There are many TCG game players and designers that lament the Mana system of Magic: The Gathering. Citing mana flood and mana screw as flaws of the game. I disagree. This is a feature in my mind, allowing for real chance within the game. And just like real life, resources matter.
Having a resource system that allows inequality creates a more dynamic and authentic experience that creates much of what we enjoy in Magic, and why many other TCG properties have failed.
Mark Rosewater talks about the “Golden Trifecta” or magic:
1: the trading card game genre
2: the mana system
3: the color pie
The mana system in magic is just a resource system that functions in a way that most reliable resource systems work, it creates an economy within the game. Using such a system is critical if you want your game to have a functional mechanic that everything else is built around. Its the wireframe for the rest of your game, its the reason most tcgs fail, its basis for all other function in the game.
The color pie in magic is another key aspect, as this element is the source of the flavor and fun of the game. The color pie is simple a separation of powers. Richard Garfield gave different abilities and aspects to each color that the others couldn’t do or the costs were higher. Having a separation of power and ability divided amongst factions is another key component to an interesting and fun trading card game. Dividing the abilities in the game will create a dynamic interaction amonst factions. Like rock, paper, scissors, each ability should be able to cancel out another ability, so that each ability has an answer and can be answered.
Beyond the golden trifecta of magic, another innovation that is crucial is controlling the difficulty level of you game within the rarity of the cards. Common cards being less complicated and powerful, as these cards will be more available to the beginner, while the more complicated cards are reserved for more experienced players in the higher rarities.
After years and years of playing magic and many other trading card games, as well as few attempts at making a tcg of my own, I have come to these conclusions as the primary factors of building a fun trading card game outside of magic and pokemon.
While I hope that this will help other aspiring game designers. Its really been an exercise for myself I putting down my thoughts on tcg design. Thanks for reading!
Tumblr users who play MTG, I’m a red mage. What color are you?
Primarily green, but I’ve got a fair amount of red in me. :D
A lot of green
Definitely red. And blue. Not black or white. Maybe a little green.