Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Card Design Story #3: Hell Axe

Okay so today's design story is about Hell Axe, the only "Equipment - Attack" card in the game!  Let's look at the original version of the card, which has the same concept as the current version but works much differently:

Okay, so first of all let me answer the obvious/not-obvious question "Why is Hell Axe the only Equipment - Attack card in the game??"  Well, to be perfectly honest there just isn't a lot that Equipment can do to make Attacks more interesting. The main thing an Equipment can do is make the attack repeatable by letting you do it every time the Defender attacks.  You could do a one-time effect when the Equipment enters play or when the Defender dies but that's really just tacking something on without using the Equipment card type to add anything.

BUT, there is room for an Equipment with a one-time effect that changes based on the Defender's stats.  Basing anything on another card's stats is sticky territory though, and that gets us into why I started with this design!  The reason Hell Axe set the Defender's attack value to 3 is because otherwise it could scale way too well with certain Defenders.  Put it on a Knight and you'll maybe get 6 damage out of it.  Put it on a Whispers of Legend and you could easily get 24 damage out of it for the same 3 energy cost!!!  AHHH!!!

This is a design lesson- having abilities that directly scale off an attribute from another unknown card can get messy fast.  You'll often have some card out there that is fairly costed but has that particular attribute hiked all the way up, and suddenly you have a deadly combo that randomly ruins games.  This is why Hell Axe had to set the Defender's attack value to 3.  Letting it get boosted by other Equipment generally produced predictable results since there are only 11 Equipment cards so it wasn't something I was worried about.

After Some Playtesting

Here are some notes I made after a playtest with this version:

Hell Axe - This card was pretty dang good, I think it dealt like 9 damage for 4 energy?  But that's a pretty conditional 9 damage.  Gonna put this one on the watch list but I'm not really confident in raising its cost just yet.  Spending 5 for almost no damage increase would hurt.  Also I've got to remember I used Heal to get extra mileage out of it sooo maybe it is fine...

So yeah, in a game I managed to deal 9 damage with this.  However it was bolstered by the fact I had a card called Heal that made Defenders live longer.  (I removed Heal from the game when I realized there were like 6 too-similar low cost cards that made Defenders live longer.)  So anyways this wasn't quite the "perfect storm" I thought it might be- on basically any big Defender or with any Defender-healing card it seemed Hell Axe could do 6 or 9 or 12 damage too easily.  Doing 6 damage for 4 energy is fine if you have to work for it, but when that 6 damage turns to 9 or 12 with a little more work things start to get bad.  It scaled too greatly when you enhanced it with other cards.

Segway time- obviously Hell Axe was RIDICULOUS with Giant Turtle which is a 1/10.  It made the turtle a 3/10 and since the Turtle lived forever, it was virtually guaranteed to be able to do 9+ damage.  I distinctly knew when I made Giant Turtle that it would close off some potential card designs.  For example, imagine a card that costs 4 energy that says "Discard a Defender to deal damage equal to its health to each opponent." Most of the time this would be mediocre or okay but with Giant Turtle, 4 energy for 10 damage is way too good.  BUT, I knew that this would close off some design space, but not a lot, so I was fine with it.  I haven't found any cards I've been super excited about that it inhibited, so I am 500% happy about creating Giant Turtle.

So How Did I Fix That

Okay here's the next (and final) version of Hell Axe:

WUT?  So now it costs one less energy, but always makes the Defender a little worse and always deals a flat 2 damage (whereas before it essentially dealt a flat 3 damage).  Why did I make these changes?

Okay, so first of all I said part of the problem with the original version was the scaling.  You had to work to deal 6 damage.  But if you could attack again, it went up to 9.  Then up to 12.  By lowering the damage per turn to 2 it scaled way slower obviously.  By the time you're attacking three times you've only dealt 6 damage instead of 9, then dealing 8 damage instead of 12 is still really awesome for three energy but not like ridiculously overpowered like 12 was.

So quick note- the whole "dealing damage equal to the attack value" and still getting enhanced by equipment was all a bunch of unneeded jargon for something that dealt a flat amount of damage 99% of the time.  That's why it just says "deal 2 damage to the opponent" now.

The -1/-0 was mostly a jab at Giant Turtle (and it helps it not to be overpowered with other cards like Medium which is a 1/6).  You can't have Hell Axe go on a Giant Turtle and deal 10 damage to the opponent while Giant Turtle keeps hitting your monsters.  This nerf sounds ridiculous, but it's actually a laser strike to the root of the issue.  The only cards that can have astronomical health are ones with 1 attack, because by making it 2 attack you've doubled their damage.  And if you can keep something alive forever with a Hell Axe on it, you can't have it dealing its full damage and have Hell Axe going off because it's too much scaling. So overall the -1/-0 does exactly what we need it to.

So How DO You Use Hell Axe (STRATEGY TIME)

First of all, recognize that Hell Axe is a tool that makes games end quickly by letting you invest resources into directly hurting the opponent.  If you're going for a long-game prize card or gold strategy then Hell Axe isn't going to help you very much, but if your opponent is you'll be able to make the game end faster.  Cards that help you in the short term like Lost at Sea, Murder, Black Blade of Death, Hire Mercenaries, and Brocky Noble Mercenary are all great.  If you stay ahead long enough to kill your opponent then it doesn't matter that you blew all your resources.

Furthermore, opponents that are investing for the long-term with cards like Infinite Sleep or Death Ray will probably be a little behind, and that's when you Hell Axe them.  If they're trying to fill your decks with Confusions you also probably want to Hell Axe them.

Okay, if you want to get full use out of Hell Axe you'll have to be CAREFUL.  Sure, it's called Hell Axe but that doesn't mean you just attack recklessly.  Your goal is to attack as many times as possible, and take the least amount of damage each time you attack.  Generally you're aiming to take 2 damage when you attack.  If you can attack a Hellhound which will rarely happen, that's even better.

If you just throw Hell Axe on a Knight, you'll likely get 4 damage out of it and lower the Knight's total damage output by 2.  Spending 3 energy and a 2 damage reduction for 4 damage to the opponent is not optimal, but in some games any kind of pressure on the opponent is deadly to them.

Recognize when a Hell Axe strategy is not the way to go, and use its Equipment special ability to pay 2 energy and discard it to draw a card.

COMBOS.  Hell Axe on a Giant Turtle can easily deal 10 damage to the opponent for a 6 energy investment on your part.  Look out for other high-health Defenders like Royal Guard or Medium.  Iron Armor (+0/+4) is a good boost and can often add an extra 4 damage to the opponent for a 1 energy investment.  Healing Flask (heals a Defender to full health at once or 1 damage/turn) can be aaaaweeesome with a high-health Defender.  Giant Turtle + Healing Flask + Hell Axe is pretty much a godly combo that your opponent probably won't let you draft, but would come close to doubling the damage Hell Axe deals.

SO, bottom line- Hell Axe is a tool and not a blunt object to toss on any Defender and throw around.  It lets you be the one to decide how long or short the game is, and that ability is deceptively powerful.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Card Design Story #2: Unicorn

Today I'm going to talk about the card Unicorn!  Let's get right down to it, here's the original version of the card:

Unicorn (Original Version)

In other games I've always loved cards and abilities that you can use over and over again, giving you a long term advantage from using the same resource multiple times.  It really makes the card matter in your deck instead of just being a one-shot like most cards.  Also it's fun building up your other resources while your re-usable card supports you.

I knew I wanted Unicorn to feel special and magical, so why not have it be an immortal Defender that's always by your side?  Sounds awesome right?  You'll always have a Defender to equip and you'll never be empty-handed.

So the first problem (of many) was that it was a 1/2.  If something is reusable, it has to be weaker than normal, otherwise it's just too good.  The problem was that this was horrible, even with equipment, spending 2 energy for a 1/2 was nearly always not what you want to be doing.  So the second rule of being reusable is that you have to want to reuse it!  So I made it a 2/2, making it not super powerful, but worth reusing as it could convert energy into damage over and over and over and over:

So I started testing it and here are my playtesting notes from that era:

Unicorn - Seems fine.  Fun card.  Needs more playtesting overall though.

At this point I have tested the new Unicorn but I don't get that warm fuzzy feeling that everything is alright, so I note that it needs more playtesting.  And it DOES.

Unicorn - This card might be a little OP.  It's like a Circus Bear that you don't need to work for.

In this round of playtesting I note that Unicorn feels a lot like Circus Bear (which at this point was a 3/3 for 2 energy that returned to your hand at end of turn if it lives).  Both are reusable Defenders, but Circus Bear was a little bigger and you needed to make sure it didn't die.  So since Unicorn dealt less damage than Circus Bear maybe it was fine?  I figured out the answer in a later playtest:

Hellfeast/Silver Axe/Unicorn/Circus Bear - Okay, turning energy to damage on a 1 to 1 ratio and getting to keep the card is just too good.  Theoretically dealing 7 damage a turn shouldn't be that great, but in reality it just makes sure you can always buy Summoning and never run out of cards and never have unused energy.

Here I have figured out that even though I noted that the reusable cards were not terribly efficient, the fact that they let you use all your energy and never worry about running out of cards made them too good. The problem runs a little deeper than that though...

Reusable Cards In Mage Tower Compared To Other Games

Okay so the thing about Mage Tower is that the ever-present consistent threat of monsters are always there, and you always have 7 energy to deal with them, and you always want to deal with them as efficiently as possible.  This puts reusable cards in an awkward place.  In other games, generally you are only threatened by what the opponent has, and you may have cards you can put into play that protect you for several turns, or efficiently deal with an opponent's threat (making you safe for a while).  In other games delaying the opponent and killing them (usually the goal) are two separate things.  So there may be cards that delay them which give you time to do other things.

In Mage Tower though, I can't make cards that delay the monster board, because that's the whole point of the game, so there's no room to make a card that's better at that than other cards (it would just be overpowered!)  With this ever-present threat, there's really no "breathing room" to use inefficient reusable cards over and over, because you want to be efficient!  So if the reusable cards are efficient they'd be overpowered, but if they're not efficient, you'd basically never want to play them (yes I've circled around to the same problem as earlier).

SO, the design space of "cards you can use inefficiently when you open up opportunities to" is basically not a thing in Mage Tower.  The best way to think of the reusable cards in Mage Tower is that they let you draw a card when you use them, but the card you draw is itself.  Overall this isn't as exciting as if the previous option was available.  Doing the same thing every turn when the same amount of monsters come out every turn is a boring boring boring way to play the game.  So the result is that I didn't want a lot of these cards so I cut Silver Axe, changed Hellfeast, kept Circus Bear (but raised the cost), and changed Unicorn completely.  This leads us to the final version...

The Last Unicorn

I hemmed and hawed trying to figure out something that felt really unique and special (as I felt the Unicorn should be because hey it's a frigging Unicorn).  I finally decided on this version, word for word.  Previously I knew that I wanted to make a card that you got to start the game with, and Unicorn seemed like the perfect card for this because it made it feel special.

The shuffle effect lets you keep getting your Unicorn back just a little more often.  Interesting note- I was originally going to have Unicorn have a different card back (with a large Unicorn picture on it)!  Since it starts in your hand and you get it back whenever you shuffle, it technically would never need to be inside the deck.  The reasons I didn't do this were... threefold: It made it stand out in the Draft Deck and while drafting, it made taking it out of your deck when shuffling mandatory but it was easy to forget, and there probably are or will be reasons it gets put inside the deck one way or another anyways.  Also it's a little confusing, and makes the print files a more awkward.  Thinking it over again though- it would have been cool!

So why is it 1 for a 2/3?  Since it's reusable, but you have to work to do so, I really want you to be rewarded for putting in the effort (and to be happy that it's in your starting hand!).  That's why it's an extremely efficient 1 energy for a 2/3.  The thing is that both its abilities don't increase its damage, and 1-cost (and zero cost) cards are allowed to be the most efficient in the game, so really it's not near being game-breakingly powerful.  It is cool that it has synergy with an unusual subset of cards- any shuffling card becomes a Free Unicorn card!

In the end Unicorn is a nifty, unique card.  It has synergy with Equipment and shuffling effects so it doesn't just exist in a vacuum, and it has cool mechanics that don't exist in many other games!  As for the other reusable Mage Tower cards, Hellfeast is now a limited use card that can give you a ton of Defenders if you're into that, and Circus Bear is a card I love because it's truly reusable but you have to be careful with it and hedge your bets on how long you want to use it to try to build up more cards.  It's important to recognize that not every mechanic from other games fits into your game, but that you can usually adapt something fun in one way or another.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Card Design Story #1: Infinite Sleep

In this series, I am going to talk about some of the cards of Mage Tower and their journey from being created to the final version.  Today I'm going to talk about the card Infinite Sleep, which doesn't have a super turbulent history but is one of the oldest cards and taught me a few lessons about Mage Tower design.

The original version of Infinite Sleep:

The idea with Infinite Sleep is that you're betting that the game is going to last very long, and if it does then you get a huge advantage.  This version of the card, while pretty similar to the final version, has basically a million problems:

Drawing it early mattered more than the game lasting long
If you got this first turn, it'd usually go off.  If you got it seventh turn it probably wouldn't.  The pattern here is that when you drew it mattered more than anything else.  It might as well have been a card where you rolled dice and if the correct number came up you gained 10 life.

There wasn't a way to control game length yet
There were some Attack cards that would make the game end faster (by focusing resources on hurting the opponent instead of defending yourself), but there weren't any Boon cards yet. Boon cards make the game end more slowly because they help all players.  Without a way to make the game longer, I guess you'd just try to draft this if there weren't many attacks in the game?  But it still mostly depended on when you drew it.  So the only way to synergize with this card was to try to draw it as quickly as possible, which was okay, but still kind of luck-based and it missed the point of the card.

It was way too big of a life swing
Gaining 10 life is HUGE.  In other types of games gaining life is a stall tactic you use to give you time to do things that actually end the game.  In Mage Tower the goal of the game is entirely to keep your life total above zero, so life gain is a lot better than in other games and not just a tertiary effect that does nothing in the long run.  I'll get into this more later, but basically if this card "went off" you won the game, and if you didn't you were at a disadvantage.  It was luck-based and un-fun.

The First Iteration

Okay so the first thing I fixed here was making the life gain less devastating.  Now whether or not Infinite Sleep went off wasn't what decided the entire game.  So you could invest in Infinite Sleep if you got it early, try to use Boon cards to slow the game down (they existed now), and try to use card drawing to get it as early as possible.

The problem here, obviously, is that it still takes a ton of counters to get it to go off.  Why did I only lower the counters to 9?  Well I didn't want the card to become boring.  The whole point of the card is that it gives you a big pay-off but it takes a REALLY long time to happen.  I know to new players 7 life doesn't look super great, but that's 1/3rd of your starting life, so basically by spending half your energy on one turn you've saved 1/3rd of your life from the *entire game*.  The game just has to last long enough for this to work.

But yeah, it still wasn't based around drafting and playing smartly, it was just based around whether you drew it early or not.  Lowering the life gained and adding boon cards helped it out, but this iteration was still just weird and swingy.  And even though 7 life is good, it didn't "feel" good enough to spend 4 energy and wait 9 turns for.  So much could happen in 9 turns.  This version mostly felt like a liability unless you randomly got it in your starting hand.

The Second Iteration i.e. Removing The Card From Mage Tower

Okay so at one point the game had too many cards and I needed to remove some, so I did a quick run through the card file and made a list of every card I thought I might remove.  The main things I was looking for were:

-Cards that did something other cards did, making their design feel redundant and a waste of space.
-Cards that had plain effects but were needlessly hard to explain or figure out how to play optimally.
-Cards whose intention did not meet expectations (this is where Infinite Sleep was.)

Infinite Sleep wasn't actually chosen, but it was close.  My primary design goal in Mage Tower was to explore as many corners of design space as possible.  So I felt like it would be dumb to just say "there's no way to do a card that has to be in play for most of the game to work."  It seemed like a card should and could be able to accomplish this.  So...

The Final Version

Okay so obviously Infinite Sleep's problem in the fun department was that it took forever to work.  But if I increased its payoff the whole game would revolve around it, and if I lowered the turns required it would just feel like a boring middle of the road card that took a few turns to work.  So why did I lower its counters and its effect??

Now that I had a better idea of game length, lowering its counters was fine
Games generally last from 8-12 turns, with the high and low ends of that spectrum being less likely.  Back when the original Infinite Sleep was made, there were a few things that made the games longer.  For one, Warlocks were 1/2s instead of 2/2s (I'll save that story for another day).  Secondly and more importantly, there were a few cards that were still very imbalanced.  When these cards came up, the games would last longer because killing monsters was easier.

With 170+ cards to test and some cards being more subtle about their power, it took a while to root out the overpowered cards.  But in more recent development with a lot more stable power level, you generally don't get those 18 turn games that result from both players having some overpowered cards.

With a more stable idea of the amount of turns in the game, spending 7 out of the 8-12 turns on Infinite Sleep (not including the turn you play it) is pretty much at the upper limit of counters you could require while keeping it reasonable.  In playtesting it certainly still felt like an eternity (in a good way, I guess you could say), so yeah removing two counters was fine

The reward of 6 life is low but still doesn't make it feel like a mid-range card
Six life is exactly the right number to make the card as powerful as possible but not make the game feel like it revolves around Infinite Sleep.  I'll admit- the card ended up slightly more mid-rangey than I would have liked (by that I mean it's not an enormously powerful effect, just a very very good one).  But you really can't increase this number without making it feel like you're playing a game called "See If Infinite Sleep Goes Off" rather than "Mage Tower".  It's easy to forget that there are 12 other cards in your deck and that you can't have one single card decide everything, because then the entire game is based around whether other abilities can interact with it.

If Infinite Sleep simply gave you 6 life for 4 energy, it would be the very overpowered.  However if you get some card drawing, card searching, or game-lengthening Boon cards you can certainly make Infinite Sleep functionally a 6 life for 4 energy card.  In the end while it isn't the most game-warping card out there, Infinite Sleep is a flavorful, strategic card.  But it's still more game-warping than most cards, and it's always exciting when you and your opponent are almost dead but you need just a little longer for Infinite Sleep to go off...

Strategy Tips

Infinite Sleep is best with cards that can search it up so you can play it within the first few turns.  Cards like Juggle, Recant, or Combination are great for this.  Cards that draw cards like Inspiration or Skeletal Apprentice can quickly dig through your deck to let you get to Infinite Sleep ASAP.  If you see a lot of Boon cards in the game, or have ways to play your own Boon cards many times, you won't need to worry about searching up Infinite Sleep right away because the game will last long enough for it to "go off" even if you don't play it until fifth turn.  Watch out for Attack cards that will make the game shorter, though.

Cards that shuffle your discard into your deck or put Confusions in your deck will slow your drawing down- keep that in mind when deciding if your deck would benefit from Infinite Sleep

Infinite Sleep usually only needs one or two synergistic cards to make it worthwhile, so don't spend all your draft picks trying to enhance it.  If you draft a bunch of card drawers and boon cards just for Infinite Sleep you might find it works but that the 6 life bonus isn't worth the rest of your deck not having another solid synergistic game plan.

During gameplay it's important to recognize when it's too late to play Infinite Sleep.  The latest you want to play it is probably fifth turn, or earlier if there are attacks that make the game shorter.  You may want to buy Intellects to get through your deck a little faster, making it more likely you'll draw Infinite Sleep or a card that synergizes with it.

In the end you really want a deck that can easily make use of Infinite Sleep without going too much out of its way to do so.  Infinite Sleep isn't a card you draft first pick and build an entire deck around, it's a card you smartly add to the right deck to get a great benefit for little cost.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pre-Orders Are Up! Also, An Article About Card Synergy

Hey guys first of all if you missed the Kickstarter, you can read all about pre-ordering Mage Tower here:

Secondly, I'm going to talk about something very important in Mage Tower- CARD SYNERGY.  Card synergy is super important in deckbuilding or deck drafting games, and Mage Tower is a little bit of both.  If building/drafting your deck is one of the main gameplay mechanics, there have to be strategic decisions involved or else you're just always picking whichever card is slightly better than the others.

So let's talk about different ways that cards can provide synergy:

#1 Cards That Provide No Synergy

Okay, theoretically every card has some synergies with other cards, but this is definitely on the low end of the spectrum.  Flame Volley is good for destroying monsters, particularly the two furthest monsters if they are both big and not angry.  But it doesn't care what other cards you have - it always does the same thing!  Synergies are created by making cards care about other cards, which creates complex interactions.

Let's talk about what happens when you have too many cards that don't have the potential for synergy.  Selecting your cards just becomes about choosing whatever card is the most efficient.  One example I'll give is the video game Diablo 3.  Building your tableau of 6 active skills and 3 passive skills is kind of like building a deck, but 90%+ of the skills don't have any synergy potential built in.  When assembling your "deck" of skills, how much different is "Drop poison on a bunch of enemies" vs. "Shoot fire at a bunch of enemies"?  vs. "Shoot arrows at a bunch of enemies" vs. "Throw grenades at a bunch of enemies"?  They all accomplish the same thing (damage a bunch of enemies), so obviously you'll just choose whichever ability is the best at that job.  This makes "deckbuilding" and choosing your skills quite boring.  If every card was like Flame Volley and didn't synergize with other cards, drafting your deck in Mage Tower would also be quite boring.

#2 Cards That Want One Card To Synergize With Them

Okay now we're getting into synergy territory, and this is the lowest level of synergy.  These cards are designed to deliberately "buddy up" with another card, and are much more powerful this way.  They may make you draft cards you wouldn't normally draft.

Forgemaster is a super blunt version of this- he wants an Equipment in your deck, and if you've got one suddenly his ability is much more efficient.  He will make you draft pretty much any equipment to do this, even if it's bad.  You may draft several Equipment just so it's more likely you'll be able to take full advantage of Forgemaster.

Juggle also wants one card to buddy up with- preferably the most powerful 4-cost card you can draft.  If you draft an above-average 4-cost card, or a 4-cost card that is really good for your particular deck,  suddenly it's like you have two of them.

#3 Cards That Synergize With An Array Of Cards

These are probably what people think of when they think of cards that provide synergy, and they can influence a huge chunk of your draft picks.  For example, if you draft Ambassador, suddenly drafting a ton of "Boon" and "Attack" cards sounds like a great idea because they will all be lower costed, which is a huge deal.

Harbinger Totem deals 3 damage for 3 energy which isn't so great, but if you have a ton of 3-cost cards he becomes 5 damage for 3 energy which is awesome.  In this game and many others, over time you start to really appreciate cards that are efficient for their cost, and Harbinger Totem is very efficient if you design your deck to let it be.

#4 Cards That Anti-Synergize With Your Opponent's Deck


Here's a whole other class of synergy you probably weren't expecting, but is actually pretty obvious.  If your opponent has a particular strategy, there are cards that your opponent doesn't want you to have in your deck.  You may be saying "Is that really synergy"?  Well, let's talk about it.

Memory Beam destroys a Permanent or Equipment an opponent controls.  If your opponent's strategy hinges on a specific Permanent or Equipment, obviously Memory Beam is awesome against them and has great "anti-synergy" with their deck.  

Fleet Battle also provides anti-synergy in a more interesting way- if your opponent's deck is based around using a lot of low cost cards and emptying their hand every turn, they probably don't have 2 cards to discard to Fleet battle, so suddenly it's a really efficient card at killing monsters that has no drawback.  If they however have a deck where their hand is always loaded with cards, suddenly Fleet Battle's synergy with the opponent's deck is in *their* favor (though it doesn't become a completely horrible card).

Treasure Goat is a lot like Fleet Battle in this sense, if the opponent's only Defender/Permanent/Equipment is the Knight in their starting deck, you're going to get way more mileage out of Treasure Goat than you would normally be able to.  If they have a ton of these cards though, Treasure Goat's synergy with their deck will be in their favor.

So as you can see, synergy can be achieved with any card that cares about other cards or players, and having a deck that completely destroys the opponent's strategy can be just as good as having a lot of cards that work together in your favor.


So is synergy good or bad?  Well, it's a tool, and in deckbuilding/drafting games it's an important tool, and it's a shame when it's ignored.  When the game designer isn't cognizant of how much synergy they're injecting into the game, often there isn't enough, or enough different kinds, and the game just kind of feels like you're picking whatever choice is the most efficient.  In Mage Tower I've definitely been very aware of how many cards of each of the above types I've provided, and tried to fill holes where needed.  The right level of synergy can create a lot of interesting back-and-forth interaction while players draft their decks.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Co-Op Monster Deck Mini-Expansion Stretch Goal Reward **Full Preview**

Today I'm going to go over each card in the co-op monster deck mini-expansion, which will come for free with every copy of Mage Tower if we hit the $12,000 stretch goal.  Go to the Kickstarter page if you would like to pledge: Mage Tower's Kickstarter Page

The main thing that makes the co-op monster deck different from the base game monster deck is that the monsters are more powerful and there are a wider variety of monsters and monster abilities.  Why is this?  The base game is focused around drafting a cool deck, stopping your opponent from drafting a crazy deck, and using strategy and tactics to mess with your opponent and optimize your strategy against the monster deck.  Since about 1/4th of the cards in the game interact with the opponent and there are over 170 cards to draft from, the monsters need to be *kind of* plain in the base game to make the game about your deck and interacting with your opponent.  In the co-op mode however you aren't interacting with your opponent, and the monster deck can't counter your attempts to draft an awesome deck.  For this reason, the monster deck *has to* do crazy stuff all the time so it really feels like an opponent that is messing with you and wants to win!

So let's go over the cards, and remember that the card names and especially art are very much in flux!  Anyways let's start strong with Village Mob:

Village Mob

This card is built for co-op play, obviously.  The cool thing about this card is that it provokes you and your ally to discuss who can afford to lose two cards, and cooperating in co-op mode is always a good thing!  The second thing is that it has an instant effect when it hits the monster board, which makes revealing cards from the monster deck more exciting.

Treasure Goblin

Treasure Goblin is another card that can make co-op play interesting, by promoting the players discussing who should be the one to kill it and get the gold.  If a player has a strategy that would really benefit from a lot of gold, you may want to have them take it.  The decision isn't always relevant or important, but when it is it's a good thing, and when it's not getting free gold is still fun!

Dire Gator

Dire Gator is just a plain interesting card because he's so easy to kill, but killing him might not do anything if the Gatorspawn still damages you, and if you don't kill him 2 damage doesn't really hurt much anyays.  There might actually be times where you and your ally agree not to kill him if you have something else you can spend your energy on.  Like Treasure Goblin it's not always going to lead to hard decisions, just once in a while, which is a good balance.

Apocalypse Rider and Giga Orc

These cards are pretty plain overall, but working with your ally do deal 10 or 11 damage to one monster is usually pretty fun.  Every monster can't have a crazy ability, and having to deal so much damage to one moster to kill it practically *is* an ability.  It also promotes players to say things like "Okay if I get 3 damage on the Giga Orc can you kill it on your turn?", so these cards actually do promote cooperation.


Since co-op needs to be about the monster deck doing crazy things to mess with you, Melkin fits right in.  Since these are free for the monster deck to "play" they can turn a difficult turn into a *really* difficult turn, or just annoy the heck out of you!  Like Village Mob, these are basically a card that make you interested to see what cards are coming out of the monster deck.  When you get two Melkins and 13 points of monsters in a turn you'll know what I mean!

Harm Elemental

Harm Elemental is just a really annoying "vanilla" card (vanilla means it has no abilities).  It's annoying because in general it's slightly overpowered for its point cost.  Sort of like how Dire Gator is slightly underpowered for its point cost, this can shift your priorities at times.  You might work really hard to kill a Harm Elemental that's further down the monster board by comboing your cards with an ally.  As you can see, even the plain cards in the co-op monster deck can create strategic decisions.

Harpy Queen

This is another card that just makes you need to keep an eye on what's going on and that makes it feel like the monster deck is an opponent that is trying to mess with you.  You may be able to kill it with your ally, or you may try to use up your defenders if they'll die anyways.


Gargoyle is a card that may make you have to change tactics, or manage your cards differently.  You may want to save your higher damage card for the Gargoyle, or if you'd have to waste a lot of resources to kill it you may want to use your energy for something else and have your ally kill it.  It's not a super crazy card but it can create interesting decisions during gameplay.

Monstrosity of Gandaar

The best for last!  The trick with this guy is he takes three turns to attack you instead of two, and he has way more health than he should.  Teaming up to take the Monstrosity of Gandaar down is totally fun.  There's also only two of them, and they can make the point values of the monsters coming out go up to 17, which is crazy!  (There's no high-end limit for monster points in co-op mode, but without Monstrosity of Gandaar there's no way to go over 14 points).  So anyways he definitely adds excitement when revealing cards from the co-op deck.  When will he show up?  Will he show up at a bad time?  Fortunately his ability, while allowing him to have more health, actually makes him more balanced since if he does come out at a bad time you still have three turns to kill him.

Anyways that's the co-op monster deck, it's super hard to beat but also super fun!  So spread the word about Mage Tower so we can hit the stretch goal.  Later guys!

-Brett Brimmer

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Some New Card Designs!

Hey guys, I had an awesome 4-player playtest session last night, showed a few new people the game and everyone enjoyed it.  We played with completely randomized decks instead of drafting since everyone else was new, and ended up with some crazy decks.  I got owned by someone who was losing early on but caught up once they got an engine going where they drew a ton of cards, discarded them to get gold, used the gold to get prize cards, then used the prize cards and all the card drawing to draw their whole deck.  WHOA.  They even drew their whole deck, discarded it, then drew it again all in one turn!

Anyways I'm going to talk about a few cards I created recently to fill in some holes and the kind of strategies they lend themselves to.  The goal when designing these cards was to have interesting player interaction combined with interesting draft and deck building decisions.  I'll try to keep it a little light on the game terms so you can understand what the cards do, but you can check out the in-depth gameplay video if you want to know more about how the game works:

One new card is Bodysnatcher, which is a Defender that steals one of your opponent's basic cards out of their deck and puts it into yours.  It also gets bigger and more powerful the bigger your deck is, so if you steal a bunch of cards and buy a bunch of prizes he can get huge.  He also has great synergy with the "Ennoblement" promo card which can add another card to your deck every time it's played!

Another card is called Marble Highway, and it's a card that actually lets you react to and prevent attack cards from other players, for free.  In addition to that, it lets you make monsters on your monster board "angry" which means they are close to attacking you, and in return you deal damage and get gold.  You have to balance the risks and rewards of this card, or you can just save it to block an attack.

The third card is Burning Sensation.  This card promotes decks that have a lot of Permanents, Equipment, Defenders and card draw by damaging all players based on how large their deck is.  So if most of your cards are in your hand or in play, you get hurt less by it.  It's obviously a good counter to a Bodysnatcher strategy since their deck will be huge, but it's also good against people that are focusing on low-cost cards and empty their hand every turn, or against people that are going for a lot of prize cards.

The fourth card is tentatively named Treasure Jackal.  This is a really undercosted Defender that dies instantly when the opponent plays a Defender, Permanent, or Equipment card, and gives them a gold and a life to boot.  The trick with Treasure Jackal is trying to make sure your opponent doesn't get many of these types of cards in the draft, and/or making sure you play your Jackal after they've already played their cards that can counter it.

The last card is named Siren.  It's a very small Defender that's free to play, and it lets you look at the opponent's hand and the top four cards of their deck and play an Ability or Monster-Attack card from it if you pay the energy cost.  Siren is great at disrupting an opponent's strategy and helping against super powerful Ability or Attack cards by stopping the opponent from playing them and letting you play them.

Well those are some new cards that were added, I've been looking for cool ways to add even more player interaction and drafting strategy and all of these cards really go towards that goal.  The cards these are replacing were cool but just missing a little oomph that really made you think.  Even though the game has been essentially finished for a while now, I am constantly playtesting and tweaking the game to make sure it's the best game it can be.  Thanks for your support guys!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What to expect when the Kickstarter launches and more playtesting stuff

What to expect when the Kickstarter launches

Okay guys, honestly I hardly know what to expect when the Mage Tower kickstarter launches this Friday, Kickstarter is a strange beast and is hard to predict.  One thing is for sure- people like to support projects that are going to be successful.  Part of the fun of Kickstarter is watching a project flourish from start to finish and riding the waves with the project creator.  For that reason it's totally important that the project gets off to a good start.  That's why it would be awesome if you followed Super Mega Games on Twitter (@SuperMegaGames1), Facebook (, and pledged even at the $1 level when the project starts.  Visually, I'd rather have 35 backers at $1 than 1 backer at $35- it just looks good when a project has a lot of backers.

It'd be awesome if the project got a lot of backers out of the gate, but I'm planning on buying ads on various gaming websites throughout the project, and I'm hoping it will spread by word of mouth, but the fact is a lot of people just like to wait until the last few days to pledge.  The earlier you pledge the better, I even am going to have a special backer reward for the first 25 people: they will get their names on the Kickstarter exclusive promo card and get a small $2 discount on the game.  I've seen people add their backer's names to rulebooks- but this is going to be right on the front of the card overlayed over the card art!  Sweet!

More playtesting stuff

I just had a cool playtesting game, basically there are a limited amount of cards called "Prize Cards" you can add to your deck during gameplay by spending gold.  This isn't a deckbuilding game like Dominion though- your deck is pretty much finished before the game starts, and the prize cards just help you even it out a bit.  Anyways, there are cards that give you extra gold, which means you can buy extra prize cards.  One player just happened to get a ton of cards that give gold, and though their deck was fairly weak in the beginning of the game it gained a ton of power and they managed to win.

I think late-game strategy decks are a great thing, it's fun to try to play with cards that are better the longer the game goes on to see how far you can push it.  One thing I became cognizant of as I playtested was that certain cards made the game shorter, and some made the game longer.  Cards that attack other players make the game shorter, because you're spending resources you could be using to fight monsters and the enemy is getting damaged by your attack.  Likewise, there are cards that help yourself a lot and help other players a little and these make the game longer because everyone survives against the monsters longer.  I call these two types of cards "Attack" and "Boon" cards, and recognizing how they affect the game length is an important part of building your deck and deciding if you should go for cards that are better in a long game.

Little subtleties like how cards affect game length are usually something you'd read on an advanced strategy site for a game, but in Mage Tower you can easily see "Attack" and "Boon" right on the cards.  With time you'll learn which of these cards have the greatest effect, and they are just another one of the small things that add to the depth of Mage Tower.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Update- Kickstarter Coming July 13th!! Also Playtesting Stories

Hey guys, we've been hard at work on the Mage Tower kickstarter project.  We originally wanted it to start in June but there was so much to get done that we think it would be better to launch mid-July (July 13th).  Here's what we've been up to:

-We finished all of the card art and purchased a prototype set of cards with the actual art (before we were using TCG cards in sleeves with a card-sized paper proxies inserted).  It's pretty awesome and we wanted to be able to actually show you the game in the Kickstarter video.  Speaking of which...

-We shot a video for Kickstarter with me (Brett) talking about Mage Tower.  We also shot a video of some of the cards and a gameplay overview.  The Kickstarter is pretty much all set to go, we're just waiting to launch it mid-July and we're finishing up the rulebook and game box art.

-We're playtesting the game constantly.  It's taken *so much* playtesting to get Mage Tower where it is, and at this point most of the cards are pretty sound.  The main goal is to make sure every card is fun and balanced.  With over 170 different cards to test, it takes a while to test everything, but the more we test the more we have a keen eye for what works.


I'm going to talk about some recent playtests and some decisions that were made to change cards.  Since the official rulebook (and the game, for that matter) aren't out yet, I'll try to keep it simple.

Crusade Playtesting
-There's a pretty fun card called "Crusade" that lets you get up to three defenders out of your deck with cost 4 or less and put them right into play.  This card is fun to draft with, because it really gives you incentive to draft cheap defenders, and having a deck with a theme is always fun.  The problem was that if you lucked out and got exactly the kind of defenders you needed, it was extremely powerful.  On the other hand, if you didn't get the defenders you wanted, or if you didn't get any more cheap defenders besides the Knight in your starting deck, you might not even want to play it (it costs a lot of energy).

Crusade has always been fun and was never on the chopping block, but it was a bit too swingy.  I thought about it and decided a good solution was instead of getting three 4-cost defenders, you could get any number of defenders with total costs equal to 10 or less.  For one thing, this lets you get higher costed defenders, which makes it less swingy in the sense that you'll usually be able to draft cards you want for it. Secondly, since the cost is limited to 10 it can never get *too* ridiculous.  Since high-cost cards are generally weaker per energy than low cost cards, you're still better off getting cheap defenders, but getting bigger defenders works great too, and you're never going to get more than 10 energy worth of defenders.

After playtesting the card with this change it's even more fun than it used to be- it's fun having the goal when you're drafting to "Get at least 10 energy worth of defenders."

Doomsday Playtesting
This is a card that, in a super simplified explanation, slightly increases the general amount of monsters that come out of the opponents' monster decks to attack them each turn.  It was a cool idea, and the gameplay was cool, but it suffered from a glaring problem- the confusion and memory issues weren't worth the coolness.  If Mage Tower were a video game the computer could just remember that it has to bring out more monsters every turn, but the player having to remember it is just annoying.  Also it messes with a very basic rule of the game, so suddenly instead of remembering the rules you have to remember the rules and remember how this card changes the rules.

Another problem was that since the ability was such a powerful attack it had to not deal any damage to monsters on your own monster board.  This makes you feel bad because you're not killing monsters, and super powerful attacks make the enemy feel bad because I mean, that's what they do.  So it was a card that confused people and made *both* players feel bad.

I'm planning on differentiating cards on difficulty levels so that new players aren't overwhelmed- probably in Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced.  I always felt like this card was Advanced Plus, like I didn't really want anyone to see it until they'd played with every other card and then maybe they'd want to play with this weird card.  Don't get me wrong- Mage Tower is 100% all about weird cards, but this just was more trouble than it was worth.

That's all for today
Most of the other changes I've made recently are very small, tweaking values up or down or changing the wordings of cards.  We will definitely be testing it up to the end of the Kickstarter though to make sure the game is as fun and balanced as possible.  Remember, the Mage Tower kickstarter project will start July 13th!

-Brett Brimmer

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Card Preview #2: Rolling Boulder

For the last card preview I talked about a super-strategic card, but today I'm going to talk about a more fun chance oriented card, Rolling Boulder:

If this card can get through a few monsters, it can deal 10 damage for 5 energy which is pretty much the most energy-efficient card in the game!  Even though it seems like you have to get lucky and have just the right combination of monsters in a row, there are a few ways you can help set this up.

For one thing you can use cards that damage monsters down the line or set up a monster to be killed.  For example, take a look at Frogcast and Artillery:


If you Frogcast the second monster, all you have to do is kill the first monster and you've started the chain reaction.  As long as that third monster has 3 or less health, you'll pull off the full combo!  Artillery, on the otherhand, lets you soften up the closest four monsters so that it's easier for Rolling Boulder to plow through them.  These combos don't guarantee you'll get the 10 damage done, but it just shows you how many ways there are to help it out!

Some other things that can help are Defenders and Boon cards.  Since Defenders stay out turn after turn until they die, they give you more options for varying amounts of damage you can deal to the closest monster to set it up for Rolling Boulder - and attacking costs nothing.  "Boon" cards are cards that help both you and your opponent, thus making the game last longer, thus giving you more opportunities to get a sweet Rolling Boulder combo off.

So as you can see, even though Rolling Boulder looks like a "fun" chance card through and through, there are ways to help it out, and when you do finally get the combo off it's all worth it!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Card Preview #1: Element Cannon

For the first Card Highlight we're going to be talking about the card Element Cannon.  Element Cannon is a "build around me" card, meaning there's certain types of cards you want to draft to support it.  If you draft the right types of cards it becomes insanely powerful.

So what types of cards are best with Element Cannon?  Small, cheap Defender cards.  Element Cannon turns any defender, no matter how weak, into an easy way to kill huge monsters like Giants or Demons.  Take a look at the card Wisp, for example:

By itself Wisp is a moderately powerful card that costs no mana, gives free damage, doesn't waste a card, and is good with Equipment.  With Element Cannon out, however, it kills a Giant for 2 mana without even using a card!  This is exactly the kind of card you want in your deck with Element Cannon.

Take a look at another card-- Parrot Familiar:

Parrot Familiar's main use is to copy an opponent's Ability card.  After that, it's just a useless Parrot that can't even deal damage.  But with Element Cannon out you can turn the useless 0/1 parrot into a Giant-killer!

You get the idea - turn any defender that would otherwise be weak into a deadly attacker.  The thing to keep in mind is that Element Cannon is fairly useless with larger defenders.  Sacrificing a 5/5 defender to Element Cannon is pointless because the 5/5 could have killed any monster anyways.

Although Element Cannon is a "build-around-me" card, it isn't useless without cheap defenders.  It can turn a Knight's 3 damage attack into a 5 damage explosion.  Generally any defender with 3 or less power at least gets some benefit from Element Cannon being out.

There are some cards out there that are even better combos with Element Cannon - finding cool combos and interactions is what Mage Tower is all about!

Monday, May 21, 2012

What is Mage Tower?

Mage Tower is a competitive "Tower Defense Card Game" inspired by tower defense games like Plants vs. Zombies, Kingdom Rush, and many others.  The game is designed for 2-4 players, with each player using their own deck of cards to fight off monsters in defense of their Mage Tower.  There are solo and 5-6 player variants, as well as an entire "Co-Op Monster" deck that has super-powered monsters you can team up with your friends to fight against!

In Mage Tower each player "drafts" their own deck they will use to fight the hordes of monsters.  There are 166 different "Draft Deck" cards with wildly different abilities.  Before each game players get 8 of these cards for their deck, to combine with 5 basic cards.

Don't be intimidated- making a deck is easy!  You either just give each player 8 random cards (the game is balanced so this works great), or you lay out 8 cards at a time and take turns picking the cards you want.
Once the game starts you'll have to deal with the monsters!

Every player has their own set of monsters that attack them, so you've got to decide if you'll try to craft the perfect monster-killing strategy, try to mess with your opponents, or both!  You can also assemble cool combos or try to make a deck that gets more and more powerful over time.  
There are so many ways to play!