The CCG Thread – FIRST!

Welcome to the *CG thread, where we talk all manner of Card Games – Collectible, Trading, Living, and otherwise! Feel free to chat amongst yourselves about the card games you’re playing or anything card game-related that strikes your fancy.

In every game, there is a first turn. While that probably seems obvious, it’s also an important game design issue to deal with.

The first turn of the game is the first opportunity for a player to break “parity.” We like to think that players start each game on an equal footing, with only their decks separating them from their opponent. But contrary to that belief is “first-turn advantage” – all else being equal, the first person to have the opportunity to act will have the advantage.

Most, if not all games try to address this, in more and less subtle ways: in Magic, the first player skips their first draw (but in multiplayer, they don’t, because having more players drawing an extra card puts them more behind). In Yu-gi-oh, the first player skips both their draw and their attack. In Hearthstone, they start with one fewer card and their opponent gets an additional advantage in the form of a “coin” in their opening hand:


A more subtle method is Netrunner, in which the Corp always goes first, building the whole game around that advantage so as to make it invisible.

Or, in an innovative move, Valve’s Artifact seems to be doing away with separate turns entirely, instead using a simultaneous-decision model that emulates MOBAs.

No matter how it’s done, first-turn mechanics shape the flow of the game and the shape of the metagame, especially in regards to aggro: since aggro wants to take very few turns, the first turns are proportionally more important. In Yu-gi-oh, getting the first attack is important to aggro, so playing second is more desired in that kind of deck. Whereas in Hearthstone, the coin is a mini tempo boost that can take the initiative back from aggro if aggro went first.

Interesting side note – at one point, a study was done at a Magic tournament, tracking which player won the coin flip, getting the choice (and choice is important) of whether to play first. What it found was that the player who chose had a slightly lower rate of ultimately winning. The study did not track which choice they made (playing first or second) but the fact that there was that drop meant that some players were “choosing wrong” – and from that the implication is that the first-turn advantage, in Magic at least, is balanced by way of being complex enough that it hasn’t been “solved.”

Our weekly prompt: What’s your favorite first-turn mechanic? Do you like playing first or second?

Or, as always, feel free to talk about anything going on with you in the world of *CGs.