Friday, January 13, 2012

The Art of Power: Design Conundrum

I'm working on a new game for this year, working title The Art of Power. I've got a little practical design issue I'm running into.

In the game, I have four attributes and they are associated with the four suits on playing cards.

The attributes are:
Violence, Authority, Affection, and Influence

These map metaphorically to the card suits, at least in my mind: Spades (originally swords) is Violence, clubs is Authority (club relating the the scepter), Affection is naturally hearts, and Influence is diamonds (or coins, since money falls in this category).

This is great, pretty logical, but runs into a problem. The order in which I list these above is the proper hierarchy in the game, but when mapped to the suits this goes against the standard suit hierarchy of card games (spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs). I could remap the attributes, but that separates hearts from Affection, which will seem counter-intuitive to a lot of players, but I am also worried that changing the standard card hierarchy makes things difficult, since many players will be familiar with this.



  1. Ignore the "standard" suit hierarchy and go with what works. I mean, there are many games that as part of it invert or don't care about the standard hierarchy.

  2. Personally I had no idea that there was an existing card hierarchy, so I think there's a good chance that a lot of people won't have these preconceptions.

    More to the point though, I think it's way more important to draw those conceptual lines between the attributes and the suits than to preserve the existing suit hierarchy. A new suit hierarchy can be learned fairly easily I think, but trying to understand why, say, Authority is Hearts rather than Affection is going to require some mental gymnastics and strange justifications. Either that or it'll seem completely arbitrary.

  3. Keep your own hierarhy. Players will be able to adapt to it quickly.

    Their are other standards around anyway. Here in Germany we commonly use Clubs, Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, relating to the national card game "Skat".

  4. I'm a pretty avid card and poker player and the suit hierarchy never crosses my mind when playing cards are used in a different game. It seems to me that going with the logic that fits your game makes much more sense.

  5. Cool! Using my own logic definitely seems to be the consensus so far, and that's actually a relief. It makes a lot more internal sense to the game that way.

  6. I agree - Create your own heirarchy, but consider reinforcing it somehow in the graphic design of the suits (assuming you're actually going to have your own cards rather than using a standard playing card deck). Perhaps Spades are completely filled in, Clubs are lighter grey, Diamonds are thinly barred and Hearts are hollow.
    Alternately, consider including a "cheat" card, that is the same size as the rest of the deck, but which includes the hierarchy in a graphic form (along with any other "quick reference" rules you think would be useful?)

  7. One approach would be to teach them in the conventional order used in player cards. For the character sheet, order them in the more meanigful way for your particular game. The character sheet can remind them of the different hierachy while the rules give them something to latch onto.
    Good luck.

  8. Jess, yes, with cards you can do nice table references, great suggestion.

  9. Agreed on all counts that your game should hold true to its own internal logic. Don't worry about any preconceptions over traditional suit hierarchy. (I had no idea there was a traditional suit hierarchy.)

  10. If it was me, I would take a bit to wonder: What would this game look like if the hierarchy was Violence, Affection, Influence, Authority? That is, if I mapped the way that made sense conceptually but preserved the traditional hierarchy?

    It probably doesn't make sense to do it that way, but I would at least take the time to think about it, and to sit with why the cards ended up ranked that way traditionally.

    Probably, though, I'd end up discarding the traditional hierarchy. I think everyone who commented is spot on and I don't think many people would care.

  11. I also find myself thinking: What do different hierarchical arrangements say about the world that they describe? Could hierarchies in a setting change over time, as the world changes? I'm sure you've already thought a lot about these kind of possibilities.

  12. Julian, good point. The Art of Power is simulating a medieval/early renaissance social structure, but you could do some interesting things by rearranging them.

  13. I actually really like the idea of a game where the hierarchy is the apparently traditional one, but the skills lower on the hierarchy cost less to play:

    You can use authority all the time, but it doesn't win many ties, you can use influence, but it has a cost, trying to take advantage of people's affection for you has an even greater cost, and violence has the greatest cost of all.

    In my imaginary game, fallout from events would be caused by looking at what cards you discard, and cards would be discarded more readily if beaten by other cards, and if they are of more powerful suits.

    Which could be cool, but it's not your game! Hope you don't mind me jumping off it.

  14. I don't mind at all! Thanks for taking the time to comment, your idea is an interesting one.