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Zoeti combines monsters and poker into a fantasy roguelite, deckbuilding game

How customizing the rules of an age-old game and updating the aesthetic of classic playing cards brought this unique title to life.

Joel Couture, Contributor

August 8, 2023

5 Min Read

Zoeti is a roguelite deckbuilding game that sees you fighting fantasy monstrosities with magical powers, all fueled by poker rules and hands. Playing for your life can be a bit more exciting than playing for money, after all.

Game Developer spoke with Dusklight producer Yen-wen Chen to learn more about how they used the known rules of poker to create interest in the game and its systems, how they needed to tweak poker rules to make the game more compelling for players, and the thoughts that went into making the playing cards look interesting without taking away from their readability.

Zoeti turns poker into a roguelite card game. What drew you to this idea?

At the very beginning of the project, our team wanted to make a whole new roguelike game and play style that was different from existing titles. Initially, we used dice as the theme for the prototype, but we didn’t come up with a satisfying mechanism. A year later, we tried to combine a skill system with playing cards. Then, the earliest prototype of Zoeti was born.

Poker is a game that can be played by everyone, across all ages, and we think it made the rules of the game easier to understand.

Can you tell us a bit about the combat system? How did you turn the rules of poker into a means of thumping monsters?

In Zoeti, the combinations of cards are called a “hand,” such as “Single,” “Pair,” “Flush,”etc. At the beginning of the game, players have eight different types of hands, and each of these hands can be equipped with one skill to be used in battle.

As the game progresses, players will continue to acquire new skills, and when there are multiple skills in the same type of “hand,” players are free to change the equipped skills they have for the next battle. It can be the player's choice to equip defensive or attack skills. The players can also utilize the effects of accessories and props to make more complex combinations.

Cards are equivalent to the player’s “energy.” Players can choose to activate skills until they run out of cards on deck or keep them until the next turn. This is another reason why Zoeti has a different battle pace from other roguelike games.

What ways did you break away from or alter the rules of poker for your combat system?

At the very beginning of testing, we found it was too hard to form a larger size hand in the original poker (13 numbers with four suits), so we cut the numbers and suits to solve this problem. Then we came up with the idea to make our three characters have their unique card deck to make the battle experience different when playing three characters.

Also, in early testing, we found it hard for players to create more diverse battle strategies with limited types of middle-sized hands. So, we created two hands based on the original poker hands concept, which are “Mini Flush” and “Mini Straight.” These two hands will only need three cards, so the players can have more choices to use the cards in the battle. We also value skills. More powerful skills are categorized as a larger hand, such as “Straight Flush.”

Zoeti Screenshot

Where poker rules/hands are relatively well-known, what do you feel that added to your game?

Players are curious about the gameplay when they see battles played using poker cards. Since the rules are quite easy to understand, it does attract a group of players initially. However, the restrictions of the original card hands were a challenge for both game design and game balance. We spent more time figuring out new types of card hands or changing the original poker deck to solve the problems.

What thoughts went into teaching players the rules of poker for those who don't know them?

During the first battle in the game, we have some tutorials for the players with slides, but not that much. Since the skills are arranged by hand types, and the system will pick up cards when the skill is chosen, it doesn’t matter if the player is unfamiliar with the rules of poker. Because poker is very popular, and the players who are attracted to it are usually aware of the rules of poker, we didn't run into this problem very much.

Did the game change a great deal throughout development? Were there some elements that shifted or were cut?

We took an early idea of having different card decks and turned it into our three characters in the end. This is also the reason that the three characters have different card decks and different hands.

Due to time constraints and game balance, we removed several ideas from the past versions, but some were interesting. One of those was the ability for players to trigger changes to their basic card decks so that players could more easily form specific hands during the battle.

Another idea was to allow the players to bless the cards on hand, and by playing the blessed cards, an additional bonus effect would be granted. Also, we had considered special cards before, such as Joker cards. The Joker card would have been equal to any suit and number. The players could also get cursed cards. With these blessed cards and Joker cards in their decks, it would have made the strategy even more complex. However, the production timeline couldn't fulfill the ideas above, so they were eventually abandoned.

Plain playing cards can be somewhat dull to look at. What thoughts went into creating a compelling art style around the game to make it visually interesting and make the cards look good yet simple?

Historically, tarot was the original version of poker. We were inspired by that and tried to use the tarot element with a fantasy theme instead of just poker.

We used to change the poker suit into tarot basic elements such as sword (spade), cup (heart), cube (coin), and scepter (club), but soon we found it hard for players to understand these suits, and when they saw the sword suit, they thought that represent attack cards. In the end, we decided to maintain the original poker suits for better understanding but designed the card with a fantasy style.

On the other hand, considering the playing cards often overlap in battle, we put the suits and numbers close to the edge of the card to better utilize the space.

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