Dragon Evo is an up-and-coming, turn-based RPG card game developed by three brothers of Bromantic Games. We sat down with Daniel André, the lead developer, designer, and social media manager of Dragon Evo, to talk about game design and how they overcome various real-life challenges.
Tell me about your newest RPG card game, Dragon Evo. How does it work?
The Dragon Evo universe started as a fantasy brainchild of my younger brother Simen, over a decade ago. We’re building the card game to let players take part of that fantasy universe and its rich story and lore. In the game, you play as one of three factions: The Rutai Empire, The Hologev resistance or the (self-proclaimed) neutral Highwinds faction. Some of the gameplay elements such as a hero card, the game board and unit cards follow the established patterns of the genre, but Dragon Evo also contains elements of resource management, RPGs and strategy game theory to give players a challenge and experience very different from most games available today.
The game itself is played out on a board of 3 rows (lanes) of 3 slots per lane for each player and the main goal is taking out your opponent’s hero while keeping your own hero alive. The back slots are reserved for the hero card and special building cards, whereas the remaining 6 are used to place and play cards from your hand.
The different kinds of action types available on your cards means that it’s important to place them correctly and use them in the correct order to make great combination plays. In addition to this, you have to keep track of your available resources – gold and action points – so you have enough to act out your combinations, or you’ll quickly run into problems. This, of course, makes targeting and starving your opponent resources a valid tactic and creates some fantastic gameplay variations.
There’s a lot more we could tell you about how the game works, but that’s the gist of the main onboard gameplay. Off the board, you have the ability to merge and upgrade your cards to make them stronger, there’s a research tree where you can unlock new cards for your chosen faction, as well as a single-player campaign that lets you unlock special non-faction cards.
In comparison to other established TCG titles such as Magic the Gathering and Gwent, what makes Dragon Evo unique?
There’s a lot to recognize from other card games – such as keeping the hero alive, placing cards on a grid, spending action points, and various card types – but apart from that the actual gameplay itself differs a lot from most of what you’ve seen elsewhere and plays more like a turn-based grid battler than an actual card game.
- Different attack types have different abilities that take card placement into consideration – some cards need direct line-of-sight but others have ranged attacks that allow you to jump over a card when using the action.
- Card effects like bleed, fire and poison change up the way cards behave, which lets you target your opponent and their cards in uncountable ways
- Our unique take on the RPG mechanics allows you to equip your deck cards with various equipment cards which alter and improves your card stats, bringing with it new combinations of cards that we probably haven’t even thought of yet
- In addition to the grid-based card battling, special building cards – strong health cards that can really only be taken out by setting them on fire – further mixes up the rules and can turn a seemingly lost battle
- Every game, each player chooses an event card that is played at random during the game – these cards behaves in unpredictable ways that can shake up (or, if you plan for it, support) your game strategy
- Off the board, cards can be merged and leveled up, and the research tree lets you unlock new cards and equipment, increasing the card pool size available to you as the game progresses
There are several other ways we think our game stands out from the crowd, but we think we’ve managed to hit a special blend of genres that mix up some of the cool gameplay elements from card games, deck builders, RPGs and a touch of strategy games. The end result is a game we love to play – increasingly more so as the game stabilizes.
What made you want to develop Dragon Evo? What are the games that inspired you the most?
To be honest – and this might seem strange – initially, there wasn’t much that directly inspired us to make the game. Back when we started developing the game, MTG was the only real card battler around and it was very much an offline experience, so there wasn’t much to take inspiration from. As family life has taken top priority the last year, we’ve obviously picked up inspiration from some other card games, but nothing special comes to mind.
However, we’re very inspired by old-school RPGs with their loot discovery and equipment variety, and that amazing feeling when you pick up equipment that you’re too weak to use, or that feeling of wonder and curiosity about what the next unknown thing will be. It’s hard to put a feeling you get when playing a game into words, but that’s as close as it gets.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your development? And what did you learn from them?
We’ve learned so much from both ourselves as we’ve worked on the game throughout the years, and from players and people we’ve met with to help us settle the game mechanics. One thing that keeps coming back to us is maintaining a mindset where the game takes on a life of its own. There have been a lot of cases where we play the game and discover a mechanic that we thought would be cool that didn’t work, or late night dev talks where we play around with ideas and something that just “clicks” but might go against something we tried or wanted before.
It helps us learn that you can’t really have all the answers beforehand, and you should be humble enough to admit it. And if something doesn’t work, allow yourself to say “that was a bad idea, I’ll try this instead” even if it means throwing out something you’ve spent many hours implementing.
Second, we’ve learnt to prioritize life/work/game dev, and in that order. We recently had to take a long break from game development because of personal reasons, so learning to balance time and effort is something we take seriously. Family comes first, and our paid work has to take priority over game development, so even if that means late nights or longer periods of inactivity, finding this balance has been important to us. Two of us being dads of multiple children means there’s not really much room in our lives to experiment financially.
A lot of TCGs suffer from poor play patterns that frustrate the players. From a game design perspective, how will your game be fun and satisfying to play?
This is something we’ve thought a lot about and had many late-night talks about how to solve. We’ve even been in a position where we thought – and said – to ourselves and each other, “maybe the entire game idea we’ve had just isn’t fun. good idea, but doesn’t translate into a game”. So finding the game loops that will keep you coming back and wanting to play more has been really important to us.
Talking to other players about what they like in different games and what’s important to them helps us stay on track, and influences the decisions we make. In general, we stay open to feedback from playtesters and others who obviously are more experienced than us.
We’ve come up with three main gameplay loops: the on-board loop of playing a single match, the loops of improving decks and cards between matches (which includes deck building, upgrading and researching) and finally the social loop which is what we’re doing to make sure interacting between players is fun and exciting so you’ll want to come back for more.
We also play lots of games, everything from solo indies through A, AA and AAA, so we use that experience to find things that annoy us as gamers, too. In the end we just want to make a game that players will love, and we hope that shines through.
It is hard for indie developers to make a living, and many amazing indie games fail financially due to the lack of exposure. How do you plan to monetize your game? Do you have any plans for increasing the discoverability of your project?
This is the million-dollar question—quite literally. It’s hard to give a good answer to this, as it really has two answers. First of all, the game and the universe around it is such a personal project and a dear hobby to us, that even if we were to spend lots of money and never earn anything, we’d probably still be happy and do it in years to come. Some people have expensive hobbies like cars, sports or travel – our hobby is gaming and making games.
Secondly, being able to do this for a living would definitely be a dream come true, but we’re very realistic about it. Most games never make big money, and those that do are the exceptions. We would love to have a big enough player base to keep making this game for many years to come, and sustain ourselves doing it, but will it happen? Time will tell.
When it comes to the monetization scheme, this is hard to solve and at the same time avoid the pay-to-win aspect. Nothing is more annoying than matching up with an opponent who simply waltzes over you because he has more real-life money to spend, and that’s not something we want our players to experience. We’re looking into different ways of either subscription models for players who want something extra, cosmetics or other in-game items that don’t affect the game, but most of this simply comes down to acquiring and maintaining a big enough player base that enough people want to pay to keep playing. We hope and think it’s possible, but we haven’t really found the solution yet.
We’re not experienced in the game development business and have very little clue about marketing, so if anyone has any tips for us, that’s probably better than anything we would come up with. This is also something we want to look into as a release date nears, but can be very hard to do on your own.
Do you have anything else you would like to say to the readers out there?
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us and let us ramble on about the game of our dreams. We think we have something truly unique that players will like and maybe even love almost as much as we do. In our earlier playtests we had players racking up hundreds of games even before we thought it was fun, so there’s something in there – we’re sure of it.