Custom Card Game Design

Combat – It’s all about the planets!


in this article I’m going to talk about the combat system in Conquest of Orion (from now on abbreviated with Orion). I thought about talking about the resource system first, but I figured that seeing some combat situations is more important to getting a feel for the game.

Let’s start with the basics:
Each unit and each planet has damage and health. If a card takes damage that’s equal to or greater than its health, it is destroyed and removed from the game. Osiris (see my previous article) deals 4 damage in combat and has 6 health. This will be written as 4|6 from now on. Damage dealt to a unit is removed from it at the end of turn if not enough damage was dealt to destroy it – you have to destroy a unit in one swing! This is not true for planets. Damage dealt to planets must be remembered, with a dice placed on the card for example.

Units are always positioned on a planet. You lay out your planets in a row (usually you will control about 3-6 planets) with sufficient space between them and the units over of the respective planets.

As in all TCGs, turns in Orion are subdivided into different phases in which players are allowed to do different actions. The turns are divided as follows:

1. Beginning of turn: You gain resources from your planets, you draw a card and you ready your units and planets.
2. Economy phase: You play units, achievements, attachments…
3. Attacker’s step: For each unit you control, you choose if that unit is attacking this turn and if so, which planet it attacks. Doing this is called “threatening” a planet.
4. Defender’s step: Now it’s time for the opponent to move his units between his planets, positioning them in such a way that his planets are defended the best.
5. Combat phase: On each planet, units controlled by the two players attack and deal their damage to each other. After this is done, the units you control that survived the battle return to your planets.
6. 2nd Economy phase: Once again, you may play units, achievements and attachments.
7. End of turn: This phase is used for players to do their last action or two before the turn is handed over to the next player.

Let’s look at a very basic scenario. Here, both players only control two planets. The bottom player is the active player (let’s call her ‘Anne’) and the top player is the defending player (‘Dave’). Anne controls two basic planets, a 4|6 Osiris and a 2|2 Expedition Escort. Dave controls a basic planet which already has 2 damage on it, the unique planet Kaskala, a 3|5 Cragoloth and a 2|2 Tunneler Wurm. All planets are 2|6:

Situation 1

These are the cards used in this scenario:

Expedition EscortTunneler Wurm

We’re using very simple units here – only Tunneler Wurm has an ability which we’ll look at later. As I mentioned in my previous post, all basic planets are identical. The subtype you see here (Jungle, Rock, Gas ect.) is never referred to in the rules and is merely there to simplify communication between players (“I’ll attack your jungle planet.”).

We’re looking at the phases 3-5 (attacker’s step, defender’s step and combat phase). In the attacker’s step, Anne decides if she wants to threaten Dave’s planets with her units. She can threaten a different planet with each unit or the same with both. Then, Dave decides if he wants to move his units. Doing this will exhaust the unit. This is similar to tapping a creature in Magic – exhausting a unit is signaled by turning the card on the table by 90°. An exhausted unit cannot attack. All exhausted units are readied (turned back to the normal orientation) at the beginning of their controller’s turn (see phases).

Let’s say the following decisions are made by the two players:

Situation 2

Then the following image would show the game state after those decisions are made. To signal to your opponent which planets you threaten, simply move your units to the center of the table, in the direction of that planet. You don’t have to remember which planets they came from:

Situation 3

Cragoloth is exhausted – it cannot attack. So, why would Dave move it onto the jungle planet in the first place? The goal of Anne is to destroy that planet. To do this, she must first sweep away all the units defending that planet. If we ever engage in interstellar travel, doing a warp jump just to throw yourself in front of the missiles headed for the planet’s surface most likely won’t be a viable strategy, but in Orion it can be. If you’re wondering how a simple, rock-eating animal from another planet can do a warp jump in the first place, you’re probably playing the wrong game.

In the combat phase, each unit and planet gets to attack and deal damage to one other target. This damage cannot be split between multiple targets. Once all defending units have taken lethal damage, Anne can have her units attack the planet directly. Anne can have her Expedition Escort deal 2 damage to Tunneler Wurm and her Osiris 4 damage to Cragoloth. The result would be the destruction of the wurm. Cragoloth survives because he has 1 more health than damage dealt to it – and at the end of turn, that damage would dissipate. She may also choose to have both her units attack Cragoloth – in this case Cragoloth would take 6 damage and die, while the Wurm survives.

Dave gets to attack back! The Wurm and the planet itself may both deal 2 damage. Together, this still wouldn’t be sufficient damage to destroy the Osiris, so the Wurm deals 2 damage to the Escort and what the planet does is inconsequential.

What would be the situation if Dave didn’t move that rocky beast onto the jungle planet to defend it? The Escort would deal 2 damage to the Wurm and now the path is free for the Osiris to attack the planet as all defenders have been destroyed. He deals the 4 remaining damage to the planet and Dave loses control of it (Note that the damage is dealt successively in whatever order the player choses, but all damage resolves at the same time – all units get to attack and deal their damage!). So, it’s the question whether the Cragoloth is more valuable than the planet. Kaskala is worth much more than a basic planet, so the decision may be different if Anne attacked that planet instead with both units. For your practice, try to go through the possible plays in that scenario (you can also flee with units to protect them!).

After the combat step is over, Anne chooses a planet she controls for each surviving unit, withdraws it to that planet and exhausts it. This would be the situation after the battle is over:

Situation 4

Let’s add another element to our original scenario. Now, Anne is holding an Ability in her hand – Tachyon Ray. Abilities grant a one-time effect when played. Some can be played during combat and may take your opponent by surprise:


Tachyon Ray is a simple ability that represents one of the strengths of the human race in Orion – they can kill units from great distance, something which Alien species can’t do. Tachyon Ray allows you to pay any amount of resources (X) and deal that much damage to a single unit. Tachyon Ray can be played in the combat phase, just before units deal their damage. How about Anne deals 2 damage to the Wurm and lets her units both attack and destroy the Cragoloth? Or she deals 5 damage to the Cragoloth, lets her Escort destroy the Wurm and the powerful spaceship finish off the planet. Sounds even better! Note that though Tachyon Ray is used before units deal their damage and influences what targets the units can attack, its damage still resolves together with all other damage – a unit destroyed by Tachyon Ray still gets to attack!

Finally, let’s look at the ability of Tunneler Wurm. The arrow-symbol is the “exhaust-symbol”. You may exhaust the Tunneler Wurm to remove 2 damage from the planet it defends. This may change the combat math, since Osiris’ attack no longer is enough to destroy the planet. However, now the Wurm is exhausted when it would attack, so it can’t attack and doesn’t deal damage.

I think this is more than enough information for one article. There are most likely many people that can apply their knowledge of Magic or other TCGs to a new game much faster and get bored of my lengthy explanations, but I try not to have the reader require knowledge of Magic to understand it. So, let me finish this article with a random card that’s a bit more complex. This guy is a complete powerhouse and one of the strongest high-Tier units in the game.  Next time, I’ll write about the resource system and everything around it.

If something remained unclear, feel free to ask in the comments. Otherwise, until next time!

Warp Whale


2 responses to “Combat – It’s all about the planets!

  1. Pingback: Mechanics – Finishing up « Adventares – Custom Card Game Design

  2. Pingback: On keywords and abilities « Adventares – Custom Card Game Design

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