Thursday, November 3, 2016

Drafting Pokemon #01: Silph Scope

Pokemon Origins

This year, I'm participating in National Game Design Month - or, NaGa DeMon, for short - like I've tried to succeed at before but didn't. I'm already a day late, so let's get to it.

Goal: Make a Pokemon drafting card game and playtest it with other people at least one time before November is over.

I'm aware I'm using an existing IP and whatever stigma and/or limitations comes with that. I'm unabashedly doing so because completing this project will achieve a game design goal I've never met: finish making a game. I love drafting in tabletop games, I love Pokemon, and I've had a fierce passion for this marriage of a game to become reality for months now. Let's make it happen before the fire goes out.


There are so many aspects of Pokemon, but keeping the scope of the game small is important for success. I'm focusing on: Pokemon battles. Getting gym badges, evolving pokemon with Fire Stones, and hatching eggs need not apply.

So, the following are a set of rules I've defined for what to include in this game, and I'll be going over the reasons for each:

  • Four-player drafting
  • Original 151 pokemon only
  • Later-generation moves allowed
  • Traditional 1-on-1 pokemon battles only
  • No pokemon or moves with Dark or Steel types
  • No EVs, IVs, or pokemon natures
  • No held items or bag items
  • No tracking PP
  • MAYBE no pokemon that have an evolved form
  • MAYBE no pokemon abilities
  • MAYBE no distinction between Physical and Special
"Yeah, but what will it be like?"
The beginning part of this game will be drafting pokemon and battle moves that those pokemon will use. After the drafting is done, players each choose which pokemon to form a team with and which moves will go on which pokemon. The final phase is battling 1-on-1 with one of the players, simulating the feel of battling on the handheld Pokemon games.

Pokemon Adventures

Four-Player Drafting

While I would normally like to allow for a flexible number of players for drafting like in other card games, I think allowing for that flexibility will increase complexity in design work, thus making the scope of this project larger. To keep things simple, we'll keep the number low.

Two players is too few for that drafting dynamic. Three players creates an awkward situation of having a player, when the drafting and "deck construction" is all done, wait for two other players to finish up battling before being able to play. Four players is just right - you can have two concurrent battles and each player has up to three opponents to play against.

Original 151 Pokemon Only

Pokemon currently has over seven hundred unique monsters to choose from. If each pokemon were a card, this is more than enough choices to choose from to include in the drafting card pool. I have to draw a line in the sand somewhere, and I think choosing to include only the first generation of pokemon is a solid move.

When folks are drafting this game, I want them to know for sure what kind of pokemon to expect. If I decided to include select pokemon from various games, I wouldn't want them unsure of whether or not Scizor was included in the drafting card pool since players might be planning ahead with their draft picks for rounding out their pokemon team. Providing a list of all the pokemon that were hand-selected adds some extra logistics that I don't want. It's easiest to say, "Original 151 pokemon is included."

Also, with the release of Pokemon GO and the type of audience I expect will be playing my game, the first generation is even more of a strong choice since they'd resonate most with the players.

Later-Generation Moves Allowed

Even though we're sticking with the original generation of pokemon as the pool of pokemon to choose from, newer moves from later generations will be included. Not all of them, but I see including some of them as necessary.

In Pokemon, there's a gameplay element of having pokemon types and each of those types have strengths and weaknesses when pitted against other types. The thing is, though, the moves that were present in Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue weren't really fleshed out that well to create a good balance of power.

One of Psychic's weaknesses is Bug, and Pin Missile was the best Bug move to use against Psychic, of which Jolteon, a non-Bug pokemon, was the best choice when attempting to take advantage of a super-effective attack - and it doesn't even do as much damage as Jolteon using an Electric attack instead!

The same goes for available Ghost moves to use against Psychic. As an example, Shadow Ball has been a boon in being able to have a great super-effective option against Psychic pokemon.

So, with the restriction of 151 pokemon only, we'll pick and choose moves that will balance out the gameplay with what pokemon types are available among pokemon.

Pokemon anime

Traditional 1-on-1 Pokemon Battles Only

Trying for any other kind of pokemon battle will just increase the complexity of this project for both creating it and for playing it. That's a bad thing. That is all.

No Pokemon or Moves with Dark or Steel Types

This might be a controversial decision, but because I'm deciding to only use the original generation of pokemon, no exceptions, then that means there are NO Dark pokemon available. Sure, we can have Dark moves, but it's potentially a feel-bad when you're drafting Dark moves and realize that you can never achieve the most damage with those moves using a Dark-type pokemon. Yes, this means one less weakness for the notoriously-powerful Psychic type, but that's where the designing comes into play to work with these restrictions.

With removing Dark and Steel types, this does mean that Magnemite will be a pure Electric type and that the move Bite will be a Normal type, like it used it be, instead of the Dark type it was changed into.

No EVs, IVs, or Pokemon Natures

Each individual pokemon on a battling team has a lot of complexity to it. There are stats, but there are actually these hidden values tied to these stats that affect them. And then there's the pokemon nature that yet tilt these stats more. When doing Pokemon battles, caring about this part is NOT capturing the essence of what makes Pokemon battling so much fun. 

Simplifying here is important. The pokemon's stats will be what it says they are on the card.

No Held Items or Bag Items

When participating in Pokemon tournaments, the rules already disallow for using items from your Bag (i.e. using a Super Potion on a Pokemon). As such, the same will be reflected for this card game.

However, a wonderful extra thing a pokemon can have going for it is having a held item. In the regular game, I think this is a great deepening of the gameplay for expanding the possibilities of types of pokemon teams. But, in this game, held items would be a third type of card to draft as well as add extra complexity (while can be good) that isn't needed. If we stripped away held items, we still have a functioning game. So, away with this.

No Tracking PP

Moves in the handheld Pokemon games have a limited number of uses, otherwise known as Power Points, or PP. Including this aspect wouldn't actually add to the fun of battling, would be a burden track logistically, and almost never is significant when actually battling.

Pokemon anime

MAYBE No Pokemon that Have an Evolved Form

What I mean by this is that Raichu would be in the game but Pikachu wouldn't be. I know - a Pokemon game without Pikachu in it. That's cray, right? So cray.

But, really, including a Grimer when there's Muk also available in the drafting sets a precedent for why it should matter that you have the Grimer. I want each game piece to matter. Which I could make matter if, say, you get an "evolutionary bonus" if you drafted both Grimer and Muk, and you can simply stack them and get a better Muk than if you had just drafted Muk by itself.

A reason to NOT disclude pokemon is so that players who have favorite pokemon can enjoy playing with them. Squirtles are awesome, and not seeing one in the draft ever can be a downer.

So... we'll SEE!

MAYBE No Pokemon Abilities

All right, so what I mean by "ability" is this extra gameplay element that a pokemon can have besides its stats and moves. For example, Gengar can know Levitate, which makes it immune to Ground-type moves used against it.

The concern I have is that some abilities trigger out-of-time with choosing moves. Some abilities have timing that are outside of the moment when you are looking through your choices of whether to switch pokemon or use one of your current pokemon's moves. 

Including them can add that exciting extra piece of information on a pokemon card drafting. Currently, if you drafted a pokemon, you might see information for its stats and its strengths and weaknesses (the moves it can learn is actually handled on each individual move card). It seems boring, so a pokemon ability printed on there, it might be more exciting to consider pokemon cards.

There's even an opportunity to have build-around abilities, like Hitmonchan's Iron Fist, which makes you want to draft all the moves that PUNCH!

Pokemon Emerald

MAYBE No Distinction Between Physical and Special

If I included all the stats a pokemon has now, it'd be:
  • HP
  • Attack
  • Defense
  • Special Attack
  • Special Defense
  • Speed
If I removed the distinction between physical and special, it'd look something like:
  • HP
  • Attack
  • Speed
The second one is great for lessening complexity of the game, but it may be lessening the complexity TOO much. Snorlax, for example, would have high HP and Attack and low Speed. There's not much opportunity to finding a weakness here. You just gotta hit hard with a Fighting-type move.

Another drawback is that there might be a lot of work reconfiguring existing Pokemon's stats to look correct. Alakazam is a glass cannon that hits hard with Special Attack, but it might be too weird to take advantage of its high Attack to do a hard hit like Mega Punch.

The original Pokemon games had:
  • HP
  • Attack
  • Defense
  • Speed
  • Special
In this case, both Special Attack and Special Defense are applied in the Special stat. This doesn't really work for Exeggutor who has a high Special Attack but low Special Defense currently.

In the end, I think I'll go with how the stats are now. I just hope that this doesn't cause board complexity and decision paralysis when drafting and playing in battles. We'll see how it goes.

Pokemon official art

That's a TM35

With the stage set with the above limitations, I can get started on the design. As more of the game is defined and more design choices made, these rules may evolve over time to fit the needs of the game or to debunk anything I had assumed before would be a bad or good thing.

Thanks for following, and if you have any feedback, feel free to leave a comment on the social media platform or comment section of your choice.