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Question: What kind of mechanic would allow players to remove cards from their constructed decks in my game?

Theory: I'm making a deckbuilding game! So, players start with a number of cards which aren't too powerful, but are necessary in the early game. They will invariably collect cards early on that are bad in the mid-late game portions of play. To increase the draw probability of good cards, you will want to prune your older bad cards. So, I need a mechanic to remove cards from play so that they are no longer in your deck.

World Building: The game has a theme of trying to get elected to an alien senate. You and your opponents are all candidates vying for power, and the cards you play are campaign staff who have different abilities. The hiring row contains new staff that you may purchase to aid your campaign.

Gameplay: At the start of the round, all players select 1 card from their hand to place face down. All cards are revealed, and effects resolve based on priority markings on the cards. Then, players take turns doing resource management (purchasing, etc.). Players then discard their hands, draw 3 cards (shuffling their discard pile into their deck as needed), and the round ends.

Attempted Mechanics: One early mechanic was a card cycle whose effects are to remove other cards from your deck. This can be a bit too slow, doesn't interact well with other mechanics, and is a little too similar to another game I've played before.

A mechanic that I like is for each card to have a "severance cost" at the bottom. The problem is, I can't figure out when this would be activated. Paying the cost as replacement of the effect meant having to use a marker to indicate your intention, because players were accusing each other of changing their mind after cards are revealed for the round. But if the marker is visible while people are selecting their cards, it gives away too much information to the other players. It was difficult for players to use the marker discretely.

I decided that maybe the firing cost could be paid once per turn during the resource management step. But then there was the issue of "Can you only fire a card you played, one in your hand, or one in your discard pile?" Each of these led to problems, especially when cards were fired from the discard pile.

What would be a possible way for cards to be removed from the deck?

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Inspired by Baseball Highlights 2045, perhaps the game is broken into mini-games. Each representing a state/region/planet/etc. that you're trying to win over in the political race. At the end of each mini-campaign, a winner is declared for that region, and the person with a certain number of won regions is declared the winner of the overall election at the end of the game. In between each regional campaign players would have the opportunity to hire/fire staff to tune their deck for the next round.

Simply put, break the game into rounds and designate adding/removing cards from the deck to happen in between these rounds. This way the game play within the rounds will not be slowed down or made more confusing.

  • This sounds like a really good idea! It's super flavorful, and would be functional. I'll get my beta testers to try it! – David Robie Sep 14 at 0:46
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The best way is obviously subjective so I'll throw out some ideas for Severance. Here's two quick ideas to make Severance possibly work during the initial reveal:

A): When you reveal your card, orientation matters. Straight-up means play as normal, sideways means severance. This is a simple way to do it but opens up the door to misplays of "Oh, meant to fire this guy but placed him straight" or "someone slow-rolled his flip to get extra information" and what not but has the upshot of no additional pieces to keep track of.

B): Have two additional meta cards, one that says "Keep", the other "Fire" (similar to the voting tokens used by The Resistance). You would play one of these face-down along side your employee and reclaim it at round's end. This has the benefits of no physical ambiguity like option A but does require another set of components for everyone and adds another step when you intend to keep your deck intact most of the time. If you intend pruning to be an integral part of the game, maybe not the worst option.

If you don't mind having Severance happen at a later phase, this opens a few paths. Firstly, you could have the Severance effect be defined by the staff themselves. This allows them to trash additional stuff in different zones. E.g.

  • Mook A has "Do thing_1. Severance {cost}"
  • Thug B has "Do thing_2. Severance {cost} and trash a card in hand"
  • Intern C has "Do thing_3. Severance {cost} and trash a card in your discard pile"
  • Fundraiser D has "Do thing_4. Severance {cost} and trash a card in your discard pile"

Alternatively, there's also the option of having Severance be a static ability, (e.g. only trash current played card), which allows certain staffers to have abilities that modify it. E.g.

  • CEO E has "Do thing_5. You may trash something from your hand/discard pile instead of CEO when severing it. Severance{cost}"

Just some thoughts

  • I tried orientation, but that did lead to ambiguous situations about how a card was flipped or positioned. I like the meta card idea. I'd been toying with a token, but a card makes more sense. It still has the problem of adding to the complexity of pieces, because there are other pieces involved for a different part. The other things you mentioned are pretty similar to what I was thinking about in my post, but written more clearly. – David Robie Aug 22 at 14:39
  • "There's also the option of having Severance be a static ability, (e.g. only trash current played card), which allows certain staffers to have abilities that modify it." This. 1000x this. You might be able to play a Bossy Manager, who can convince one of your current hand to resign. Or you might play an HR Advisor who can sever one of your discard pile. Or an HR Manager (or even HR Director) that are more expensive to buy but have more powerful abilities. Maybe the HR bods can have two abilities: either hire new staff for less cost OR sever existing staff. – AndyT Aug 22 at 15:42
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Additional options might be to not have a specific "this card is removed from the deck" mechanic, but using the card itself as a cost when playing or resolving something.

For example, making end-game cards require you to trash some existing cards? Perhaps your late-game campaign staff is already a senator who needs their own interns, or something? That makes you think about when you want to buy that senator, because you need crap in your hand to make it worthwhile.

Alternatively, somewhat like a above, you can have (some) cards be amplified when trashed, like having a card that says "Gain 2 {resource}, or 4 {resource} if you trash this card."

You can also use that as fuel for another card-discard; so "Gain 2 {resource}, or 3 {resource} if you trash a different card from your hand."

That mechanic is not as generic, but in return does allow more flexibility and decisions. The option of "trash a card" can be a bit lame and game-y, but the option of the campaign manager throwing an intern under the bus for a quick boost in popularity might fit the theme really well. Plus it means that "how to get rid of cards" becomes part of the puzzle, where you might need to decide between trashing a good card for a big boost, or a crappy card without getting anything back.

  • Adding to the amplify idea, you can add card types/names to the trash condition to further open the design space. So Campaign Manager could have "Gain {resource}, gain {more resource} if you trash an intern card". Or Publicist: "Gain {resource} if you trash a card, or gain {more resource} if you trash a money card instead". – Veskah Aug 22 at 15:34
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From the many different deck building games that I have played I have found that the best mechanic for removing cards from the deck is indeed a card that removes another card from your deck. I find this precisely because it is a slower method that makes your decisions for what cards to acquire more important.

When I am playing a deck building game I look at cards from two perspectives when deciding what action to take on them. First is how useful will that card be in my deck and second is how useful will it be in someone else's deck. This is important because it may lead me to making a decision on a card that may not be ideal for me but will be very useful to someone else.

If you have easy access to card removal from your deck you can get players making decisions based on card denial to other players rather than what helps their deck to be better. While having limited access to card removal causes players to be more strategic about their decisions which can make for a better game.

Personally I enjoy games where card removal is harder because it adds an element to managing deck size and you will find that players can be rewarded for not making purchases at times in order to maximize the chances of getting better cards out when needed.

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You could just add a minor phase between everyone placing their cards and revealing them. Everyone has a card down, players planning on using their card's costed ability pay the cost (or people who want to taunt other players pretend to, this is only allowed if the card they play doesn't actually have a cost), everyone reveals their card.

This still lets players jump in on paying a cost if they weren't originally planning to, but they may be doing so to no real end (reacting to actions that might not actually affect them), adding a bit of a gamble to the decision.

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You can have different zones that a card can be played in, for instance "Home", "Office", "Field". Cards can have different effects depending on which zone they're played in, and for some of them, playing them in a particular zone means that you're getting rid of them. But which zone means that is different for different zones, so knowing what zone someone is playing in doesn't tell you what they're doing with the card. This does mean that cards wouldn't be played simultaneously, though.

  • While a zoning concept does sound interesting, I think it would lead to a bit of mechanic stuffing. Multiple zones would mean writing different effects for each zone instead of one clean effect per card. Then it would mean cards are persistent (whereas I want them to be discarded after use) and need a way to be dealt with by the opponent. This could also take away the simultaneous reveal aspect. While it does have a huge flavor value for my game, I don't think it fits mechanically. – David Robie Aug 26 at 10:59

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