Discarding Discard Mechanics

11 Sep
September 11, 2014

Please excuse the silence of late.

I took a brief, 2 week hiatus from game development while I was up in Joburg for my day job. With the commute and change of daily schedule, it was just too exhausting to really get much work done up there. But I’m back now, and I’m head-down focused on the final push toward release. Besides waiting on some final game art, I’m playtesting the heck out of the campaign and the various deck builds. Hours and hours a day, playtesting duels.

It’s late in the day to be making anything other than minor changes, I know, but what can I say, I’m going with my gut here and changing stuff if it doesn’t feel quite right. Seeing if I can make it better. And so far, so good!

The first major change, that I’ll talk about in this post, is that I’ve mostly done away with the discard and resource destruction cards. And, by “done away with”, I mean “re-purposed the cards to use different mechanics”.

The reason is simple. I read a post a while back from one of the designers of Hearthstone, where he’d said that they’d purposefully chosen not to include discard and resource destruction effects, because they aren’t fun to play against. A good card duel is a back-and-forth, and that’s a lot of the fun. But a well-constructed discard or resource destruction deck centers around denying an opponent any moves, or significantly limiting their moves. Of limiting their ability to actually play, essentially.

And the point resonated with me, in the way things that you subconsciously know to be true do, when you hear them put into words. Sitting there with an empty hand isn’t really a fun experience, and it’s not the most fun way to win, either. Sure, you can revel in your success, but it’s kinda like chucking a weighted net over your opponent and then stabbing them through the net while they’re tangled up. It’s not really much of a combat.

To make it worse, those effects are REALLY hard to balance, I found. The problem is that there is more of a sliding scale of victory/loss with other cards. Your Agent might be slightly weaker than the opposing Agent, but you still get off a shot or two before going down, leaving the enemy weakened.

Discard and resource destruction mechanics straddle a razor’s edge, balance wise. Because they either deny your opponent the ability to play a card or not, they’re very binary. If you can play them early enough, you completely strangle your opponent. Play them too late, and you can’t apply the lock-down you need to control the game. They’re also essentially hard counters to ANY strategy, if done right. Because the easiest card to defeat is one that’s never played.

So it’s an incredibly difficult thing, to balance them properly.

Anyway, I tried it out on a test branch, removing the handful of cards that applied discard or resource destruction effects to your opponent, repurposing them with other mechanics. And so far, I like it. Not only does it remove a problematic mechanic, it gives me a few more cards to flesh out other strategies with.

But I didn’t completely remove discard. Like in Hearthstone, some cards have an extra cost to play them, forcing you to discard a card at random from your hand, or lose some other resource. That, I’m ok with. Because that’s not about strangling your opponent’s ability to perform actions during their turn, that’s just adding a kind of gambling mechanic to your deck building, where you play a card and hope it doesn’t cost you too much to do so. High risk for potentially high reward.

I’ve mostly added the effect to the Yakuza cards, where it makes sense with the theme. It’s always dangerous to have dealings with the Yakuza, after all.

Yakuza Soldier, for example, has better than average stats for his cost, but he comes at a price.

YakSoldier

I’ll discuss the rest of the repurposed cards in later blog posts. For now, have fun guessing what they’ve become! 😉 And they’re not the only cards that have been rebalanced and rejigged. I’m constantly tweaking. So I think my beta testers will have fun with the next round of testing, seeing what’s changed, trying out new strategies!

Stay tuned!

2 replies
  1. MaximillionMiles says:

    Hmm, I’m not that big of a fan of hearthstone, I will admit. Can’t really explain it well, but to me a lot of their cards/decks feel samey and uninteresting. Many decks in magic have an interesting twist to how they play, and each color has its own character, they feel distinct and interesting. Hearthstone just lacks that, in my opinion. Although maybe I did not play enough and unlock more interesting cards.
    Well, the game is yours and I trust you enough to wait for the game rather than preemptively complaining. Hope to beta test the game soon. And for what it’s worth, I prefer system crash than Hearthstone, so there. 😛

    Reply
  2. gareth says:

    Hah, thanks Max!

    Personally, I enjoy Hearthstone as a good fit for when I don’t have much time for gaming, which is a lot lately. It’s good to squeeze in a game here and there, in a spare 15 minutes.

    But I start getting bored when I play for longer periods, it feels a bit directionless to me. Part of the reason I have a strong focus on the story campaign in SC, I want players to feel like they’re progressing toward something more interesting than just unlocking new cards.

    Reply

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