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EXECUTION How to Create a Card Game From Scratch

wade1mil

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In this thread, I plan to document the process of creating a card game from scratch.

If you’ve ever wanted to create a card game or a board game, or just want to do something, feel free to follow along and create your own. There will be enough info for you to turn an idea into a finished product, and I’ll do my best to answer any questions you may have. I’m literally giving you my method for creating a game from scratch. All you have to do is put in the work.

As some of you know, I created a card game called Poor Choices and used Kickstarter to fund it. I created it having zero previous experience creating card games, or any custom product for that matter. That eventually led to two versions of the game and two expansion packs. During this process, I learned a lot about what to do and, perhaps more importantly, what not to do. I plan on using this knowledge to increase my chances of hitting a homerun.

Be forewarned, I don’t have a specific timeline in mind. I have a full-time job, so the process will take longer than if I could devote every waking hour to it.
 

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The EL Maven

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Earlier this year, I worked on making a prototype for a math learning card game. I was also dabbling in the idea of creating a board game. I'd be very interested in hearing some of your stories as my ideas are in their infancy.
 
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wade1mil

wade1mil

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Step 1: How to Come Up With Game Ideas (Some of Which Don't Suck)

First, I make a list of existing games that fall into the categories that interest me.

For my purposes, I categorize games like this: Basic games like Sushi Go!, party games like Cards Against Humanity, strategic games like Exploding Kittens, or complex games like Catan. I don't really play complex games, so I'm going to focus my effort on the other three categories.

I look on Amazon for games with a lot of reviews. I look on Kickstarter for games with a lot of backers. I look on Board Game Geek for games with a lot of fans. I look on social media for games with a lot of followers.

Once I have a good 20-30 games on my list, I learn how to play each game by watching videos explaining the rules, watching play throughs by game reviewers, or actually playing the game itself. As I’m doing all of this, I’m writing down every idea that comes to mind - no matter how stupid or unfinished they seem. It makes it easier if you organize your ideas in a way that makes sense.

Ideas can be themes like pirates, the 70’s, or ice cream. Ideas can be unanswered questions to yourself like “How can I include constantly changing rules?”, “How can I make a card-only Monopoly with a day trading theme?”, or “What are some ways I can add sabotage to a game?” Ideas can be what players do on their turn like draw or discard a card, write down the funniest response, or roll a die and move that number of spaces. Ideas can be ways to implement any of these game mechanics. Ideas can be combining concepts from two or more existing games, adding or removing concepts from existing games, or improving parts of existing games.

Never stop writing down ideas.

Hours, days, weeks or months later, I’ll have an “Aha moment” and come up with a game concept. The more you come up with, the better. These concepts are always extremely unpolished, so don’t worry they don’t make sense yet.

In the next post, we will dig into each concept to see if they’re worth pursuing.
 
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wade1mil

wade1mil

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Step 2: How to Weed Out Really Stupid Ideas So You Don’t Waste Your Time

Once I have a few ideas for games that I think could potentially work, I spend a few minutes (not hours) writing down an synopsis so someone reading it would be able to understand the general concept. For example, if I came up with the idea for Monopoly (before anyone knew what it was), I might write something like this:

A real estate themed game where the objective is to buy properties and avoid going bankrupt. Players take turns rolling dice to move around a board. The board contains property that players can buy with in game currency. If another player already owns the property, they must pay the owner rent for staying there for the night. You can also upgrade or combine properties to charge higher rent.

More often than not, though, I don’t have a theme at this point. So it might look more like this:

A game where the last player remaining wins. Players take turns rolling dice to move around a board. The board contains items that players can buy. If another player already bought the item, they have to pay them to borrow it. You can also upgrade or combine items to charge more.

This is A LOT more boring, but that’s normal when you don’t have a theme.

Writing this made me think of an old Atari game called Pitfall. I envisioned a Pit Fall themed game where players had to rope swing over alligator infested mud pits. If a player owned the space with the rope swing, you had to pay them in order to use it or wade the mud pit and risk losing a life. Maybe each player is given five lives to start, and once they are out of lives, they’re out of the game.

After I have a synopsis for each game written, I think about the idea in more depth and look for ways to improve it. A theme might come to mind (Pit Fall). A feature might come to mind (alligator infested mud pits). A game mechanic might come to mind (upgrading items/property). Then, I rewrite the synopsis with the improvements that came to mind. I’ll go through this process over and over until I end up with an idea that really excites me.

Thinking about the Pit Fall concept more in detail, I couldn’t think of much more to add other than mud pits, and I doubt that’s interesting enough to hold anyone’s attention for more than five seconds. The concept of a roller coaster game came to mind. What if each space was a different roller coaster inside a theme park. Players operated the roller coasters and could upgrade or combine their roller coasters to create more exciting (and more expensive) roller coasters to ride. You could add spaces that forced you to draw a card which would cause the roller coaster to break, get a celebrity shout out to increase awareness, etc. Instead of using money, you could use tickets.

This idea actually excites me a little.

Once I have a synopsis that I like, I show some people I trust to get their first impression and feedback. You’re looking for genuine excitement. Not excitement that you’re creating a game. Excitement that they want to play the game. Bottom line: it has to pique your (and your friends’) interest enough that you wish you could play it right now to see what it’s like.

Write down any ideas that your friends come up with when you show them the game. Fresh perspectives can generate some of the best ideas!

Once I get this far with an idea, it’s time to create a prototype!
 
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