Custom Card Game Design
Note: This post is about my card game Conquest of Orion. Find some additional infos here:
In Conquest of Orion, we follow the path of humanity as they explore and colonize the Orion sector, a wonderful, and mysterious corner of the galaxy. During their journey, they come across life forms so bizarre they challenge the notion of what exactly life is. But nothing could have prepared them for their encounter with the Torian race.
The storyline of the game is segmented into three sagas. Each saga consists of three sets and features two races, of which one are always the Humans (during deck building, you must limit yourself to one race).
The first saga features several nonsentient species capable of interstellar travel. Although seemingly different species, ranging from insects and space whales to fungal life forms, they all seem to share common ancestry, and were grouped under the simple term “Alien.”
A century later, several full-blown colonies have been established in the sector and the humans come in contact with the Torians for the first time, the race featured in the second saga.
Now, space whales, that’s easy stuff. They’re a part of mainstream culture just as much as zombies or angels. Space insectoids? That’s like the Zerg, right? But what is a Torian, you ask? Is that some kind of Surrakar? Not exactly, so here’s a rundown of what the Torians are, and how they are represented in the game.
Torians are a sentient, humanoid species resembling humans in most of their basic body structure, but they are taller and slimmer, often with underdeveloped extremities due to severe underuse. They have a blue to purple complexion resulting from pigments in their skin used for photosynthesis. Although their stature appears to be that of a female to the human eye, Torians are in fact genderless.
The Torians would have evolved very similar to humans, wasn’t it for the fact they possess the ability to exert control over the forces of the universe with their mind. This ability allows them to easily achieve what humans can achieve only through the use of technology, including interstellar travel. Although extremely powerful, Torians are no gods. Far from it, they have finite lifespans and can be killed if their fragile bodies are damaged. However, doing so requires to pierce the barriers that Torians surround themselves with to prevent hostile environments (such as outer space) from harming them.
Torians range in character just as wide as humans do. They don’t possess a hive mind, or a leadership that makes decisions for the entire race. Each Torian acts individually, and while some are sympathetic towards humanity, others are not. Most Torians are solitary, traveling the stars to explore the universe and find their calling. Some spend their lifetimes building planets, each a unique expression of art. These are the architects, and they are accompanied by the designers, who create life forms to inhabit those planets. The voyagers do not engage in craftsmanship, but instead admire the works of the universe and their kin. Regularly, they hold contests where the architects’ creations are rated as works of art.
Voyagers seek out and find inspiration in cosmic events, such as supernovae or rare planetary alignments. These are represented by Abilities, so the voyager keyword cares about those. Attunement gives the unit +1 damage and +1 shield until end of turn whenever you play an Ability, and is therefore the Conquest of Orion version of Prowess.
The architects build planets, so their eponymous keyword is very straight-forward. An architect enters play accompanied by its own planet. You begin the game with three basic planets, and you can conquer additional unique planets throughout the game, for example Toria. Architects are the only way of getting new basic planets, so there will likely be synergy cards that are based around basic planets.
Designers constantly invent and nurture new life forms. In the game, exoplanet wildlife is already represented as neutral “Critter” cards, and are expanded upon in the sets that feature the Torians. In those sets, you may see creatures that mother nature could never come up with. The designer keyword should encourage you to play with those neutral cards, and thus cares about Critters. When a Designer enters play, you flip cards from the top of your deck, much like Cascade in Magic, until you flip a Critter that you could play on your current Tier (“researched”) and that you don’t control already. So, designers demand that you play a variety of Critters, and not just invent the same species over and over again.
Interaction with Humans
The Torians did not suddenly arrive in the Orion sector out of nowhere. During the first saga, while the humans established their colonies, they were there. They simply chose not to reveal themselves.
Embedded into the Torian’s genetic code is a warning about an ancient race bent on undoing the work of their creators and destroying all life in the universe. Not much else is known about these destroyers, but that they would find them in the Milky Way eventually. When the humans entered the sector, many Torians believed them to be the race they were warned about. They witnessed the human’s ruthlessness, their willingness to destroy other life in their path of conquest, and figured that they fit the description. But most Torians were skeptical and prefered to simply observe the intruding race for now.
Torians is the human term for the race, as they were encountered first on the world Toria, whose name and location was transcribed from the records in an ancient alien archive. When the human explorers reached the Distant Realm, where the Torian homeworld is located, a small group decided to act against the majority and attacked and murdered the expedition teams that were exploring their world. Soon, more hostilities ensued and people of both races were killed. This caused the hostile-minded Torians to gain more and more support. Meanwhile, those who were more on the side of diplomacy established contact and tried to prevent further aggressions, but that proved to be very difficult. The exchanges were complicated by the human’s fear of the Torians, a race which they didn’t understand. In particular, they blamed the entire race for the actions of a few.
But eventually, the two races began to understand each other and the hostile Torians lost the support among their kin entirely. In the following sets of the saga, the two races work together to learn more of their origins. Do they both share common ancestry? How is it that every alien and its grandmother can bend the universe with its mind, but the humans lack that ability?
Khemia is a top-down design that has been in the making, off and on, for a few years. As I move deeper into the set and begin to focus on it as my current custom MtG project, I find myself more focused on world-building which, in turn (I hope), will help with design. I’m no writer, certainly no fiction writer, so be gentle. Below is the first in a series of posts that should flesh out the plane of Khemia, and provide some insight into the conflict between the Pharaohs, who believe they are anointed by the gods to rule over the ‘lesser folk’, and the Freesand’s Rebellion, who believe all Khemians should be equal and free. Specifically, this post is a bedtime story told by the Pharaoh Khura to his daughter, Princess Raelia, who will one day grow to be the leader of the Freesands Rebellion, who seek to usurp the Pharaohs. (Art credit to Lee Reex, El Grimlock at Deviantart.com, Saad Irfan, Hector Herrera, and Julian Peria.)
“Tell me a story, Father” the princess said. The Pharaoh, of course already knowing the answer, asked “A story of what, my lotus flower?”. The girl flashed her father an impish grin. “A story of the gods!”, she replied as she drew her blankets closer, the night breeze from the river, an-Nil the Great, cooling the young princess’s open-air bedchamber. The Pharaoh smiled down at his daughter, and heir, and begin to recite the tale. “Long ago, the people of Khemia were all the same. Petty and corrupt, they bickered for cattle, bickered for honey, bickered for water. A Khemian could kill another and there would be no justice, for there was no law. Then May’et, goddess of truth and judgment, came to them and showed them a better way. The greatest were elevated to their rightful place, and these were the first Pharaohs. They brought law to the lawless, justice to the lesser folk, and proclaimed May’et’s truth to all of Khemia, for they were the Pharaohs.”
“Long ago, the people of Khemia were all the same. Dull and slow-minded, they knew not the secrets of Sphinxes, knew not of the secrets of Mana. The riddles and tricks of the dunes were cruel enigmas that bested them all. Then Sehtar, the trickster, came to them and showed them a better way. The greatest were reminded of their great intellect and wit, and these were the first Pharaohs. They tricked the Sphinx into sharing its secrets of mana, and the desert bloomed. They tricked the lesser folk, who became their slaves, and the great Pyramids were built for their great glory, for they were the Pharaohs.”
“Long ago, the people of Khemia were all the same. Frail and mortal, life was merely a short breath before they returned to the sand in death. Short were their lives, and final was the grave. Then Ossurian, sovereign of life and death, came to them and showed them a better way. The greatest were shown that they have power over both life and the afterlife, and these were the first Pharaohs. Death was merely another step in their existence, a place where they would bring the lesser folk to attend them as they supped in Ossurian’s halls, for they were the Pharaohs.”
“Long ago, the people of Khemia were all the same. Cowardly and weak, they were the prey of the crocodile, meat of the harpy. A Khemian knew not the ways of the spear, or the power of the flame. Then Amunaht, the sun’s fire, came to them and showed them a better way. The greatest remembered their strength, and conquered the dunes with fire and iron, and these were the first Pharaohs. The lesser folk trembled at their might, and hid their eyes from the radiance, for they were the Pharaohs.”
“Long ago, the people of Khemia were all the same. Hungry and sick, the hot winds parched their lips and the sands choked them. The dunes were all they knew, save for the mirages sent by the Sphinxes to toy with them. Then Tefeneta, mother of Great an-Nil, came to them and showed them a better way. The greatest remembered the river, remembered the rains, and found a fertile delta. The lesser folk sang their glories, and erected great temples upon the water in acknowledgment of their glory, for they were the Pharaohs.”
“So sleep well, my princess,” Pharaoh said to his daughter, “for you are one of the greatest. The gods have chosen you to rule over the lesser folk, to show them the justice of May’et, the cunning of Sehtar, the life of Ossurian, the boldness of Amunaht, and the abundance of Tefeneta. You are my lotus flower, my Raelia.” Khura, Pharaoh of Khemia, bent down and kissed his daughter’s forehead. The young princess, however, was already fast asleep.