"Recycling" Deck Building Mechanic

Orrery Steam Punk Assemblage by urbandon
Most deckbuilding games have each player keep their own self-contained ecosystem of cards. They buy cards from a general supply and gradually grow their own deck. As their cards are used, they discard their cards into their own discard deck. Once their main deck runs out, they shuffle the discard deck and begin anew. Rarely in this process do players actually affect each other's ecosystems positively or negatively. (There are some exceptions, like Miskatonic School for Girls.)

What if there were a deckbuilding game where your discard deck actually belonged to your neighbor? So, when your neighbor's draw deck runs out, they don't reshuffle their own discards. Instead, they reshuffle *your* discards and that becomes their new draw deck. How does that affect gameplay?

  • What goes around comes around: If you use a very fierce offensive card against an opponent, that card could very easily re-emerge and be used against you as well.
  • Timing is critical: You would keep a wary eye on your opponent's draw deck. The shorter the deck, the sooner he'll have access to your discards. That may not be the best time to use an offensive card. Instead, short, persistent defensive tactics may be a better option until his draw deck gets tall again.
  • "Buy" vs. "Play" effects: With such a strong potential for retaliation, players could be reluctant to buy cards at all. So, cards could have two different effects: The first activated when a card is first bought from the general supply. The second when played from a hand. 

And all that being said, what exactly is the best theme for this mechanic? Folks on twitter suggested recycling, yard sales and remixing. Your thoughts?


  1. Two mechmages clashing on the field of battle, sending waves of constructs at each other, reanimating from the other's scrap.

    Recycling? Seriously? You need to 180 on theme after Belle of the Ball. Do something violent and gritty.

  2. There are plenty of violent, gritty games out there already. :P

  3. There is a point in there Daniel, persistance would be key to a game like this. Most deck building games out now force you to act with only what is in your hand. If what you discard goes to your opponent, what you keep will be more important.

  4. Nifty open mechanic. You could have some cards that have to be discarded on other players, onto yourself. Cards that "suck" cards out of other players discard pile into yours. Neutral or other discard piles, ladders of discard piles (perhaps of minimum sizes), card piles structured as queues or stacks. Playing cards in a "pipeline" hasn't been used very often (Robo-rally and Nuclear War).

    Definitely interesting.

    The programming theme in Robo-rally was a fun one that could be applied to other games based on "computer-y" things.

  5. Oh! That's interesting. Say there were always X discard piles, regardless of the number of players. When you discard, you discard into one of these piles. When you run out of cards, you choose which discard pile becomes your new draw stack. Fascinating!

  6. X+N for N players :) Playing with and interacting with discard piles as well as the playing area could definitely be a hoot. The question as to how this serves the game theme or game play is open. A racing theme seems an easy choice. Play options that allow you to burn your whole hand instead of playing one or a couple of cards from it are intriguing. Also, you could seed certain discard stacks with different cards to bring them into play.

    Having discard stacks of certain fixed depth so that perhaps you score the stack when you take it or some such could be another way to go.

    A lot of these mechanics seem to be more suited to a real, abstract card game than a themed game.

  7. Themes could be Evolution or Technological or other development.

    The game design / mechanics question is to how to balance conventional play with "discard game play" to give good tactical tension.

    Discard stacks could be used as currency to purchase higher level cards or unlock card sets or stacks.

  8. You could take a cue from some Knizia card games. "When the cards in a discard pile equal X, that pile can be taken, but not before."

  9. As a name with some flavor, Karma? What you do is revisited upon you later. And maybe some cards have a choice of a neutral or defensive move and you keep them, or an offensive move but you karma them left as a penalty.

  10. If you are playing a Dominion style game, (ignoring offensive plays by others) cards get discarded in two ways - you either play the card or you don't.

    What if whether you played the card or not determines the pile it goes into? The cards you play go into your neighbor's discard pile (the one s/he will re-shuffle into their draw pile) and the cards you do not play go into yours. This adds a strategic level - do I play this powerful card now or wait until later?

  11. To follow on the "Buy vs Play" effects, perhaps a "First Play vs Replay" effect. The first time you play the card it has one effect (possible bigger / better) but has another (possibly lesser) effect any subsequent times it is played. An example might be a card that makes another card stronger. The first time it's used it has a big effect and subsequent uses might simply give a smaller bonus.

    I do like the Karma aspect of the mechanic though I don't necessarily agree that timing is any more critical. It's just that if you play a card right before your discards become your opponents draw deck, karma just might hit you sooner.

    One thing to consider is how to deal with players that go through decks at different speeds.

  12. Ooh. Yeah, that fits in well with the "escalation" themes others have mentioned.

  13. That would work especially well as a means of keeping VP cards in your own supply.

  14. Right, even if each player begins with the same amount of cards, the action selection and turn order could easily end up with one player cycling faster than the others. That could be a mechanic, though. What if the game begins with a random discard pile in the center of the table. When you play, your discards go to that pile. The first to cycle claims the pile. Hm...


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