Mechanics Focus: Card Drafting


In the Low Player Count BGG guild, one of the podcasts that I enjoy, a series of questions was asked about the “card drafting” mechanic. I have incorporated card drafting in Picky Packrats and am working on other designs that have card drafting as central to the game, so I have been thinking about this mechanic already and have some thoughts to share. The link to the BGG glossary entry for Card Drafting, my responses to the questions posed in the BGG guild, and some additional thoughts follow.

BGG Glossary

Card Drafting

Card Drafting and Deck Building

Based on my experience in discussions regarding card drafting, a quick comment regarding deckbuilding is in order here. Since deckbuilding usually involves card drafting as the mechanism to acquire the cards for the deck, these two mechanics are often confused as the same thing. Card drafting is a mechanic to acquire cards. Deckbuilding is a mechanic for what is done with cards once acquired. They are often associated, but are not the same, and their association is not required. Card drafting can be used in many cases other than deckbuilding and the cards in deckbuilding may be acquired by many means other than drafting.

What is a Card?

This may seem like a silly question, but not all cards look the same. In fact, some cards are tiles… In some games, tiles function essentially like cards (e.g., Pastiche) and in others, cards function essentially like tiles (e.g., Among the Stars). The BGG mechanic of “Card Drafting” is often associated with tile games (e.g., Pastiche).

The Podcast Guild Questions

How do you define card drafting as a mechanic?

Card drafting is the mechanic of drawing a card (or cards) from a common, at least partially open/visible source. Examples of several variations of card drafting follow:

The frequency of drafting:

  • A limited number of times (e.g., drafting roles during setup).
  • Specific events (e.g., Puerto Rico – Settler role)
  • In successive turns (e.g. typical, in-game deckbuilding).

The cards drafted may come from a variety of sources:

  • Pick-and-Pass:
    • Simultaneous: A hand of cards is dealt to each player from which a card is drafted and the remaining cards passed to another player (e.g., Sushi Go, 7 Wonders).
    • Sequential: One player starts with private access to all the cards, drafts one and passes the remaining cards (e.g., Citadels).
  • Market/Pool:
    • Static: Cards to be drafted are selected at setup, placed in common view, and remain in play throughout the game (e.g., Dominion).
    • Replenished:  A small subset of cards is revealed as a market and as they are drafted new cards are added from the stock.

The cards may have a cost:

  • Free: The only cost to drafting the card is the player’s turn (e.g., Ticket to Ride).
  • Cost to Acquire: Each card has a cost, usually variable, to acquire it (e.g., Dominion).
  • Cost to Use: Each card may not have a cost to acquire it, but has a cost to use it (e.g., Imperial Settlers)

The cards in the draft may be replenished in various timings:

  • Immediately: Whenever a card is drafted a new card replaces it (e.g., Ticket to Ride, Star Realms)
  • Each Turn: When one player has made their selections, new cards are added for the next player.
  • Each Round: When all players have made their selections new cards are added to replace all cards taken (e.g., Alchemists, Imperial Settlers).
  • Phased/Staged: When all the cards in a set have been drafted a new set of cards replaces them (e.g., 7 Wonders Duel, Among the Stars). Additionally, the sets of cards may be from:
    • A common deck that is divided into sets (e.g., Among the Stars, Sushi Go!).
    • A deck specifically for the current phase (e.g., 7 Wonders Duel).

The cards in the draft may be replenished in whole or in part:

  • One for One: New cards are added to replace drafted cards in place.
  • Conveyor: The cards in the market slide down (become cheaper) as others are drafted and new ones are added at the expensive end (e.g., Suburbia).
    • Modified: Some cards in view are not accessible until they move into the market (e.g., Valley of the Kings, Traders of Osaka).
  • Wholesale: A replenished market where cards that remain after a round are discarded and a completely new market is revealed. (e.g., Ticket to Ride - 3 locomotives, Puerto Rico).

The cards in the draft may be replenished at random or by player choice:

  • Random: Cards are added to the market by deal or from the top of the stock (e.g., most cases).
  • Player Choice: Players determine which cards are added to the market (e.g., Coloretto, marginally Valley of the Kings, some special powers in other games).

The cards may be drafted to:

  • Form a Tableau: Drafted cards are immediately played to the tableau for eventual scoring (e.g., Sushi Go, 7 Wonders).
  • Form a Hand: Drafted cards form a hand that is then played in order of choice (e.g., Medieval Academy, Ticket to Ride).
  • Form a Deck: Drafted cards are eventually shuffled into the player’s deck (e.g., Dominion, Trains).
  • Take an Action: This might be a case on cards functioning as the implementation of action drafting (e.g., Citadels, Eminent Domain).

If the cards have been closed information, then they may be revealed:

  • Simultaneously: All cards are revealed at once (e.g., Sushi Go!).
  • In Logical Order: Cards are revealed in a predetermined order (e.g., Citadels).
  • In Player Order: Cards are revealed in player order (e.g., Medieval Academy).

Do you enjoy card drafting? Why or why not?

I enjoy card drafting in most of its implementations and usually over standard mechanisms for drawing/dealing cards. Drafting provides a decision that can have tactical impacts (e.g., blocking) and strategic impacts (e.g., building an engine). Drafting also mitigates the randomness associated with the order of cards either through a deal or drawing from the stock.

There are also so many variations to card drafting that the variety itself is enjoyable to discover and there is likely a variation that suits most themes.

Although, my perception of card drafting is generally positive, it can be negative if used in a situation when it is not beneficial (for the sake of using it). Card drafting can add time and complexity to a game that doesn’t benefit from it.

What games feature card drafting that you enjoy?

Primarily from BGG advanced search of games that I have rated and BGG has associated the Card Drafting mechanic…

Cards: 7 Wonders: Duel, Ticket to Ride, Dominion, Alchemists, Star Realms, Splendor, Imperial Settlers, Among the Stars, Eminent Domain, Coloretto, Viceroy, Tides of Time, Blood Rage, Belfort, Trains, Sushi Go!, Thunderstone, Ascension: Deckbuilding Game, Quarriors!, Eight-Minute Empire: Legends, Onirim, Medieval Academy, Kahuna, Machi Koro, Traders of Osaka.

Tiles: Puerto Rico, Patchwork, Between Two Cities, Pastiche

Can drafting stand on its own as a primary mechanic or does it need secondary mechanics to succeed?

Several games I have played do a fine job with card drafting as the primary mechanic. They rely on interesting scoring to be interesting. It might be argued that the scoring, generally based on set collection, and the decision driver, a variable market (cards have a different value to different players), involves other mechanics to succeed, but I can’t think of any (fun) game that has only one mechanic. At the barest of mechanics, I’d put: Sushi Go!, Medieval Academy, and Coloretto. Although Coloretto relies heavily on it, BGG doesn’t list a mechanic for the first part of each round; the Reverse Draft, or the Market Building, or the I Divide, You Decide.

Your Turn

What other variations to card drafting have you seen? What aspects do you like? Is there a possibility that you would like to see in a game, but haven’t yet?