The Game Mechanics: Hand Management

Hand management is used in games to reward players for playing a sequence or series of cards from their hands. Hand management is often used with set collection or card drafting of some sort. Some popular games that use hand management are Magic the Gathering and Star Realms. Some games combine hand management with a board and other mechanics like Fire Tower or Pandemic. We are going to look at how hand management is used in Star Realms as our case study.

Star Realms is a 2 player game where players draft cards on their turn from a common market on the table. Players will not be able to buy the cards that other players buy from the market on their turn. There are five cards in this market for players to choose from. I mention this because one of the major things that result from using hand management is those hard, but fun choices players have to make.

Players in Star Realms have to analyze more data to make hard choices and the choices they are making are not necessarily the choices they want to.

To make a quick comparison to Magic, players in magic set their deck ahead of time to make the optimal probabilities of the combinations they want to see in the game. Conversely in Star Realms players are making their decks on the fly through a mostly additive process but there are mechanisms to remove cards from the player decks. Players in Star Realms have to analyze more data to make hard choices and the choices they are making are not necessarily the choices they want to. For example in Star Realms there are four factions to add to your deck and you might have started collecting red and green and when it comes to your turn there might only be blue cards available in the market. Do you buy the blue cards and water down your deck but ensure that the other player doesn't get the card they want? Or do you pivot and start adding blue cards to your deck for some new and interesting combinations.


There are also some interesting things that happen in board games with hand management. For example in the game of Fire Tower players will manage what cards they keep in their hands to create combinations on the board. In Fire Tower players are trying to manipulate the board where there is an ever growing fire. They must protect their space and move the fire closer to the other players. This all happens with a hand of cards dealt to the player. Deciding what cards to keep and what cards to play. The hope of keeping certain cards is to provide better defense or to build a big combination.


There are many ways of implementing hand management but at the heart of it is to have your players make interesting choices throughout your game. Hand management is a great tool to use in a game and when combined with other mechanics will really get players thinking about their next play and longer term strategies. Thanks for reading and please join the email list and come back as we continue on with our continuing series of game analysis, The Game Mechanics.



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