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When making a trading card game, it’s impossible to know for sure how the playerbase will interact with it. You can gauge consumer interest, and focus-test it to see whether Elsa looks frosty enough or Kronk is a big enough himbo, but it’s anybody’s guess what will happen once the cards are in the wild. “I think we truly won’t know what players will gravitate toward until the game comes out,” Steve Warner, co-designer of Disney Lorcana tells me.

One of the big differences between Lorcana and other TCGs like Magic: The Gathering and the Pokemon TCG is its resource system. Almost any card can produce the ink you need to play a card, but doing so puts it in your inkwell where it can no longer be normally played. This can bring up some tricky decision points: do you keep a card you can’t play for a few turns, or do you ink it to fund the ones you can use right away? What if you get rid of something now that could win you the game later on?

RELATED: Every Card In Disney Lorcana's The First Chapter

“Early on, we decided we wouldn’t go with a normal ‘this specific card type is a resource’ system”, says Warner. But not every card can be used this way, and this serves as one of the game’s best ways of managing balance between cards. “One consideration we had when looking at which cards could be used as ink or not was their effects, as we wanted to make sure that particular effects were not too strong or common”.

Grab Your Sword card

Ensuring balance has been a major part of Lorcana’s design. Compared to some of the truly terrifying combos you can do in other games, Lorcana’s biggest plays are more self-contained synergies that need a few turns to pick up steam. “We wanted to avoid anything that would win the game on its own, but also wanted to give players ways to play combos, since they can be so satisfying” says Warner. “It’s a fine line to walk during the game design process”.

Sometimes it takes more than an ink cost to balance a card, though. Every game has its problems, whether it be Yata Garasu in Yu-Gi-Oh!, or Lurrus of the Dream-Den in Magic. For Lorcana, Warner is keen not to rule out the possibility of bans or restrictions for cards that wind up being unexpectedly powerful. “If there is a card that is more powerful than expected, and we feel something must be done, it will be decided on a case-by-case basis”.

Pongo, Ol' Rascal by Brian Weisz

Of course, predicting which cards will stand out is just as hard as predicting the decks themselves. This is especially true for Warner, who is working over a year ahead of what we’re seeing this week. Right now, Warner says he’s working on set five which, assuming the regular release schedule Ravensburger has laid out so far, would release some time in the Winter of 2024.

If you’re desperate to build a deck like the designers, though, you’ll want to go with two specific archetypes “I do tend to refer to myself as a Combo or Ramp type player for my play style”. Combo is all about having cards work together in an intricate network of interactions (such as questing multiple times per turn with Ariel, Whoseit Collector and a hand full of cheap items). Meanwhile, Ramp is more focused on building up your inkwell quicker than your opponent, playing big cards way earlier and overwhelming the board under sheer value.

Maui, Demigod from Disney Lorcana

One thing that remains up in the air for the second set, let alone the fifth, is the idea of drafting and sealed play. A mainstay of TCGs like Magic and Flesh and Blood, these often serve as the backbone of prerelease events and organised play, and challenge you to make decks from a limited number of booster packs. Warner confirmed that this wasn’t a consideration for The First Chapter, but did say that “sealed deck gameplay, as well as others, [are] part of the game design process”

Lorcana’s inks all have their own design spaces, such as Steel being focused on challenging and Sapphire loving Items. While Warner wasn’t able to discuss whether we’ll ever see multi-ink cards that combine two or three of the six inks at the core of Lorcana, he did say that “as we get deeper into the sets, there will be more to discover about each ink colour.”

I saw our talk about the inks as a chance to clear up one of my biggest question marks about the game. Every ink seems very neatly defined, bar one. Emerald is adaptable, it can pull cards from different zones, but how does it fit into Lorcana’s wider design?

John Silver, Alien Pirate art

The answer was surprisingly simple: avoiding combat. “Emerald focuses on avoiding combat when able with mechanics such as Evasive, or making opponents not want to challenge your characters.” This is a theme we’ve seen a lot in Emerald, through cards bouncing things back to your hand or bringing them back from banishment, but maybe as we move from The First Chapter to the future sets, we’ll start to see Emerald pick up more combat tricks and other tools to keep itself nice and flexible?

Warner has played a lot of Lorcana, and with cards we’re not going to see for over a year. With all his expertise, are there any cards he thinks we’re currently missing in all the excitement? Possibly. “The reactions that I have seen from people so far don’t seem so much like sleeping on a card, more like just not knowing everything that’s available”, Warner says. Maybe the cards we’re honing in on now will be replaced by unexpected new favourites come August?

Stitch, Carefree Surfer from Disney Lorcana

As for what Warner himself is playing, it does largely depend on what is being playtested. “The games I mostly play these days are playtests and development games. Unfortunately, because of this, it’s best for me not to get too attached because the card, or even the whole deck, may change very quickly due to a number of reasons, including maintaining balance.”

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