SCHEMES

A digital card game where players guess their opponent's moves. I worked as the lead designer on a multi-disciplinary team of 12 people. I worked with paper prototypes to design the rules and individual cards, and also implemented the cards in-engine. We made this project in Unity.

System Design Process

Schemes has been a very character-focused game since its inception. We wanted a fun cast of characters who all have unique personalities and playstyles. However, we also knew we needed to keep the rules simple, since we would only have four months to complete the project. So the big things I wanted out of the game's rules were:

  • Simplicity - easy to learn and to implement in-engine

  • Flexibility - cards can be varied for each character

We settled on six basic character concepts at the start of the project. I started by making decks for just the protagonist and antagonist, and worked with those as I iterated on the core rules. I updated a Google Doc with all of the rules and cards as I went along, so that Gregor, who did most of our engine work, could reference it easily. By the time I made decks for the other four characters, Gregor was pretty far along in implementing the core systems. That was helpful because it meant I could design the cards with our existing tech in mind, and not waste time designing cards that wouldn't be practical to implement.

Core Rules

Our team came up with the basic concept for Schemes while brainstorming different genre hybrids; the one that stuck was "stealth card game." So in Schemes, players don't alternate playing cards on each of their turns like in most card games. Instead, each player secretly selects 5 cards and puts them into a stack at the start of the game (the Planning Phase). Once they're both done, they enter the Reveal Phase, and flip the stacks. The players go down both stacks, resolving the cards in order, and the winner is determined once all the cards are resolved. Games are best of 3 rounds, creating space for bluffing and trying to learn the opponent's strategy each round.

The cards work in a rock-paper-scissors system. Attack cards are blocked by Defenders, Defenders do nothing against Spells, and Spells are countered by Attacks. Most cards also have extra effects, like a Spell that makes your next Attack unblockable, and an Attack that does more damage the later it activates in the stack. We thought a rock-paper-scissors system would be simple to understand and limit the number of special card types we'd need to implement. Also, each character has a special Signature Card that they always have in their opening hand. These cards have unique effects that can't be negated by other cards.

Our biggest worry with the concept was keeping the Reveal Phase from being boring, since players don't interact with it. The Reveal Phase is where we really relied on our art and audio team's magic. We wanted the Reveal Phase to play out like an episode of Death Note or Yu-Gi-Oh, with over-the-top characters shouting things like "Right into my trap!" and "All according to plan!" as the cards resolve. That way, even when you're not making decisions during the Reveal Phase, you're still having fun watching the characters interact. I also gave a couple of the characters cards that have the player make decisions during the Reveal Phase. That lends those characters a unique playstyle where you can actually play reactively.

Deck Design

To stay within our limited scope, each character's deck needed to be pretty small. Each character's deck has 4 unique cards, with 3 copies of each. In addition, they have one copy of their Signature Card, which is always in their starting hand. Each character has one Attacker, Defender, and Spell, plus another card in one of those types. This helped further define each character's unique playstyle: for example, Kira-Kira has extra Defenders in her deck because she focuses on using them for both offense and defense. Schemes has 30 unique cards in total.

My goal in making the decks was to give each character a playstyle that's both unique and fitting with their dialogue and visual design:

  • Hiro's deck is adaptable, and his Signature lets him tutor for a card during the Reveal Phase, because things always work out for the protagonist.

  • Vincent, the villain, does overpowering damage. He can deal devastating piercing damage, but if he's not careful he'll leave himself defenseless.

  • Dustin, the sidekick, has a high-risk aggro deck with little subtlety. He does a lot of damage to both himself and his opponent.

  • Kira-Kira, the pop idol with a dark secret, builds an army of Defenders and uses them as tools to destroy her opponent. She can also strengthen her army using her songs.

  • Mr. Howard, the mentor, focuses on setting up in early turns to deliver high-damage attacks later on. His Signature lets him look at the opponent's stack and then change the next card in his own stack during Reveal, to make sure his plan goes off without a hitch.

  • Felty, the crazy teddy bear, uses a chaos-themed deck with cards that switch cards' types and interfere with the opponent's stack. Felty does more direct interference with the opponent than any other character.