Where Cards Fall, the narrative puzzler from developer The Game Band, most recently known for its viral hit Blaseball, is coming to Nintendo Switch and PC in early 2021, publisher Snowman and The Game Band tell Game Informer in an exclusive interview. The game was originally released exclusively on Apple Arcade back in September 2019.
Upon release, Where Cards Fall was met with warm reception from critics, and also won Best Mobile Game from the 2019 Unity Awards and an Apple Design Award in 2020. In it, players assume the role of a nameless protagonist, navigating them through the highs and lows of growing up, graduating high school, and attending college. The hook of Where Cards Fall is its central puzzle mechanic, which requires the player to construct houses of cards throughout each level in order to navigate its terrain and overcome obstacles.
Neither Snowman nor The Game Band will divulge specifics around their deal with Apple for Where Cards Fall – nor will they talk how many times the game was downloaded on the service – so we weren’t able to learn specifically how their exclusivity deal was structured. In March 2019, however, the game was re-announced as “exclusively” for Apple Arcade (in 2017 it was announced for PC and iOS), but both Snowman and The Game Band agree that a safer way to look at the deal is that it was actually a timed exclusive.
“Apple Arcade, it’s what gave our game its start,” says Sam Rosenthal, the founder and creative director of The Game Band. “Like, Where Cards Fall would not have existed in its current form without Apple Arcade because of the way that they work, and they’ve made it public that they do fund the game. So, it allowed us to make the game that we really wanted to make.”
“And the other thing you’re kind of fighting against is, if we had launched Where Cards Fall as a mobile game in the paid app store, we would have wanted to charge maybe 20 bucks for it,” says Ryan Cash, Snowman founder and CEO. “Because we want people to know that this is a substantial, serious product. However, if you go for $20, you’re not going to be able to reach that wide of an audience, because there aren’t that many people willing to fork over 20 bucks without trying something. So, Apple Arcade’s sort of like the best of both worlds.”
Historically, Snowman has been a mobile-only game publisher, starting in 2015 with its award-winning endless snowboarder Alto’s Adventure. However, in 2020, it’s begun making the move to other platforms, putting out The Alto Collection, which collects Adventure and its sequel Alto’s Odyssey into one package, in August 2020 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, and plans to bring it to Switch “soon.” Now, it’s making the jump with other titles.
That’s not to say that bringing Where Cards Fall to other platforms was a post-launch idea. As mentioned, it was originally announced for PC. And before its deal with Apple, it was shown on Switch to some press at shows like GDC. There were always ideas and plans for how Where Cards Fall would work beyond Apple devices.
That last point is an important one to the teams at The Game Band and Snowman. In our interview, they insist numerous times that the Switch and PC versions of Where Cards Fall are not ports of a mobile game. Their goal is for anyone playing on the new platforms to not be able to tell they’re playing a game that originally launched on phones – and a lot of that comes down to the custom controls.
“It’s always going to have unique controls on every platform that fits that platform,” says Joel Clark, a game designer and engineer at The Game Band. “I remember, our earliest controller prototypes were some of the most fun things. It didn’t make its way into the first release but playing this game on controller feels so good. And it just feels right for this game. It’s exciting to see it finally get to have that in this new release.”
“It shouldn’t feel at all when you’re playing it on Switch or PC like this is, you know, a port of a small mobile title,” Rosenthal says. “It is just a big, substantial, premium title that will be right at home on all these platforms. So, yes, it happened to start on Apple Arcade, but I think anybody that’s playing it for the very first time will be shocked to know that this ever was on mobile in the first place.”
Outside of the financial support Apple provided, Rosenthal says he gets the impression that people playing through Apple Arcade likely aren’t the average game players on Switch, PC, or other platforms; launching Where Cards Fall on Arcade afforded The Game Band an opportunity to put its game first and foremost in front of a different audience. But he adds he’s excited to bring the game to the “connoisseurs of games,” as he puts it.
“I think one thing you have with Apple Arcade or the App Store mobile is like, everyone has an iPhone or an iPad or whatever,” Cash says. “And so you’re kind of reaching everybody. Whereas a place like Steam, you might find a more niche audience who is already looking for something like Where Cards Fall. For a lot of people, they have an iPhone, they see Apple Arcade, they’re like, ‘This is cool,’ but they’re not necessarily the kind of person who wants to play, like, a 10 or 20-hour in-depth narrative puzzle game.”
Most simply, new platforms mean new players for Where Cards Fall. But 2020 is also a vastly different year for The Game Band than 2019. In July, the developer released Blaseball, a free web-based ARG where players bet on baseball games (it’s honestly a little confusing, but Polygon has a great explainer you should check out). It went very viral very quickly and rapidly “took over the internet,” as writers like to say, spawning fan art, communities, and its own lore. This success is not lost on The Game Band, and the members of the team we talked to say they hope the success of Blaseball and the new fans the developer has attracted can make their way back to Where Cards Fall. As Rosenthal puts it, the audience it’s reaching with Blaseball is likely a much different audience than that on Apple Arcade.
“And one thing that we’ve definitely seen so far with the people that are attracted to the game is […] a lot of the people that are playing Blaseball also love, like, strange and interesting indie games,” Rosenthal says. “So, I think this being on Switch and PC, it seems like that’s where our audience for Blaseball naturally goes to discover cool indie games. I think it gives it another chance, a little bit of a second life in a way. And we’re excited for that. We do have some tie-ins coming for the two together. That, we’ll be doing very, very soon when we announce the new release of the game.”
Snowman and The Game Band aren’t ready to announce a specific date yet, but people interested in checking out Where Cards Fall will have a chance to check the game out via a playthrough video on Steam and the Epic Game Store today. The video is narrated by Rosenthal, who walks players through the mechanics of the game and how to play.
Where Cards Fall will be released on Switch and PC, via Steam and the Epic Game Store, early next year.