All in the Cards

All in the Cards
Ace in the Hole

Dan Dormer | 3 Oct 2006 08:04
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The rush of taking down the repugnant Alliance in World of Warcraft is something hard to replicate. Knitting a sweater really doesn't cut it in contrast to discovering a lone Paladin out of mana in Stranglethorn Vale, separated from his group. The joy of unleashing the glorious Frost Shock/Earthbind Totem combo and asking your party, "Where is his god now?" as you laugh about the recently departed; it's almost too much fun. Could you imagine trying to recapture that action and transform it into a completely different medium? How hard would that be?

To find out, I spoke to two men, Brian Kibler and Danny Mandell. They're the Lead Developer and Lead Designer (respectively) of the group responsible for distilling all of WoW into a collectible card game (CCG). The game, called the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, is being published by Upper Deck and aims to bring the persistent, massively-multiplayer experience of WoW offline, pitting two friends against each other in heated battles. Of course, you don't just sit down one day and say, "Hey, let's make a card game of this really successful MMOG." It requires a lot of work.

According to Kibler, the hardest part is figuring out "how you make a game of a game. One of the pitfalls is trying to include too much of the game. If you do that, it's gonna fail. You could imagine that you start the game at level one and you're fighting mobs and your opponents, but the problem is if you go really wide, it's hard to go deep, and then it's hard for a lot of new players to process. ... You want it to be accessible."

Mandell added, "We want to make sure you can play your character that you have in the game."

"We had a big whiteboard, and we basically went about asking ourselves what our goals were for the game," Kibler said. "We were like, 'We want the games to be 20 to 30 minutes, so you could get three to four games done in an hour.' So we had to pick a pretty specific scale. We asked, 'What's the game really about?' - the combat. Yes, exploring the regions is cool, and the flavor on the cards in the deck adds that to the game. So, we ultimately chose combat to set it up for the PvP experience.

"There are seven card types [and] 16 different heroes - one for every class on the Horde and Alliance side. The hero does several things. The object of the game is to kill the other player's hero. ... A hero usually needs a weapon to deal damage. Casters deal from the hand with spells, like Fireball. Though, there are no racial abilities in the first set."

"Deck building is pretty open-ended," Mandell said. "There's gear, which is tons of armor. Abilities are cards played from your hand that are sweet spell effects like Fireball, and some of these remain in play. There are the allies, which are your party members. You can have one in combat at a time, and the damage they take remains on them. It's a thematic perspective, so that you could have healing play a factor like it would online. There are weapon and armor cards that you'll equip to the hero. You pay the strike cost to add their damage to attacks. Rogues, Paladins and Warriors armor [have] a defensive value, and you can exhaust your armor to absorb damage. There's items, and they're standard play.

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