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I am creating a fantasy collectible card game and one if its aspects is mage battles. I have been a bit stumped on how to make it highly interactive.
I am familiar with Magic: The Gathering and I enjoy the increased depth due to the stack and the ability to act during your opponent's turn.
I have also played several online card games. Maybe I had simply missed those, but reactions to spells and effects do not seem to used.

I would like to, in some ways, replicate the interactivity that can happen on the stack. I am reluctant to simply copy it. I feel like I need a new perspective for inspiration.

Are there any other ways to evoke back-and-forth mage battles?

  • Are you asking about reactions as an out-of-sequence action in response to something another player did, or are you asking about a more generic reaction where a player chooses to use their sequential turn to respond to what another player did directly? – JAMalcolmson Dec 5 '16 at 5:23
  • Note that Magic has a rulebook as thick as my fist. Sure, most of the time the system feels pretty natural, but the deep interaction is very explicitly detailed in the rules. Copying the stack has consequences for the size of your rulebook; consider that when creating an interaction-system. – steenbergh Dec 5 '16 at 18:37
  • You may want to post a lot more information on what you're trying to get, what your game revolves around, and what you don't want that MTG has, as right now, all we can do is guess up random systems. However, in general, I remember playing the Wizards and Ninja in Smash Up (especially in combination), that felt a lot like MTG without using a concept such as the stack at all, so maybe you want to play that for inspiration (and even if it doesn't work, you're still not wasting your time, with that being one fine piece of game) – TheThirdMan Dec 6 '16 at 10:11
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Magic's popularity is a bit of a curse because it feels a lot like any reasonable way of letting players act during the other's turn is a rip-off of it.

This isn't out-of-sequence play but it does allow counterplay: have certain cards take a turn to carry out their effect (kind of like Magic's suspend ability). I "cast" a spell, then pass the turn. On my opponent's turn, they can counter my casted spell or do whatever they want, then pass back to me. On my turn, the casted spell now takes effect if it hasn't been hit.

More powerful spells can take longer to come out, you can have spells that come out immediately (like most counterspells wouldn't have to wait a turn to work), you could have quicken or slow type effects that add to the turn-counter for spells, there's a decent amount of untouched design space there.

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    There are other systems than Magic. FFG uses action windows with passing priority in several their LCGs.There is no stack, you resolve effects at once, but you get opportunity to do so in order. – Deo Dec 6 '16 at 16:34
  • Thank you, this is a very interesting idea. I will definitely consider it. – Shantu Dec 11 '16 at 14:49
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Let's take a look at how other games handle this!

  • Magic has the stack, as you noted in your original post. This gives a high amount of interactivity, but can lead to some confusing game states if you don't have a perfect idea of what the rules are.
  • Hearthstone has its "Secret" system, which allows for some interactivity - it's somewhat limited, since you have to essentially predict what your opponent is about to do, but it does create some enjoyable interactions.
  • Additionally, both of the above games have triggers - things that happen as a result of an action that either you or your opponent takes. This is a great way to give interactivity rather cheaply in a game - you have to watch what everyone else is doing, because they might do something that triggers one of your effects!
  • King of Tokyo has a tiny amount of this with some of its cards that allow you to interact with other player's turns. I don't think that's a particularly great example, because the interaction opportunities you're given are both limited in scope and in difficulty of acquiring - only a small number of cards give off-turn interaction, and you're not guaranteed to see one in any specific game.
  • Quarriors has an interaction system very similar to what you've described - when you summon a creature, it attacks; but then, in order to actually score any points, that creature has to survive all the way through your opponent's attacks to the start of your next turn. This doesn't feel as interactive though, since once you've summoned your monsters on your turn, you're not interacting any more - it's less "I get to interact with other players during their turn", and more "other players get to interact with me during their turn".

All of these systems have perks and drawbacks to them. If you want to evoke a "mage vs. mage" feel, you'll probably want a very reactionary system - something where you get to "ask a question" (play some threat) and see if your opponent has the answer (the ability to remove or negate that threat). How you do that is, in the end, up to you as the designer.

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Interactivity is not about "you can play on your opponent's turn". It is important to understand that very few games, even not Magic, allow you to actually play a card while it's your opponent's moment to play.

Rather, they break the game into steps, where first you play, then your opponent, then you again. What Magic calls a "turn" is a much larger construct within the game that sort of decides who is the primary actor. Within the "turn" each player gets a whole bunch of opportunities to play, and the majority of game-objects are in the game for a while, first in "card" form, then in "spell" form, then in "permanent" form.

The feeling of interactivity comes from having the option to target cards in any of those forms, and being given a moment to play something almost constantly.

Really, what interactivity means is that any part of the game can have a meaningful effect on any other part of the game. Having the option for a card in hand to affect a creature, a creature to affect a spell on the stack, the stack to have an effect on the graveyard, a library affecting the player, etc. is what it makes it interactive.

So really what you are looking for is not "having a stack", but "having various different things that can interact and react with various other different things". A highly complex structure for handling "whose moment it is to play" is one way of doing that, but just having fairly short turns and lots of things that could influence lots of other things, in lots of ways, also works.


For a concrete example of a highly interactive way of doing a mage-duel, imagine the following. Each player is a mage. Each mage is busy casting spells, which are built from generic spell components (which are cards). When a spell is completely built, the spell is cast and affects the opponent. Until then; it's just sitting there, incomplete, ready to be interacted with. But the interactivity is that players can add spell-components to both players spells-in-progress.

So I could be building a single spell by dropping down the cards "Deal 5 damage", "Deal 3 damage", "Element: Fire", "Target discards one card", only for my opponent to suddenly drop a card onto that stack saying "Target: self" to completely change what is going to happen.

Or maybe my opponent responds to me building a Fire-damage spell by creating a spell that has "Shield 10 damage", and I quickly drop an "Element: Lightning" spell on that stack so that it won't work against my spell.

You can have tons of interactions between the players based on the spells they are building, and you don't need to copy anything from Magic at all. There is no "stack", spells are just on the board in parts. Turns are short (each player plays a card or launches a completed spell) and you can't interrupt anyone during their turn; but good spells take a few turns to build so you have plenty of time to mess around.

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