Game Development, Firelight

Building a Card Game RPG - How and Why Firelight Was Designed

The concept of a card game RPG is one that has been close to our hearts for years. Whether in video games like the niche GameCube JRPG Baten Kaitos or in mainstream card games like Magic: The Gathering, cards and role-playing mechanics have been combined to great results across all manner of mediums.

But despite this natural pairing, fully improvisational role-playing games based around cards are few and far between. Many RPGs that use cards either center solely around combat (see the earlier MtG example) or simply wedge cards into a pre-existing RPG formula. The former is much more mechanical than a true tabletop RPG, while the latter fails to address the sometimes prohibitively complex nature of tabletop role-playing.

When designing Firelight, we knew right away that we wanted to simplify tabletop RPGs and create something anyone could play. In the end, we decided to go with a card-based system.

Cards have several advantages over books when it comes to designing a simple role playing system:

  1. CARD GAMES ARE TANGIBLE: A card can be easily held, passed, discarded, or moved. There is an intuitive sense of conflict when an Enemy card is placed opposite your Adventurer cards, for instance, and a sense of victory when that card is discarded and a Treasure card is drawn in its place. Having cards on hand can help players internalize the mechanics of the game when pen-and-paper games are too abstract.
  2. CARDS ARE NOT INTIMIDATING: Another barrier to entry in the role-playing genre is the size of the manuals themselves. Many border on 100 pages or more. But if you can distill many of those 100 pages into simple, poker-sized cards, suddenly the intimidation factor is lessened significantly.
  3. THE BEST CARD GAMES DRAW ALL SORTS: When creating Firelight, we wanted to make something that the most passionate RPG fan and the most wet behind the ears newcomers could enjoy together. Its card-based format makes Firelight flexible, portable, and fun for all ages and experience levels.

With those factors in mind, we set out to create a pick-up-and-play RPG that could be easily started in a manner of minutes, but that held hidden depth for players willing to dig deeper. 

To find out more about Firelight, see our blogs and announcements: