Not relying on Memory: The Importance of an Indicator Card

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A core aspect of Crop Cycle is the use of the four seasons: spring, summer, fall and winter (for all you gamers that don’t go outside…ever). Certain cards can only be played or harvested for points in certain seasons, so managing your cards in relation to the rotation of the seasons is a major factor to win Crop Cycle. After all players have taken a turn and played their cards, the game moves to the next season; forcing players to make hard decisions on whether to keep a hand that is more useful in later seasons or discard their hand and draw (hopefully) more immediately useful cards.

In the first draft of the game, there was no indicator of what season the game was in. Early attempts at memorization led to widespread confusion and it became clear that an indicator of the season was necessary.

Obviously trusting in my own memory was delusional at best. What I needed was some sort of indicator. I quickly created a simple reference card that indicated the four seasons in text. The season the game was on was indicated with a green bead I picked up from Dollarama.

Early prototype of the Seasons Card
Early prototype of the Seasons Card
The Desk where all the magic happens
The Desk where all the magic happens

The solution was elegant and efficient as players were easily able to see what season the game was in. The text-based indicator of the season also complimented the initial prototype versions of the cards, which also used text to indicate which season to play and harvest cards.

Early prototype of a crop card. Believe it or not, this is the second version!
Early prototype of a crop card. Believe it or not, this is the second version!

As I continued to playtest Crop Cycle, the feedback I received on using a card as an indicator for the seasons was positive. Suggestions for improvement began to pop up however, once I printed the second card prototypes, which now included symbols instead of text to represent the seasons.

Early rendition of card with image. Readability was a major concern.
Early rendition of card with image. Readability was a major problem.

Subsequent prototype version only further developed the use of symbols for seasons.

6
Updated prototype from October 2014.

Once I replaced the season’s text with symbols, I began receiving feedback on the Seasons indicator card. The most obvious suggestion was that I should change the Seasons card from text to symbols, a suggestion I agreed with. The solution was a final Seasons card that looked like this.

The Seasons Card
The Seasons Card

The same colour scheme and symbols for the seasons are used in the indicator card as the rest of the deck. The card was clean and simplistic.

From our playtesters, feedback was mixed. Some thought it was a simple and elegant solution, but others suggested a number of ways that we could further develop a method of indicating the Seasons.

One such way was to use 4 separate cards, each with the symbol for one season on it. Players would place the current season on the top of the pile and continuously cycle through the cards as the game progressed. Having a separate card for each season would draw players’ attention to the current season more readily than one card divided into 4 seasons, but the idea had two drawbacks.

  1. It cost more to produce 4 cards instead of 1
  2. It could easily lead to confusion over the current season if the cards ever got placed in the wrong order

Taken together, the concerns outweighed the benefits and I decided to stick with a single indicator card for the seasons.

Another suggestion was to use a spinner wheel to indicate the season. This would provide a distraction from the use of cards and could lead to some interesting graphical design opportunities. My artist was excited to create something in the same vain as Magic The Gathering’s Colour Wheel.

Image found at: http://bit.ly/1uQdSy3
Image found at: http://bit.ly/1uQdSy3

Unfortunately, several problems quickly arose around the idea of using a spinner.

  1. It cost more than an indicator card. A lot more! This dissuaded the use of a spinner, particularly when combined with the fact that…
  2. It looked cheap. No matter how we designed it, spinner wheels always ended up looking cheap. Even established companies had trouble making their indicator wheels not look cheap, as the plastic arrow had a tendency to bend or spin loosely on the connecting pin.

Like the 4 card solution, spinner wheels cons outweighed the pros and the idea was discarded in favour of a single indicator card. I appreciated all the suggestions I received from playtesters, but this was one case where I had to disagree with the feedback and stick with my vision of using a single indicator card. The final solution uses the aforementioned Seasons card and a harvest point token (also used to indicate the number of harvest points a player has) to indicate the current season. The solution is elegant and affordable, requiring no additional parts while maintaining the graphical theme of season symbols across all the cards.

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