I was going to put up a discussion about how Rock Band succeeds in being fun even when the players are losing, but then I saw the #AlternateMana posts on Twitter and got inspired. Changing the way players get mana–the resource required to play cards–in Magic: the Gathering messes with the fundamental building blocks of the game. Pushing that to an extreme could end one up with a game that still has cards and mana costs and timing rules and all the other elements of Magic, but that’s nevertheless a very different experience.
How about some of these:
Mana is acquired by building a house of cards. The different colors of mana each have a different size and shape of card associated with them, which make some combinations easier and some more difficult (e.g., the red cards and the blue cards are shaped such that they’re stable when used separately, but do a poor job of reinforcing each other). Getting more mana requires building the house higher.
Mana is produced by the overall amount of Magic in the area. The more Magic is being played, the more total mana is available. Some cards’ costs can only be paid at large events; PTQs and GPs aren’t just noteworthy because of the players and the prizes, but because they’re big enough to allow Griselbrand Unleashed to hit the table.
Mana is allocated by a group, which may or may not be made up of people playing in the same game. At the start of each turn, players explain what they want to do and what they need to achieve it. The group then divides the mana up according to whose speech impressed them more. (Imagine how different Commander would be if you had to get people to give you mana by explaining why your deck’s gameplan is fun for the whole table.)
Mana comes from real-world locations. Traveling to a new place and playing Magic there permanently gives the player access to that location’s mana. Get more by further “attuning” to that location: sightsee, become proficient in the local language, etc.
Mana is captured in wargame fashion; it comes from spaces on a board, and players gain mana by taking and holding those spaces.
Mana is a flow, represented by flowing water on the table. Players gain mana by using their cards to divert the flow. (Sleeving cards suddenly becomes very important.)
Mana is acquired through a music equalizer, with sound in different ranges generating different kinds of mana. Players get the mana they need by finding (or playing?) a song that quite literally hits the right notes.
Mana is generated by emotion; to get a certain color of mana, a player must find evidence of a specific emotion in the world via news stories. To get more mana, the player needs to get better at searching up information. Bonus mana comes from finding it in other languages, from different countries, etc. The metagame is influenced, not just by the card pool, but also by the state of the real world.
Now I really want to design games that involve building houses of cards and redirecting water. If only there was a 25th hour in the day . . . .