Designer Notes 3: Broken Play Styles

Eyo. This is Kuri writing his first blog post! And now let me talk a bit about broken playstyles in State of Wonder.

Now if you play Magic: The Gathering or other card games, heck even other multiplayer games, you’ll know that they often offer multiple ways to play them. You might choose to go aggressive with goblins, or you might want to have control over the situation and have counterspells. And when we designed the game, we wanted to find these playstyles and help them grow, by designing and tweaking cards made to fit those situations.

Yes, that seems pretty standard

It might, but there are a lot of problems that can spring up from this. A playstyle might start to warp the entire game around itself. Or an overpowered card might have been the only thing making a certain playstyle good. Then we also have a problem if we make cards which are okay in one deck, but ridiculously broken in another one.

So can’t you just nerf broken playstyles?

Yes, but we also need to keep them fun and interesting while maintaining a good feel for their theme. A very good example of this was a nerf to the recent Templar deck which Van posted about here.

Church of Sinner effect is:

“Conviction: For Each Heresy Counter in play, your units gain +1 attack.”

This is a very cool and flavourful effect. Your units are hunting the sinners and gain conviction. But there was a problem.

You could put Heresy counter on units and buildings. The result of this was that the Templar player would put heresy counters on the backline buildings, stacking them up until every unit got +5 in power. This meant that they 1-shotted every almost every building in the game and just exploded in their opponent’s face. It was obviously overpowered, but it was also super fun to play with.

The challenge: Nerf it and still make it fun to play.

You might think the first goto answer is to nerf Church of Sinners, but that wasn’t the real problem. Van suggested that we only allow heresy counters to be put on units. That way you could counterplay the heresy counters by sending in your unit to die. And that’s flavourful.

Flavour seems pretty important for you

And it is! But flavour can’t always win out sadly. Sometimes the gameplay needs much more consideration than a simple fix.

Case in point: the Fortification deck has been put on hold.

With a medieval battle-themed card game, having walls, guard towers, and markets play a huge part in the setting we’re designing in. So naturally we made them one of our core playstyles when we started designing.

Our core playstyles back then were:

  • Aggressive (Units, attack boost)
  • Defensive (Fortifications, kill spells)
  • Economy (Money generators, high cost answers)

The idea was that we we’re gonna have one starter deck of each play style to show off the game. This is where we started to notice the cracks in design.

But it was just fixing the broken parts right?

The Fortification deck was either crushing the opponent, or it was getting destroyed. Unit combat is a core part of our game, and the fortification deck just ignored it. They built guard towers and markets and was always in the best position to win fights since they were never on the attacking side, so their guard towers make mincemeat out of the opponent.

Problem: Fortification decks were cancerous to the game.

When I say cancerous I’m talking about playstyles which actively avoid the core intention of the game.

In early Magic: The Gathering, the color Blue and Removal spells were insanely overpowered. It was so good that people stopped playing creatures in their decks because they were bad in comparison to other card types. Now Magic realized this and over time they made better creatures and balanced out the Removal spells.

We faced the same problem ourselves.

So, how did you solve it?

We have moved more towards playstyles who focuses on economy and aggression, but we haven’t fully solved it yet. Right now we’ve removed the Fortification deck from the starter deck lineup while we focus on what is actually fun in our game, unit combat. There will be a day where we make fortifications work. And maybe i’ll even do a blog post about the result of that fix.

Wrapping it up

So that was my first blog post! Thanks for reading and if you want to follow me you can do so on my Twitter account: @simon_gamedev

And please follow our Twitter here: @SoWGameDev

And if you have any questions for me or the other developers, don’t be afraid to join the forums and talk to us there 🙂

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