Before I got my publishing deal with ITB I had planned to stop at Version 3. At the time, the game was 54 cards (as that was standard order size), consisting of 26 cards in hand (13 per player), 6 ‘Location’ cards and 22 ‘Event’ cards. Both players had exactly the same set of cards. However, when we began talking Peter was keen on turning it into a microgame – a game you could just pick up in a wallet, then whip out and play at any time. This sounded really cool to me, not least because it sounded a bit like going through a Pokemon gym and challenging different trainers (if they create Quickdraw gyms, my life’s work will be complete). There were a few things that had to change in order to turn Quickdraw into a microgame:
-> The card count had to be reduced. It wasn’t really possible to fit more than 20 cards in the planned wallet size (the current version has 22 – more on that later).
-> There would need to be some level of variety between packs. If everyone just bought the same pack, then you might as well just sell it as a boxed game.
-> The game would need to support more than 2 players
My initial thought was having a pack of ‘Event’ cards, and a pack of ‘Location’ cards as well as a starter pack that would get people going, but this felt bad, because you’d essentially be buying an incomplete game. It was better to offer people a whole package – I just needed to figure out what was in the whole package.
I started by looking at the distribution of cards in each wallet – I had 20 to play with. How would I distribute that between cards in hand (duelling cards), ‘Event’ cards, and ‘Location’ cards? In the end, I went for a mathematical approach. I wanted the 3 Ready, 3 Stare, 3 Flashback, 2 Special, 1 Bang!, and 1 Quickdraw card to stay. I felt like I had found the right balance of cards in Version 3, and taking away any of them would change the entire dynamic of the game. The argument could have been made that I removed 1 or both ‘Special’ cards, but I wanted to keep them for character reasons (I’ll explain a bit later).
After that was established, I asked myself what the smallest number of ‘Event’ cards were that I could get away with. The answer is 6, because, if you played all your ‘Flashback’ cards, you’d pick up 6 in total. Easy. This left me with 1 card slot to assign to a ‘Location’ card.
Having only 6 ‘Event’ cards however was an issue, because I didn’t want players to necessarily know the outcome of their ‘Flashback’ cards – and even less did I want players to become bored with them. I decided immediately therefore that player’s ‘Event’ cards would combine – you would know what 50% of those cards were, but you could always pick up something new and (hopefully) exciting.
Thematically, creating a variety of packs was also a decision which came quite easily; I would create character packs. This was at a time when games in the videogame world were getting players to invest in their characters. I didn’t nearly have enough resources, or writing skills, to actually create campaigns and comics and such, but I wanted to create that same feeling of attachment to a particular pack. Instead of a player thinking “Yeah, I’ll play the aggressive archetype deck”, I wanted players to think “I’m going to play the feared El Santo”. That element would hopefully also translate into on-the-shelf appeal, where a player would pick up a pack based on whether they related to the character (or just wanted to be a badass Mexican bandito).
The challenge was representing those characters through their cards and through the mechanics, and also create packs with different archetypes of play. Being mechanically minded on the whole, I started with archetypes in vague terms such as ‘Aggressive, Defensive, Quickdraw-y, Gets-cards-back-y etc.’. To turn these archetypes into reality, I used the 2 variable type cards I had; ‘Event’ cards and ‘Special’ cards.
The ‘Special’ cards were therefore turned into incentives to play the game in a particular way. The ‘Defensive’ character, for example, had ‘Special’ cards all relating to stopping the opponent’s cards. The ‘Quickdraw-y’ character had cards which enhanced card count advantage on the board. 2 ‘Special’ cards also made each character feel more unique, which is important as well.
The ‘Event’ cards I assigned a twofold purpose too. Firstly they supported a character’s preferred method of winning – if it’s a ‘Defensive’ archetype, then an ‘Event’ card could give them some ‘Stare’ cards back. Secondly, I tried to either turn some natural advantage of the character into a different kind of advantage, or protect the character from some natural weaknesses. For example, a ‘Defensive’ archetype is less inclined to develop an aggressive board with lots of ‘Ready’ cards, so finding a way of flipping your defensive board into an aggressive one would be one objective of these ‘Event’ cards.
Then I came up with the characters. Most character stuff is discussed in Appendix B, but mechanically I tried to align personality types with archetypes, and theme the ‘Event’ cards accordingly. For example, ‘Annie Colt’ is an impatient outlaw in my mind, so I assigned here the ‘Quickdraw-y’ archetype, and themed her ‘Event’ cards to be around robberies and other outlaw-ish activities.
The biggest challenge with all this was maintaining game balance. Since both players no longer had the same deck, and same set of ‘Event’ cards, I had to create some baseline guidelines for myself in how much power I could give to ‘Special’ and ‘Event’ cards. I would recommend, when balancing, that you set a baseline of ‘basic’ effects, then apply measure and countermeasures as if balancing on a pair of scales. For example, If a ‘Special’ card has a power of “Stop your opponent’s card”, then another balancing point could be “Get rid of your opponent’s card BUT….here’s the payoff”. Finding the ‘baseline balance’ itself depends on how much better/worse/different you want that card to be compared to ‘core’ cards.
As a whole Version 4 worked quite well. However, Version 5 saw a whole swath of changes made to try and fix the little problems we had encountered. One problem that was picked up on was that I had made the ‘Special’ and ‘Event’ cards slightly too weak. Players tended to ignore them and play the ‘core’ cards almost all the time.
The other issue was the explanation of ‘Special’ cards now added to everything else, players would take a couple of games to really understand and get into everything. I wanted to put some more work to make the game as quick to pick up as the name suggests!