Grand Illusion: The Drafting Mechanic

Preliminary Logo

Today I continue with my open design for a game based on Victorian era magicians and illusionists. Two weeks ago I talked about the core mechanics of the game. I also mentioned the “currency” in the game being the different types of magic.

What this will ultimately boil down to is a set collection card game with a drafting mechanic and an inherent build up as players try to complete their secret Grand Illusion.

Note: I have not yet decided if I want each player’s Grand Illusion to be secret or not. If it is public then the drafting mechanic becomes more important as you can see what types of magic your neighbors may be working towards. And if you can see their magic types then you may want to take a sub-optimal card because it would have been a great card for them.

So let’s talk a bit about the drafting mechanic.

The Grand Illusion Drafting Mechanic

If you are unfamiliar with “drafting” here’s how it works:

  • You are dealt a bunch of cards.
  • You choose one card and keep it.
  • You pass the rest of the cards to your neighbor.
  • You receive the cards from your other neighbor.
  • You choose one of these new cards and keep it.
  • You pass the rest of the new cards to your neighbor.

Well, I’m not doing it quite like that. I want there to be a more random feel.

The struggle with making an awesome drafting mechanic is in the consideration of how you want players to feel throughout the process. I want the players to feel like magicians while playing this game. So how could my drafting mechanic incorporate that feeling?

I think there should be an element of sneakiness. Magicians utilize sleight of hand and I want an element similar to that. So I would want players to be able to have moments where choosing the right card was rewarding like a successful sleight of hand.

The question is: How do I accomplish that?

I would feel sneaky (or wise or clever) if:

  1. I put a bad card in someone else’s hand.
  2. I put a great card in a hand I knew I would receive.
  3. I was able to prevent another player from a great hand.
  4. I was able to craft a great hand for myself.

Those are a few things that would allow me to have a rewarding feeling and a feeling of accomplishment. Often, as a game designer, it is a challenge to take a concept of what you want and actually turn it into mechanics that meet that concept.

Concept to Mechanic

One way to accomplish this is to put out the Magic Trick cards on the table face up before the drafting occurs. This shows the players the types of tricks they have available to them that round. Then, once players have been dealt their cards, they will place one face up and one face down in front of them. Then:

  1. Pass to the left. Choose one card. Place face up on left neighbor’s pile.
  2. Pass to the left. Choose one card. Place face up on right neighbor’s pile.
  3. Pass to the left. Choose one card. Place face down on own pile.

What this creates is a magic hand of five cards. Three were chosen by you (one face up). One was chosen by each neighbor (face up). The other players may be able to remember what your final card was, but your first card will be a secret since you chose it before anyone passed their cards.

Now each player will have five cards in their hands. These cards will have the different currencies on them (the types of magic). In the middle of the table are the magic tricks that can be performed this round.

Players will use combinations of the magic types in their hands to fulfill as many magic tricks as they can. This fulfillment will be the topic of the next article on The Grand Illusion.

Hopefully this drafting mechanic will work to create an interesting dynamic between the cards one chooses to keep and the cards they choose to give to their neighbors.

Any thoughts about this? Remember, I would love to be designing this game with your feedback. Anything sound good, bad, or meh? Let me know.


Posted on July 24, 2014, in Grand Illusion, My Games, The Boards and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Sounds interesting, as someone who has played a ton of drafting games, I’ve never directly drafted part of my opponent’s hand. The one part I wouldn’t like about this (as well as the part I dislike about 5 or more players in 7 wonders) is the inability to “table” something in the hand, or the ability to try and have a card that I didn’t draft come back to me for a later selection. Otherwise, the draft system sounds solid, I think the cards that are in the game that you need to evaluate will determine if there are interesting decisions or not.

    • Thanks Matt. Regarding the “Tabling” idea, that definitely sounds like something I could add via the abilities you would earn from performing magic tricks. When you perform a trick you will increase your skill level in one or all of the types of magic it took to perform the trick. So tabling could both become important and be a viable strategy throughout the game. I like it!

  2. I love the idea that you draft cards for other players: that’s great! But something doesn’t feel quite right about this. Here are some observations:

    * Let’s call me Player 1. In a three-player game, I will get three of the cards five cards I’m dealt.
    * I get one card from Player 2’s original hand, which Player 3 will give me right before I see the other two cards he didn’t give me.
    * I get one card from Player 3’s original hand, which Player 2 will give me right after I pass him two cards.
    * The other two players will split the other two cards I’m dealt, Player 2 giving Player 3 one and the Player 3 giving Player 2 one.
    * Player 2 looks at the three cards I gave him. He is really picking the one he wants the *least* himself to give to Player 3. (Player 2 is in a tough spot if the best card for Player 3 and the worst card for Player 2 are the same. If he doesn’t give it to Player 3, he’ll get it himself.)
    * I’m not really choosing the last one card; Player 3 is essentially deciding which card to give to Player 2 and which one to give to me.

    It just seems too weird for Player 2 to draft a card for Player 3, pass him the other two, and then have Player 3 pick one of those two cards to draft for Player 2. (All players are in this boat for the second draft.)

    In general, it seems too chaotic. It feels like there is too little control over what will happen. It actually feels like it might be more fun to just get dealt 5 random cards.

  3. Without having tested it yet, my primary concern with the mechanic when I think about it is that I wonder how much it will feel like I’m in control of my own game. Perhaps this is the feel you’re going for, with more of a “take-that” feel. Consider that I have a 5 card hand.
    -I got to choose 2 of those from my initial hand. If I was dealt a bad initial hand, I am stuck with 2 cards from it. That’s probably just the way it goes, and that can be fine. One of the things I like about 7W or Sushi Go is that if your initial hand is bad, you only get stuck with one of those, and you can hope for a better hand after the pass. (Conversely, if you get dealt a great initial hand, you only get to keep one of them)
    -However, if I get a good hand after the first pass, I have to give a card to my neighbor, and can’t keep any for myself. the next two cards I get are completely out of my control.
    -The final card I get is from the “dregs” part of the hand (how many will be dealt?) so my choice is severely limited.

    I do like the idea of being able to directly seed other players’ hands, however. I might like to be able to choose which part of the draft I keep and which part I pass. Maybe with each pass, I can decide to keep 1 card, or pass 1 card to a neighbor. I have to place my first keeper face up, and passed cards are face up. By the end of the round, I must have taken 3 cards and passed 2, but I can choose the order in which I do it?

    • I really like this idea of choosing when you draft for yourself and when you draft for others. I can see it being tricky/fiddly to keep track of how many times you’ve done what, but I bet that could be solved:

      – Each player board could have a spot for the actions (draft left, draft right, keep, etc.) that you mark off.
      – Each player board could have a spot for a card from the player on your right and one for a card from the player on your left. If I draft a card for you, I place it in that spot. If I have already put a card in that space, then I can’t put another one there.

  4. Thanks Randy and Adam for the comments. You both shared similar thoughts. I agree that there seems to be a lack of control. That’s partially what I’m going for. I don’t want players to feel completely secure in their play.

    Like a rookie magician might mess up some tricks and feel nervous for their first street performance, I want players to lack that control, which is akin to lacking magic skills.

    As players increase their skills in the game the lack of control over what cards you receive would become less important.

    Adam, I like your suggestion to allow for giving yourself three cards, passing one left, and passing one right, but getting to choose when you do those during the draft. So if you get really bad cards in your starter hand you may choose to pass one left or right.

    The interesting thing there is that if other players get good hands they will likely give themselves one of the cards but if you had a bad hand you would pass a card. So you may not end up getting anything good anyway. But I like that and I think it will be fun to playtest.

    • Thinking more about it, opening up the order of the keep/pass decision might also add a potential “press your luck” component. If there’s an OK card in your hand, you might be tempted to let it go and pass a card that round, but you don’t know if you’ll see 3 better cards later in the draft. Conversely, you might take cards the first 3 hands, and then you must pass the last two, even if you get a great card that you really wish you had.

  5. Fair enough. I think the second and third rounds will feel really awkward the way you have players draft for their neighbor and then pass their neighbors the remaining cards to draft right back for them. I would guess that the lack of control and the really small hand sizes will make the drafting part of the game not fun, but only play-testing will reveal that. 🙂

  6. Randy makes a good point about sending a card left and then passing them the hand you just gave them a card from. As long as you’re going to have multiple rounds of draft, I would just alternate the direction the passing goes each round. If you’re passing left, you seed right, if passing right, seed left.

    • @mrtopdeck, I think it could work if I pass you some cards and you draft me one. I think the way Ed described it where I draft one for you, pass the cards to you, and then you draft one for me would be too tense.

      Here are some other ideas I had:

      – You could always draft for the player on your left (the one you will pass the cards to).
      – You could always draft for the player on your right (the one you received the cards from).
      – The drafting for others could be staggered a little more: draft one for you, then draft for the left player, then draft for you, then draft for the right player.
      – What if you didn’t pass the cards at all? Let’s say you started with a hand of seven cards. You start the same, drafting one face up and one face down for yourself. Then what if we each took turns drafting a card face up for *anyone*else* we wanted until each person had five cards (four face up). Then you could keep one of the last two cards you had and discard the other one. Then you’d have a hand of six, three of which you were dealt and picked and three that could have come from anywhere.

  7. What’s the status of The Grand Illusion? Did you have something playable at Gen Con? (If so, I’m sad to have missed out! I would have loved to play it.) I’d love to hear an update and see what’s next for the design.

  8. Hi I am a new reader of your blog but I love beer and games so it is a natural hit.

    I am also interested in the status of The Grand Illusion. Like some comments above, I think placing a card on somebodies pile is more “take that” than sneaky. This doesn’t really give me the feeling that I am tricking the audience with my magic. I don’t think the lacking control “Rookie Magician” explanation fits with the sneakiness explained originally in the post.

    I think what is core to your idea is drafting and something. I don’t think a magician forcing something on another person is the right way to do this. Maybe a creepy magician! I think you would better evoke sneakiness by letting somebody make a choice as a result of what you have drafted. Put the choice back into the player. This will truly allow somebody to feel sneaky.

    • Thanks for the reply, Adam. The Grand Illusion has moved very very far from what was written in this post. There is no longer a drafting element to the game. In fact, there isn’t much of a game at all at this point.

      I am working on the design such that it actually feels magical, which is what this theme deserves. So, how does one gamify magic? That’s the question I’m currently facing.

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