Designing Showdown


Originally posted in Wyrd Chronicles Volume 10.

Showdown is a fast-paced, bluffing card game. To find out more about it, watch the Tom Vasel review here. At the moment the Shodown game is set in a dark, futuristic world featuring the “Icons.” This was not always the plan. Showdown was actually originally designed to be a Malifaux product. However, at that time our Malifaux artists were busy getting art ready for M2E so Showdown needed a new theme. I am very happy with the dark, sci-fi theme that we ended up with. It’s a fun twist and something a bit different for Wyrd. But Malifaux is something I’m passionate about, so today I proudly announce that five new Malifaux themed Showdown decks are in the works. To celebrate this, I wanted to talk a bit about the Showdown design process.

I was originally inspired to pitch Showdown to Wyrd after playing Yomi ( Yomi is another fast-paced card game focusing on bluffing. Each player has a deck of cards (which doubles as a regular poker deck) which represents a character in a martial arts battle. As soon as I saw the concept, I was intrigued because I saw the potential for Malifaux. If I could design a game that would fit onto a regular deck of cards (aside from the traditional games like Hearts, etc) then we could produce Malifaux fate decks which players could use during a game of Malifaux as their fate deck while doubling as a totally separate game. It would give Malifaux players something to do in between rounds at a tournament, while waiting for a pick-up game, etc. Additionally, if it was simple enough, it could help introduce more people into the Malifaux universe.

After playing and getting to know Yomi I got some ideas for where I wanted to take the design as well. In Yomi, each player plays a single card face down and then flips them up simultaneously. A “rock, paper, scissors” system is then used to resolve combat: attack cards beat throws, throws beat blocks and dodges, and blocks and dodges beat attacks. The winner assigns damage and play continues until somebody is knocked out. Based on that brief description play may seem random, but there is a lot of depth in reading your opponent, knowing the decks, and trying to get off combos. If you haven’t played it, I highly suggest checking it out. However, there were two things about Yomi I felt that I would personally like to see changed, so I set out to design a system that was inspired by Yomi, but created its own unique system.

My first issue with Yomi was that it involved a bit of tracking. Characters generally have between 80 and 100 health, and players need to keep track of where it is. This means that the game requires a pen and paper (or one of the slick Yomi play mats and a counter) to keep track of health. For Showdown, I wanted players to need absolutely nothing other than two decks of cards; this would make the game much more accessible after a game of Malifaux. So I came up with the system of using the Aces in the deck for health. Basically, each player removes the four aces from their deck at the start of the game. Every time they lose a battle, they flip one of their aces face up. When they have no more aces to flip, they lose. This solved my tracking issue in a neat little package, and allowed players to need nothing other than the cards. It also opened up some fun design space. As aces are flipped face up, they grant the player some special abilities, which created a fun “catch up” mechanic for a player who was getting steam rolled. It also created some nice variety in play, as the order in which your aces get flipped up will change up the game play. Finally, having such little health created a fast (15-20 minute), intense experience that was very enjoyable during testing and perfect for the “in between” space a game of Showdown was designed to fill.

The next place that I wanted Showdown to be differentiated from Yomi a bit was in the bluffing. Because Yomi only uses a single card during combat, knowing your opponent’s deck is critical. For example, if you know your opponent has a deck with a lot of throws in it, you will be more likely to play an attack. This is great, but for Showdown I wanted to emphasize knowing the player more than knowing the deck. To do this, I used a two card system. In Showdown, players each play one card face up, and then one card face down. This means that when you play your face down card, you will have some limited knowledge about what your opponent is trying to do, as you will be able to see their face up card. The two card system gave players just enough information about their opponent’s plan to make bluffing interesting without making it predictable. There is, of course, a bit more to it than that, and if you’re interested I would highly suggest watching the Tom Vasel video I linked above or checking out the free online rules.

I think it’s interesting that I was able to create an entirely unique experience by tweaking two of the dynamics in Yomi. This is a fun way to look at game design in general, and I think it shows the flexibility in the model of game which Yomi pioneered: a single deck, asymmetric bluffing game. Personally, I would love to see this catch on and become its own genre, much like the deck building games. But, even if it doesn’t, I’m proud to have helped add to this space.

With many of my decisions hinging on selling this as a Malifaux product (the fast play, the lack of any resources other than the deck itself, etc) I was a little hesitant to retheme the game. But once I saw the amazing sci-fi art that was going on the game, I was all the more excited for it. Even so, I can’t wait for the next five Malifaux decks we have in store for you.

I also want to note that I wrote this article from my perspective: David Hanold and Redd Cohen were instrumental in designing this game, and I don’t want to leave them out here. In fact, they designed the five Malifaux decks which are coming your way with only playtesting input from me, and they did an amazing job.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *