Among those that don’t enjoy digital card games, I’ve noticed that some share a certain sentiment. Basically, they question what the point of a digital card game is. The basic argument is that card games only use cards and static images because it’s the only way for the ideas they represent to expressed. That is, physical games are bound by physical limitations. Digital games aren’t though; almost anything can be done in the digital space, so it’s strange that the card format would still be used. I admit it’s a little funny, but I still think that it’s actually not so strange. In fact, I’ll argue that we still lack the ability to go beyond the cards.
Since Yu-Gi-Oh! is the only card game that I’m familiar with, it’ll be serving as my primary example. Yu-Gi-Oh! is supposed to be a game about monsters fighting monsters. Each player summons a monster, they fight, and the stronger one wins. If that were all there was to it, then perhaps Yu-Gi-Oh! could have been translated into an arcade fighter or even something akin to Super Smash Bros. However, anyone who’s played Yu-Gi-Oh! will tell you that it’s never that simple. Players are supposed to have resources to draw on, traps to deploy and greater strategies to advance. Fighting games don’t really allow for any of this, so they’re actually a poor fit.
Alright, so how about a strategy or tactical game? Those tend to involve elements of resource management and strategy and resource management; surely a strategy game would cover it. Well, no actually. Most of these sorts of games involve managing either a small group or large armies, and animations tend to be rather simple. It’d feel like a bit of a let-down if these monsters just made generic attacking motions like in Pokemon, and they’d almost ecessarily be nothing like their card counterparts. It’s hard enough balancing strong monsters within the rules of a card game, so it’d be even more difficult to both translate said abilities to an actual combat simulation and make sure they’re balanced.
Many abilities revolves around destruction and negation too, which wouldn’t be all that fun to watch in a more action-oriented tactical game. Such abilities would basically wind-up being overpowered insta-death attacks or just immobilizing the enemy. Sure, these could be pared down or bound with a resource system, but they’d still wind up feeling less dramatic and less satisfying to use. Even with today’s highly advanced simulation and presentation technology, there ‘s still no equaling the human imagination.
Creators could come close to it through things like custom animations, effects and additional debuffs/after effects to help all these monsters feel different from one another, but even then we run into problems. Certain kinds of monsters would be difficult to implement due to what they are. I mean, there are plenty of fantastical beats to choose from, but then there are monsters like Fluffal Dog and Heavy Freight Train Derricrane. One is basically just a little stuffed animal and the other is literally just a freight train. How exactly do you present and animate an encounter between such “monsters”, much less make it look good/believable?
Any attempt at a non-Yu-Gi-Oh! card game would have to divorce itself from the very foundation of Yu-Gi-Oh. There’s just too much baggage that comes with trying to implement anything from the card game. The rules and monsters would have to be completely different from the card game, and fans would inevitably wind up feeling disappointed by how much less “cool” or interesting they’d be compared to the mental images inspired by the card game.
So, why carry on with the card format in digital versions of games like Yu-Gi-Oh? Because it’s still the best fit for them. The rules, conditions and imagery are what define card games for many players, so it’d be very difficult for a different format to capture that same feeling. This isn’t to say that there couldn’t be alterative experiences alongside the card game. After all, Gwent is basically the Witcher universe represented in cards, and both games offer satisfying experiences. It’s just that those experiences are very different from one another, with each having its own strengths and weaknesses. For the time-being, I just don’t think it’s possible to take a card game and translate into a format that’s 100% better.
This is of course just my own, somewhat confused take on it, though. What’s yours?
Image from the Nintendo eShop page