Today I wanted to talk about just a single mechanic – card drafting.
Now that’s pretty broad, but that’s kind of the point of this post. Card drafting can be used in a huge number of ways to add to a game’s experience. At it’s core, card drafting simply means players take turns looking at a set of cards, taking one (or more) of those cards to keep for themselves, then passing on to the next player to take one (or more) from that same set of cards.
Essentially, it’s a way to cut down on random chance inherent in, say, taking turns drawing off the top of a deck. The draft pool itself might be random. But the fact that players choose, in turn, which cards they want to actually keep makes drafting a more tactical pursuit.
So how can card drafting be used in different ways to craft very different game experiences?
Drafting IS the Game
Well, first there’s the idea that card drafting is the core mechanic of the entire game. A great example of this is Sushi Go Party! – players receive a set of cards, pick one, then pass the set to the player on their left. When the cards are done, players score points based on the cards they drafted. It’s a deviously simple gameplay mechanic that works well for Sushi Go Party! because there’s just enough set collection combinations to make the drafting interesting, and because the game is meant to be quick and light.
What’s great about the drafting mechanic being the entire game is that it’s inherently interactive. You’re trying to remember what cards the other players are keeping based on the constantly rotating sets of cards. So while, yes, you’re ultimately trying to make the best set of cards for yourself, a particularly savvy player can also try to screw their opponents by leaving them cards that will muck up their own plans to build the best sushi dinner.
I’m a fan of Sushi Go Party! because it’s a fantastic gateway game to introduce players to tabletop games, and because it still has enough replayability to appeal to more serious gamers. It’s a great example of a game that uses card drafting as the core mechanic without much fluff to bog down the things that make card drafting so fun on its own.
Drafting is the Pre Game
There’s plenty of games that use card drafting as a sort of “game before the game” to build a deck that will be used in the main game. Perhaps most famously is Magic the Gathering. I’m not quite up on my MTG history (although I’ve played the game since 1995), but I’m fairly certain the draft aspect was not something that was part of the game’s original design. Drafting became a thing when WotC and local game stores needed a way to get players to actually buy a bunch of random packs as opposed to just buying the cards they needed on the aftermarket.
Now, I’m a huge fan of MTG. And I love obsessing over creating the perfect deck. It’s really about 70% of the fun for me – similar to my obsession for creating the perfect squad list in X-Wing Miniatures. However, I also LOVE drafting from packs in Magic the Gathering, because it puts the focus back on the game itself, and not just the listbuilding aspect.
Players each start with a few packs of cards. They pick one, then pass to the player on their left. When all’s said and done, players will have a set of cards that they’ll then use to create the deck they’ll play the game with – some cards will be great, others not so great.
There are several other draft ‘formats’ for Magic the Gathering. I’m rather fond of the Winston method and the Backdraft method. I won’t go into detail here, but for the sake of this post, the important thing to know is that they’re just different ways to mitigate the random chance of drawing cards off the top of a deck. The players get to make conscious choices that will then affect how the main game plays out. Drafting becomes a fun experience prior to the game that replaces the private, time-consuming, and obsessive process of creating a deck from scratch.
Drafting is Part of the Game
There are other games in which card drafting is merely a part of the larger game. It’s just a minor mechanic that, again, is used to mitigate the randomness of simply drawing cards and being stuck with those.
One of my current faves that uses card drafting this way is Blood Rage. The card drafting in Blood Rage is only the starting phase of each round. What the players do with their cards is far more important. The cards are only a small part of this brilliantly designed game; elements of action selection, resource management, area control, and objective management are all much more important. But the cards do play a role in all of these – they determine the quests (objectives) a player can commit to, they determine the bonuses in combat (affecting the area conrol aspect), and they determine the upgrades the players can give their clans (changing the player’s overall strategy and helping them in a multitude of ways).
I really can’t speak highly enough about Blood Rage, and perhaps one of these days I’ll gather my thoughts a bit more coherently and write a Robot Plays post about it. However, for now, I will say this: the card drafting element – while small – adds a tremendous amount of fun to the game. It’s a minor mechanic, but it is far from ‘tacked on.’ It fuels the strategies that players can concoct, and there’s a lot of nuance as well – from players only getting to keep their cards when they lose a combat, to bluffing about the card you’re going to play in combat, and so much more.
What about you guys? What are some of your favorite games that use card drafting, and how does it add to the fun?
Until next time, gang. Keep it plucky,