In our collaborative effort to develop the card-based MMORPG Shandalar, we now have to talk about the most important centerpiece: The cards. As I already mentioned, cards replace spells and abilities hotkeys from other games. You will have one large collection of cards, and one "deck" of cards you carry around with you, with which you battle other monsters and possibly players if we want to introduce PvP.
My initial idea would be to have cards in 5 (or more) colors. For example white would stand for holy magic, including holy damage and healing. Black would be destructive magic. Red could be ranged damage, from weapons like bows. Green would be blunt weapons, including special effects like stuns. Blue would be sharp weapons, including special effects like bleeds. Every color is connected to one item shown held in your hand when you use it, a holy symbol for white, a wand for black, and the respective weapons for the other colors.
Why the items? Because we want to prevent players from simply choosing the best cards from every color and making 5-color decks that do everything, so we need to give an incentive to stick to one or two colors. The incentive is the cooldown, the time between using two cards. Remember we aren't talking about a game that looks like playing cards, Shandalar's combat will look like typical WoW combat, the cards are just the buttons you press on. If you use a blue card for a sword blow, followed by another blue card for another sword move, you can do that relatively quickly. If you follow the first blue sword move with a white healing spell, you're character will be shown sheating his sword and brandishing his holy symbol. This animation will take a two or three seconds, and thus make switching from color to another slower than sticking to the same one.
Combat starts with you having 7 cards in hand. When you use the first card, you'll have 6 cards left, and we need to think about a mechanism for replenishing cards. That could be either that for every card you use, you draw a new one. Or it could be time based, that every X seconds if you don't have 7 cards in hand already, you get a new card. Which one would you prefer? In any case I was thinking about cards that let you draw more cards, or increase hand size, and other cards which let you do combos, so you'd play several cards at once, leaving you with less than 6 cards in hand. Time-based redraws might be better so people don't end up with zero cards in hand.
I would make cards with different rarities, like the common, uncommon, and rare cards from Magic the Gathering. But rare cards shouldn't be strictly more powerful than common cards, only more complicated. So a common blue card would be a simple sword blow for some damage, a rare blue card would be a sword blow causing a bleed, or starting a combo, without doing more damage than the common card. Rarer cards should also give fancier animations and spell effects than common cards. But somebody with a good commons deck should be able to still have a chance to beat somebody with an all rares deck.
The deck rules from Magic the Gathering are also probably a good idea: You have a minimum size of deck of 60, but if you want you can put more than 60 cards in your deck. If you want to minimize randomness, you can put several copies of the same card in your deck, but not more than 4 of the same card.
Players would start the game with exactly 60 cards, just one full deck with no choice yet, and the deck would contain 12 common cards of each of the 5 colors. That gives them the opportunity to test all colors, and the monsters in the newbie zone would play equally bad 5-colored all-common decks. With the cards they add from buying or adventuring, players would then improve their decks to remove some colors and make either very focused one-color decks, or more versatile 2- and 3- color decks. There is no "mana" cost, like in Magic the Gathering, so the only penalty for mixing colors is the added delay when using one color after another. The starting 5-color deck should make the advantage of sticking to few color pretty clear.
I already mentioned that mobs don't drop gold or gear or cards, but colored points. The color of points they drop depends on the color of their deck, and the harder they are, the more points they drop. So the initial mobs in the newbie zone with their 5-color decks would drop low numbers of points, evenly distributed among all colors. Harder mobs could not only have more hitpoints, but also better decks, for example one mob with a two-colored red/blue deck would thus drop more points, and only red and blue ones. If you are after points of a specific color, you'd need to hunt mobs using decks with cards of that color. As that hinders group play, because the various classes need different colors of points and would rather kill different kinds of mobs, I was thinking of offering a group bonus in the color of the players choice. If a monster normally drop 100 red points, killing it with 5 people would not just give everyone 20 red point, but in addition to that 20 group bonus points. Each player could set on his character screen what color or colors he wants those points to be in. Giving a big enough group bonus would make killing monsters in a group faster rewards than soloing. And the points you get for colors you aren't currently interested in you can still use for cards for your collection, or for trade.
What do you think about cards and combat so far? Can you think of cool effects for cards without making them totally overpowered? How would you make card combos? And don't forget to tell me your prefered mechanic for redrawing cards.