Hello fellow adventurers and welcome to the Nerdlab – Where we transform our gaming passion into incredible game designs and learn how to nerd like a boss.
My name is Marvin and I am an ambitious game designer on my quest to develop a co-operative fantasy card game.
For this podcast, my vision is to take you with me on this exciting journey. Together we will explore the secrets of different game mechanics and reach the next level as a game designer.
Mythgard is a digital collectible card game developed by Rhino Games. The open beta of the game was released in fall last year. So it’s actually still pretty new.
The setting of the game is urban fantasy. That means a modern world in which mythology, magic, and monsters are real. I played the game on PC but I think it is also available on iOS and Android.
The initial game comes with round about 400 cards and consists of 6 different factions each with its own color identity and strategy.
Goal of the Game
The goal of the Game is not very innovative. You have to reduce the life totals to zero. That’s it. Of course, this is nothing special like the goal of crafting 3 keys in keyforge or winning two of three lanes in Artifact, but for me this not a problem. For a duelling game this is still a valid goal.
Colors & Card Types
Cards represent the following type of entity depending on their type:
Minions: Beings or constructs that fight on your side and are deployed to lanes.
Spells: Cards that have a one time effect as soon as they are played.
Lane enchantments: Cards that add a persistent effect to a lane.
Artifacts: Items that have wide-scale effects while they are in play.
Cards are available in six colors:
Blue cards: Viking and motorcycle themed cards.
Yellow cards: Maya, Aztec, and high technology-themed cards.
Red cards: Greek underword and vampire-themed cards.
Green cards: Witchcraft themed cards.
Orange cards: Middle-eastern desert themed cards.
Purple cards: Anime, Cyber Ninjas
For me the setting and the theme is a bit weird, but that is not what I want to talk about today.
The cards are divided into the typical rarities. Common, Uncommon, Rare, and Mythic. But those rarities do not only effect how often you will see those cards in packs and drafts, but they also determine how often you can play those cards in your deck.
Exceptional Design Decision 1: How many cards per type?
Another important question for all strategy card games that involve deckbuilding is: How many copies of each card should you allow players to add to their deck? Mythgard links the limitation of how many cards can be played with their rarity. Commons can be played 4 of, uncommons 3 of, rares 2 of and mythics only 1 of. By implementing this rule the designers have an easy way to balance cards. If it turns out the win percentage of a card is too high it can be upgraded from uncommon to mythic and can be played only once instead of three times. Still that is nothing you want to do, because it might upset your player base, but it is still better than all those bans that happen in Magic for example.
What is much more innovative about the game is the battlefield. Because there are seven lanes. All the people who played Artifact might be intimidated at this point. One criticism of Artifact was that the complexity of 3 different lanes was too big. I can’t understand the criticism, but that’s not what this show is about today. The lanes in Mythgard are completely different compared to Artifact. Actually, they are not even real lanes, but rather creature slots. The lanes are not separated in any kind as they are in Artifact. And it is not relevant if you win on one lane or another. To each of the 7 lanes, you can deploy a creature. Only 1 creature. That means there is also a maximum of 7 creatures that you can have on the board at any given time. Each creature can attack the three lanes in front of it. The developers called this system a trident attack.
Meaning, your minions can only attack the space directly in front of them, and its two adjacent spaces. What’s important is that In order to attack your opponent directly, you have to remove all enemies from the trident in front of the creature you want to attack with. Your creatures can also move by using an action to try to get around enemies they cannot defeat.
Exceptional Design Decision 2: The Trident
The trident based combat allows for blocking and dodging mechanics that manage to streamline the game, without over complicating it.
- AGILE: May attack any threatened lane, ignoring blocking minions
- BREACH: Occurs when dealing combat damage to a player
- DEFENDER: Cannot attack. Must be attacked before other blocking minions without DEFENDER
- LURKER: Cannot be attacked before other blocking minions without LURKER
- IMMOBILE: Cannot move
- SWIFT: Gains an extra move per turn
- TELEPORT: May move to any lane
As you can see. Game mechanics influence the keywords you can use or create. The Trident combat mechanic and the corresponding keywords help to eliminate phases but keeps fast-paced, strategic combat.
Interesting Choice: Attacking, Moving or Skipping
Due to the trident attack system it can sometimes be beneficial to not attack or move and just skip an action. Let’s say you have a 1/1 creature and your opponent has a 3/3 creature in front of it. There are no other creatures on the battlefield. If you attack the creature it would suffer 1 damage and your creature would die. Meaning the 2/2 creature of your opponent could then attack you directly in the next turn because there is no blocker left in its trident. If you skip the attack with your 1/1 instead, your opponent would need to spend their action to kill your 1/1. I find that interesting because there is no intentional blocking in the game like it is in Magic, but yet you sometimes make similar decisions. It feels a bit like the decision you make in magic when you decide for a creature whether you want to attack with it or keep for blocking. But the decision is way simpler and takes a lot less time usually.
Interesting Choice: Positioning
You wonder where to place your creatures. For example, if you have creatures that benefit from which neighbors they have, for example +1+1 for each adjacent creature of the same type, you will place them more in the middle. If you have creatures that have little synergy and that have more long term effects, you will place them on the far side of the field, because they only have 2 fields that threaten them. (e.g. Volkov Pointman)
Exceptional Design Decision 3: Reactions yes or no?
As a designer you often ask yourself. Do I want a system where every player can react to everything the opponent does. Like instants and the stack in magic? With all the complexity that comes with it and the extra playtime it requires? Many modern games choose no. But then you ask yourself at the same time, how can you design the game in such a way that you can react to the actions of the opponent?
Magic is highly interactive, which can force players to wait while the opponent decides how to react. Like most digital CCGs, Mythgard takes a more back-and-forth approach to gameplay. The entire game feels more like a combat in magic after blockers have been defined. That is because you know which minions threaten each other and will probably fight in the next turn.
Instead of “tapping” special cards for mana, you have the option to discard a card from your hand each round to increase your mana pool. That is called burning a card. A similar mechanic has been used in the games Aventuria and Dualmaster. But in Mythgard it is a bit different. Whenever you burn a card that gives you two things: One generic mana, plus a colored gem from the respective faction. That means when you discard a card of the red faction you get 1 mana and a red gem. In order to cast a spell, you always need the amount of mana that is universal and the number of gems that represent the power of a certain alliance. Another difference is that the card you discard is not lost forever as it is in Aventuria. It is shuffled back into your deck. If you draw a card that has been burned before, it cannot be burned again. However, it is almost impossible to get mana flooded or mana screwed in this game. Yet it has a complex color and factions system allowing for multicolored decks and a lot of variety in deckbuilding.
Resources are always an important topic when it comes to discussing a CCG. Many people would say the mana system in Magic is the biggest weakness of the game. I wouldn’t completely agree with that though. If you want to learn more about my opinion on resources and other restrictions in card games go back to Episode 23 of the Nerdlab Podcast. I dedicated an entire episode to that topic.
But I agree with one thing about Magic’s Mana system. It is not very well suited to be transferred to a digital game. Why? Because it cannot be easily automated. That is one of the reasons why all its digital-only competitors use other mechanics.
Magic is based on a system that requires players to play and tap specific lands, and digital systems have struggled with how they automatically choose which ones to use. The result is that players often have to click on each land card individually when they are choosing their resources. That is the reason why most other digital CCGs got rid of Mana completely or drastically reduced the system to one mana that can easily be picked automatically.
Mythgard’s resource system fuses elements of both MTG and Hearthstone, with players choosing to “burn” cards and shuffle them back in their digital deck to get mana corresponding to the card’s color. The mana refreshes each turn, allowing players to cast cards of the corresponding color and faction. This also lets players build multicolor decks, which are common in MTG and require careful consideration to ensure you have the right mix.
Mythgard manages to implement a system much like MTG, while making it simpler to use, without negatively effecting the difficulty or strategy of the game.
Exceptional Design Decision 4: Burning Cards for Multiple Resources
You always have a great choices to make between cards becoming resources and cards you want to use for their effect. Each card is essentialy a multi use card. Therefore playing and discarding cards takes a bit of forethought which I like a lot.
Paths are passive effects that grant bonuses independently of the cards in the deck. You have to choose exactly one path per deck. They give players additional powers, typically some form of global effect that supports certain playstyles. Consider it an enchantment that is always active from the beginning of the game. I am actually not sure if you can interact with the path of your opponent, but I don’t think you can. They feel a bit like a commander in magic as they influence the way you build your deck, but they are way less impactful.
Exceptional Design Decision 5: Pursuit Keywords on Paths
A special keyword that can only be found on Paths is “Pursuit”. Pursuit comes into effect when your are going second as a player. It is meant to give the second player a bit of an advantage to mitigate the benefit from going first.
Powers can be used once per turn and cost you mana to do so. The effect is typically not super strong.
Example: Once per turn, banish the bottom 2 cards of your boneyard to create a 1/1 Cobblejack in one of your lanes.
2: Once per turn, give a minion +1/+1 until end of turn.
Exceptional Design Decision 6: Permanent Powers to mitigate mana flood
Using most of your available resources each turn is often one of the best ways of getting an advantage over an opponent in CCGs. I really like the addition of Powers in Mythgard and other games. By having an optional mana sink that is always available you can mitigate the turns in which you cannot use your entire mana. From a designer’s perspective, I find it clever to make those effects minor from a power level because you want your players to primarily use their cards. Otherwise, you wouldn’t need a random mechanic of a deck full of shuffled cards right?
Exceptional Design Decision 7: Making Lanes Matter with Permanent Enchantments
Mythgard does a very good job in making lanes matter in their individual card designs:
Especially with their lane Enchantments. They are a great way to create synergies: Lane enhancements can the stregths of minions or improve their weaknesses.
Let’s take my favorite card “Serpent Den”. It is an enchantment that creates a 1/1 snake in the lane that you enchant at the beginning of every turn. But due to the restriction that only 1 creature per lane ins allowed that means it only triggers again when you moved the snake away or it died. That means it often only triggers every other turn unless your opponent is very aggressively killing the snakes. A lot of interesting deckbuilding decisions and gameplay decisions come with those kinds of cards for which you have to put in some work to make them great.
Exceptional Design Decision 8: Influence Color percentages during Draft
Drafting works a bit different compared to Magic. It is more like a draft in hearthstone. Let me explain how it works:
First you randomly get 3 Paths and 3 Powers. all of them are added to your draft collection. At the end of the draft during deckbuilding you have to choose 1 path and 1 power for your deck.
During the actual draft you pick 2 cards out of 6 random cards and repeat this process 25 times until you have 50 cards total out of which you build a 40 card deck. That means the choices you make do not impact the choices of your opponents. That is something I really dislike because it takes away so much from what a draft could offer. Signaling, Hate Picking, Identifing the underpicked colors and so on.
- Too restrictive
2 out 6 is a bit too restrictive. You see too few cards total and pick too many of them. Decisions come down to picking the cards in your color.
You make a 40 card deck out of 50 card pool. There is no room to make choices during deckbuilding.
Just compare it to magic: you draft 42 card pool but an average deck plays only 23 of them, and that’s 55% vs 80% in Mythgard!
- Boost and Cull cards.
During the draft you will see some Boost and cull cards that allow you to curate your card colors yourself. That means you can spend a pick to make sure the upcoming picks are more likely in the colors you want to play. The first boost card increases the chances of a color by 100% and the second increases the chances of that color by 200%. The first cull card reduces the chances of a color by 50% and the second reduces it to 0%. This is a good step into the right direction of increasing the choices players have during a draft.
That’s it for today’s design review. I hope you were able to take something for your own designs and maybe you got a little bit interested in testing the game. I’m having a lot of fun with it and we really want to test the 2vs2 multiplayer mode.
If you enjoyed this episode please subscribe to the Nerdlab Podcast on iTunes or Spotify or wherever you are listening at the moment. If you want to connect with me, you can find all the relevant links in the shownotes.
Until next week: keep shooting for the moon and nerd like a boss.