Patrick Curry’s Thoughts on Game Design

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December 30th, 2006

Game Idea #52: Swordplay

Here it is… the last game idea of the year…

High Concept:

Swordplay is the fast-and-deadly game of sword fighting. It combines quick reflexes with quick thinking, making for a fast, fun, sometimes infuriating game. Think fast and you’ll cut your enemy down. Make a wrong move, and he’ll be wiping your blood from his sword.



Why it needs to be made:

I’m so tired of combat systems in role-playing games that have everything to do with statistics and made up characters’ skills. So I decided to create one that’s largely about the players’ skills. It can be used in any kind of game setting, but I imagine it would be most useful in pen-and-paper style games.


While you could make a digital version of Swordplay for almost any videogame platform, it began its life as a card-game. Here are the rules:

The game is played between two players, each of which are given six cards: high attack, high block, medium attack, medium block, low attack, and low block. Each round both players simultaneously play one card from their hand, dropping it down so both players can see the card. Each card has a strength and a weakness. High Attack scores 3 points, but can be defeated by Low Attack. Medium Attack scores 2 points, but is defeated by High Attack. And Low Attack scores 1 point, but is defeated by Medium Attack.

Each attack can be blocked with the corresponding block card: High Block blocks High Attack, and so on. Successfully blocking an attack will score you no points, but you are allowed to capitalize on your block by playing one card from your hand for double points without the other player allowed to block. It’s a free, powerful attack.

Each round consists of three “drops” (simultaneous playing of cards). After three drops both players collect all six of their cards into their hand again, and a new round begins. The match is over when one player scores six points. With such high stakes, you can see how a match can be over in a matter of seconds if you out-think your opponent. I find the game is most fun in a best-of-five style of play.

Why it will be fun:

Swordplay adds just a dash of fantasy to the already fun game of rock-paper-scissors, and with the short-rounds of play it adds a bit more risk and a bit more strategy. I can’t say that this is the most original or deep game I’ve ever come up with, but having playtested it with several friends, I can indeed say that it’s fun.

Final Thoughts:

I had serious reservations about posting Swordplay. For one, it’s not really a videogame, so I’m straying a bit from the other 51 ideas I’ve posted this year. But secondly, I do plan to incorporate this scheme into a real game I make one day. So until then, consider this a sneak peak. Enjoy!

7 Responses to “Game Idea #52: Swordplay”

  1. vince commented:
    posted December 31st, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    There was a play by email version of this exact same thing, but with Kung Fu. I can’t remember the name/website, but you could email friends and challenge them to fights. You’d preset your moves similar to how you describe, and then the other person would enter their moves, and it would play them out to determine the winner. It had some persistence and leveling if I remember, as it would remember the results of your battles and move you up the ranks.

    I wish I could remember the site.

  2. Mason Dixon commented:
    posted December 31st, 2006 at 5:46 pm

    very nice way to conclude the year. cant wait to try swordplay out on my friends. but what comes next for the blog? 52 more ideas?

  3. Vistigil commented:
    posted January 6th, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    You know Bushido Blade from Squaresoft had a variation of this system only put in the form of a fast fighting game. Check it out.

  4. thefoulgerm commented:
    posted January 6th, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    It’s pretty cool what you’ve done with your game idea per week project. But a game like this already exists. It’s called En Garde:

    Here’s what the cards look like:

    The first commenter mentioned “Kung Fu Fighting” which is also published by Slugfest Games and is very similar. If you’re interested in games like this check out, or find a local board game store. There are a ton of fast and fun card games that fit what you have in mind.

  5. Patrick commented:
    posted January 6th, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    Both En Garde and Kung Fu Fighting sound fun. They sound much more complicated than what I’m proposing, but I’ll check them out none the less. And I remember seeing Bushido Blade long ago. I need to dig it up too.

    My aim wasn’t so much trying to come up with the first swordfighting card game, just a very simple combat system. Any type of combat could work… it could be a close-quarters gunfight, with “dodge” replacing “block”. But the metaphor of swords just worked so well. :-)

  6. James commented:
    posted January 6th, 2007 at 9:26 pm

    This seems very similar to the swordplay in Sid Meier’s Pirates, that is very simplistic, although there are no cards. :)

    I’ve just read through all 52 of your ideas, a fantastic collection, some are simply yet fun (particularly for the handheld market), and others are highly ambitious and marketable. Thank you for keeping me entertained.

  7. Jeff commented:
    posted March 19th, 2007 at 11:27 am

    Actually, the first commentator was referring to, a now-defunct website that let you play RPS-style matchups over email by putting all the moves for the match in at once; the server would then email you both back the results. In addition to Kung Fu, there was Joust and Soccer (penalty kicks), if I remember correctly.

    A variation on your idea that I highly recommend checking out is Duel of Swords, which can be found at A matrix-based game originally developed as a fencing simulation, it and its two variants, Duel of Fists and Duel of Magic, have supported a healthy freeform roleplaying community since around 1992, through Q-Link, AOL, and now AIM. An easy way to describe it would be RPS, except with a larger variety of moves, a non-zero-sum matrix, and a restriction against playing the same move twice in a row.

    It’s a lot of fun to play, and contains a great deal of depth in the psychological facet of the game. I personally do a good portion of my amateur design work designing and implementing tournaments and variants for the games; currently, I’m working on a design doc for a mobile phone version of the game, since I think it’s ideal for the platform.

    Tell me what you think! :)

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