HERO: The Card Game — Part 2: Development

In my humble opinion, having meaningful player decisions is vital to an engaging board gaming experience. Knowing that knowledge, skill and choices contribute to the outcome of the game gives players a sense of control. This control encourages players to take time to think about their strategy and moves, as every decision is meaningful and may be the difference of winning or losing.

In HERO: The Card Game, players make meaningful decisions during the drafting and the battling. They must decide carefully what strategies they want to employ to defeat their opponents. I reached out to G Wesley Cone, creator of HERO: The Card Game, to learn more about the development of his game. Wesley was happy to share with me how the game works, the balancing involved with development, and the challenges that he faced in the process.

Game Description:

HERO: The Card Game is a deck builder that seeks to bring modern tabletop gamers and card gamers to the same table.

Players attempt to destroy one another’s SkyBase(s) by using a combination of deckbuilding and drafting to build their hand of heroes and enhancements. Then, players build out a team of heroes or a singular buff boss-like hero in front of their SkyBase to defend it. Picking the right combination of heroes, attaching the right combination of stat bonuses and hidden abilities, determining the right timing for when to play cards to the field or keep them in hand, and building the right engine for a given situation are the key to breaking through the opposing engine and winning the game.

  • Engine-building
  • Drafting
  • Hand management
  • Hidden abilities

No Boosters. Know your opponent. Know yourself.

HERO: The Card Game is coming to Kickstarter soon. Make sure you follow the game on social media to keep up-to-date. Social media information can be found at the end of the article.

HERO is an acronym that stands for Healing, Enhancement, Recruitment, Offense. How was this developed?

This was one of the first decisions I made. I knew I wanted the ability to recruit and enhance heroes with more stats and abilities. In the early game, character stats actually increase each time they engage in conflict. This is no longer the case, and it is for the better ironically enough.

The key for me was: How much can players do on a turn? After a handful of early playtests that only lasted 1 turn each, something had to change. By breaking up the actions into separate turns, it stopped players from steamrolling their opponents. That is the nature of having nothing but overpowered (OP) heroes. Breaking up the turns worked out in spectacular and unintended ways.

The emphasis on player’s choice is not only better for preventing one-shot matches, but more importantly, it means that every choice comes at a cost. The depth of a singular choice is not always noticeable to the untrained eye which is part of what keeps the game fresh. When a player realizes just how vital timing is in this game, the decision-making becomes an unending journey of balancing short-term tactics against long-term strategy.

Lastly, I’m an English teacher and pastor. I know that people do well when the rules are clear. Simple and clean explanations are key. I am currently in the blind playtesting phase to make sure the written rules are as clean as the gameplay and the acronym, and I will soon have the rulebook fully fleshed out as well.

Why can you only do 1 each turn? Does this add to meaningful player decisions?

To follow up on the last question, essentially, only having one action per turn means every action is a sacrifice. Do I heal or recruit? Is it better to recruit more heroes or enhance the ones I currently have? What will my opponent do on their next turn? Should I go all in or hedge my bets?

After implementing the HERO action choice system, the problem of players one-shotting too early in the game (in my earliest playtesting) dissipated quickly, and more importantly, it actually introduced various styles of gameplay. To name only a few styles, players can now build highly aggressive (Aggro) decks, control decks, or even focus on building decks that create a long-term strategy of circumventing the action choice system itself.

There are tons of different cards with different functions ranging from offense, defense, disruption, etc. How were you able to balance the game?

I relied on spreadsheets and playtest sessions to help me balance the game. To clarify this reality: Spreadsheets fell out of my ears. I have run a couple hundred playtests in person and about 75 via PNP (print-n-play) — these are actually the same people that have joined the Facebook group. About 90–95% of those who have playtested/demo’d in person are following via Facebook or e-mail.

Balance is key for me. I hate card games and video games alike that “nerf” cards. I would rather have a whole bunch of overpowered cards that balance well together. To do this required a lot–I repeat–a lot of work. I rarely have anyone complain about a card being too overpowered (OP), but when they do, I ask them to use it against me and quickly turn the gameplay around on them. HERO balances cards through gameplay and decision-making more than it does through nerfing and boosting other cards. The system is solid and requires considering several moving parts that you may not at first consider to be part of the strategy.

As for archetypes and balance, this is a non-issue. Characters certainly have a base ability that they start with, but because you can teach any of your characters the rest of the abilities that you have either drafted or worked with from a pre-set deck, this is not a big issue. That said, different characters certainly start with a more supportive, tanky, or disruptive ability than others.

What was your biggest challenge when developing this game?

Gameplay grew and changed over time, but the changes have been easy. Even so, prototyping has been hysterical–every prototype has been my “final prototype.” Moreover, playtesting has had its difficulties because I always want fresh eyes. Albeit, this has not been the biggest challenge.

I can’t do art; I initially thought art would be the hardest part because I also didn’t have money, but I found an art style that didn’t require too much of the artist but also was something that I loved–clean and minimalistic in nature. And, I found an artist (Culpeo Fox who did Cutthroat Kingdoms for AEG Games) that took interest in what I was creating and wanted to help. The artist was very clear about what they needed from me in the way of character design, and I was easily able to provide this (as I have been world-building the entire time anyway for the novel I have in the wings).

All that said, the number one biggest challenge for me has been marketing. I am not a salesperson. When I can get people to play, they often want to buy it from me. They want to play again. They like thinking through the game, the strategy, and the tactics. My issue is not so much connecting with people who sit down and play. My issue is connecting with people when I am not at a convention and getting them to give it a shot. At board game conventions, my table stays busy. Due to demo time and the fun people have, even with a very busy table, I am typically only able to connect with about 40–50 people over the course of 2–3 days. Also, I can’t afford big conventions. If I knew I could make my money back or that I could connect with more than 40–50 people in such a short amount of time, I would absolutely commit the funds to make big conventions happen. Instead, I have made it to about 2–3 local free cons per year for the past 2 years. Slow growth, but it is all I am capable of. I have worked a good bit on Facebook to try to connect with others. I’ve offered PNP playtest opportunities, I’ve encouraged others in their gaming endeavors. I’ve built relationships tirelessly in the gaming community, but I’m far from perfect at this. In fact, I have certainly burned bridges along the way due to my early on stupidity and naivety that I have unfortunately been unable to fix, no matter how hard I try. Marketing is certainly not my strength. Due to this, I created a Facebook group for others like me; it’s called the Tabletop Marketing Collaborative, and I recruited an incredible team of moderators, who have all either been successful on Kickstarter in some form or are marketing professionals, that post new content almost daily.

Andrew Lowen, Wes Woodbury, Brian Fiore, and David Palmero make up one of the greatest teams of marketing group moderators I could ask for.

In what ways does HERO represent you as a designer?

I do not want to lead anyone on. HERO: The Card Game is a game that is meant to bring gamers together. I am a pastor and a public school teacher with a heart for all people. I tried to make the game in the vein of Lewis and Tolkien but with what some might call a softer “magic.” In fact, I prefer to simply use the word “abilities” to the word “magic.” I aimed for a diverse cast of heroes who come from many different backgrounds of life–but in a future world where society has changed to a tremendous effect. The game also has a solid showing of female characters in game–something that is often ignored in the gaming world. Lastly, I created the pre-set decks as an option for those who might not be quite ready to try to develop entire strategies in their deck-building initially and simply want to warm up to the style of play. This helps with connecting with a wide variety of gamer types and ages.

Social Media Information:

Facebook — facebook.com/groups/herothecardgame
Website — anthemcreations.com

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