Elementa Arcanum - Origins of the Game Concept

While never having published my own game, I've always had this idea, or "game design challenge" in the back of my mind -- design a really interesting and innovative game that uses nothing more than standard decks of playing cards.  See, there's a few alluring things about playing cards:

  1. Almost all adults (and many children and teens) are familiar and comfortable with standard playing cards, considering the number of games they're used for (poker, bridge, etc.).  The learning curve of getting used to a game that uses those cards would be a low barrier to entry.
  2. Playing cards cross the international divide and a multitude of languages.  Any game designed to be played using them could have instant international appeal.
  3. Countless families already have 1 or more decks of playing cards, so if my game became popular, lots of people wouldn't need to buy a copy of my game to learn how to play it, and could wait until they're sure they like it before they spend any money on a custom set of cards for it.
  4. Given how many games already exist with playing cards (and how used up the design space should already be), it's an interesting challenge to try and do something unique with a set of cards that have been around so long.
  5. There's something romantic about the idea of people suddenly discovering a cool and interesting new thing they could do with playing cards that had been "hiding in plain sight" all these years.

So, this idea had been sitting around in the back of my mind for years, but it was lacking that "ah-ha" moment.  That moment finally came one weekend during the winter of 2021 when I had a very simple idea -- what if each suit represented one of the four elements of magic (originally, fire, ice, lightning and earth)? The value (2 through 10) would represent spell power and then I could assign some higher power to the face cards. The Jokers could be wildcards and have the highest power in the game.  Finally, I could use the 4 Aces to record combat wins, which satisfied an important goal -- I wanted the players to need no other game components than precisely what was given in standard playing card decks.  With these ideas, I would create a deck-building card game where players are gradually accumulating spells of increasing power level.  But, how would the combat work?  I immediately had the idea of opposing elements and the opposite element bonus for Defending. Purchasing had a similar but inverted bonus system -- same Element would carry the bonus in that case, instead of opposite.

After a few hours of refining these related thoughts, the first version of the combat and purchasing systems were becoming fairly well defined.  I was enthusiastic about how simple yet deep the game concept was shaping up to be.  The original set of rules was designed and ready for initial playtesting later that same week.  It was time to begin the development phase of the project, and to start thinking about the physical card design.

Thanks for joining me for my first in-depth design article for Elementa Arcanum.  If the game interests you, I suggest following my Kickstarter Campaign for it!  Comment below with any questions.  Next time, I'll discuss all the different games I've played that have influenced the design of Elementa Arcanum.  See you then!

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