Draftcard is now available!
As I mentioned previously, I had thought that sports would be an interesting context to use a drafting mechanic. It was also around this time that I started to become interesting in using generic game pieces that most people would have access to. So constraints, then: A deck of playing cards. Up to six-sided dice. And ideally, the rules would fit on a sheet of paper.
What to draft was the next major task. Drafting players would be the obvious thing to do, and that could work for a sports management game. I elected to try a match where player position mattered. Face cards became teams and unused cards became the playing field. Moving cards on top of cards is, in hindsight, a terrible idea, but it took a few revisions before unused cards became the boundary of the playing field.
The first iteration of abilities were changing position (move based on rank), shooting (move the ball based on rank), a defensive dash (move a space; intercept the ball in cardinal directions), and hustling (resolve earlier). I chose ability names to mnemonically match the suit; at this time, the joker didn't have a name, but gave a +1 bonus to a card on the player.
This didn't work at all. Instead of a team-based game, coaches (the actual players) would stack all of their abilities on one player (a face card) who, as a super athlete, shoot the ball from near the start directly into the goal or dash 3/4 of the field into the goal. One approach to fix this would be to add another rule, that each player can only have one ability assigned. Doing so wouldn't have fixed the underlying problems with the abilities.
Problems, then: Players couldn't do what they needed to do. Moving is pretty essential in a sport, and having to draft that ability encouraged stacking it all on one player. Just letting players move helped with that, but it wasn't enough. Shooting, I eventually realized, was also essential to encourage players passing the ball between them. But players didn't need to do both each turn—and letting them do so encouraged super athletes.
Another major problem was that players didn't understand the importance of the draft. This was more of a problem with all the abilities played on one player, but the main issue was that so many of the ablities were useless for one team. Shooting didn't help the defense; defensive cards didn't help the offense. Hustle only mattered for the player who had the most, which would be enough to cause game-winning plays. In this context, it was difficult to see which cards mattered since most of them didn't, and the ones that did matter did so by preventing the opposing team from achieving their goal at least for the defense.
I addressed this in two ways: First, changing the cards to be qualitatively different, and second, by making the abilities useful to both sides. The qualitative changes were easiest, giving each ability a direction related to the rank with a fixed strength instead of a variable-strength but flexible ability.
Making the abilities benefit both sides took significantly more time. Many iterations gave each card different abilities based on whether the team was offense or defense. This made drafting even harder to follow while denying players abilites they wanted to use because they were on the wrong side. What really helped guide the actions was identifying dashing—moving an extra space in a given direction at the time—as being the most interesting card to play and stealing—just taking the ball from the opponent in a direction—was boring to play even though it was essential. Getting rid of the arbitrary distinction between abilities and sides was the last part to fall into place, but it was essential to enable players to make interesting plays and (finally!) make drafting a bit more understandable and worthwhile for players.
So try Draftcard and let me know what you think. It's free if you have a deck of cards and a die/coin/ball marker.