Drafty Dungeon

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’m teaching a Skillshare class on card game design that actually goes live tonight. It’s something you can take at your own pace (all videos pre-recorded) and is hopefully useful to newer game designers.

The project for the class is to create a simple card game design. For the class, I began designing a game that was originally going to be a throwaway, something just for the class, but while testing it for class material I actually found that I liked the game and it was worth pursuing. In order to gather some input and kickstart my renewed focus on the class, I thought I’d write about it. Welcome to Drafty Dungeon!

In case the name wasn’t a giveaway, Drafty Dungeon is a competitive dungeon exploration game for 2-5 players that is primarily fueled by a drafting mechanic. I’ve wanted to use drafting for a long time, yet I didn’t know what to do with it. It’s a great mechanic and so simple. I found myself bored in a slow meeting one day a few months ago. The thought of “choose your own adventure” entered my mind and I immediately switched it to “draft your own adventure.” As in, what if you’re in a dungeon and every turn you need to choose your next move? Imagine you’re in the fellowship in the Mines of Moria. There are goblins streaming in from the sides of the walls. You think “what will we do?” and bravely shout “this way!” Or perhaps “stand and fight!” Or perhaps you do something clever, like manipulate the environment.

Yooo shall noooot draft!

This was my thematic and mechanical inspiration. At a high level, what if you were playing Zelda or Diablo against other players and you’re all trying to profit the most from a dangerous dungeon? Let’s go deeper into this dungeon, shall we?

What the game was…

When our story began, Drafty Dungeon had two distinct phases: Town Shop phase and the Dungeon phase. In the Shop phase, players would draft cards with weapons, gear, and spells, then pass their hand. The idea is that you’re in the store running up and down the aisles trying to buy the best stuff. The game doesn’t have strict classes, leaning towards Zelda (use your favorite secondary weapon) or Skyrim (do whatever you want). So, I could have a lot of spells and a sword or be a sneaky and bulky warrior.

You spend gold on these items. Originally I had the notion of your level and gold, but realized it was unnecessary and adopted the stance of “if you can buy it you can use it.” Fewer rules, more fun. It also means someone can splash all their coins early on a huge sword but have NOTHING else, which is one of those rare and crazy things that happens in Diablo.

After drafting or passing on 3 hands of cards, players enter the dungeon.

In the dungeon, players choose actions like “Hide Under a Rock” or “Open a Treasure Chest.” Most of them are unique. Thematically I wanted it to feel like you’re being chased by monsters and you need to move FAST.

Originally I thought actions might cost “mana” or “energy” but then decided that was stupid. But, I did make it so you might need a Magic Weapon to take an action or things like that. Light requirements. More on this in our next section.

Because your actions can affect other players, I needed initiative, because everyone simultaneously selects. I lifted Libertalia’s number mechanic directly, which gave me thematic ideas like “sprinting down a hall” is fast whereas “opening a treasure chest” is slow. Players select a card, flip them, order them, and execute them.

Actions would let you add monsters, attack monsters, divert monsters to an opponent, or gather gold from looting. After 3 rounds, players receive bonuses for how many monsters felled, demerits for monsters chasing them, and things like this. Then, players return to the Shop phase to purchase again. In the second shop phase, higher quality items are shuffled into the deck. Then players re-enter the dungeon with new, more difficult actions.

This all had some problems.

The Next Chapter

The game had some issues, but showed promise. There were some really big high notes.

  • Players loved buying stuff. It was just fun to buy gear.
  • Players really understood the “I’m picking an action” idea. It was a natural fit.
  • Players liked outfitting their character. A continuation of #1, but never underestimate the fun of BUYING stuff then USING that stuff.

There were some missed opportunities. Players were a bit underwhelmed by earning straight-up gold for fighting monsters. They blatantly said “why can’t I get loot?” Good question! New idea: Low level monsters give you gold. Higher level monsters let you draw items randomly off the top, which you can equip back in town OR sell for gold. My game’s enjoyment factor increased by a full letter grade by just TALKING about this.

This, of course, means I need to enhance the game’s simple combat mechanic and add tiers of monsters. Not difficult and not really a bad change. I’ll do it simply and uniformly such that level 1/2/3 monsters have health based on their level and identical rewards, which will be random. So, you might draw an awesome weapon, or a shoddy satchel.

There was also a problem with the action cards. The requirements made it such that someone might have 3 actions he couldn’t take and 1 not so exciting one left. To address this, cards now have an overall type (like attack) with a specific option. Therefore, instead of “You must have a magic weapon to do this,” it’s now “If you have a magic weapon, you can do this cool thing, or if you just have a melee weapon, just attack with it.”

Here are some examples.

The far left card is an attack card (red triangles). This is just prototype art, I’ll make it colorblind friendly. If you have a melee weapon (sword icon), you can add +2 damage to your attack. Otherwise? Just attack with whatever weapon you have. That’s generally my idea for all cards. The blue cards are spell cards and the green cards are dungeon actions. This allows for flexibility, rewards specialization, but doesn’t hinder you if you don’t quite get the match you need.

You can also see I’m trying to push myself to design within a simple icon system. The levers with which I’m currently working are:

  • Fight monsters
  • Add/Lose monsters to yourself or an opponent
  • Move monsters to an opponent
  • Gain gold
  • Gain equipment

I’m not sure these levers are sufficient but this is my starting point.

Players also wanted the dungeon to come alive. They wanted it to do neat things. I didn’t want to design an AI or anything too intrusive. After all, there’s something beautiful to “draft one card and pass.” Therefore, we introduced dungeon cards. When you’re drawing back up to your hand size, if one of these is drawn, you resolve its action. These will be sprinkled through the dungeon deck, like fire cards in Speicherstadt.

You can see the basic iconography for a dungeon card on the right. No information yet, however.

On the left, you can see the Escape card. Like the dungeon, when this card is drawn, all players get a quick trip to the shop to sell items for gold, equip new weapons, and buy new gear from the shopkeeper. I found the breakdown of phases a little too slow. Also, to speed up the drafting, a subset of the shopkeeper’s wares will be arranged in the center space. As if we’re all standing at the counter staring at his “behind the counter” merchandise. We’ll alternate 2-3 turns of buying items, which are immediately replaced with the loot deck. Then, back to the dungeon!

Just for quick giggles, here’s a sample weapon.

From top left to bottom, you can see:

  1. The type (ranged)
  2. The cost (3 coins)
  3. The default damage (2 damage)
  4. The weapon’s special ability. Here, I’m letting myself use text. There will only be one weapon at a time, so text is fine (whereas with Actions you’ll have a hand of them and I don’t want you spending time reading). For this weapon, it’s loud and adds more monsters to you after every attack. That could be good…or not!

Check out my current visual mock page here.

The final change is that the game will be a sequential game. This means I will draft my card, play it, use its action. Then, the player to my left will do the same. We’ll still pass cards, but there will be an extra hand floating between the players so that nobody has to wait for a hand to be passed, if that makes sense.

The reason for this is that everyone was ignoring everyone AND arranging the cards and executing them was fiddly. I had players note they wanted to see what everyone was doing. If someone wants to be more involved with their opponents, I see it as my job to let them do so.

I’m going to incorporate more ways to win. I see three approximate archetypes:

  • The monster slayer strategy (warrior)
  • The sneaky looter strategy (rogue)
  • The manipulator/interactive strategy (wizard)

Now that cards don’t need to stack with each other at once, it simplifies things a bit on the content design front.

The Cover

It’s nigh impossible for me to begin work on a game that excites me and not think to art. After all, how else will I remain in the hole for this cursed hobby!

What I want, is basically one of my favorite cartoons ever.

I also want to hire one of my favorite artists, Brett Bean of Farmageddon fame, based on his Sherlock Holmes critters. Like Moriotter.

That is obviously far down the line, but man, how beautiful and fun would that be?

Your thoughts

What do you think? This is a relatively simple idea that turns out to be a light, fun, lunch time game with adventure and loot. Drafting is a natural fit for the dungeon crawler and removing spatial elements allows for wild, dramatic actions in the same way that cartoons can do wilder things than live action programs.

I’d love to know what you think.

NorCal is still in the works, as is my game for the Classic Remix contest. Busy busy!

11 thoughts on “Drafty Dungeon

  1. I like the description of the process you went through on this game as it developed.

    I haven’t played it, but Lost Legends is a recent game that is basically 7 Wonders but in a dungeon, which sounds somewhat similar (probably more involved) to Drafty Dungeon. Have you seen that? It’s by Mike Elliot (the guy who re-fitted Dominion with a Dungeon theme).

    • Wow, very similar! I knew this one wouldn’t be the most original (dungeons + drafting, come on) but I wasn’t expecting this similar. His game seems to be a bit heftier and focused more on the battles. I definitely want this to be a 45 minute game, good for a group, and fairly accessible. I’ll keep his in mind as I progress. This is also a good reason to make sure the non-battle gameplay is just as compelling (as he’s covered battles already). Thanks for showing me!

  2. … if you’re competitively drafting the cards, does it really matter that they have costs? What happens if you cannot afford the card you draft (less of a problem in a face up draft, which it sounds like you moved to)? What if you have no money – do you draft nothing? Or is there maybe a standard crappy thing you can always choose, in case you are desperate for that type of thing? (That last thing might not make sense in your game)

    Why not just draft cards and ditch the money aspect?

    • That’s not a bad idea. It simplifies an unnecessary element and also removes a component. That DOES make it more difficult to ramp the progression. And might make some choices more obvious. Let’s say there’s a KILLER weapon that’s just awesome — with money, I have to pay for it (which may have downsides). But with no cost, of course I’ll take it. Why wouldn’t I?

      Money wasn’t so much of a problem in the first one. My goal was to tune it so that everyone is getting money for various things (though of course I need to make sure someone doesn’t get completely left in the dust).

      I should note not everything had a cost. Many of the “tier 1″ items were free. Free spells, gear, weapons. This is to make sure you get to do stuff. The really novel things have a cost, though.

      Does that help?

      • Re: difficulty ramping progression (presumably you’re talking about power progression of cards)…

        So maybe the stuff you as players do in the dungeon affects what new cards can be drafted…

        Like have a couple of decks (A/B/C) that scale in power (B cards are stronger than A cards). And have monsters in the dungeon indicate which deck and how many cards to add to the pool as loot when they are defeated.

        Rank players based on their performance somehow, then when it’s time to draft cards players draft the loot from the pool in rank order.

        So like a wimpy monster might just add 1 A card, while a stronger monster might add 2 B cards and 1 A card…

        Then the stronger the players, the bigger the challenges they can choose to take on (maybe working together to do so, maybe not), and the better the rewards.

        • This is generally what I envision. Tier 1 monster = low quality weapons, or just draw the top and deal with it. Tier 2 monster = draw 3 weapons, keep one. Tier 3 monster = draw 3, keep 2. Or something like that.

          Therefore, generally, killing better monsters will lead to better items over the course of the game.

          I did a lazy ranked system of sorts with rewards for various states, but I’m revamping that to be more meaningful and useful.

          If you’re curious, I’m doing away with money. At the beginning of the game you’ll draft your starter items (for free) then enter the dungeon. As you adventure, you’ll keep items to improve your starting ones or “sell them” (perhaps an action?) for points (thematically gold). I’ll probably cut secondary visits to the town just to focus the game on the dungeon and loot.

          Summary: Killing better/harder monsters = tendency towards better loot (equipment and points).

          No gold.

  3. Hooray for drafting games.
    I’m working on a drafting game too (very slowly—the spreadsheet has been a tab in my browser for months). Yours doesn’t /remind/ me of mine (thank goodness), though I do immediately see ways my game could be improved by stealing some of your ideas and vice-versa.
    Want to hear more or keep your idea pristine?

      • The crux of my (so far purely mechanical) game is that every card matters, for better or worse. You’re not just trying to collect the best stuff for yourself, but also to avoid taking the worst stuff, or better yet, planning ahead for what you might have to take. Mix that with your dungeon theme and suddenly the ‘good stuff’ is treasure and the ‘bad stuff’ is the monster guarding it. You learn which monsters are out there as the hands go around and players are taking treasure, and you can try to plan to evade, survive or even defeat the monsters you’ll have to take eventually, by picking the right treasures. Why take a sword of dragon slaying worth 1 gold over a chest worth 3? Because slaying the dragon going around is worth 5 gold. You’ll need to evade the monsters you can’t defeat because you can’t carry as much loot when you’re wounded.

        • This is pretty brilliant. There could be a trigger event that forces the monster out. This could be a part of the “event cards” I envisioned. So, there’s a big dragon floating around. Eventually, everyone knows it’s there. You can avoid it, or you can summon it to fight because you’re ready. Or, it gets pulled out from the game and ten you HAVE to deal with it.

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