Cards Games to Develop Design Skills

A few years ago I started developing a card game to teach transmedia design skills. I had to put it aside because of work and study commitments, but now I’m keen to develop it again. As part of my research into this I looked at a few design card games and so I’d share them here. I’m sure I’ve come across others, but I didn’t buy or download them and can’t find my list anywhere. So please tell me of others you find. In the meantime, check out these great card design games:

Grow a Game

Grow a Game is developed by Values at Play, which is a research project concerned with assisting and encouraging “designers to be mindful of what values their computer games promote. We would like to see a diversification of video game values to include positive principles like equity, creativity, diversity, and negotiation, along with the traditional tropes of violence and machismo”

The game involves coming up with a game from cards with Verbs, Challenges, Games and Values. The video on the site shows Mary Flanagan running a workshop and it seems to do the job of making values part of the design process extremely well. I really like the idea of including values in a game (or even, going further, including all elements that influence the design of a transmedia fiction — say, copyright and exclusive commercial agreements could be elements that constrain the design. But this depends on what the goal of the transmedia design game is: to teach how the various influences on design affect the outcome of a transmedia fiction, or whether it is about educating about the different design elements one needs to know when designing a transmedia fiction, and so on).

IDEO Method Cards

The IDEO Method Cards have a slightly different goal to Grow a Game:

IDEO Method Cards is a collection of 51 cards representing diverse ways that design teams can understand the people they are designing for. They are used to make a number of different methods accessible to all members of a design team, to explain how and when the methods are best used, and to demonstrate how they have been applied to real design projects.

The deck really is beautiful, and is split into four categories: Learn, Look, Ask and Try. Under each of these categories are cards that provide methods to design with people in mind. For instance, under ‘Learn’ you analyse information you’ve collected to identify patterns and insights using (for instance) ‘Affinity Diagrams’. Under ‘Look’, you observe people to discover what they do rather than what they say they do, using (for instance) ‘Rapid Ethnography’. Under ‘Ask’ you enlist people’s participation to elicit information using (for instance) an ‘Unfocus Group’. Under ‘Try’ you create simulations to help empathize and evaluate proposed designs, using (for instance) ‘Paper Prototyping’. Here, the game is more about method, which can be the focus of a transmedia fiction design game too.

Once Upon a Time: The Storytelling Card Game

The Once Upon a Time game is actually a storytelling game, but can be used for instruction. They explain that the game can be used “to exercise essential skills in reading, decision making, cooperative play, and creativity”. But beyond these functions, the game offers a set of story elements that make up the design of a story (which can be used then in designing transmedia fictions). There are three cards in this set: ‘Once Upon a Time’ cards (which are sub-divided into Characters, Items, Places, Aspects, and Events), ‘Happy Ever After’ cards (which are endings), and ‘Interrupt’ cards (which you use to interrupt another person’s story). This game has some elements (specifically the story elements) and mechanics that could translate well to a transmedia fiction design game.


Ari Jarvinen created this game to “teach analytical thinking through theory”.

In GameGame, players compete in designing games. Players collect and trade cards in order to create a complete game design. In between, one player gets to play a game publisher, while the other players try to sell their game concepts to her. In the end, the best game design is decided in a vote. Let the best game win!

Now in this game there are both design elements and those ‘meta’ elements that influence design. There are BLAH card categories. The ‘Component’ cards describe what players manipulate in the game (for instance, a chess piece). The ‘End and Victory Condition’ card describes how the game can be won (for instance, ‘Bingo!’). The ‘Theme’ card describes the thematic level of the game (for instance, real estate trade in Monopoly). The ‘Goal’ card describes what effort is being put towards, the directive (for instance, save the Princess). The ‘Environment’ card describes the actual environment of the game (for instance, a chess board or football pitch). The ‘Interface’ card describes the interface tool a player uses (for instance, a joystick or tennis racket). The ‘Game Mechanic’ card describes what players do (for instance, trading). The ‘Assets’ cards are pretty clever and fun. They describe things that you are able to achieve as a designer (for instance, work game journalists into a frenzy about your game or headhunt a top designer to work on your team). I find this design set has a lot of parallels with what I initially looking to do with the transmedia design game (especially when you consider the inclusion of an ‘interface’ — which in my transmedia design game involves combinations of interfaces such as a keyboard and flicking pages in a book).

Do you know of other card games or any other type of design game that you like?

2 Replies

  • Hey Christy,

    Steve Jackson’s Illuminati always struck me as having a great core mechanic. You can download rules and other game materials here: — I’ve also put up a .pdf of the rules here:

    Illuminati might actually work pretty well as a model for a game about transmedia design — the whole purpose of the game is to link up networks, spread disinformation, and reach out across multiple platforms… Of course, the goal in Illuminati is to take over the world through subterfuge and intrigue, which might not necessarily be the goal of a transmedia design game… or would it?? 😉


  • @Jeff Watson Great stuff! I’ll definitely check it out. I know you’re looking at card games ideas too, so thanks for sharing. 🙂

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