Custom Card Game Design

On keywords and abilities


I updated the ‘Conquest of Onlion’ package. It now contains the theme for Magic Workstation. You can see it in action here:

Fleet Signaler game state


We had to take a screenshot of our board state because MWS crashed again when we moved our attachments around. It happens that these guys are selling a product with many obvious bugs that aren’t being worked on – that as a side note…

As always, you can find the download here.

Keywords of the first set

I am currently working on the second set, named ‘Glory of the Colonies’. I try to make every set feel and play a bit differently, and Glory of the Colonies will have many awesome mechanics I want to talk about. But before I can begin with that, I have to finish with those of the first set ‘Conquest of Orion’. It doesn’t have any set-specific mechanics, but introduces most evergreen keywords (keywords that will be in every set). We’ve already learned about some of them. Let’s recap:

Stationary (This unit cannot move between planets.)
Mass destruction (This unit may split its damage between multiple targets.)
Execute (This unit may attack fleeing units.)
Superluminal (If this unit would move onto another planet, instead teleport it onto that planet without exhausting it.)
Armor +/-X (All damage dealt to this unit is reduced/increased by X.)

Now, let’s look at some others. The following are very simple and just give you more control over your draws:

Abandon X (Pay X, Discard this card from your hand: Draw a card.)
Replenish X (You may pay an additional X as you play this card. If you do, draw a card.)
Unique (You may only control one card with the name of this card at a time.)
Exchange (Discard this card from your hand: Draw a card. Activate only if you control a card with the name of this card.)

The following keywords are a bit more interesting:

Recovery (At the end of turn, ready this unit if it exhausted to move between planets this turn.)
Recovery is a very potent defensive ability. It allows your unit to threaten your opponent’s planets and ready at the end of turn, so you can have it defend itself on the backswing. It also allows you to move units between your planets without any cost. However, it isn’t as powerful as ‘superluminal’. Superluminal allows your unit to defend any planet without being exhausted during combat, which recovery doesn’t. Here it’s on a card:

Jordan's Lily

Jordan’s Lily is a cheap way to recover your biggest, most expensive unit. Since it can only recover biological units, it fits best into Alien decks, though it can be played in any deck. Let’s say you attack with your Warp Whale and wreak serious havoc, but your opponent could still mount an attack on his next turn. If you retreat your Warp Whale onto the planet of Jordan’s Lily, it can now use the ability to recover it – Warp Whale will be readied at the end of turn and able to devour any attacker that comes at it on the next turn. Note that recovery doesn’t do anything if the unit exhausted this turn, but not because it moved between planets.

Swiftness (This unit can be exhausted and can threaten planets the turn it entered the galaxy. // This planet/achievement/attachment can be exhausted the turn it entered the galaxy.)
In a previous article I told you that all units have to wait a whole turn after you played them before they can threaten your opponent’s planets. Also, all permanents can’t use “exhaust”-abilities (abilities with the arrow-symbol, such as Jordan’s Lily’s ability) on the turn they entered the galaxy and on your opponent’s next turn. Swiftness overrides this rule. Let’s see it on a card:

Hazard-Zone Explorer

Hazard-Zone Explorer’s stats make him one of the most ineffective combat units, but his protection from planets and his swiftness make him a very effective harassment unit. Remember, a planet that’s been dealt 2 or more damage is exhausted and doesn’t produce resources on the following turn. Play him, immediately swing for an attack on an undefended planet and get your free 2 damage in! Your opponent might have a larger unit to soak the damage, but can he deal with all your other units at the same time?

Immobile (This unit cannot move between planets.)
Yes, immobile does exactly the same thing as stationary. The only difference comes when you look at interactions with other cards. Stationary are units that are entrenched into the ground, immobile are those units that are hindered from moving by an outside force. Cards will refer to stationary units and maybe even allow them to move as though they weren’t stationary, but immobile is absolute. For example, placing a ‘Stasis’ on one of your opponent’s unit doesn’t enable the bonus from another card, ‘Plasma Barrier’:

Plasma BarrierStasis

Gatecrash (You may play this permanent at any time you could play an ability.)
Gatecrash allows you to play your permanents, mostly units though, at times that wouldn’t normally be possible, such as during your opponents turn after he already sent his units to your planet. “I’ll attack your undefended jungle planet, there is nothing bad that could happen… ohh.” Gatecrash appears on only one card in the first set, and it’s pretty straightforward:

Crag Wurm

All these keyword abilities always have reminder text on the cards except for some gold-rarity cards, so you don’t have to memorize them all. Don’t panic!

On Abilities, Economy Abilities and Combat Abilities

So, gatecrash allows your units to be played at any time you could play an ability, but when can abilities actually be played? Abilities can be played at any time in the game. There are some restrictions that have to do with what’s called priority, but that is advanced stuff.
Economy Abilities can only be played when you could play permanents, that is during the economy phase on your own turn. Combat Abilities can only be played during the combat phase and at the end of turn. These are mostly damage-dealing abilities. Those abilities can only be used in combat, because you shouldn’t be able to wipe your opponent’s units before they get the chance to fight back. You can read more about this and on the phases in my article on combat. Note that all these cards count as the card type ‘ability’. Economy and combat are merely subtypes.

Let’s look at an example for each of those ability types:

Enter the InfernoMaelstrom

Enter the Inferno is a combat ability because it deals damage. If you use it during combat, units dealt lethal damage by it can still attack this turn. A planet dealt 2 or more damage this way isn’t exhausted until after it attacked. You may also use a combat ability at the end of turn. Let’s say your opponent threatens several planets you control with units that have 3 health. Those units are all dealt 2 damage by your planets. Your opponent then makes the mistake to retreat those units all onto the same planet. Blowout – you can use Enter the Inferno at the end of his turn and destroy all of them!

Maelstrom is an economy ability at first and can only be played during your turn in your economy phase, but it loses the economy subtype if you are at Tier 4. First, you can use it as a simple “I’d rather have this stationary unit on another planet”, then on Tier 4 it becomes a combat trick. Marginal note: Don’t play this card if your deck doesn’t make good use out of the effect – it’s really bad.

Activated abilities work exactly the same. There are activated abilities that can be activated at any time and others can only be activated when you would be able to play a combat ability. This is always written as a “Activate as an economy ability” / “Activate as a combat ability” at the end of the activated ability’s text.

Bonus card

How about a card that’s REALLY expensive? The game should support all kinds of playstyles – aggro decks, timing decks, tech decks, control decks, macro decks and to a lesser extent combo decks. The Last Journey is the finisher of choice for a macro deck, a deck that just wants to sit back and get an absurdly high income while trying not to die. The Last Journey is so expensive that you sometimes can’t even reach the resources required to pay for it, because you can only store six resources until the next round. So, you need a lot of planets which also scales the ability very well:

The Last Journey

A multiplier symbol might be a good idea here so that this kind of resource cost can also be written where it normally belongs.

The next article will be about ‘Glory of the Colonies’. Until then!


2 responses to “On keywords and abilities

  1. Milambar August 20, 2012 at 1:30 am

    Hi, I found my way here through the MTGSalvation forum, I am an amateur (magic)card designer, so I had to leave a reply and tell you how awesome I think your space fantasy TCG is! (Reminds me of one of my favourate games: Homeworld). I have a question for you: Could you tell me how you made that cardframe in MSE?

  2. antaresmtg August 20, 2012 at 6:31 am

    thank you! It’s much appreciated 🙂
    I obtained a basic understanding of how MSE renders the card frame and then just replaced the images for the magic card frame with my own. The set symbol (left to the card name) is the future sight symbol you can add when you dl the “Magic Extra” package and the Tier box I added with graphics software.

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