Hatchlings Games

Web Gaming 2.0 Revolution

Life of a Pawn II – Encephalon v2.1

A few weeks back, Hatchlings Games Lead Game Designer no-wing posted an article, Life of a Pawn. The popular article was a by-product of a certain discussion by our game design team. We were trying to resolve certain issues with Encephalon’s gameplay mechanics.

Granted, no game developer has infuse elements of trading card into a board successfully yet.  And granted that Michael Ooi, Lead Game Designer of an older Malaysia-based game development studio, John Galt Games did highlight to us an old but defunct trading card / board game called Guardian was fairly successful during its time. At one point, we switched our approach to the design of Encephalon from a trading card game perspective to a board game perspective. We analyzed Chess; one of the key features of Chess was the role of the Pawn.

Our latest changes to the game design (let’s call it Encephalon v2.1) have turned a Creature Card‘s life to one that resembles the Chess pawn. Let’s recall that Encephalon is a game with upgradable, customizable, tradable cards on a Chess-like BOARD. Note that Creature Cards in Encephalon < 2.0 could move x amount of squares, in any direction, every turn.

In Encephalon v2.1, a Creature Card by default cannot move more than 1 square. Unlike the Chess Pawn which can only moving forward, the basic Encephalon Creature can move backwards and also left and right along the board ranks. Also unlike the Chess Pawn, you cannot get promoted if you get to the other side of the board. Note that in an older version of design, way back when Encephalon was called by the codename BattleChess, Creatures Cards at the opposite end of the board can use action points to “attack the opponent”. The attack reduces the opponent’s life & resource, which was a shared resource.

Let’s come back to Creature Cards in Encephalon v2.1, where they only move 1 square. Game mechanics design decisions are mostly made to solve design problems (i.e. too much noise, dominating strategy, etc). And the reason we adopted this mechanics was to balance and to control the mobility factor of cards.

There was a major problem that Iris and I noticed during playtesting where mobility was a dominating strategy for a player. At one point using mobile creatures to control territory could be a one of the strategy for players. Mobility control & balancing became a major problem after we changed a subtle but game-changing battle mechanics that improved both the player’s tactical and strategic choices. No-wing or I could write about that change if there are enough requests for it through comments.

Now that most Creature Cards can only move one square, we found a REAL use for the next type of card – the Field Cards (i.e. terrain cards which modifies the board grid that they are placed on). Players can now play multiple Field Cards to form shapes (e.g. Tetris shapes). Each Field Card has a list of shapes which if formed accordingly will activate a certain stated ability. Each individual Field Card in a particular associated shape will grant Creature Cards on them a corresponding ability. Note that for Encephalon v2.1 Field Cards are not modifiable.

A major ability of the Field Card is Creature Card Launching. This is similar to the Chess Pawn’s first move; In Chess, the Pawn can move two squares during its first move. With good emergent gameplay rules for the deployment of Field Cards (which we believed we have), players who wishes to deploy mobility strategy can plan for it. Since the player has to plan for it, positional control using and giving mobility control becomes a concrete and deployable strategy. This feature allows emergent gameplay where players pit their deployment planning skills against each other.

The interaction and synergy between the Creature and Field cards due to the changes made in Encephalon v2.1 fixes many “noise” problems found in Encephalon < 2.0.

Related Links:

January 17, 2007 - Posted by | Encephalon, Game Design, Trading Card Game


  1. Reminds me of a particular ps2 game Im still addicted on called Disgaea. Pretty much similar in concept but with a some twist. The blocks game board is randomly covered with a certain color. Now these colors have no special attr or abillites. However, the game board consists of colored triangles where each triangle posseses a unique ability ( some are advantages..while other could cripple your strategy). Now these colored triangles would only affect color blocks which they are allocated at. Of course, these triangles are movable by the players and their opponents.

    Comment by cinod_79 | January 17, 2007 | Reply

  2. Cinod_79,

    Hatchlings co-founder and game designer, Zie Aun (no-wing) is a big fan of Disgaea.

    Comment by Slade | January 17, 2007 | Reply

  3. That is cool!

    Comment by cinod_79 | January 18, 2007 | Reply

  4. Yeah man. You guys can talk about it all day.

    Comment by Slade | January 19, 2007 | Reply

  5. […] Life of a pawn II by Slade – NEW! […]

    Pingback by What is Noise in Game Design? « Breaking Through | July 11, 2007 | Reply

  6. […] Life of a Pawn and Life of a Pawn II […]

    Pingback by How to activate your creative state « Hatchlings Games | July 5, 2009 | Reply

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