Custom Card Game Design

Mechanics – Finishing up

I posted the full spoiler of the first set as well as some peeks at later sets – you can find those here. But let’s get started. There are still some mechanics we need to look at:

You aren’t really a planet, are you?

Remember, when I said planets aren’t part of your deck? I was lying! Well, at least partially to keep things simple. Planets can in fact be part of the deck, but those are other types of planets. These are called pseudo planets because they are only planets under some game rules, but do not represent celestial bodies. Rather, they represent say space stations and space aliens that are so large that your units may move on them – thus they are planets under the game rules. To clarify: What I said about basic and unique planets still applies – I’ve just added another type of card.

  • Basic planets: You control three basic planets at the start of the game. One of them starts the game exhausted. All basic planets are the same, except for the artwork.
  • Unique planets: There are ten unique planets with names and different abilities; more unique planets will be added in later sets. Before the start of the game, four unique planets are randomly chosen from the pile and put into play. They are neutral and players may conquer those planets.

Basic and unique planets have a different background, no Tier box and a blue rarity symbol.

  • Pseudo planets: These planets can be part of your deck and are subject to the same rules of deck construction (four copies maximum of the same card) as other cards. Other than basic or unique planets, a pseudo planet is actually destroyed when dealt damage – it doesn’t become neutral and can be conquered again, but it is put into your junkyard (where everything that is destroyed goes). They are treated as planets in every other aspect – for example, damage on them is permanent and isn’t removed at the end of turn.

Pseudo planets have the normal background and a Tier box.

Let’s look at an example of a pseudo planet:

Fleet Signaler

Fleet Signaler makes use of the orbit mechanic discussed in the “bonus card” section of the previous article. You can move your units on Fleet Signaler, use its ability to orbit another planet you control, then move your units onto that planet without exhausting them. So, Fleet Signaler grants your army a great deal of mobility. Here is a game state that might occur when Fleet Signaler is in play:

Fleet Signaler game state

Here, you are attacked by not only one but two Warp Whales. You have two units to work with. You activate the ability of Fleet Signaler, which costs one mineral, and it moves into the direction of Paiura and remains in orbit. Now you can move your units between those two planets without exhausting them. You can either move Osiris onto Paiura and deal 8 (4+2+2) damage to the left Warp Whale to destroy it, or move the Field Researcher onto the Fleet Signaler to do the same to the right Whale. In both cases, you would lose the Osiris and one of your planets. Is Paiura more valuable than the Fleet Signaler? You can also leave the units the way they are and save both your planets, but you wouldn’t destroy a whale that way. However, Warp Whale has an ability called ‘mass destruction’. It allows it to split its damage between any number of targets until all damage is dealt. So, in the current situation, Paiura would take 5 damage (6 minus 1) and would be exhausted due to the damage. Maybe you switch the positions of Osiris and the Field Researcher instead, so that Paiura can produce resources during your next turn. In any case, why did you waste a resource to activate the ability of Fleet Signaler? It didn’t do anything, fool! The optimal choice here would be to kill the left whale and save Paiura almost all the time.

In the second set, the design space of pseudo planets will be greatly expanded on.

About activated abilities

Units that entered the galaxy this turn are not allowed to threaten enemy planets. This gives your opponent always a turn to prepare his defense for your threats. This is known as “summoning sickness” in Magic. The same rule disallows units to use an ability with the “exhaust”-symbol (arrow) if it entered the galaxy after the beginning of your last turn. So, if you play a unit with such an ability, you have to wait until your next turn to use it. This rule applies not only to units, but to all permanents (important difference to Magic!).

We’ve already seen a wurm that could remove damage from planets by exhausting itself:

Tunneler Wurm

The arrow is the exhaust-symbol. It is written before a colon. All costs to activate an ability are written before the colon and the effect is written after the colon. Note that the aforementioned rule only applies to exhaust-abilities. You can exhaust the wurm to move it to another planet you control, even if you just played it.

The “attack”-symbol is another symbol similar to the exhaust-symbol. It is a small reticle and can be seen on the next card:

Service Ship

An ability with the attack-symbol isn’t subject to the “delay one turn”-rule. The unit isn’t exhausted by activating the ability, however it can still only be activated as long as the unit is ready. It is called attack-symbol because it replaces the unit’s attack for the turn.

Each ready unit may only either
1. activate one ability with the exhaust-symbol
2. activate one ability with the attack-symbol
3. or attack
each turn. So, if a unit uses such an ability, it can’t attack this turn and it can’t use another ability with one of those two symbols. A unit that exhausts to activate an ability, but then is somehow readied again, still can’t activate another ability. Very simple rule: One action per turn, including attacking! This is what I call the “infinite-combo-prevention-rule”. An infinite combo is a string of actions that can be looped indefinitely and often involves readying units that can use exhaust-abilities. During the previous version of the game, one infinite combo showed up inadvertently because this rule didn’t exist.


Service Ship talks a whole lot about stuff being “nearby”. Maybe you already guessed that it has to do somehow with planets. The definition is: Nearby: “On the same planet as [reference].” The reference is always the card itself if the context doesn’t conclude otherwise. A planet is also nearby to units on it and vice versa.

Incapacitated units

The last mechanic for today. A unit can be exhausted even if it’s already exhausted. Such a unit card is turned upside down and is called an incapacitated unit. When an incapacitated unit is readied, it becomes exhausted (see it as “double-exhausted”). A unit rarely becomes incapacitated as the only way to do this is to move an already exhausted unit between planets you control. To allow exhausted units to move between your planets prevents the game from stalling and prevents many unfair plays.

As mentioned in my post about combat, units are exhausted when they return to your planets from their attack. This only applies to ready units – exhausted units simply stay exhausted (you may have used an exhaust-ability while the unit was on the opponent’s planet to exhaust it.)

An incapacitated unit doesn’t have any abilities and doesn’t protect planets. When an incapacitated unit is defending a planet, the opponent can attack that unit, but can instead choose to ignore that unit and attack the planet instead. Simple rule: You only incapacitate a unit to protect it from an opponent’s attack and it’s already exhausted.

Let’s mash all these mechanics together in a scenario and see Service Ship in action:

Service Ship game state

Here, both planets are attacked by hungry Cragoloths. Service Ship and an Osiris are defending Paiura. Osiris is affected by two attachments: New Horizons and Encapsulate. New Horizons is a beneficial attachment that you control and Encapsulate is a harmful attachment the opponent controls.

EncapsulateNew Horizons

New Horizons allows the Osiris to move between planets (teleporting) without exhausting. Encapsulate disallows the Osiris to attack. To destroy a Cragoloth, the Osiris must be able to attack, so we use the second ability of the Service Ship to destroy the Encapsulate – this exhausts the Service Ship. Now can we prevent the left planet from taking damage? The Service Ship can move onto that planet, but it would be incapacitated, so the opponent gets to choose if he wants to deal 3 to the planet or destroy the ship. Still, this would be a better choice than having it remain on Paiura, since otherwise we would lose the Service Ship and take 3 damage on our planet.

Is there another line of play? The Service Ship can move the New Horizons attachment to itself by using the first ability, so it wouldn’t become incapacitated when it moves onto the left planet. But now it can’t destroy the Encapsulate – only one action per turn! Also, you can’t move the Encapsulate onto the Service Ship because you don’t control it.

Confusing? The combat mechanics are a bit unintuitive at first, but like with the stack system in Magic, there should be a point when you just get it. Of course you have to play some games first though. For those who want to try out the game, I will post all files you need to print out cards as well as the files you need to play on Magic Workstation. We’ll be working on “Duel Decks: Alien vs. Predator Human”, two thematic decks with some basic cards of the respective races. They will be (hopefully) balanced against each other and should be perfect if you want to try out the game.


5 responses to “Mechanics – Finishing up

  1. Prophylaxis July 31, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Man, I am going to have so much fun making decks.

    One thing: Are there “cool” mechanics for the Humans as well? Because this essentially delves into why people liked Phyrexia over Mirrodin – Mirrodin wasn’t “cool” enough, while Phyrexia had living weapon and proliferate.

  2. antaresmtg August 1, 2012 at 8:15 am

    There aren’t any exclusive keywords for humans in the first set. It’s true that the cards are more generic. The cool thing is, that the flavor of the human cards in each set will be very different. For example:
    Set I. explorers and scientists
    Set II. military and civilian
    Set V. shooting lightning from your fingertips

    Aliens do get their own mechanics, but their flavor will stay mostly the same throughout the sets. There will be a third alien species (fungus) in the second set. Each of those species has a different mechanical focus and they complement each other:
    Insectoids: spawns tons of units
    Iamuran: big dudes, “loner” (only one unit on each planet), sacrifice units
    Fungus: stationary units, growing, resource generation

    Humans on the other hand are less unit-centered and get the best attachments and achievements and also the ability to move attachments around (Service Ship) and to call them in at instant speed (Emergency Maintenance, will be in the 2nd set). This doesn’t come through in the first set and I have to work on it.
    They get targeted damage spells (Tachyon Ray). They’ll also get nuclear weapons in the 2nd set as a means to fight mushrooms! (!)

    What should I talk about in my next post? I haven’t made up my mind yet. I could talk about the design of the races, the story of the 2nd set or some thoughts on deck creation?

  3. antaresmtg August 1, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Added ~15 new cards to the Glory of the Colonies.pdf

  4. Prophylaxis August 2, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Next post: I would like to see the design of the races. For me, this is one thing that makes this game different from Magic is that the races are more of a focal part of the set rather than being a theme.

    Also, may I write for this blog? I have some ideas.

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

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