Design Discussion: Combo Decks

Another major annoyance to many Magic: The Gathering players are combo decks. Combo decks are decks that revolve around a couple of cards that cascade in power to dramatic effect. So they will play and do nothing until you get the correct pieces, then they usually instantly win. Imagine if you were playing against someone playing solitaire. They really didn’t care what you did unless you went over and removed their Ace of Spades from their deck. They’ll just keep playing, and eventually declare “I win.”

This is not an enjoyable gameplay. Combat’s core goals is for easy to pick up gameplay. This doesn’t meant that certain cards can’t combo at all, but they should be intuitive and not be the difference between winning and losing.

LingeringFlameHalfSize

One of the best examples of this is Lingering Flame in the Priest deck. The Priest has a great many damage over time effects. Lingering Flame can do a lot of damage if combo’d with their other cards. However, you don’t win the game when you draw your Lingering Flame. It feels great if you have the prefect turn with it, but even a perfect turn only nets you about 6 bonus damage. Most of the time, it’s going to net you 2-3 bonus damage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is important to make combos in the decks to give interest and allow skilled players the ability to maximize it’s potential while still being intuitive enough for new players. This was one of the important guiding design goals behind Combat.

 

Combat’s Kickstarter is up and running. Buy your copy here.

Design Discussion: The Circle of Deck

Last time, we discussed Counterspelling, one of the most annoying features of Magic: The Gathering. Next we’ll talk about another annoying strategy: Milling.

Milling in Magic: The Gathering is when you force your opponent out of a deck to win. In Magic, when you run out of cards, you lose.

Combat, we didn’t want that. We wanted the game to be decided not on technicalities, but on action and skill. So we early on decided that once a deck runs out of cards, you shuffle your discard and use it as a new deck.

Any man, are we glad we did. If we didn’t, the Rogue class simply wouldn’t exist. The rogue draws a lot of cards. A LOT. Their mechanic is that they can usually play two cards per turn as part of their attack. Needless to say, they go through a lot of cards compared to other classes. When other classes are just reaching the end of their deck, the rogue has recycled their deck two or three times. The rogue plays fast, but don’t think they are more powerful by default. Even one of their most powerful attack cards: Reckless Strike deals +3 damage(total of 4) but makes them take 1 more damage for 1 turn. This card in any other deck would be too weak, but when you consider that this is only 1/2 of the attack, you get a better picture of the rogue.

Plus, once you recycle your deck, your opponent loses their ability to figure out your hand. If they’ve seen you use all three of your Teleports, they won’t hesitate to throw big attacks your way. However, once you cycle your deck, they can’t be so sure.

 

Combat’s Kickstarter is up and running. Buy your copy here.

Design Discussion: Importance of Doing Stuff

One thing that most players coming from Magic: The Gathering bring up when they first play Combat is “Where is Counterspell”?

One of my design goals early on was “Always do something.” We established the resource systems so that there was downtime, of course, but that downtime got you something. You drew cards, you regained your resources, you actually did something. Even if you don’t have an attack card in your hand, you have attack abilities on your specialization that you can make.

So what does this have to do with Counterspell? Counterspell keeps you from doing things. We include defense cards, some of which completely negate all damage. Isn’t this the same?

Absolutely not. It feels great to be able to Teleport out of the way of that huge attack, but I didn’t make that attack fizzle. I didn’t tell them “You wanted to do this, but you didn’t!” It says “You did that, but I responded by defending myself.” Any secondary effects still go through. Even if you Dodge my Bash so it deals no damage, you still cannot attack next turn. (note that you can still heal, gather resources, or play non-damaging actions).

I understand, some people may not be able to see the difference, but I can honestly say it feels so much better. Everyone has defense cards. If I’m going against the Wizard or Warrior, I know there is a chance that they might negate all of my attack. I might be more cautious if they just drew a bunch of cards. If I’m against the Priest or Rogue, I know they can negate part of the attack or even negate small amounts from multiple attacks.

Everyone can defend themselves, but no one can tell you that your card fizzled.

Combat’s Kickstarter is up and running. Buy your copy here.

Categories: Combat! Tags: , ,

Design Discussion: Small Changes with Big Impacts

One of the hardest parts of playtesting and making balance changes is where to make changes. Today we’re going to look at a Warrior Card: Sure Strike.

Sure Strike has been in the Warrior deck from the beginning, with no changes. It costs 1 rage and gives “Your next attack ignores all negation.” Pretty straight forward card! It allows the Warrior to spend an extra card and an extra rage to make sure that their big hit goes through. This card worked like this for almost two years. Finally, Robert and I noticed a trend with Sure Strike: People saved them for their biggest hits. Sure Strike wasn’t really a choice.

So we changed it so it lowers the damage of your next attack by 1. Yes, this may seem like a simple nerf(weakening of the card), but it actually opened up a harder choice. Because we lowered the Warrior’s damage by 3 overall(there are three Sure Strikes in the deck), we increased a card that saw very little play by +1 damage.

Bash dealt 1 damage and made your opponent unable to attack for 1 turn for 2 rage. While it’s a good control move, people weren’t willing to spend 2 rage on 1 damage and a weaker-than-a-defense-card ability. By increasing it’s damage by even +1, this card has started seeing more and more play. A 1:1 ratio of rage to damage still isn’t great, but it’s more on par with other cards.

Shifting 1 damage from one common to another may not sound like a big deal, but even this small change made playing the warrior more fun, because all of your choices are more viable.

Combat’s Kickstarter is up and running. Buy your copy here.

Design Discussion: Building a Combat Monster

Since we just recently launched the Kickstarter for Combat, I wanted to explain our design challenges in regards to the Monster Expansion that will be launching with the Combat Box at the end of the month.

Originally, our design concept was heavily influenced by the Resident Evil Deckbuilding game. There was a stack of monsters in this dungeon that you went through and killed for treasure. This way, you could have a co-operative game that was also competitive. Who killed the most? Each player would have one monster attacking them, though players could team up to take down one monster at a time.

There were a few problems with this approach. First of all, the monsters began to get monotonous. The “filler” monsters like goblins and orcs were boring to fight against, while boss style monsters were dramatic and exciting. The original design goal for this was to cause interesting choices as the team decided which monsters were the most dangerous at any certain time. Only the most dangerous foes were taken out, while everyone else basically had a “Take 2 damage per turn” effect on them.

Headspace was really the death of this system though. Like I’ve discussed before, Headspace is the amount of info a player can be expected to remember and keep track of at any given time. Combat is made to be an easy-to-understand game, but even so many classes like the Wizard have to keep track of Mana, Kindle, and Effect durations. This amount of info isn’t too much in itself, but add to that making the player run a monster, keep track of all the other player’s monsters, and of course the player’s treasure they’ve accrued and it can be daunting.

So we went back to the drawing board. The most successful monsters(in terms of enjoyment) were the boss monsters, so we decided to instead focus the Monster Expansion on fighting big monsters. And now instead of static moves that went off every turn like before, we were able to give the Bosses entire decks.

While I don’t usually bring it up, cost does guide design many times. We wanted the Boss decks to be unique, but also knew we couldn’t make/sell 450 card box for each of the 10 Bosses to have their own 45 card deck. So we instead went a tiered approach. There are 20 Standard Monster cards that all Bosses use. Then there are three sets of 10 based on “Type of Monster” which we set as Caster, Brute, and Mastermind. Then lastly, there are 15 cards unique to that monster. So a Troll Warrior deck would have the Standard Cards(20)+Brute(10)+Troll Warrior(15) cards. Doing the decks this way allows us to bring the total cards down to 200 while making sure we didn’t see tons of duplicate “Deal 1 damage to all players” cards.

One major feature of MMOs and other RPGs is the idea of a tank taking most of the hits. The Monster Expansion actually recreates this by having many of the cards deal damage to “the player with the highest HP.” This simple targeting mechanic has multiple benefits. First of all, it means the players most likely to be K.O.’d aren’t being targeted. Secondly, this means that the player with the most defense cards are usually hit, because once they are hit, they aren’t usually the highest HP anymore. And lastly, Specializations who emphasize defenses are usually high HP and receive a ton of play when fighting a Boss.

Scaling was one of the first feedback we got from playtesting. We had the monster’s HP scale based on number of players(30 per player), but the damage wasn’t scaling as well. Our “player with the highest HP” attacks were a set number, while our “all players” naturally scaled with multiple players. So we introduced a “+P” system. Basically, we manually reduced all single target damage by 2(our balancing point previously) and added plus the number of players(+P). So now instead of “Deal 4 damage to the player with the highest HP” we have “Deal 2+P damage to the player with the highest HP.” Now, the “+P” is mostly for our playtesting, and we’d like a more elegant way to show this on the card, so any suggestions would be welcome!

Another issue we had encountered with the “highest HP” mechanic was tied HP. If two players are both at 14 HP, who is hit? Originally, we made it so everyone at that same HP was hit. This created a lot of dramatic tension and made players make tough choices to avoid being at the same HP. The largest problem was the fact that some cards benefited wildly from this double hit. And with four players, there is likely to be multiple players at the same HP. We tried just flipping coins to decide, but it lost a lot of tension and excitement. So we are currently sitting at a middle ground. All the players are hit, but any defense card played effects everyone hit by this tied-hit. So your Wizard friend not only teleports himself out of the way now, he grabs your shirt and teleports you both. This not only worked thematically, but helps balance out the double-hits, since the players are twice as likely to have a defense card.

Another feature of the Boss Monsters is what we call Power. They are individual powers on a Boss that can go off periodically. Many cards in the Monster deck grant +1 Power, and once the monster reaches their Power threshold, it activates. This design works well for things like Troll’s regeneration, Psychic Horror’s mind flaying(discarding cards), or other abilities that you expect the monster to be able to do regularly. Some Power thresholds are small, like the troll’s, so they go off often. While others have high Power thresholds and take a while to go off.

Last major design hurdle we had was actually with player decks. Many of the cards are designed around a human opponent who drew cards, had hands, and played attacks, swifts and defenses. The Boss does none of these things. Each turn, a new card is flipped. So what do we do with these cards? Just make them useless? We came up with the concept of Control on the Boss monsters. Basically, the Troll Warrior has on it’s card “Control: The Troll deals 1 less damage on their next attack.” So if you play a card that wouldn’t normally effect a Boss (like Bash for the Warrior, that makes it so the opponent can’t play attacks) you instead gain the Control benefit, in this case the Boss deals 1 less damage on their next attack. This design isn’t super clean right now, so we’re working on how best to show this, but overall really enjoy how it works.

The Monster Expansion has taken a lot of design work to get to where it is at, and we are still iterating on it. The four main classes have received tons of playtesting over the last two years, so our goal this month is to lock down the Monster Expansion to be able to bring it to you with as much polish as our core game.

Read more…

Combat! Preview Artwork

 

Get ready for a quick preview of the newly designed Combat! Cards! We are waiting on a test run from our printer before we look at relaunching the Kickstarter.

Categories: Combat! Tags:

Design Discussion: Designing Scrolls

Today started as a playtest for the Artificer, but ended up with a redesign of Scrolls for the Apprentice System. First of all, I should identify what my design goals were for Scrolls:

1. Scrolls can be expensive(compared to grenades and wands)

2. Scrolls are powerful(very important compared to wands)

3. Scrolls are unpredictable

 

My old design was 1/4th of an item and caster level equaled your level. This was okay, but it definitely failed Design #2. A level 1 scroll cost 1/9th of a level 1 Wand, but 1/4th of a level 0 Wand. So it wasn’t amazing for Design#1 either. Design #3 was pretty spot on with 50% failure chance to use, which was awful since it failed Design#2.

After a couple of hours of reiteration, I present to you the newly designed Scrolls. Reminder: Skills have dramatically changed(I’ll post on it later). A “level 1 item” costs 40g.

 

Scrolls

Scrolls are one-time-use magic items. Unlike a spellbook, which is magically inert, scrolls capture and harness the actual spell for the wise to use. Most magic users prefer Wands for their longevity, but scrolls can contain powerful spells and are useful for spells that will not be cast daily.

Name

Caster Level

Cost

+1 Scroll

+2 Scroll

+3 Scroll

Level 1 Spell

1

5g

10g

15g

20g

Level 2 Spell

3

11g

22g

33g

44g

Level 3 Spell

5

25g

50g

75g

100g

Level 4 Spell

7

55g

110g

165g

220g

Level 5 Spell

9

225g

550g

775g

1100g

Each scroll has a set caster level. However, you can make or buy more powerful versions of the same scroll. +1 Scrolls are cast at +2 caster level, +2 Scrolls are +4 caster level, and +3 Scrolls are +6 caster level.

So a “Scroll of Magic Missile” would be cast at level 1, but a “Scroll of Magic Missile +3″ would be cast at level 7.

To use a scroll of a spell you do not know requires an Arcane(arcane spell list), Religion(priest or paladin spell list), Perform(bard spell list) or Nature(shaman or druid spell list) easy DC(8) check. If a spell is on multiple spell lists, you may choose which skill to use. Each bonus +1 to the scroll adds +2 to the DC. So a +3 Scroll would add +6 to the DC.

Failure on the skill check results in the spell exploding dealing 1d6 per your level fire damage, but the scroll remains intact.

Spells that require the constant use of a spell slot(like Create Undead) only last 1 hour. Spells that require concentration can only be maintained for 5 rounds.

Apprentice Sneak Peak: Inventor Class

Inventor

Lvl

Base Attack Bonus

Fort Save

Ref Save

Will Save

Special

Inventions

1

+0

+2

+0

+0

Inventions, Breakthrough

2

2

+1

+3

+0

+0

3

3

+2

+3

+1

+1

Breakthrough

4

4

+3

+4

+1

+1

5

5

+3

+4

+1

+1

Breakthrough

6

6

+4

+5

+2

+2

7

7

+5

+5

+2

+2

Breakthrough

8

8

+6

+6

+2

+2

9

9

+6

+6

+3

+3

Breakthrough

10

10

+7

+7

+3

+3

11

 

Inventions(Ex)

An inventor always has a bag of tricks. These Inventions cover basic everyday inventions. An inventor player is encouraged to come up with their own designs, with DM approval. See Spellbook Inventor’s page for full listing.

 

Breakthroughs(Ex)

In additional to everyday inventions, an inventor has huge breakthroughs in certain technology that allows them to perform above and beyond trinkets. Breakthroughs are categorized, but unless otherwise stated do not require you to stay to one category.

Read more…

Categories: Apprentice System

Apprentice Sneak Peak: Races

I’ve talked a lot about Apprentice over time, but I figured I’d start actually previewing some of the actual systems.

We’ll start with Half-Elves.

Half Elves (Or Half Humans)

Ability Scores: +2 to Dexterity and Charisma

Size: Medium

Skill Ranks: +2 to Diplomacy and Streetwise

Speed: 30 ft

Languages: Common, Elvan

Vision: Low-light

Metropolitan: +1 to skills  checks while in a city.

Physical Description: Half elves are physically just as the name suggest. Their ears are not as long or pointy as their elven brethren, but they are not nearly as thick or tall as their human relations either.

Politics: Anywhere there are High Elves and Humans, there will be half elves. They enjoy equal social standing as the other two groups in most countries. In many areas, the line between the three groups is very blurred.

As you can see, I went with the “+2 to two stats” for the races, rather than 3.5′s inconsistent sometimes-negative-sometimes-positive. There are races that don’t fall into this +2/+2, but a majority do.

The second big change was having the skill bonuses be Skill Ranks instead. This is in part due to the new Skill System(which I’ll cover later).

The fantasy behind a Half-Elf is that they show up wherever humans and elves mix, which is most commonly in a big city. Many different systems have covered this in different ways, but I went the simple route of giving them more expertise while in a city.

Humans

Ability Scores: +2 to any one stat

Size: Medium

Skill Ranks: +1 to any two skills

Speed: 30 ft

Languages: Common

Vision: Normal

Versatility: Humans characters start with a bonus feat.

Physical Description: Humans in multitudes of sizes, shapes, skin tones, and hair colors. One elven scholar once remarked that there are as many types of humans as there are types of trees, or nuances in magic.

Politics: Humans make up the majority of most countries. Dragon blooded humans usually join the Golden Dragon Clan, who’s main base is in Deregal, but serve their purpose of hunting down any remaining dragons in all countries.

I don’t have a lot to say about humans other than their theme is versatility, which I think they give in spades. Their bonus feat is a major boon, thus them having 2 less Ability Scores and Skill Ranks than most.

Gnome

Ability Scores: +2 to Intellect and Constitution

Size: Medium

Skill Ranks: +2 to Technology and Diplomacy

Speed: 30 ft

Languages: Common, Gnomish

Vision: Normal

Tinker: A gnome starts with one Lesser Invention from the Inventor class. This counts as the Minor Invention feat.

Average Height: 5’1’’-5’6’’

Average Weight: 120-170 lbs

Physical Description: Gnomes stand slightly shorter than elves, but are much less slight. Their ears are much less dramatically pointed, and their eyes are slightly larger.

Politics: Gnomes typically do not venture far from Gnomeron. While the other races continued to use dragon magic, gnomes decided instead to focus on experimentation and technology. During the dragons’ reign, gnomes were the laboratory experiments and assistants. So they eschewed many of the analytical practices performed by the dragons. Because of this cold analytical mind that some gnomes have, many other races distrust gnomes who travel outside of their country.

One big change was not making Gnomes small sized. I’ve always preferred the teenager-sized gnomes to the 8-year-old-sized gnomes. Their ability also allows them to use an Invention from the Inventor class, which we’ll be covering next.

Categories: Apprentice System

Design Discussion: Punishment or Blockage?

A friend of mine got me thinking about game design, particularly in closing off options that bypass gameplay Vs just making them undesirable.
The situation in question is flying in World of Warcraft. In every expansion that has been released(except Cataclysm), flying is a max level only affair. It is simply locked in the new areas until you hit max level and pay some sort of fee. The developers have stated this is because flight bypasses core game mechanics such as questing, monster locations, and ground combat. I’m wanting to explore the design choices if instead Blizzard allowed flying, but at some risk or cost right off the bat.

I hate to be pessimistic, but players rarely will take the fun route over the fast route in WoW. There is a culture of perceived peer pressure to get to max level and power up as fast as possible so you won’t “hold your raid back.” In this case, no matter how brutal flying’s drawback was, if it made that ride to “totally decked out” faster, players would still fly and then resent the game for whatever cost is associated with flying.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at Reforging. The concept behind it was “I like going fast so I’ll drop crit for haste!” Which sounded really cool! Very quickly, much like Best in Slot, Enchants, and Gems, Reforging just became another hurdle to overcome in the race to the “finish.” Players cheered as loud as the announcement of the feature as the announcement of its removal from the game. Players were doing complex math(until AskMrRobot and addons did it for you), spending countless gold and time min/maxing.
But I’m just talking about general game design, right? Obviously, Blizzard works on a different level with thousands of websites dedicated to their works. Players crawl through the game’s code to give tools to “average players” to min/max. It can be seen in other games like Pokemon(with easier to understand Effort Values after years of competitive grinding), or Magic the Gathering(with NetDecks and card analysis). If I’m just making casual board or card games, these things won’t apply, right? Well, a game can be casual and still have social pressures to “make the right choice.” Friends don’t let friends play Jigglypuff in Smash Bros, or non-flying Hill Giants in Small World.
So if I’m making a board game where you choose one of four classes. If one of the classes is ignoring a major gameplay element and winning a high % of the time, and the classes mechanic cannot be changed numerically(they walk through walls, we’ll say), I can either make the cost higher(he takes damage when moving through the walls) or remove him(or his ability to walk through walls). Obviously, as a designer, I hate to completely trash ideas. But if he takes extra damage, it has to be harsh(thus being a huge risk, but still gaining a huge advantage). Having risky choices is fun! But if that player is never punished for the risk, it can quickly become “houserules” that the character is over powered. If the player is punished too often, then they class is not played and new players are warned off of the class.
Is it possible to balance an overpowered ability that bypasses core game mechanics? Yes. Is it work the time and effort?
I’ll just say I don’t blame Blizzard from blocking flight early on in the expansions so players cannot bypass the core mechanics of ground-combat, questing and agroo-range.