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A Breakdown on How to Develop a Card Game App

Developing a mechanically solid card game is usually an excellent starter project for those new in the app development and gaming industry. Between the easy-to-use resources and AI rule sets, you'll find this is an ideal project to get you started!

Charlotte Walker, Blogger

March 10, 2014

6 Min Read

There are few things as addictive and fun as a good card game. Developing a mechanically solid card game is usually a fairly simple process, and it's an excellent starter project for those new in the app development and gaming industry. Card games don't require the extensive media that other games do, making it an ideal project for a solo or small development team.

For the following walkthrough, let’s assume we’re developing a premium poker application. Remember: you need to have polish and professionalism in your final work; the market is extremely competitive in this field.

Sort out your dev kit

No one wants to reinvent the wheel. Card games are simple enough that you can usually use a dev kit rather than building everything from the ground up -- unless, of course, you're intentionally trying to do so. With a card game, you may want to get a dev kit that compiles out to both iOS and Android. Smaller applications thrive on volume, which can only be obtained through cross-platform capabilities. App Game Kit is an example of a very simple dev kit that offers cross platform capabilities, whereas Unity 3D is significantly more advanced.

AppGameKit example
AppGameKit is a great option for easy development

Create a storyboard of the application's flow

The beginning of any program is a storyboard. A storyboard is a sequence of images showing exactly how the application should work, from launch to game completion. The storyboard should be as detailed as possible and include notes. Many programmers love working on index cards because it allows them to create a visual mockup on one side and notes regarding implementation on the other. After your storyboard has been created, run through it many times. Your storyboard is the foundation of your program, and you will run into developmental issues if you don't take your time at this juncture.

Plan out the process before you begin developing the game

Bring together your art and sound assets

Many developers -- especially first-time developers -- make the mistake of bringing their art and sound assets into development too late. For a card game, your art assets are going to be fairly simple: some interface designs, a few packs of cards and perhaps some rotating backdrops. Outsourcing or purchasing these art assets from the beginning allows you to integrate them with a higher level of polish, and polish is where many independent game developers actually fail. A game needs to look clean and professional if it is to actually sell.

Begin your programming from the ground up

Waterfall development is usually preferable to agile development in game and application design because everything is so highly linked together. While there is no short cut for the actual programming of the game, many developers prefer to work on their game chronologically based on what the player sees first. A card game is fairly simple to build out; you simply need to create the foundation for the game and then slowly expand upon it. As you expand your game, you may be tempted to branch out from your original storyboard. This is usually not a good idea; it's best to put your storyboard in place before adding anything new.

Waterfall Vs. Agile Development

Working out the AI balance

When creating a poker application, it's extremely important to think out the actual rules of the game and to balance the game appropriately. If you will have a computer opponent, you'll need to program a comprehensive set of logical instructions to simulate a human player. This element is actually the most challenging part of building out a card game and will require the most testing. For a poker game, there are actually sets of AI rules already programmed that you can follow. You may want to invest in one of these AI rule sets to get started in creating your own game.

Programming a poker game begins by coding in the actual rules of the game -- the core game mechanics, such as you would use with another player. Once the rules are coded, you can create the logical framework that an AI opponent will use to make their decisions. The opponent must not be challenging enough to be discouraging; it cannot make the correct decisions all the time. However, it also can't be easy enough to beat that the game becomes boring.

Finding a balance in strategy for your poker game is an essential part of the process and often the most challenging. It will take many hours of testing to find a good blend and to ensure that all rules are being followed properly and are internally consistent. If you are creating your own game from the ground up, rather than creating a game like poker, it becomes a little more complex; you'll also need to ensure that the actual rules of your game are viable.

Strategy card game
Take into account poker strategy and game rules. Above, a fifth community card is being dealt. Can your game understand it’s implication?

Testing and polishing your game

Applications often fail due to a lack of comprehensive testing. Your game needs to be tested thoroughly not only by yourself but also others who have no prior experience with your game. You may be surprised at the actions they attempt to take or the issues they experience, especially on a platform that you're not familiar with. While testing your game, you'll also need to add on a bit of polish. You should ensure that the game doesn't just work well, but also that it looks fantastic. This is where already having your art assets in place is beneficial; otherwise you may spend a large amount of your development time simply trying to work your art assets in.

Additional concerns when developing a poker game

Developing a poker game can both be easier and more difficult than developing a different type of card game, in different ways. Many of the assets you need, such as AI rules and art assets, have already been developed. However, you need to be able to put a particular spin on your poker game if you are to make a name for yourself within the market. This could be through creating a remarkably polished game, creating a variety of fun sets or even developing your own variation on traditional poker that is addictive or fun

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