Given that, Helen and I decided that it's time to re-think the physical bits, with an eye toward first-time players. We may eventually rework the hex tiles, perhaps eliminating them in favor of an actual board; we're still discussing that. But the urgent priority is a new card deck.
Older versions of the game had very simple cards. Artwork aside, each card just had a color: red, yellow, green, or blue. But when I added the new Card Powers feature (see A Bit of Game Design), the cards became more complex. Each card now has one of nine different Card Powers, each of which can be used only at certain times in the game. Initially I'd hand-scribbled some rough icons for the various powers on my old cards, with explanations in the rulebook. That got us through our recent playtests; but the players always had trouble learning what the powers were and exactly when each one could be used.
So Helen and I are now brainstorming iconography and card layouts, trying to make the cards and their effects as easy to understand as possible.
In general I like to avoid text on cards if possible, because it makes international editions of a game more expensive to produce. But the various card powers are complex enough to need one to three sentences of explanation each. We want new players to be able to understand each power without having to constantly look them up in the rulebook. A separate player aid would be a reasonable compromise, but for our prototypes we've decided to put some text on each card, in addition to the iconography. If the game is ever published, the publisher can decide whether to keep the text or not: the icons are sufficient for players who are already familiar with the game.
Even though the cards are smaller, some elements of the card design still have to be reasonably large, because they must be visible from a couple of feet away when the card is lying face-up on the table. At the same time, compact iconography is needed along the left edge of each card (the "index column"), so that players can fan their hands and easily see what they've got. I was originally fixated on point symmetry, which would mean an index column along both sides; but that was taking up too much space. Helen broke my fixation by showing me that an asymmetrical design gave us enough room for a nice layout.
Here's a mockup of the new design. The actual size is a bit bigger than shown here, and of course the printed cards will have finer resolution. We've printed some proofs to be certain that the text will be readable.
|The new card layout|