We’ve been testing the game with our base human army set, which consists of 30 unique cards. This limited card set was helpful to get the core game mechanics down, but to add additional depth to the game, we completed our first expansion set, Praise Duarus.
The set is based on Duarus, the goddess of the sun, that the human empire worships. The set adds two new card mechanics: heal & bless.
Heal removes wounds from units post combat
Bless bestows a blessing on a unit when deployed, and adds +n/+n to the unit
The expansion also adds 9 new religious based units, 8 new spells & fast cards, 2 new locations & 1 new general.
Most importantly, this expansion adds additional depth to the game with increased deck building choices, and additional deck building strategies.
… And if nothing else, it’s helped keep playtesting fun, which is really what this is all about anyways!
We realize the last post, ages ago, said we’d talk about adding randomization next. But instead today we’re talking more about game balance.
In part 1, we discussed why a points based deck builder is challenging, and touched on potential game ideas to test. We’ve done a ton of testing over the last few months, and here’s what we’ve learned.
Limiting the units players could have in play was removed. As was pointed out in the comments on part 1, adding in a supply limit defeats the purpose of a deck builder. There are now no limits on how many cards you can have in play.
This presented several problems, most notably a snowball effect where once one player got the upper hand at the start, they controlled the entire game. This made for a very un-fun game. To mitigate the snowball effect, we retooled unit stats, reworked combat, adjusted card point costs, and updated the action economy.
Here we have implemented a max number of same card in the deck, and added in a min-deck size based on army points value. We will test removing the min-deck size again in the future.
Most importantly here we are fine-tuning card point costs to make the game balanced. Two major adjustments were increased location cost, and a sharper point curve between good and bad units.
With the sharper point curve, a player with a few expensive card heavily relied on drawing those cards to be competitive, which leads us to our next point, deck churn.
As identified in part 1, with a points based card builder it’s important to cycle through your deck to access all the cards you spent your points on. A player with a few high cost cards mixed in with a ton of low cost cards can basically only win if they draw their high cost cards.
We’ve added a few cards and unit abilities that a player can take to help with this.
Most notably, in the core game play we added a rule where a player can discard one card to draw two cards. In our current 40 card testing decks, this brought our average undrawn cards down from ~20 to ~12.
We can still do better here to improve deck churn, we want to get the undrawn cards down to 20% (8 cards on a 40 card deck) or lower.
Wow, it has been a while since we posted here! Not because we’ve been slacking off (okay, we may have taken a bit of a break around Christmas and New Years), but mostly just due to a case of writers block. But this week, blog-post inspiration is back with advantage!
We’ve spent a lot of time working on game structure over the past several months. Almost every game you play, things start off slow and build to a climax.
In Hearthstone you start with one mana, and gradually increase to 10 – being able to play bigger and better cards
In StarCraft, Terran starts building with weaker units like Marines and progressing to expensive units like Battle Cruisers
In Settlers of Catan you start with two settlements and expand outward, getting more resources as the game progresses
And not only do your turns and actions get bigger and better, but so do your opponents. Leading to an ever increasing stakes game that ebbs and flows until there is a victor.
The article talks about focusing on alternating positive and negative events – with bigger positives and negatives toward the end of the game and smaller ones to start.
This can be difficult with a points-based card game where you can play your biggest card on your first turn. We decided to test it.
We had play-testers rank their excitement/enthusiasm on their turn and on their opponents turn. -7 (bad) to +7 (good). Using Settlers of Catan as a baseline: a -7 would be like you had the cards to win in your hand, someone rolled a 7 and you lost half of them, placed the robber on your best resource, and stole a card from you. A +7 would be if you had a ton of resources at the start of your turn, built out a city, flipped over a soldier to get largest army, and stole the one resource you needed to build one last road to steal longest road and win the game.
The results weren’t great:
What we have here is a series of alternating 1’s and 2’s – with occasional minor-excitement at the end building up to 3’s and 4’s.
There’s a couple things going on here: no increasing intensity as the game goes on & no intensity whatsoever.
Problem #1: No Increasing Intensity
How do you build up excitement on a points based card game where you can play anything at any time? Here are two primary mechanics we’re focusing on:
Cards becoming more powerful as the game goes on
Example: cards that might have been a 2/1/1 (attack/defense/wounds) could now be a 1/1/1 with “+1 attack for each other X type of card”
Currently in the game, each player has a set number of actions to take each turn based on locations in play. But more locations leave your defenses stretched thin. We want this to provide an increasing action pool but also an increasing defensive struggle.
Candidly speaking, in its current form this isn’t working well and something we are actively working on. While this is a tenet of our initial design – time will tell if it gets drastically changed. A future post for sure.
Problem #2: No Intensity
This could be its own blog post because boy is there a lot here. There were a lack of options a player could take on their turn – things can never be exciting when you always only have one or two plays. One of the play-testers said they felt railroaded in the decisions they could take. We’ll keep it brief.
The above focus on increasing intensity helped out a lot here. Because cards can get better – there are now decisions like:
Do I play this card now, or do I hold onto it?
Do I sacrifice this unit to prevent damage, or do I take damage to save this card?
The biggest change: it used to be that a player had set actions they could use to play cards or attack. A cool mechanic where a player had to wisely choose to expand their army or attack their enemy creating tension and depth… WRONG. It just always made sense to try and build up the bigger army back and forth until someone had some bad luck in drawing units.
Attacking is now a unique action that does not pull from a different action option. An extremely small change with major positive implications.
And that’s it folks.
We don’t have new intensity charts yet, but we believe things are heading in the right direction. One of our recent play tests, after a back and forth battle, ended with something like “Not sure how I can win this, looks like you’ll win next turn.” *draws card. thinks for a moment.* “Wait, I think I just won!”
Next post should be on increasing randomness in the game (or maybe some more charts – they are fun to draw).
Creating a game is hard. Creating a game as a fun hobby with no game-design experience is harder.
So over the past month we’ve taken a step back and started to research game design to help with the pitfalls we keep running into. 90% of this research is reading through a blog referenced earlier, https://danfelder.net/. I expect it’ll be referenced (along with the Remaking Magic Podcast) a lot in upcoming posts. And a big thanks to Dan if he’s reading this, the information you’ve provided online is incredibly helpful.
First and foremost, we have come up with our design goal. We’ve always had it in our head, but it’s easy to lose sight of a goal if it’s not written down.
Design Goal: Create a fun tactical points-based card game that is quick paced and can be completed in 20 minutes or less.
Complexity & Depth
Secondly, and extremely helpful, we’ve learned about complexity and depth: https://danfelder.net/2015/05/21/design-101-complexity-vs-depth/. We quickly realized the complexity of our game far outweighed the depth it provided, and we’ve made some pretty radical design changes. It’s now top of mind when testing new mechanics to see how they play out. Specifically, when we have to make a decision, we go with the lowest complexity possible that achieves our design goal.
Here are a few examples on how it’s shaped the game:
Combat consisted of adding up attack and defense values and calculating damage. There was a lot of addition and memory with little tactical fun. Now units just do damage.
Notes/rules that read things like “if attack value is 2x defense value, deal 4 damage, if attack value is greater than defense value deal 2 damage, if attack value is less than defense value deal one damage, if you are the attacker and not the defender… except on Tuesdays” were burned.
Simply card design. Cards like “+1 defense vs mounted units” sounded great. But the complexity of tracking who gets bonus defense when, versus the strategic decisions it led to while playing, was out-of-balance.
The game is now the best it has been since we started this project, and we look forward to upcoming improvements!
Still quarantined at home certainly has made it difficult to get a lot of meaningful work done on this game. However, thanks to recently learning about, and installing, Tabletop Simulator – I’ve been able to get a deck of cards online to play against opponents that aren’t just myself, which has been a tremendous help!
As mentioned in Combat Mechanics – Part 1, we’ve been toying with a regiment system – where units can be stacked together (up to 3 max) to increase their overall attack and defense. The regiment lined up directly across from an opponents regiment and the two were basically locked into a battle where they could only attack/defend against each other. No surprises, this ended up creating a very snowball-y affect where once one person started getting an edge on attack & defense, they were virtually impossible to defeat.
So we’re testing out a few changes in regards to damage and regiments.
There are no set regiments. A lane has a group of units, and when an attack is ordered, the attacker can group his/her units into regiments as they see fit
There is no max regiment size – if a lane has 10 units, they can be all grouped together, they can be separated into smaller regiments, or they can attack solo
The attacker always does at least one damage. They do more if they have higher attack value than opponent defense, and other factors
The attacker assigns the damage to the opponent
The defender then does the same
There are a lot of minor iterations to be made here to see if this works. Does it make sense for the attacker to always do at least one damage? Does it make sense for the defender to always do at least one damage? Etc.
Hopefully we’ll provide more regular updates over the coming weeks as we work through these mechanics!
Game development has taken a bit of a back seat here due to mandatory social distancing from COVID-19. It’s hard (read impossible) to play a game with anyone when you are not allowed to meet with anyone.
That said, I (Joe) have been playing a quite a few solo games to continue to test the combat mechanics. Though I find it difficult to play-test a game effectively playing by myself.
But, all is not lost. We’re continuing to test the regiment combat system and over the next week or so I’ll be solo testing a few new rules here:
Heavily based on a tabletop wargame, Helorian Battles relies heavily on combat to determine who wins the game.
Throughout the combat system development, while not set in stone, several key features we want to include have driven our decision making:
Dynamic lane based combat. The game starts with one combat lane, and can expand and contract throughout the game.
Ability to play strong units on turn one. With points based deckbuilding, a player shouldn’t have to save up manna or money to be able to play some of their best cards at the start of the game.
No board/mat required. Summoner Wars is a great LGC that is very wargame like, but requires a mat to play on.
We have evolved through several iterations of combat while developing the game, some turned out to be horrible. Some were fun, but had balance issues.
The most notable failure was players would end up spending every turn counting up their attack and defensive power, the opponents attack and defense power, and then determining if they should attack or not. There was a lot of counting, not much attacking, and even less fun being had.
And that brings us to our current combat iteration we are testing. It’s sure to change as we continue to playtest, and may be completely different by the time the game is complete.
The regiment system.
In the regiment system, units can be stacked with other units to increase their power and/or provide cannon fodder for the more powerful units. Players can also create groups of low power units to overpower stronger units.
Based off of this new system, there are a lot of different iterations and adjustments we want to test. Max units per regiment, combat between different sized regiments, ranged units in regiments, and more.
We’ll explore more of these combat mechanic systems and tweaks to the regiment system in future posts.
While we had a notion of what the challenges of a point based deck building card game would entail, this article provided a lot of insight from a professional game designer. One key quote from the article:
“So why don’t card battlers use point-based deckbuilding? There’s actually a pretty good reason. When both players start with all their units on the field, both players are guaranteed access to all of their squad points. In a card battler like hearthstone where you draw only a portion of your deck each game, investing most of your points in a few stronger cards would produce massively swingy games. Asking players to pay a cost upon playing the card, as most card battlers do, solves this issue. You only pay for what you play.”
Dan Felder – https://danfelder.net/2017/03/09/untapped-potential-in-card-games-deck-building-point-costs/
This makes a lot of sense – in Warhammer Fantasy one can field at the start of the game 5 units of goblins, or 1 unit of Black Orcs (generalization). You get access to all your units, all at once. However in a card game, not only do you have to churn through your deck to try and get units, you also have a set number of actions to play your cards.
So, a deck of 10 high-powered units @ 100 points each, vs. a deck of 20 low powered units @ 50 points each – all else being equal, odds are the deck of 10 high powered units will win every time.
There are a few game mechanics we’ll explore to counteract this in-balance.
Supply limit. A player can have more weak units on the board than strong units. (Edit: Though as pointed out in the comments below, this likely defeats the purpose of a points based deck builder)
Bonuses for weak units. Example: 2 weak units together become stronger. (Like two goblin units in Warhammer working together)
Like Warhammer, constraints forcing mins and maxes for your deck to contain set percentages of unit/card types.
Set min-deck size depending on deck points.
Point values of cards and units
Max number of same card in deck
Unit abilities – cheap units have unique abilities (draw card when played, no action cost to play, etc.)
Deck churn – players can churn through their deck during a game.
In future posts we’ll go over testing these game mechanics (and more) to see what works, what doesn’t, and what is fun!