Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Zombie CCG: Big Pictures, pt 1

I spent most of last week working out the fundamentals of a Zombie CCG. In fact, next week is double-sized CCG Week (coinciding as it does with the first official week of New Phyrexia previews). Granted, those fundamentals are for CCGs in general, with a lot of asking the questions from the answers' point of view. Much of that is because I've already worked out a few things in my head which will (sadly) have to have a lot of kinks ironed out whenever I start putting specific concepts onto paper.

Because next week isn't particularly promising for actual content on an actual Zombie CCG, and because I know time is passing far more slowly for you than it is for me, I figured I'd take this opportunity to pitch the general ideas I've been kicking around and see what comes out.

The Plan. A lot of talk about Zombies is about a person's plan for surviving the zombie apocalypse. People want to think that they're prepared for things, and I don't discourage that. The only problem with zombie plans is that they don't really account for the realities of a situation, which Max Brooks effectively lampoons in The Zombie Survival Guide with adequately vague directions on just when to start enacting your plan. After the second mysterious medical mystery on page ten of your local newspaper has you skipping work to head for the mountains, you may start noticing some problems with how practicable they are.

At this point I'm obliged to also mention four-lane buffets.

The concept of something ordered thrown into disarray might be germane to a CCG. A little bit. The locations are the ones your character might think of as safe (or perhaps, accessible), the items included are the ones your character might think of as useful and be looking for. The other survivors in the deck might be people that he cares about or might want to save (also, they're worth points; let's not be unreasonable here).

Zombies. The zombies in your deck are harder to justify. Ideally, I'd like players to play Zombies on other people's survivors. This runs into some issues I talk about next week, but there's a paradigm of theme versus player interaction that makes it very hard not to run into those issues. None the less, the 'zombie part' of your deck represents the zombies that populate a shared outbreak area that your survivor(s) and your opponent's survivor(s) share. You act like the protagonist of your half of the zombie story and the director/dungeonmaster for your opponent's half.

I'm not entirely happy with the flavor here, but the only two alternatives I have are either a dedicated Zombie Deck (which involves two decks, which I don't like) or having cards that double as zombies, and I don't think in a CCG about zombies that zombies should be sharing face time with locations or items.

Survivors. I've nailed down three parts of a zombie survivor's story: realization, survival, security (with possible twist). Look at Shaun of the Dead; they go quite a while before finding out there are zombies. They then scramble all over town to find their loved ones (survival) and get to The Winchester(security). Then The Winchester gets compromised and they're right back to survival(or not, as is the case with most of their friends). Just when they're ready for more surviving, they find security by accident (no twist). The remake of Dawn of the Dead has a similar cycle; our protagonist tunes out the reports of the zombies, has a moment of realization via little girl, survives to get to the security of the mall, then repeats survival and security (twist!).

Victory. Note that surviving protagonists don't survive all the way through the movie. Whenever the dude from Dawn of the Dead is bitten, he stays behind and shoots himself rather then become one. That's a fine victory condition. Well, not fine, but you get my point. There's victory and then there's Victory. You could outlast the apocalypse (28 Days Later), simply make the most of your last moments with a loved one (reference not found), or resolve to go down fighting(like Liz and Shaun planned to do). You can't defeat a zombie horde (well, you can, but...); they won't feel defeated or resigned. They won't give up or realize the futility of their hunger. Realization of humanity as a victory is one of the greater lessons the zombie genre has to teach. That humanity is incredibly versatile and preach preach preach, you get the point: multiple victory conditions. With those different conditions come particular points. There is a difference between saving everyone and shooting your own son before he turns. Sure, they're both victories in some way, but they are victories on different ends of a scale. You'd much rather sacrifice yourself to save your loved ones and survive to watch them die, right?

Stuff. I like the idea that when you play a location, you get to put your hand back into your deck and draw X new cards, where X depends on the location. You can only carry so many items at a time (say, four), but quite a number of them are expendable (guns, food, batteries, coats/amor), so they end up going to the discard pile a lot so you can play more items. Granted, that involves tracking their status (rounds remaining, or a general approximation thereof), but substituting cards for that might work out. Instead of using a card as whatever it is whenever you pull it for a location, you can put it face down underneath a gun or a flashlight or whatever and get more uses out of it, up to a point, naturally.

Karma. Of course, the inevitable turn of bad luck/stupidity that always dooms any secure location to zombie attack is a necessary part of this. In addition to giving lagging players the ability to catch up with advancing players, it also provides a currency in-game for certain actions; if something massively bad happens to you, it's because your karma was a bit too high. If only you can give yourself karma, who's fault is that? While it has the ability for a game to play out conservatively, it still allows a player to take risks, if they're bold enough.

Meta game. I don't mean competitions between different archetypes in deckbuilding or the general pool of cards from which a certain set of decks pull with. No, in this case I mean making Game A matter where Game B is concerned. I mean making a deck that represents something, whether it's The Cleveland Outbreak of 2013 or the story of one man who finds himself stuck in a world rapidly falling under the shadow of the undead. Having a mechanic or ability for there to be an overarching...narrative to a series of games is something I would dearly like, as ridiculously pie-in-the-sky as it is.

Tomorrow: Problems

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