I have barely posted about CCGs for months. For the obvious reason that I usually post relating to what’s going on, whether that’s TV shows or some form of gaming.
In a recent design meeting for Traveller, we spent hours and produced one card. One less than two cards.
But, my takeaway is that we really should have recorded sessions all along. I’m only kind of a professional CCG designer/developer and realize that there are all sorts of things I could do better, but the conversations we have around philosophy of card pool are the sort of thing I would have wanted to read about.
What ate up a huge amount of time was trying to cost a card. I really need to post a Dev Corner post for Traveller with different content, so I’ll not get too deep into Traveller mechanics, but we have two main attributes on a card that have nothing to do with what the card does: cost and EV (Expense Value, aka how much money the card is worth).
Generally, lower cost = better card, higher EV = better card. We have given really powerful/annoying effects the dreaded 0 EV and given narrow use cards 2+ EV so that people could have their cake (hosers/specialized) and eat it too (not waste deck slots on cards that don’t help you win).
We ran over different possibilities for whether the card should be 0/0 [C/EV], 1/0, 1/1, 2/1, 2/2, 3/2, and even 1/4 as I had an interesting philosophical point about how our game differs from a bunch of other games and how that changes decisionmaking, which is something we care about with our game.
Now, most of the discussion was around 1/0 and 2/1. EV-1 is the norm in the game and dominates the card pool.
So, with N/0 values, a card can not be used for money (barring various esoteric plays). It only produces value when played. This is unlike other cards in the game where there’s a decision whether to use the card for money or not. What it means, thusly, is that a 1/0 card will always be played for its effect. It may even just be used ASAP to clear it from hand and to get some value out of it, but one of the ways to tell the skill level of a player is whether the player assesses that holding on to a card is more valuable than playing it.
Contrast with, for more extremeness, 3/2. Now, one of the things we talk about is also the concept that cost doesn’t mean a lot in certain philosophical ways as you play a card when the cost is worth it, but that’s a concept for another time. Here, could pay a lot to play this card or could use it for solid money. This creates a decision and having at least some decisions in a CCG is a good thing. (I have played games with no decisions and they are less … quality.)
But, these two values don’t just make for tactical decisions. In CCGs, tactical decisions are whether to play a card or not with all that that entails. In CCGs, there are strategic decisions of … dum, dum, dum … constructing your deck(s).
I kept trying to think of how 1/0 v 2/1 v 3/2 would impact how many copies of a hoser I’d run in my deck. Traveller doesn’t seem to have much of a defined metagame, and hosers are metagame dependent to a significant degree, so it’s difficult to claim how important the effect is, but this hoser nails some interesting as well as common plays in the game. At 1/0, it’s 0-2 copies, methinks. At 3/2, ignoring something going to go into later because I still have 2400 more words to get to, 1-3 copies. But, at 2/1, I think it’s more 0-1 copies. That’s interesting, assuming you want to be a game developer. Yet, I don’t think the 2/1 is a worse card. And, this gets to the crux of why this is interesting – it’s not obvious how good cards are. One would think a card that slots more often is a better card; pretty compelling argument to me which is why I claim constantly that staple effects in games are better cards than more powerful effects that go in fewer decks.
Now, what’s missing from that analysis is “How many different decks would this card go into?” The 1/0 might see more copies in the decks it goes into, but I see it going into fewer decks. EV-0 is not a trivial drawback; well, maybe when we have a Worlds and everyone’s decks are filled with EV-0 cards, I’ll be proved wrong, but, until then, I’m like the most successful Traveller CCG player who has ever lived (unfortunately).
Similarly, the 3/2 would go into fewer decks as there are plenty of ways to get EV-2 if that’s what you really care about. Or, maybe not. Maybe the effect is not good enough to justify a random card slot and 3/2 goes into more decks because EV-2 is more useful than the effect usually is, which brings us to …
There are a bunch of CCGs with generic cards. By generic cards mean cards not associated to any faction in the game. Magic has artifacts and land. Almost everything in Traveller would fall under this definition of generic, which is why a smaller card pool can produce so many more decks, but that’s like a post for another time.
However, Traveller has mechanical groupings. Crew have skills. Heroic Actions require skills. Upgrades go into limited slots. Connections same. Gear has to go on crew. All sorts of limitations that inform deckbuilding decisions. Events, though, are just like events in Babylon 5 or whatever in a bunch of games – more genericful.
This hoser is an event. I pointed out to our lead designer that the history of B5 saw that the proliferation of events led to severe space competition [get it, space, B5, Traveller, the final frontier] for events. There were tons of events I wanted to put in every deck. Meanwhile, B5 was/is a faction game, so there were a bunch of slots taken up with running the best faction cards (for your strategy).
Already, you could run an absurd number of events in Traveller because not only are they genericful, but they are all money. There’s no such thing as a dead draw, except for the promo event with its EV-0.
As we add more such cards, the competition for slots becomes fiercer and fiercer and the trend should be to see this card less and less barring brokenness in the game, like cheesing Diverse Dynamics wins left and right. And, yet, that’s true of every card that isn’t overpowered.
It’s very easy to design an event in isolation as it can do whatever you want and there’s some guidance in that it’s a transient effect. But, in terms of how events fit into a card pool, that’s much more challenging if you care about seeing every card serve a purpose.
Speaking of overpowered and cards serving a purpose …
Why must bad cards exist? Not to test player skill. Not to sell cards. Not because of IP the game is based on.
Bad cards *must* exist because it’s impossible to make cards equally useful/powerful/use-powered.
Goodness/badness, in other words, is just an inevitable byproduct of making cards that do different things.
However, I got to thinking about something that I’ve been exposed to in the past, maybe even explicitly by someone else rather than in thinking about V:TES metagames. Metagames are dependent upon a consensus on what is good or better than good.
Metagames are a good thing … I posit, anyway. They give analytical types a hook into investing thought into the game. Stale metagames are, of course, crap, as play is not only boring, but there’s no reason to keep thinking about how to take advantage of the meta after a certain point.
I realized that I don’t want every single Traveller card to be just as … *sigh* … “good”. If that were the case, then there would be zero predictability around deck construction, which means I have to ignore what opponents might do. Furthermore, the new player is advantaged by there being guidance when it comes to deck construction, assuming of course that the new Traveller player plays it like a CCG and doesn’t just run fixed decklists all of the time.
Now, this theoretical problem of any card and any deck being equally as commonly played doesn’t exist in the real world. We didn’t hit upon some weird magick of making a game where everything is everything and everything is nothing.
Misdirection should not be an EV-2 card. Llaegzko’s is undercosted one way or the other. Dwight Cain is the most discarded card e-e-e-ver, etc. (Of course, DC can only be discarded if in a deck, so … Traveller!!)
Reason why this quality came up was thinking about how certain events are just better than others and how we want this card to have a purpose in the game even if we don’t want the card to see play all of the time. That, plus extending the thinking beyond this card, beyond events, to the core concept of deck construction in a CCG and how to fit exactly 60 cards together (yes, 60) into a coherent whole.
On the flip side, we obviously don’t want to print coasters. CCGs are full of coasters, and they are often offensive. Now, some folks will play terrible cards because they are terrible or because the art is some hot chick or because the title of the card is funny or whatever, so we can make terrible cards that aren’t coasters (though Traveller is not going to have much in the way of hot chicks because we respect the IP, see one of our future games for, um, hotness).
We made some bad cards. That was inevitable. We talk frequently about how to make them better. As much as Wheel of Time adding cards that started in play was a horrendous mechanic philosophically, that did end up redeeming a whole class of card in the game. That’s where I want to go with the bad cards in the game is find a way to make them less bad because of other cards, not errata/reprint them, not write them off forever.
This card’s costing was debated as much as it was to where we produced 99 less than 100 cards in that session because we are mindful that we’ve overcosted other cards and also that we don’t want it to be too good, even if there’s an interesting philosophical point about the card being like 1/4, where the opportunity cost of using its effect is massive (well, EV-4 is diminishing returns on EV-2 or EV-3 because … Traveller!!).
How to get to 2000 words in this brilliant analysis about cards’ roles in CCGs?
This should totally be a different post, so …
One of the effects of remote gaming is how prevalent Discord has become for me. To tie this into CCGs, the Shadowfist server has gotten me more interested in ‘Fisting, though not with others since …
Hold on, before changing topics, one more comment about Discord. Discord is fine for playing stuff. Discord is not good for acting as a game forum. People treat it differently from subject based forums, spending ridiculous amounts of bytes on gifs, chatting, and the like where there’s a lack of structure to how information is presented to where I can focus on what I’m interested in. If a subject thread in a game forum is “Fantasy Football”, I can just ignore it if I want. It is really hard to come back to conversations or find relevant information when people just spent 200 messages going into irrelevancy.
Mentioned before that I don’t like flopping online. I’m an in person flopper. Far more than I am an in person chucker. I’ve chucked a lot online, but I hated JOL and never grasped any app for playing CCGs with other people.
Wait, with other people? Oh, the irony. I was addicted to Shandalar.
I’m pretty sure that the difference is that I’m not super into competing with other people, so the less social aspects of everyone else being a user rather than a here-er removes enough of my interest that I just can’t see ‘Fisting on Lackey or whatever. However, I’m fine with competing against myself and/or super-cheaty computer AIs such that I can solitaire my life away flop, flop, flop.
Whew. Two grand.