The Many Choices With Life

Another big way that Twilight of the Gods differs from other card games is in how I chose to represent the player’s life total. In the vast majority of card games I’ve played, your life is generally some arbitrary number, an abstract representation of how much damage the game’s designers felt was appropriate to allow the game to play out. While this works, and works well, to me it’s always felt somewhat... impersonal. Like you’re fighting a bank statement, instead of a person.

That’s why, in TotG, I decided to make the player’s life total their deck of cards. Everyone starts with fifty cards. When they run out, you die.

There’s a couple cool things about this approach. When you take damage, you’ll actually see the physical representation of that damage as cards flip over into your discard pile. Options you might have wanted or needed, gouged away by your opponent. It also means you don’t have to worry about keeping track of life totals with dice, or pen and paper, or whatever. All you need to do is look at your deck. Is it still there? Good. You’re still alive. Furthermore, it adds a subtle layer of tension to the game itself. Visually, you can see your life draining away, turn by turn, and when your deck starts approaching its last few cards, it’s make or break time.

Of course, this led to the first challenge of having the player’s deck be their life total. How do you let the player heal? Otherwise, it’s going to be a straight burn race every time, which, while exciting, doesn’t lend itself to much in the way of nuance.

Well, if cards going into your discard pile hurts you, then it seems only natural that putting cards back from your discard pile into your deck should heal you, so that’s what I did. Whenever you heal yourself in Twilight of the Gods (using what we call the “restore” mechanic), some of those options that you lost will become available again.

This led to the second challenge - If players can heal themselves, won’t the deck that can stall indefinitely, win?

(The answer to that is ‘yes,’ if you were curious)

As I thought about it, I realized this was an opportunity. I could give the player multiple options to express their particular playstyle, and the solution was easy. In TotG, not only can you attack your opponent’s deck to cause damage, you can also attack their discard pile to remove cards permanently from the game (thus lowering their effective maximum life).

Now the player has choices. Do they prioritize burst, and try to burn the opponent down quicker than they can heal back up? Do they prioritize healing, and try to outlast the lumps they’ll take in the early game? Do they prioritize max damage, and whittle away the other player’s options over time? Do they use a mix of all three, adaptable, yet not as specialized in one particular power?

Then the choices get more granular. Do they specialize in creatures, or are they looking to be more the scheming type? What types of removal do they favor: direct damage that can possibly hit the other player as well, or pure removal via kill spells? Are they staying in-faction for bonuses, or mixing it up for more versatility? When their creatures attack, do they forego maximizing their damage output in order to rid a pesky card from the game, and does the defender care enough about that card to sacrifice one of their own creatures to block?

An entire range of options for the player to agonize over, both in deckbuilding, and in playing the game itself. Every decision matters.

One last thing I really liked about the idea, is that it makes every card useful, and throughout the course of the game, you’ll see almost your entire deck. Everything is both a potential resource and playable card, so there’s no need to worry about filler or running into a bad streak of meaningless cards. Your deck is your life, and your power, and card draw suddenly takes on a whole new dimension when you can kill yourself with it. Do you decide to effectively take extra damage in order to have more options available? How much can you afford to lose before being vulnerable to a quick series of bursts?

No two players are going to answer the question in the exact same way, and that’s exactly what I realized I wanted. Layers upon layers for those who wish to pursue them, hiding beneath a simple concept.

Your deck is your life, but it is also your power. Spend it wisely.

Trading Places

One of the big things that sets Twilight of the Gods apart from other games, is the idea of trading cards with your opponent in order to get resources. It’s an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, you both need to cooperate in order to succeed, and the starting phases of most games play out fairly amicably. On the other hand, there comes a point, and it’s a different point every game, where that cooperation morphs into competition, and all of a sudden, the game shifts.

What was once a simple decision of “I need this resource and they need that resource, so let’s trade” turns into “I need this resource, and they need that resource, but they also have that creature on the field, and if I trade this kill spell I might not draw another way to deal with it for a while, but it’s the only way I’m going to get my creature out on the field, but then what if they’re trading me a trap, do I have a way to counter that later, and what if...”

 Bad things might lie in wait for you underneath these cards.

Bad things might lie in wait for you underneath these cards.

It’s a fascinating interaction of power dynamics every time it happens, and it happens every game.

In addition, there’s also the spicy cherry on top known as “risk/reward”. See, in order to play the more powerful cards, you need equally powerful resources, but there’s a catch. The more powerful a card is as a resource, the more likely it is to do something nasty to you if the other player finds a way to reveal it. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentis.

And the best part is, you have no choice but to accept those Trojan horses. You need those cards as resources. Your opponent needs those cards as resources. There’s a constant baseline tension of deceit thrumming through the game, and it only gets more intense as the game goes on. It’s not a question of “Will my opponent screw me?” It’s a question of “How will my opponent screw me, and how will I react to it?”

Do you trade away your epic card for a devastating reveal later on? Or do you save it to play from your hand, and take control of the field? Do you remember which traps your opponent has revealed, and can you find a way to use that against them? At all times, a choice to make, and always meaningful.

In a lot of the card games I’ve played over the years, the assumption of power has mainly arisen from a player’s struggle against their own deck. Do they draw the appropriate cards they need in order to build up their threat posture against the opponent? Or does their deck not cooperate, and do they remain stuck at a lower power level while their opponent grows stronger?

In both cases, the player isn’t actually playing against the other person. They’re playing against the odds they’ve established in their deck, and while deckbuilding is definitely part of the skill set needed to excel at card games, I knew I wanted this game to be something more. I wanted it to be a constant tension between the players, not as they played against their decks, but against each other.

I wanted it to be a struggle of minds, not necessarily of odds (though there’s still plenty of that). A chess match of infinite possibilities lurking beneath a deceptively simple surface.

One of my favorite books is called “The Player of Games,” by Iain Banks. It’s a sci-fi novel, and the reason I mention it, is because one of the central conceits of the book I’ve always found fascinating. In the book, there’s a society built around a game, but not just any game. It’s a game that reveals who you are as a person, depending on how you play it, and the best players understand and embrace that. Their philosophies, their ideologies, what they value and why - all revealed by the game.

That’s what I wanted TotG to be like. A game that players win and lose based on how they react to their opponent, not just to the randomness of shuffled pieces of cardboard. A game where you have to strategize not only deck construction, but also negotiation, and bluffing, and how your actions now might affect your opponent’s reactions later on. A game where players are inextricably intertwined, and what you reveal about yourself, either knowingly or not, is just as much a part of the game as the cards you play.

A game where players play each other, at all times, and every choice matters.

 I think I’ve succeeded in creating such a game, and I hope you’ll be just as excited to play it as I am.

What Is Twilight of the Gods?

Wow. So, uh, I never thought I’d be writing a developer’ diary, no joke. A group of people not my close friends and family thought an idea I came up with was pretty good, and now we’re making a tabletop card game called “Twilight of the Gods.”

Honestly? It’s a position I imagined myself in as a kid, busy mocking up my own Magic the Gathering cards with carefully cut out lines of text, or writing down my brilliant (not really) D&D ideas in a lined notebook, but not one I ever imagined I’d be in as an adult.

Yet here we are. It’s still kind of surreal.

But enough about that. We’re making a game, and it’s gonna be awesome, so let’s talk about Twilight of the Gods!

So what is Twilight of the Gods?
Twilight of the Gods is an expandable card game (a game that comes with exactly the cards you’ll get when you buy a box), as opposed to a collectible card game (where you’re purchasing a pack filled with random cards). In Twilight of the Gods, you assume the role of a powerful deity from one of a broad variety of cultures, and then battle other deities (your friends) to see who will survive the upcoming Age of Rationality. You also get to learn about history and mythology, since we’re basing the game around 500 AD, so that’s neat.

Why did you make it an updating card game, as opposed to a collectible card game?
A couple reasons. One is that updating card games are a bit easier for a group of players to invest in. You know what you’re getting when you buy the box. Also, they’re easier to balance (as long as you have a long term plan in mind, which we do). In addition, as a designer, you know exactly what every player will have access to, and you can playtest to those assumptions. Finally, Twilight of the Gods is... different, and in order to make that difference work, we decided that an updating card game was the better choice.

 Two of the gods that you can choose to do battle with, Mars and Hera.

Two of the gods that you can choose to do battle with, Mars and Hera.

And what makes Twilight of the Gods different? Why should I care?
Well, the main reason is how the game plays.

See, my original motivation for designing the core system of what would become TotG was based on two fundamental things:

  1. I love playing Magic, but I hate getting mana-screwed. For those who don’t play Magic (and it’s an awesome game, there’s a reason it’s been so successful), ‘mana-screwed’ is what happens when you don’t get to play any cards because you run into a bad series of draws and don’t get any resources. It’s a horrible feeling, because you’re essentially watching the opponent play the game while you do nothing. It sucks. You don’t get to play with your toys.
  2. Building off that, I realized I wanted to design a system where both players were playing against each other, and not against the percentages in their deck. Getting mana-screwed is one facet of a larger issue that can make games unfun - not getting to play with your toys. Watching an opponent take endless extra turns, or suddenly win with an infinite combo you had no chance to react to is generally considered not fun. Why? Because you’re no longer participating in the game. Instead, you’re watching your opponent have fun. In addition, you and your opponent aren’t really playing against each other. Instead, you’re playing the percentages of your deck composition, hoping you hit your winning combo before the other player hits theirs.

So I came up with something new.

In Twilight of the Gods, you’ll never have a resource problem, because you and your opponent rely on each other for your resources. In order to get the power you need to do the things you want to in the game, you trade cards from your hand to your opponent, in exchange for cards from their hand, which you can each then use for resources (there’s some more technical balancing stuff in the actual rules, but don’t worry about that for now).

The funny thing is, at the start of the game, you’ll want to cooperate with your opponent. But only until you feel like you have enough power to start to fight them, and that power threshold is different from player to player. Different from game to game, and hand to hand. Fun!

You’ll also never feel like there’s a lack of options, because you’ll go through almost the entirety of your deck in every game.

How?

Your deck is your life. Every time you take damage? Cards get discarded. Find a way to heal yourself? Cards shuffle back into your deck. Every card you include is useful, but if you run out, game over.

 Do you use your Heal card or do you trade it away as a resource to be used later?

Do you use your Heal card or do you trade it away as a resource to be used later?

Oh, and one other thing.

In the world of Twilight of the Gods, power comes with a price.

The cards you trade can be revealed, often multiple times, throughout the course of the game, and more often than not, they do a negative effect to the person who controls them. In essence, you’re not just trading resources with each other.

You’re also trading traps.

Whoa. What does that even mean?
It means that while you and your opponent rely on each other to generate resources, you can also never trust each other. Does your opponent really have your best interests in mind when they propose a trade? Or are they setting up a fiendish backstab several turns down the road? It’s up to you to try and read them. When you’re playing a multiplayer game, should you let the other player block for you? Or will it allow them to entrench their own position more securely? Again, you, the player, have to make a choice, and what worked in one situation might not work in another.

This is where I addressed the second problem - people not actually playing against each other. In Twilight of the Gods, you’re always playing against your opponent. When they offer to trade, when they play a card, when a creature attacks, you’ll always have a meaningful choice to make. You affect your opponent’s game, and vice versa, and no win condition will ever be exactly the same from game to game. Offer a horrible trade, or appear too threatening too soon, and they might change their entire playstyle, leaving you to adjust.

This sounds complicated. Do I have to be Neil DeGrasse Tyson to enjoy this game?
Not at all. If you’ve never played a tabletop card game of any sort before, we made sure to include two basic tutorial decks for Twilight of the Gods to help give players a gentle learning experience. It may take a game or two to feel comfortable with the flow of the game (when I was a kid, I think it was about a year before I realized ‘sorceries’ in Magic were different from ‘instants’), but once you have it down, you’ll be ready to start exploring the deeper layers of strategy lurking within.

How many layers of strategy are we talking here, exactly? Neopolitan? Triple stack lasagna? Can I play this in a tournament and not feel like I’m praying to RNGesus?
Absolutely. One of the big things I wanted to make sure the game had was the opportunity to pull off extremely high level plays, the kind where you convolute your way through the mechanics like a garden snake through a kaleidoscope, and oh boy does it have those in spades. It’s actually one of my favorite things about TotG, and one we discovered early on in playtesting. You can play it as straightforward as you want, or you can go full 5D-extreme-hyper-chess-mode-activate and string together some stuff that would make a savant blush. It’s all up to how you want to construct your deck, and how you react to your opponent (and also when you draw your cards, I had to put some RNG in).

Ok. I’m begrudgingly intrigued. How do I get my friends to play Twilight of the Gods with me?

Tell them you get to be a friggin’ god, controlling legends out of myth and history! You want Hercules? We got Hercules. You want barbarian hordes and mystic Druidic rites? Meet us by Stonehenge. You want ancient Mesopotamian deities who were old when humans first considered the concept of time? Play as Enlil, and lay waste to all who oppose you.

 In what other game does Loki and Attila the Hun meet at Stonehenge?

In what other game does Loki and Attila the Hun meet at Stonehenge?

Not to mention, the god you choose to play as has a very real effect on the game. Each one has a unique power, based around the faction they represent (more layers!), which can swing the tide of battle in your direction if you use it properly.

Seriously, what more can I do to sell you on the game? IT’S LIKE GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA. BUT WITH GODS.

You sound super excited about all this.
Well, yeah. We’re making a a game, and it’s gonna be awesome!