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.

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