This week we have a huge episode of Think Like A Game Designer Podcast because we have the legendary Game Designer, Richard Garfield.

Richard is the creator of Magic: The Gathering, KeyForge, Netrunner, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, Battletech(CCG) and a lot more. He is a pioneer in the collectible card game genre and one of the most well-known game designers in the world. In this episode of the show, we discuss his life in game design, the development of Magic: The Gathering and KeyForge, and a variety of topics dealing with the challenges of creating collectible card games. This episode is, without a doubt, one of the most remarkable episodes I’ve recorded for Think Like a Game Designer – grab a notebook and take a listen!

Check out this episode and the previous ones here:

“Dungeons & Dragons really makes you into a game designer. It teaches you to be responsible for your own game session. It presses the boundaries about everything you know about what makes a game and it blew me away.” (3:30

Richard calls Dungeons & Dragons the radioactive spider-bite that makes game designers, but I’ll add that Magic: The Gathering –Richard’s creation– is the second, a game that influenced my love of games and game design. In this section, we go on to talk about our inspirations in game design, the passion for it that drives the best designers, and what it feels like to design the next generation of influential games. 

“Innovation is a good thing, it gives us new games, but every time you innovate you cost your players because they have to unlearn something or relearn it, so I tend to like to think you have a budget for complexity and how much you want to spend.” (25:15)

Richard and I speak about building complex games like Magic and KeyForge and the feeling of a game where the person you’re playing against may have cards you’ve never seen before, and how exciting that can be. We go in-depth about how to manage the complexity of a game to keep that feeling of wonder without ruining the game with too many rules. It’s an important, but challenging task for any game designer.  He continues with this lesson: 

“I like to think about books like games and movies and such, but they’re very very different. Games are more like music because often times when you hear a piece of music for the first time it doesn’t mean much, but the more you hear it the better it gets.” (30:00) 

Here we continue to speak about innovation and complexity in games, and how the goal is to get people to replay the game, learn the rules and gain expertise of the rules, that they love and share. When a game is too complex people can’t gain that expertise and the game gets overlooked.

“I think nowadays a lot of designers tend to overbalance their games. They try to take such strong control over the player experience that they remove a lot of the things which I like to explore in games.” (49:30) 

In this section, we go into, what you might think of “advanced game design” this is where you learn to push the envelope and keep an unbalanced rule for the sake of the emotional ride that a player takes during the game. We then go on to talk about rules, balanced or otherwise, that can affect a game negatively and positively – here Richard shares a story about “who you balance a game for?” Is it balanced for the new players or the top-level players? He then goes on to discuss how a game like KeyForge –where every deck is unique– is balanced.