As with all card games, we have to consider several angles when choosing which cards to include in Combat Cards, and I thought it might be interesting to cover a few of them.
Let’s start with the obvious one: In any competitive game with discrete fighting ‘units’ (in this case our cards), we need to keep track of trends arising from what we decide to include.
For example, we need to balance how many cards from each faction are in the game, the proportion of Warlords to normal cards, and make sure we’re including cards with a good spread of points costs (more on card points values in a later post).
Okay, so far so normal – all card games need to be aware of that stuff, usually tracking it through spreadsheets, graphs and other exciting maths tools.
But Combat Cards is an officially licensed Warhammer 40,000 game, so we also need to design with the license’s ‘fiction’ in mind.
There are very clear ‘hard’ rules that come with 40K – that Marneus Calgar isn’t a Psyker, Flayed Ones can’t shoot and Gretchin are weaker than Orks, for instance.
However, there are also many, many ‘soft’ rules which aren’t written in any Codex or rule book but are nevertheless known and expected by fans. Examples include Psykers being rare and dangerous, or T’au favouring shooting over melee combat.
This is where being a designer gets interesting, because it’s your job to balance the needs of a competitive card game and the inbuilt expectations of the Games Workshop community.
You have to try and capture the essence of a myriad possible T’au armies, boil it into a few simple stats and traits, and ensure they feel distinct from a similarly shooty faction, like the Necrons.
Finally, we have to consider the actual miniatures themselves. By that I mean that some 40K characters are so iconic and popular that we just have to include them, irrespective of what our stats show we need to add. We all have a different perspective on what’s ‘iconic’, but a Chaos faction without lovable butcher Kharn the Betrayer just doesn’t seem right.
By the way, for anyone that’s curious, Games Workshop never dictate that we must include any particular miniature, but with lifelong 40K fans here, it’s inevitable that we want to include those cool new releases anyway. I’ll talk more about the balance of new and classic miniatures in a later post.
All the factors above play into which miniatures we do or don’t include. For example, a Blood Angels assault Terminator and a Deathwing Knight fulfil a similar role in Combat Cards – slow but tough, and high powered – so surely we only need to include one of them?
Yes, but on the other hand, fans of those Chapters will be happy if we include both, and it lets players ‘double down’ on that particular deck building tactic.
Ah, but there are only so many cards in the game, and maybe the numbers show we need more ranged Space Marines, or fast ones, or Librarians, or, or, or…
So, to meander back to the original point, there are a lot of factors we consider when choosing which 40K miniatures to include. It’s not just about which miniatures are coolest (though that is definitely a factor!), most recent, or most powerful.