Well, since Scott blew the lid off this little project a few months back during the podcast he did with Mildra, I figured I might as well chronicle everything as I’m going through it. I’m also hoping it might help others who would attempt something similar. I have no idea how to actually write a designer diary, so bear with me as I’m getting into the groove of things, if you would.
Over the eleven or so years I’ve been in boardgaming proper (disregarding early childhood years dominated by Monopoly and Risk), I’ve put together a couple homebrewed RPG systems, flirted with my own miniature wargame systems, and still have a drawer full of ideas related to the hobby that are wilting away as we speak.
However, as the years wore on, I managed to get myself into gear and have more projects finished. I now have a boardgame designer credit to my name and have luckily become tangentially involved with the Nexus products in their multiple incarnations. These experiences resulted in me undertaking this particular feat.
Partly because what the fuck else was I going to do during quarantine?!
With the Nexus Card Game, or NXTCG, I’m trying to put together as thematic an equivalent as possible to the Nexus boardgame, with less of the minis and - at some point down the line when we move past penciled in costs and effects - a LOT more of the art.
Cause this shit’s gorgeous:
The reasons why I wanted to do a Nexus card game are threefold.
For one, I really love card games. I’m always one for miniatures, but shuffling a deck, setting up some tokens, and playing within minutes works much better with a regular Joe’s schedule these days. And make no mistake, I’m just a regular Joe with a regular job.
It’s also important to note that I genuinely hate most deck builders out there because of their idiotic “play X to buy Y” mechanisms that most of the time have no rhyme or reason to them. The fact that THAT was the idea behind the game rather than “hey, let’s make a game about X or Y theme” is painfully obvious nine out of ten times.
Second, making another boardgame or RPG at this point would seem like too similar an endeavour to the already existing ones that are inching closer to their respective relaunches every day. Seems a little counterproductive.
And third, card games are probably the easiest games out there to get to a playtesting stage: you don’t even need a printer to just jot down some notes on rectangular pieces of paper and pass them around to see if they make sense. Which is not far past how this whole thing started.
So, what is it?
I know, I know, it doesn’t look like much, but bear with me...
NXTCG is a card game that’s had various component modules similar to those from some of my favourite games and gaming experiences added in to hopefully make it much more than a simple exchange of coloured pieces of cardboard. Or it will be, once I’m done with it.
Right now the only colour on that cardboard is in the sleeves they’re placed in and the Warhammer Invasion cards I’m using as backing...
To that end, once NXTCG is all ready to meet the world, you can expect a bit of dice chucking, a bit of deck building, bidding for Helots, combat galore, and a thick glazing of Nexus-style chaos that takes place both in and out of the arena.
Think Blood Bowl: Team Manager taking Star Realms out on a date and nine months later this happens. Only Star Realms never wanted to put out, so Blood Bowl had to Cosby it for the win.
If all of this shapes up the way I’m envisioning it, and the way I know Scott and Jason are always looking to have Nexus products look, it will also be a gorgeous, tactile experience, because nobody likes to play Spreadsheet: the Game.
In hindsight, Scott loves chess, so who knows?
So, how did you do it?
The original idea I had for this was much more similar to the boardgame: a 1v1 card game with two Lanistas playing prebuilt decks, their Helots duking it out to see who’s the sole survivor of a bloody bout. It had cards that could be employed for multiple purposes: think the aforementioned Invasion. Can you tell I used to love Eric Lang back when his designs were innovative and Twitter keyboard diarrhea wasn’t a thing?
The idea was that you wouldn’t be stumped for choices or have your ass kicked by a shit draw, and a general I-go-u-go sequence to it. All of that had layers of strategy added via the abilities and options that each Helot could perform each turn.
It was, for all intents and purposes, a distilled version of the boardgame, albeit with fewer dice.
But that just wasn’t really cutting it, so after letting the whole thing stew, forgetting the stove on, overcooking it, letting it die, decay, and sprout mold for a few months, I revisited it during the early COVID scare of 2020, i.e. March.
I decided that the spirit and style of the universe deserved more than a streamlined copy of an experience that - for all intents and purposes - already existed. And even though I’d poured a considerable amount of hours in building up cards, Helots, Lanistas, and all assorted paraphernalia, I decided that scrapping everything and starting over was the best course of action.
So, a few days later once the self-pity and booze-induced headache had fully worn off, I put finger to keyboard and started writing up a whole new take on the matter. Straight up, storytime writing. I jumped into this with a sales-pitch style rulebook, laid down my thoughts on the concept and sprinkled some D-Verse appropriate slang to fluff it all out.
For me, it worked much better than trying to write out a stale, drab gameplay sequence...
Things started growing from there, and soon thereafter I had a decent framework built out of nothing but brain droppings. Some basic structure and a lot of “hey, let’s see if this works” cards later and I had the first working copy of the game, which you’ve seen picture above.
So, what now?
I’ve been through a very early playtesting process already and the pieces used for development left something to be desired in terms of fitting in with the actual game and making the experience pleasurable early on. I didn’t really want to go through something of the sort again. To me, this hobby is about enjoying every aspect of a game, and we’re going to be playtesting this beast for a while before we’re able to get any proper eye candy going, so it was time to improvise.
Seeing as I’m a bit of a snob and a lucky enough one to have access to a good deal of Nexus-specific items and tokens, I set upon building myself the glorious playset environment that I knew would make it easier to get through those repeated, fragmented, and very likely slogging plays that lay ahead.
It also gave me the best excuse to buy a space themed game mat that can also double as a background for any X-Wings I might bring to the table. So I’m actually saving money here.
Just in case my wife asks.
Armed with about 200 brand new Legendary sleeves (because this game WILL be legendary and I couldn’t find any more of the old Warhammer Ghal Maraz ones) and dozens of older ones I had just lying around, I set upon putting together this v0.2 incarnation of NXTCG.
What I quickly learned is that more than just winging it would be necessary in order to get the game’s economy and phases chugging along nicely, but more on that in a future entry.
So, what did you learn?
Several things stand out from this initial solo, multiple-months endeavor, and I feel that all of them are positive.
First, it doesn’t take a lot to think up a concept and get it to a reasonable working stage where it can be shared with a small group of playtesters, albeit ones close to the project to begin with. My wife was the first unlucky individual to have this concept unleashed upon her, and judging by how she’s been twitching and talking to herself ever since, I think I’m on the right track.
Second, being married to the first incarnation of a concept never bodes well because having to cut yourself from it and move in a completely different direction is very likely early on…
Having to step away might be hard and might mean that a lot of brain power and notes just go to waste, but sometimes simply werfing some flammen on it all is necessary for things to grow back stronger and evolve in the right direction.
And third, and probably most importantly, there’s no reason why you can’t go that extra mile in making things enjoyable for yourself. There’s a lot of effort and time that’s going into any project of this kind, and you never even have the certainty that it will see the light of market day. Might as well make sure that you end up putting the final touches on it with the same amount of excitement as you did going in.
Stay tuned for more entries to this series where we’ll be getting into less of me waxing lyrically about the process and more of the actual mechanisms of the game.
Thanks for reading, and have as nice a day as you deserve!
P.S. hey, Radu, look at me working from home, bitch!
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