One of the early lessons in game design when I started doing it for publication rather than as a pastime, and a lesson that stuck deep in my mental mud, was what Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions refers to as “remixology”, which is another way of putting the aphorism attributed to Pablo Picasso: “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
Now, of course, one doesn’t simply just steal an item and leave it readily identifiable as stolen, and it’s not very fulfilling to just put out someone else’s game as your own, so you steal pieces. In this case, for the card game I’m currently referring to as Daisho, I’m adapting* the travel mechanic from the Lord of the Rings card game, whereby the players move their protagonist group along a trail of nine cards representing sites in Middle-Earth, and which become more and more treacherous as the journey progresses towards its end goal. In Daisho, each ronin will walk a Path of cards, with all Paths leading towards the central point where the final showdown occurs.
In LOTR, though, each player picked out a specific stack of site cards and played them in sequence to form a single track on which all of the players were walking – the ultimate shape of this track was thus a conglomeration of all of the players’ site deck, and part of the strategy was in making sure you got to lay your locations in the appropriate spot instead of allowing your opponents to dictate the sites that appeared, as each site had effects on the encounter parameters (making specific enemies stronger, for instance).
I like that, but I also want this to be a fairly streamlined process for players; my experience with the LOTR system was that it wasn’t always easy for a new player to have control over the site path. Also, there’s a thematic strength to each ronin in Daisho having to walk their own lonely Path toward destiny, so instead of a central series of events that all players share, each player in Daisho will deal out their Path leading toward the central stronghold.
Another tweak I want to make is stolen from a different card game: the Vs. System (Marvel/DC) by Upper Deck, which allowed players to play any card as a potential resource (unlike in Magic, where the resource cards are a specific sort, and if you don’t get them, you don’t get to do things). Instead of making a specific Path stack, players deal out a certain number of cards from their deck face down to serve as the Path. The reward for overcoming the hazards that lurk along that Path is to pick those cards up and add them to hand once each enemy or obstacle is overcome.
Oh, and because I do want there to be a possibility of direct player-to-player confrontation, a few cards will open up the possibility of side-stepping onto another ronin’s Path. This also makes the strategy of what to include in a deck much more nuanced, since the choice card you’re hoping to use for your own strategy may be picked up as a Path card by an opponent and used against you!
* That’s a good word for it, right?