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.