Drawing From A Dead Man

Dead Man's Draw

In learning how to run a successful Kickstarter, I’ve been researching many campaigns that are similar in nature to my card game, Vye. Dead Man’s Draw is one of them. It’s a ‘press your luck’ card game with a pirate theme. It’s developed by Stardock Entertainment who have been making video games for the last 20 years. You can find a link to their Kickstarter here. Regretfully, they didn’t reach their funding goal.

However, it’s not the kickstarter that I’m interested in talking about today. I want to talk about the game itself, specifically the iOS version. I have found myself playing it almost constantly over the last week and a half. It’s become that thing that I do when I should be doing something else. The game is beautiful, the music is well done, the sound effects convey the point of the action and the gameplay is exceptionally solid and fun. I’ve even spent money on the game, something I almost never do with a mobile game. As a video game developer this is sad, I know, but there are better things for me to spend my money on… like paying off my debt.

Mind Bullets of Inspiration

For this post, I’m going to use this game as a brainstorming tool to inspire new ideas and designs that fit within the existing model of Dead Man’s Draw. This early phase of development is always one of the most fun and I thought it would be fun to experiment with it here on the blog. So, before I get into that, I should give a short breakdown of the game.


DMD GameplayThe cards are broken down into 10 different suits that all number from 2-7 in point value. Every turn you flip over a card and place it on the table. This is the pot. At any point during your turn you can collect the cards in the pot or chose to reveal another card. However, if you draw two cards of the same suit you’ve busted and you lose all the cards in the pot. If you haven’t busted and you feel you’ve pressed your luck enough, you collect the cards in the pot and they go in a stack in front of you and that’s the end of your turn. You score only the highest card in a suit and the person with the most points wins.

What Makes It Interesting

On the surface, the game is rather simple. Pick a card and weigh your odds that the next card will not be a matching suit. However the game gets interesting when you learn that many of the suits have special properties on them. The cannon forces your opponent to discard a card from their stack. The sword lets you can take an opponents cards and add it to the pot. The map lets you pull from the discard pile. Choosing what card to destroy, put into play, or bring from the discard pile is the core strategy of this game.

Player Traits Make All the Difference

DRD TraitsThe game lets you add traits to your character that you use during your match. These are passive, meta game changers that give you another degree of customization and control over the game. There are a dozen or so traits and they range from things like, “When you use a cannon, you destroy all the cards of that suit” to “When mermaids are drawn they’re work an additional 5 points to you” to “You bank your opponents cards when they bust.” You can take any two into a match with you. Traits give a rough battle plan when you start a game. Where things go from there is up to you and Lady Luck.

A Brainstorm of New Ideas

This is always the fun part in game development, sitting around and dreaming up what you’d like to see in a game. It’s easy and inspiring. It’s even easier when you already have a fun game to work from. You don’t have to get concerned with the design of the game because it’s already figured out. You don’t have to worry about budget, time or resources either. It’s great.

So, I’m going to play in Stardock’s sandbox for a bit an imagine some things I’d like to see in Dead Man’s Draw. I’m sure the developers have thought of all of these ideas and more. Game development always starts with big ideas that light up your eyes. The trick is then tearing everything away until that light becomes a laser beam of fun burning a whole into your frontal lobe… perhaps I should watch how I mix my metaphors.

  • Challenge Mode Across Phones: The game offers a 2 player mode where you can hand the phone back and forth to someone you’re sitting next to. This is nice and I did it with my son and had fun doing it. However, the real enjoyment comes from being able to challenge someone on my Game Center friends list, similar to Ticket to Ride, Words With Friends or Draw Something. I would like it to follow the Draw Something model and be able to challenge not just one friend, but multiple friends to different games.
    • Also, another potential monetization options would be to give the player one, two or three ‘live games’ for free and then charge gold or money for additional game slots.
  • 3-4 Player Mode: I’d like to see how the game plays against more than just the two players. The card game works this way, so I’m assuming the mobile game could as well. This could be opened to the multiplayer mode as well, allowing for games with up to four friends.
    • Maybe you could charge gold to unlock the 3 and 4 player slots as well.
  • Well Designed Rewards: I’ll admit, I like being rewarded for doing something, especially if I enjoyed doing it in the first place. Giving trophies, achievements or in Dead Man’s Draw perhaps ‘boons‘ is an excellent way to encourage people to continue playing.
    • However, they have to be designed correctly. Just saying “Win 100 matches to earn this trophy” might as well just say “Mindlessly grind to earn this useless trinket.” If the base game is fun, players will likely do it anyway and you might get some of them that go the extra mile to earn the trophy, but it won’t be many.
    • Instead, boons need to challenge the player to think about the game differently – to play the game differently. You need to create goals, like mini-missions for them to go out and try and complete. Things like, “Catch 22: End a game with exactly 22 points”, “All In: Use a card from every suit in a single turn,” “Beat ‘Em At Their Own Game: Defeat an opponent using the same traits as they are.” Each of these makes me want to jump into the game, and try and complete it, despite the reward I may or may not get at the end of it.
    • If the game is fun to begin with, players will want to complete trophies like this because of the challenge, not the reward.
    • Players want an excuse to continue to play a game they like, tailored correctly, trophies can be that excuse.
    • That being said, you should still try and reward them. In the case of Dead Man’s Draw I would suggest a two fold reward.
      • The first being pure gold. The harder the challenge the more gold earned. That alone will help drive player incentive.
      • Secondly, I’d look at adding in the next suggestion below.
  • Captain’s Quarters: Here you see all your Pirate Booty that you’ve amassed as you play the game. Every object is a memento of a previous battle.
    • All your trophies are here and you can display a handful of them on the mantle above the fire place to admire (perhaps they even give you a slight meta bonus depending on which ones you have displayed).
    • Your map table has eclectic little trinkets from the different lands (tournaments) you’ve visited spread around it.
    • Above your Captain’s bed are the prizes you’ve claimed from each of the other captains in the game (the AI characters). Each one unique to the personality of that character and likely very difficult to obtain.
    • Finally, there are the bounties rolled up next to the fireplace. These are the men and women that you want to take down in Dead Man’s Draw, other real world players. You can look through the scrolls and see who you want to track down and challenge to a match. Your own bounty is stuck to a wall with a knife, like a badge of honor. The more players you defeat, the higher your level, the more your own bounty is raised. If you continue to hold your standing, you’ll earn rewards.
  • Expanded, Deeper Characters: Currently your character in the game is your name and level, the traits you’ve picked/purchased and a image. Deepening this choice would help player investment.
    • Imagine if every image was actually a true character, with his own ‘Captain’s Quarter’ theme.
    • He could have vendettas against other characters, earning extra gold if he made a point to fight them on a regular basis.
    • He could also have alliances with other characters, coming to their aid in 3-4 player battles, or simply by loaning gold, or a trait charge to the character. This unlocks a benefit the next time you had to play cards against them (the first time they could score, take or destroy one of your cards, there is a chance they wouldn’t and instead tell you thanks for the help). This leads into the next idea.
  • Campaigns: Each character (Black Bonnie, Scurvy Pete, etc) has their own set of missions that the player completes, earning rewards, learning about the characters and pulling them deeper into the world of Dead Man’s Draw. The missions would amount to different ways of playing the tournaments with just some narrative put into why you’re doing it.
    • There would be a couple lines to establish the motive of each character: “Scurvy Pete: As much as I love the sea, I love my old Gilly that much more. I miss her so and must see her again.” This sets up Scurvy Pete’s goal, get home to Gilly.
      • The first mission would then tell the player, “Battle Black Bonnie to get the location of a boat to go to Gilly.” When you defeat her, she tells you she knows of a boat that could take you there, but you’ll have to prove yourself to the Captain before he’ll let you on the crew.
      • The next mission would from the Captain of the boat, “If you want on my crew, you’re going to have to show me you’re good cards.” Once you defeat the Captain, he’ll say something like, “Not bad, but you best take care. We’re sailing into stormy weather and there are many dangers ahead.”
      • The next mission reads, “During your journey home, a great storm rises up and terrible ship comes out of the water sailing on the backs of sea creatures like a tidal wave.” In this mission you battle a Davy Jones sort of character who uses krakens and mermaids to stop Pete from getting home.  After that battle, I’d likely stop after there. Three missions are good, but you could go on, and even have other adventures with the different characters and challenges. Hell, you could even have different packs that players could download that have mission campaigns, new art, traits and other things added in.

Dead Man's Draw

Well, that’s my list of pie in the sky things I’d like to see with this game. I really enjoyed making the list, almost as much as I enjoy playing the game. Perhaps I’ll do something similar to this for other games if anyone else found this interesting. Any ideas you’d like to see in the game that I might have missed?


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