to be entertained. Once you have that foundation, you have to keep at it to keep your players interested: content and communication are the keys there.
There’s another elephant in the room though: the game’s economy. To make a great F2P title you have to ensure that those who choose to pay are getting a great value for the dollars they put into your product, but you also have to make sure those players who play for free also have a good experience. In CCGs that often comes down to a question on how competitive a free player can be. We’ve tried to strike a balance point where free players can maintain a few truly competitive decks and payers can, with reasonable amounts of purchasing, have every option open to them. We’ve tuned the economy several times based on community feedback, and getting this right is an important part of our Alpha phase going forward.
If you want to give Mythgard a whirl, you can check out the game here.