As someone who has played a lot of Hearthstone, I can tell you that there is still a lot of untapped potential in digital card games. Their ability to perform calculations and change the numbers in play instantaneously adds a new dimension to card design.
As someone who has once scratched some skin off their face over the frustration Hearthstone causes, I can tell you that the game does not satisfy me. Their insistence on adding ‘wacky’ random number generation effects, their unwillingness to re-balance cards, and their creation of expansions where two thirds of the cards are useless in competitive play have made me frequently spiral off into a daydream between turns where I envision a game that is far more fun.
As I am not a game designer, programmer, or animator, this dream is likely to stay in my imagination, but I see no reason I can’t share it here and show it off a little bit. Please ignore the dreadful Microsoft Paint art as it is all I am capable of creating.
The game would be called Manifest and it would have a wild west theme. It is set in a world of my own creation with humans, bison minotaurs, and dopey wandering cacti. In their version of the wild west, the land to the west is literally ever-expanding. It’s manifest destiny without all the horrible consequences of reality, hence the title. Let me tell you about the various features that make the game unique and separate it from Hearthstone:
This is what a Manifest card would look like (except with far better art obviously). It has two numbers: the ration cost in the canteen at the top and the power at the bottom of the saloon doors. Any additional card text would appear in a box next to the card when you mouse over it.
The ration cost is the equivalent of the mana cost in Hearthstone. If you don’t have enough rations to meet the card’s ration number, you cannot play it. Your currently available rations show up in the canteen symbol on your side of the game board. rations would ramp up as the game progresses (the first turn gives you five rations, the second ten, and the third is fifteen where it caps). Here is the first of three major differences from a game like Hearthstone: ration cost is continuous. When you have a card on the board, you will start every turn with its cost subtracted from your total rations. If you don’t have enough to pay for your cards, they won’t be destroyed, but you won’t be able to play anymore until the cards are destroyed. The turn after their death will see the return of their cost to your canteen. You can push out extra cards via various mechanics and temporary rations that may allow you to exceed your normal fifteen ration maximum.
The power number is both the card’s attack strength and its health. If a 2-power card attacks a 1-power card, the 1-power card will be destroyed and the 2-power card will be come a 1-power card. A card is destroyed if its power reaches zero. One of the obvious issues here is that you will be paying a full ration cost for cards that get progressively weaker, so you may need to look for ways to kill off your own cards that are no longer pulling their weight to get rations back.
The second major difference between Manifest and Hearthstone is card movement. If you look back at the game board, you’ll see your colony at the bottom, the enemy colony at the top, and three rows of five spaces between them. Those spaces can be occupied by cards. How do you win the game? You must move your cards to the enemy’s land, where they can then attack the colony. If a colony’s health reaches zero, that player loses the game. A player can also lose if they are not capable of playing any cards or attacking a fully occupied board.
You play your cards on the five spaces above your colony. They can attack on the same turn they are played, but they cannot move on that turn. On every following turn they can choose to either move or attack, but not both unless their text says otherwise. Cards can move up, down, left, or right one space per turn.
You might have also noticed Manifest’s unique board feature: the river covering the middle row. The main effect of this river is that, at the end of the turn, all cards in it drift one space in the direction of its flow. If a card drifts off the edge of the river, it goes into one of two invisible board spaces on each side of the river. The card will be gone for one turn of drift and then return on the opposite side of the river. While it is off the board it is invulnerable to most effects and you don’t have to pay its ration cost. This is often the easiest way to squeeze in extra rations.
The third major difference between Manifest and Hearthstone is actually an idea my wife cam up with: the near-complete removal of RNG. Manifest does not have the luck of the draw. When you build a deck in Manifest you choose not only the cards, but the order the cards will be drawn in. This is the purpose of the clipboards on either side of the board. The one on the right would hold the names of all your cards and show them in their order, with the next draw being at the top of the list. (while the enemy’s deck shows the remaining number of cards, it would not show their names.)
The only RNG in this game will be the coin flip to determine which player goes first. All other effects would be designed to merely simulate random effects for fun. (Think cards like Chromaggus or Loatheb in Hearthstone.)
You might have noticed the revolver barrels on the right side of the board. This is Manifest’s version of Hearthstone’s ‘hero powers’. A bullet costs one ration to fire and you only pay it once. There are twelve different bullets with minor effects to choose from, and you can load whatever combination of them you want to into your sixshooter when you build the deck. Only the one in the top chamber can be fired, and the gun rotates clockwise afterwards. Once you use all six, you’re out of ammo for the rest of the game unless you use cards that mess with it.
The rest of the game’s character is in the details. Some cards have effects that only activate at certain times, like ‘on play’, ‘on move’, ‘on kill’,’on death’, ‘on trespass’ (entering enemy land), ‘on plunge’ (entering the river), ‘on flow’ (when moved by the river), or ‘downriver’ (when they flow off the board). Cards can have various qualities that effect their movement or attacks. Here’s a list of all the major mechanic keywords that would appear on card text:
fishy: on plunge the card cannot leave the river
rooted: the card cannot move
fiery: the card takes 1 damage when moved by the river
wild: the card automatically moves forward or attacks the strongest adjacent card or colonies (including friendlies)
rails: the card can only move up or down
lumbering: the card can only move every other turn
spectral: the card can move through an adjacent card, dealing 1 damage to it in the process
stoic: the card cannot attack
ranger: the card can attack cards that are 1 space away
homesick: the card cannot leave friendly land
flying: the card can move two spaces in a single direction
ornery: the card attacks all adjacent enemies (left, right, up, and down) simultaneously
crooked: the card moves diagonally
So those are all the basics of Manifest! I hope you enjoy the idea. I’ll leave you with a little gallery of sample cards with lousy art in case you’re interested in the theme.
That’s all I have so far (I have more than 500 card ideas, but this is all the art I have). Feel free to let me know what you think.