Friday, June 7, 2024

So what is a foundation deck?

 Button Shy’s June Kickstarter is Mysticana: A Foundation Deck. I haven’t finished making a copy of the demo version but I did want to get some thoughts out before the Kickstarter ends.

(And, yes, I can make a functional copy with a regular deck of cards. However, let’s be honest, artwork does make a difference in how a game feels. Also, the built-in rock-paper-scissors of Mysticana’s element system is a good visual shorthand)

So, what is a foundation deck? That just sounds like a way of saying a game system that you can try and copywrite. Well, it turns out a foundation deck is a subset of game systems. 

A game system is a set of components that you can use to play multiple games with. A standard deck of cards is the most quintessential example that I can think of. Even the most conservative estimates say there are over a thousand games you can play with the regular deck of cards.

A foundation deck is a game system where you add additional cards for different games. Some games just require the base deck but you can modify the deck with other cards for specific games.

This isn’t a new concept. Looney Labs Looney Pyramids is totally a foundation system. Almost all its games (at least the good ones) add things like boards and dice or other stuff. And I think there’s nothing wrong with that. Yeah, the purity of a game system that uses a core set of components is appealing but purity tests are just for gate keeping.

What I think will make or break Mysticana is whether or not it has a killer app. If a game system has one really good game, one that people want to play, then it will have legs. A game system can survive having plenty of meh games as long as it has one good one. Poker is a great example of a game system’s killer app, although the standard deck of cards has a whole bunch of them. (Being around for centuries helps with that)

And I don’t know the answer to that yet. It’s not even a decision I can come to. It will end up being a community call.

I was very pleased that the designer diary explicitly mentions the Decktet as a major influence. A six-suited deck with multi-suited cards, the Decktet remains one of the most flexible game system decks I have found that isn’t just a modified standard deck. And it’s killer app, Magnate, requires additional components so it’s a foundation deck too.

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