It’s Time for Adventure: A Postmortem to Our Adventure Time Card Game

9-17-2012 Posted by: RobotAdventure

This past weekend, Mike and I participated in the Adventure Time Game Jam, an Adventure Time themed 48 hour game making bonanza! But we decided to mix some things up and try to make a non video game. So, on Friday, we embarked on making an Adventure Time Card Game!

Here’s a rundown of the good and bad and how it compares to making video games.

As designers, we are never really confined to a computer. Game design is never limited to a virtual space. So we wanted to dip our toe in the water of the tabletop. Turns out the water is just fine, and we learned a lot about making card games and games in general.

Check out the game here for some context!

Since we knew the theme early, Mike and I were able to get a headstart without actually starting on the game. Since we knew we wanted to make a card game, we knew we needed cards. We got to work looking for anything that could be a card and started making lists of references to the show. We had excel sheets of items, main characters, minor characters, locations, and even quotes. Though we had seen every episode of the show, we spent some time watching some of our favorites.

We also played some of the board games and card games we had on hand and made mental notes of the elements we liked and the parts that seemed to drag on.

Normally, this time in a game jam would be spent choosing your software and taking time to familiarize yourself with it. For us, this time was spent translating our mind set from video to tabletop and from reality into Adventure Time!

Visualizing a Paper Game
In my opinion, the smoothest part of the game jam was the brainstorming. Partially because I knew what kind of card game I wanted to make, but also it was the medium we were working in.

If we had an idea or any confusion as to what the other was talking about, visualizing the game was just a few index cards and a couple of scribbles away. Visualizing our concept was never a problem because we could take a first pass at a paper prototype in literal seconds. The best part was since we were making a paper game, these paper prototypes and visualizations directly represented the final product.

Your best friend when making card games

Normally in game development, it is hard to know exactly what your brainstorming partners are talking about and how the final game will look. There is so much translation that must occur to get your sketches and mock ups into a digital realm that you never really know what the final product will be. When it comes to tabletop games, a large portion of the translation process is cut out. Forming a representative mental picture of what your game is less of a problem.

Paper Prototype for a Paper Game
It was a much longer journey playtesting the full game than it was visualizing it. Even though creating the cards was simple (again, index cards are your best friends), we still had to design each individual card AND THEN write down each card. With nearly 80 cards, there were a lot of sore wrists.

Changes to a single card were extremely easy, even during the game itself. It was just a matter of crossing out a number. However, changing ALL the cards was a headache. Blanket changes weren’t so bad because we were able to say “All these cards also do x” and still be able to play the game. However, if the change stuck, we still had to change the wording on all the cars.

New game mechanics were a breeze unless they required card changes. It was just a matter of stating a new rule and it was playable

Like video game development, iteration was key but became a very different beast. In video games, changes to mechanics can be moderately annoying, but can be seen immediately. For the card game, it was a much different beast. Changes that were very minor, such as to a core mechanic, would take but a few words and have a huge impact on a game, but rebalancing all the values of a type of card or adding a new type of card could have a very subtle impact. Of course, depending on the video game, this could be the case as well.

Content Creation
Designing the cards took time, but wasn’t terribly difficult. What was interesting for our game was that we wanted to draw from the theme of the game jam as much as possible. To make our cards, we came up with a long list of relevant material from the show and then designed the cards to fit what we had found. I can’t speak for Mike, but, personally, a lot of design decisions were made based off of the source material and then balanced after rather than creating a balanced game and skinning it with our theme.

In retrospect, i wonder how different the game would be if I made the game first and then added the theme on top. Luckily the source material was massive enough that we rarely had to force a part of the theme into the game. We were able to pick and chose our references that best fit our ideas.

Since this is a discussion of inspiration and not process, the same goes for video games.

By far, the hardest part was creating the final cards.

Sure the paper prototype were time consuming, but they were easy. They didn’t have to be visually perfect or even entirely consistent (though we kept the prototype as consistent as possible, and it helped a lot).
When it came to actually creating the cards, it was a long, long grind in photoshop. Mike designed out the card layout while I found screenshots from Adventure Time. Then, we simply made card by card changing the name, the effect, the picture, the font size, re aligning text, etc, etc. It was made worse by the fact that it was the last thing we did after all our energy and enthusiasm had been used the rest of the weekend.

I feel this was the weakest part of our development, not on the product’s end but on the process itself. Since we had to make every card by hand and across two people, consistency became a big issue. Since all the cards were in two places, the excel sheets and the photoshop files, I know I made grammatical or wording changes that were not propagated to both places or to every card.

In games, I feel like this is much more manageable. The consistency across the game mechanics or even wording is made easier by tools available to the developer or even that the developer could make. For example, if I wanted every card type x to give one more reward, I could change a base value somewhere and, if the system I created was strong enough, the change would automatically be pushed out to all the pieces. Even if it is a matter of text, it is much easier to import the data directly from a single source to use within the game.

In the end, Mike and I are both very happy with our final product and would would definitely make more table top games.

My one regret is not looking into the data to card process a little more. Creating a better pipeline would be absolutely vital in anything longer than 48 hours.

You can download a pdf for the game here!
If you are awesome enough to play it, we would love feedback. Since it was a game jam, our playtesting really took a hit.

You can send feedback to

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