Sunday, November 6, 2016

Drafting Pokemon #02: Move Tutor


Pokemon Origins


Last time, on Drafting Pokemon... I defined the scope of the project of creating a Pokemon drafting card game. After knowing that I'm going to include all of the first 151 pokemon as a part of this game, that has already easily defined the card pool for the most important card type: 151 pokemon cards. This leaves the second-most-important card type to figure out: pokemon moves. Let's TM28 in.

Thinking Many Moves Ahead

I already established that later-generation moves are O.K. to include in this game. Actually, it's necessary, since the first generation move pool sucked for creating balanced gameplay, with the case-in-point being Psychic pokemon's weakness of Bug and Ghost not having to fear any actually-good Bug or Ghost moves being used on them. 

So, because of this allowance of a move like Shadow Ball being included in this game, this opens the door to a whole bunch of moves to select from. But where do we begin? Let's start with some questions that first come to my mind.

  • How many move cards should I include in the card pool?
  • What is the minimum number of pokemon that should be able to learn a move in order for that move to be included in the card pool?
  • How many move cards should a player be able to draft?
  • Physical Attack/Defense and Special Attack/Defense or just Attack (with HP, of course)?
  • What elements of pokemon battle gameplay are not being included?
  • What moves will pretty much never be used?

Two Pidgeys, One Geodude


Some of the answers to these earlier questions as well as other ones can be found or at least honed in on when we bring up something that Josh Jelin, a peer, suggested to me: have pre-defined moves printed on the pokemon card. He used an example of having Pikachu have the stronger move which could be evolved to stack its move with Raichu, which has the weaker move but better stats. This simple solution is fantastic because this solves or at least helps multiple problems:
  • How do we make unevolved pokemon matter?
  • How do we include the signature moves of pokemon like Hitmonlee's Hi Jump Kick?
  • What's the best way to minimize the number of choices to make when drafting moves?
How do we make unevolved pokemon matter?

I was thinking of at least one solution for how to make a Machop matter in a card pool that includes Blastoise and friends, especially when Machamp is one of those friends. But it wasn't an elegant solution which led me to think about whether or not I should even include unevolved pokemon - including Pikachu. Which means a Pokemon card game without Pikachu in it, which feels super weird but something that can be done if it was for the sake of a better game.

However, if Vulpix has Fire Blast printed on it while Ninetales has a lesser move printed on it, then that means Vulpix can still be a force to be reckoned with while Ninetales has to deal with having drafted other move cards to improve its more-impressive-than-Vulpix stats. OR, if you draft both Vulpix and Ninetales, then you're able to utilize Fire Blast on a Ninetales, and things just got amazing.

Also, now we don't have to worry about there being only Gengar to represent Ghosts and Dragonite to represent Dragons. You can also draft Gastlies, Haunters, Dratinis, and Dragonairs.

Pokemon anime


How do we include the signature moves of pokemon like Hitmonlee's Hi Jump Kick?

There are some pokemon moves that are iconic. But some of those moves are only found on a couple pokemon or even just one of them (otherwise known as a signature move). How do we include these famous moves without creating super-narrow cards that are duds most of the time they're drafted? Ah, printing the move on the card itself! With this, Hitmonchan can still enjoy its super-sweet Mach Punch.

Note: This Bulbapedia page of signature moves is pretty sweet and useful.

What's the best way to minimize the number of choices to make when drafting moves?

A Pokemon team is six pokemon. Each pokemon can know four moves. Together, that's twenty-four moves. That's a lot of moves to have drafted. And, like in Magic: The Gathering, some of the moves you draft you won't end up using due to any of several reasons - like being stuck with useless choices at the end of a draft round or choosing to draft some water moves when you find out at the end of the draft that you're not actually using any Water pokemon on your team and are only using one or two of those drafted water moves after all.

Printing moves on pokemon cards means they already come pre-loaded with moves that you don't need to worry about drafting. If each pokemon already knows one move already, then that at least lessens the number of moves needed across your team to 18, at most. If you have evolved pokemon, it's even less.

Eighteen move cards is much more manageable of the number of choices to narrow down on from your total number of drafted cards (though, still a lot, it feels like). This benefit is probably the most important one in terms of creating a game that's fun to play.

Show Me Your Moves


How many moves should I include in the card pool?

When I refer to the "card pool," I mean all of the possible cards that can show up in this drafting card game. For the pokemon card pool, this number is 151. Then, from there, for a single drafting session, maybe about a third will be pulled from this card pool (we'll settle on an actual number after finding out results from playtesting).

For moves, we don't have a set number. It's good that you can't count on every pokemon to show up in any one particular draft session. The same should apply to moves. But how many moves should we draw from?

Well, that depends on the X number of cards being drawn from this card pool of number Y that we are trying to figure out. And the X number of cards being drawn depends on the maximum number of moves your whole team needs, which seems to be 18 moves right now (one move per pokemon on your team, each of which wasn't evolved). And if there are always an N number of moves that are unused after drafting, then that would, together with 18 used moves, be a Z percentage of cards that get used from those X number of cards being drawn from the card pool of Y number of cards.

Whew. 

Whatever all those numbers turn out becoming, I want the X number drawn to not be 100 percent of card pool number Y, since that means you can always count on Ice Beam showing up in SOMEONE'S hands. I also don't want X to be 50 percent of Y, since that means your decision-making comes down to a coin flip when you're thinking, "Is it possible Thunderbolt was in in this draft?" Because I don't know what this magic number between 50 and 100 percent should be, I'll start off with 75%, then have playtesting results show me whether I should go higher or lower.

X = 0.75 * Y
Z = (18 * N * 4) * X, where N is the number of unused cards we need to figure out and '4' being the number of players

Figuring out N number of unused cards is tough. This depends on the next section's question.

We'll come back to this, but let's just throw a number out there for now to see what a calculation looks like: 50% unused cards.

Z = 18 used cards * 0.5
Z = 36 cards per player
36 * 4 players = 144 cards = X
144 = 0.75 * Y
Y = 192 total moves in the card pool

Well, holy shit. That seems like a lot of moves to decide on. Let's hope that 50% unused cards is actually too high for the sake of amount of work. ;) But if I gotta do 192 moves, then I gotta do it. We'll cross that bridge when we get there.

Source: https://generationmillenniale.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/charizard/


What is the minimum number of pokemon that should be able to learn a move in order for that move to be included in the card pool?

As mentioned previously, a signature move of a pokemon, like Twineedle for Beedrill, will be useless to draft 99% of the time. There obviously has to be more than one pokemon that should be able to learn any one particular move card available in the draft, but what's that minimum number? I'm not sure. If I were more well-versed in mathematics, I might be able to crunch a number. But because I'm not, I'm going to have to find out more along the way, perhaps leaning on playtesting results to find out.

I know that Tackle is one of the most well-known moves. So somewhere between that number as our "100%" and one, which is only Beedrill knowing Twineedle, is the number we want. 

Until I know more, I'm going to lean toward picking moves that are known by as many pokemon as possible. It FEELS like there isn't a danger of having too many moves known by too many pokemon. If anything, it might be the opposite, which will be its own challenge to address.

How many move cards should a player be able to draft?

As addressed earlier, to be determined based on the ideal percentage of cards that go unused after drafting and using up to 18 move cards.

Physical Attack/Defense and Special Attack/Defense or just Attack?

There are some moves that care about the physical or special versions of an attack or defense stat. Because of this, we need to know what kind of stats a pokemon is going to have in order to weed out our move choices.

At this time, I'm still not sure whether we're going physical and special distinctions. I want the depth of gameplay but am scared that, for a card game, there's too much calculation that'd end up happening. Let's write it out for the move Thundershock:

Damage = ((Special Attack Power + ThundershockPower) * Weakness/Resistance/Immunity) - Special Defense

vs

Damage = (Attack Power + Thundershock) * Weakness/Resistance/Immunity

(The reason why there's no defense calculated here is because, since there's no distinctions of types of defense, the defense just gets already summed with the defending pokemon's HP stat.)

Let's try doing "real" numbers now.

Damage = ((5 + 4) * 2) - 7
Damage = 11, against a 20 HP pokemon, leaving 9 HP left

vs

Damage = (5 + 4) * 2
Damage = 18, against a 27 HP pokemon, leaving 9 HP left

Is the former too much to do, especially when you need to look at your pokemon's stat, their pokemon's two stats of the applicable defense and HP?

With the worry of too much calculation going on with the former, I worry that doing a conversion/adaptation of current stats for the latter will come with its own challenges.

A reminder that, while the original pokemon games didn't feature physical and special distinctions for attack and defense, it had a high Special stat to be applied for both offense and defense. I don't like that at all. I don't want a pokemon with the highest Special stat to be strictly better than all other pokemon with lower Special stats when not factoring in type effectiveness (looking at you, Mewtwo).

This direction is still something I don't know which I'll go in. I know that fellow Magic design enthusiast Mad Olaf is warm to the idea of simplifying to Attack, HP, and Speed. I'll continue to keep this in mind.

Source: http://lparchive.org/Pokemon-Yellow/Update%2032/


What elements of pokemon battle gameplay are not being included?

By this, I mean things like Low Kick caring about the weight of a pokemon. Pokemon weight is rarely a factor for pokemon moves. And caring about this means printing the weight on every single pokemon card. It'd be better to cut this.

Another thing is weather conditions. When it's raining, water moves get better. When Sunny Day is used, fire moves are better. In this case, these weather conditions also enhance Thunder and Solar Beam, which I think is pretty cool. And there are pokemon abilities (if we end up doing pokemon abilities) that key off of weather conditions. I like when there's synergy like this. For this reason, I WANT to include weather conditions, but if this means there's too much complication for this to be worth it, then I'll cut weather conditions.

Then there's things like whether a move makes contact for those abilities that care about contact. I think "making contact" is also an unnecessary added element. I don't think there's enough excitement around contact to be worth its inclusion.

There might be other elements I'm not mentioning here as well, but it's something I'll consider the ramifications of for each battle gameplay element I come across when choosing moves.

What moves will pretty much never be used?

I'm looking at you, Leer and Growl. Some stat-raising moves like Dragon Dance are awesome. But some suck. And there are other moves, like Scratch, that may pale in comparison to other moves available. When including a certain power level of moves, I'll be sure to keep in mind whether a move is just so outclassed in every way compared to other moves that it shouldn't be included at all.

You don't include Shock in the same set as Lightning Bolt.

Move Along

So, here's my current next steps:
  1. Figure out which signature moves will go on each pokemon
  2. Figure out which moves most pokemon of each type will want to and be able to learn (Thunderbolt on an Electric type)
  3. Include non-signature moves on pokemon that would not create redundancy (or at least lessen it) with actual drafted moves (having Thunderbolt be a drafted card and also as a move on Magnemite and Voltorb)
  4. Put a move on each of enough pokemon cards (inclusive of every type) to be able to simulate a draft (stats not needed right now)
  5. Finish creation of moves to be at least 144 (enough for the guesstimated 50% of moves drafted are used on your pokemon for a full set of four moves each)
  6. Playtest enough drafts (no battles) to get the data to be able to determine the right number of moves that need to be included in a draft and whether the number of applicable moves turns out to be a big problem
Thanks for making the move to read this post. As always, feedback in the form of comments on this post or on via other communication / social media platforms are welcome. =)

Source: http://www.psypokes.com/bw/tutors.php

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Drafting Pokemon #01: Silph Scope

Pokemon Origins


This year, I'm participating in National Game Design Month - or, NaGa DeMon, for short - like I've tried to succeed at before but didn't. I'm already a day late, so let's get to it.

Goal: Make a Pokemon drafting card game and playtest it with other people at least one time before November is over.

I'm aware I'm using an existing IP and whatever stigma and/or limitations comes with that. I'm unabashedly doing so because completing this project will achieve a game design goal I've never met: finish making a game. I love drafting in tabletop games, I love Pokemon, and I've had a fierce passion for this marriage of a game to become reality for months now. Let's make it happen before the fire goes out.


Scope


There are so many aspects of Pokemon, but keeping the scope of the game small is important for success. I'm focusing on: Pokemon battles. Getting gym badges, evolving pokemon with Fire Stones, and hatching eggs need not apply.

So, the following are a set of rules I've defined for what to include in this game, and I'll be going over the reasons for each:

  • Four-player drafting
  • Original 151 pokemon only
  • Later-generation moves allowed
  • Traditional 1-on-1 pokemon battles only
  • No pokemon or moves with Dark or Steel types
  • No EVs, IVs, or pokemon natures
  • No held items or bag items
  • No tracking PP
  • MAYBE no pokemon that have an evolved form
  • MAYBE no pokemon abilities
  • MAYBE no distinction between Physical and Special
"Yeah, but what will it be like?"
The beginning part of this game will be drafting pokemon and battle moves that those pokemon will use. After the drafting is done, players each choose which pokemon to form a team with and which moves will go on which pokemon. The final phase is battling 1-on-1 with one of the players, simulating the feel of battling on the handheld Pokemon games.


Pokemon Adventures

Four-Player Drafting


While I would normally like to allow for a flexible number of players for drafting like in other card games, I think allowing for that flexibility will increase complexity in design work, thus making the scope of this project larger. To keep things simple, we'll keep the number low.

Two players is too few for that drafting dynamic. Three players creates an awkward situation of having a player, when the drafting and "deck construction" is all done, wait for two other players to finish up battling before being able to play. Four players is just right - you can have two concurrent battles and each player has up to three opponents to play against.

Original 151 Pokemon Only


Pokemon currently has over seven hundred unique monsters to choose from. If each pokemon were a card, this is more than enough choices to choose from to include in the drafting card pool. I have to draw a line in the sand somewhere, and I think choosing to include only the first generation of pokemon is a solid move.

When folks are drafting this game, I want them to know for sure what kind of pokemon to expect. If I decided to include select pokemon from various games, I wouldn't want them unsure of whether or not Scizor was included in the drafting card pool since players might be planning ahead with their draft picks for rounding out their pokemon team. Providing a list of all the pokemon that were hand-selected adds some extra logistics that I don't want. It's easiest to say, "Original 151 pokemon is included."

Also, with the release of Pokemon GO and the type of audience I expect will be playing my game, the first generation is even more of a strong choice since they'd resonate most with the players.

Later-Generation Moves Allowed


Even though we're sticking with the original generation of pokemon as the pool of pokemon to choose from, newer moves from later generations will be included. Not all of them, but I see including some of them as necessary.

In Pokemon, there's a gameplay element of having pokemon types and each of those types have strengths and weaknesses when pitted against other types. The thing is, though, the moves that were present in Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue weren't really fleshed out that well to create a good balance of power.

One of Psychic's weaknesses is Bug, and Pin Missile was the best Bug move to use against Psychic, of which Jolteon, a non-Bug pokemon, was the best choice when attempting to take advantage of a super-effective attack - and it doesn't even do as much damage as Jolteon using an Electric attack instead!

The same goes for available Ghost moves to use against Psychic. As an example, Shadow Ball has been a boon in being able to have a great super-effective option against Psychic pokemon.

So, with the restriction of 151 pokemon only, we'll pick and choose moves that will balance out the gameplay with what pokemon types are available among pokemon.

Pokemon anime

Traditional 1-on-1 Pokemon Battles Only

Trying for any other kind of pokemon battle will just increase the complexity of this project for both creating it and for playing it. That's a bad thing. That is all.

No Pokemon or Moves with Dark or Steel Types

This might be a controversial decision, but because I'm deciding to only use the original generation of pokemon, no exceptions, then that means there are NO Dark pokemon available. Sure, we can have Dark moves, but it's potentially a feel-bad when you're drafting Dark moves and realize that you can never achieve the most damage with those moves using a Dark-type pokemon. Yes, this means one less weakness for the notoriously-powerful Psychic type, but that's where the designing comes into play to work with these restrictions.

With removing Dark and Steel types, this does mean that Magnemite will be a pure Electric type and that the move Bite will be a Normal type, like it used it be, instead of the Dark type it was changed into.

No EVs, IVs, or Pokemon Natures

Each individual pokemon on a battling team has a lot of complexity to it. There are stats, but there are actually these hidden values tied to these stats that affect them. And then there's the pokemon nature that yet tilt these stats more. When doing Pokemon battles, caring about this part is NOT capturing the essence of what makes Pokemon battling so much fun. 

Simplifying here is important. The pokemon's stats will be what it says they are on the card.

No Held Items or Bag Items

When participating in Pokemon tournaments, the rules already disallow for using items from your Bag (i.e. using a Super Potion on a Pokemon). As such, the same will be reflected for this card game.

However, a wonderful extra thing a pokemon can have going for it is having a held item. In the regular game, I think this is a great deepening of the gameplay for expanding the possibilities of types of pokemon teams. But, in this game, held items would be a third type of card to draft as well as add extra complexity (while can be good) that isn't needed. If we stripped away held items, we still have a functioning game. So, away with this.

No Tracking PP

Moves in the handheld Pokemon games have a limited number of uses, otherwise known as Power Points, or PP. Including this aspect wouldn't actually add to the fun of battling, would be a burden track logistically, and almost never is significant when actually battling.

Pokemon anime


MAYBE No Pokemon that Have an Evolved Form

What I mean by this is that Raichu would be in the game but Pikachu wouldn't be. I know - a Pokemon game without Pikachu in it. That's cray, right? So cray.

But, really, including a Grimer when there's Muk also available in the drafting sets a precedent for why it should matter that you have the Grimer. I want each game piece to matter. Which I could make matter if, say, you get an "evolutionary bonus" if you drafted both Grimer and Muk, and you can simply stack them and get a better Muk than if you had just drafted Muk by itself.

A reason to NOT disclude pokemon is so that players who have favorite pokemon can enjoy playing with them. Squirtles are awesome, and not seeing one in the draft ever can be a downer.

So... we'll SEE!

MAYBE No Pokemon Abilities

All right, so what I mean by "ability" is this extra gameplay element that a pokemon can have besides its stats and moves. For example, Gengar can know Levitate, which makes it immune to Ground-type moves used against it.

The concern I have is that some abilities trigger out-of-time with choosing moves. Some abilities have timing that are outside of the moment when you are looking through your choices of whether to switch pokemon or use one of your current pokemon's moves. 

Including them can add that exciting extra piece of information on a pokemon card drafting. Currently, if you drafted a pokemon, you might see information for its stats and its strengths and weaknesses (the moves it can learn is actually handled on each individual move card). It seems boring, so a pokemon ability printed on there, it might be more exciting to consider pokemon cards.

There's even an opportunity to have build-around abilities, like Hitmonchan's Iron Fist, which makes you want to draft all the moves that PUNCH!

Pokemon Emerald


MAYBE No Distinction Between Physical and Special

If I included all the stats a pokemon has now, it'd be:
  • HP
  • Attack
  • Defense
  • Special Attack
  • Special Defense
  • Speed
If I removed the distinction between physical and special, it'd look something like:
  • HP
  • Attack
  • Speed
The second one is great for lessening complexity of the game, but it may be lessening the complexity TOO much. Snorlax, for example, would have high HP and Attack and low Speed. There's not much opportunity to finding a weakness here. You just gotta hit hard with a Fighting-type move.

Another drawback is that there might be a lot of work reconfiguring existing Pokemon's stats to look correct. Alakazam is a glass cannon that hits hard with Special Attack, but it might be too weird to take advantage of its high Attack to do a hard hit like Mega Punch.

The original Pokemon games had:
  • HP
  • Attack
  • Defense
  • Speed
  • Special
In this case, both Special Attack and Special Defense are applied in the Special stat. This doesn't really work for Exeggutor who has a high Special Attack but low Special Defense currently.

In the end, I think I'll go with how the stats are now. I just hope that this doesn't cause board complexity and decision paralysis when drafting and playing in battles. We'll see how it goes.

Pokemon official art


That's a TM35

With the stage set with the above limitations, I can get started on the design. As more of the game is defined and more design choices made, these rules may evolve over time to fit the needs of the game or to debunk anything I had assumed before would be a bad or good thing.

Thanks for following, and if you have any feedback, feel free to leave a comment on the social media platform or comment section of your choice.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Having a Good Knight

Art by Jason Chan
Over on Goblin Artisans, this weekend's art challenge is on knights. Five pieces of art were provided for use, though, other knight-related creative commons art can be used.

Here's the challenge prompt:
Hello to you all! This week we re-examine knights!
White Knight and Black Knight have been re-imagined many times over in mtg. Nowadays we do not have protections to mirror those knights!
Choose one of the illustrations and re-imagine what a knight does when it is tied to a specific color.

Knight Life

The very first Knights in Magic have the abilities of first strike and protection. With protection not being an ability that is only supported rarely lately, this begs the question: what makes a Knight a Knight in Magic?

I reviewed many Knight-related Magic cards and have concluded that one or more of the following may be true for any one particular Knight-related Magic card:
  • If the knight or knights depicted within the art each riding a steed, it sometimes means the card's design has bigger power and toughness stats than if the art depicted a singular creature without a mount. For example, Goblin Roughrider is a Goblin creature, but the 3/2 body for a vanilla Goblin only makes sense because it is riding that crazy mount.

  • Knights have vigilance for one or more of a few reasons: 1) they're riding steeds, so they can gallop forward to do an attack and then gallop back to your side to defend you; 2) Knights swore to protect you and are vigilant to not fail in that regard; 3) Knights are great at combat. Truefire Paladin is an example of a steed-less Knight that still has vigilance - so numbers 2 and 3 may apply toward this guy.

  • Knights are great at combat. This overlaps with the last bullet point. One of the expressions of this may be vigilance, as seen above, but it could be one of many combat-related abilities. The "first" expression of this fact was on White Knight and Black Knight having first strike. Later Knights have had vigilance, double strike, and flanking. Sometimes, a block-related keyword is used instead, like battle cry. For these abilities, they can be expressed for different reasons, whether the Knight just has more training in combat, because they're wielding a lance, or they're riding a horse. For example, a Knight depicted riding a horse is reason enough for flanking. In addition to Truefire Paladin above showing off its ability to have both vigilance and first strike (and without a horse - what a badass!), Femeref Knight is an example of Knight showing off its multiple awesome-at-warfare abilities but not necessarily a larger body for horse reasons.


  • Sometimes, a Knight is a Knight only because it rides a steed. But this is useful because some mounts have flying which in turn enables creature types that wouldn't normally be able to fly to be able to fly. How else are you going to get flying cat people like Leonin Skyhunter, especially when white is the piece of the color pie that is supposed to be great at both creatures and flying? Well, besides making comical, makeshift hang-gliders like Goblin Sky Raider does.

  •  Knights are sworn to protect us from and destroy evil. Now, remember that "evil" does not mean the color black. Evil is whatever attacks your values. So each color's Knight is going to consider different things as evil. White Knight had protection from black. Silver Knight has protection from red. These are pure expressions of how white considers what red and black do as evil and are devoted to that cause. Granted, white is really good at going after evil. See Pentarch Paladin, Tivador of Thorn, Fiendslayer Paladin, and Lightwielder Paladin. Lastly, renown and exalted are other examples of how Knights may care to head into combat to destroy the evil that is your opponent. Phyrexian Crusader is a good example of this devotion to destroy evil. It eschews the fact that black usually hates on green and white in favor of the fact that the mirrans are aligned mostly in white and red, so this Phyrexian has no problem hating on black's ally color, red.

  •  Knights are great at rallying the troops. Literally rallying in the case of Hero of Goma Fada but this is expressed in other ways as well, such as with Kabira Vindicator boosting your armies and doing nothing else. Hero of Bladehold gets bystanders who might not otherwise have decided to fight to jump into the fray as 1/1 Soldiers. Wilt-Leaf Liege and the rest of the Liege cycle are excellent examples of how a Knight can purely be about rousing your armies and not expressing its Knight-ness via other ways such as first strike or vigilance.


 Bonus: some red-aligned troop rallying:


  •  Knights have status. Well, it's probably how they got their horse or their excellent armor or was able to be afforded good training in combat. Or, in Attended Knight's case, you have a Squire.

 Knight in Gale

 

With the above established, I sought to design a Knight but which color do I choose? I chose to go with the color that hasn't been as fleshed out with Knight execution: green. Green has a whopping 1 creature that is monocolored, Gladehart Cavalary.



Moreover, this card was just released today to the public, in Oath of the Gatewatch! Welcome to the Knight Club, mono-green. Notice that this Knight is expressing its Knight traits by having a large body and by supporting its troops.

Besides, green's knight art for this Weekend Art Challenge has a moose and that's adorable. Check out the art I'm working with:

Art by blayrd
If you've followed my Daily Card Redesign series in the past, you'll know that I often like to match my card designs with what's going on in the art, so I'm going to let that influence me in addition to coming up with a design that also fits what I envision a green knight should currently be or do design/gameplay-wise. A confluence of both those things.

To Knight

 

Now, expressing all of a Knight's aspects as pointed out above would be nearly impossible, I'd imagine. It's all right to just focus on one or two. This happens with any sort of concept, like the idea of Goblins.

Goblins are portrayed in Magic as being dumb, like with the flavor texts of Goblin Piker and Skirk Fire Marshal. Goblins are expendable, as seen in Goblin Sledder and Goblin Grenade. They also like to tease or play pranks, shown in the cards Jeering Instigator and Goblin Battle Jester. Lastly, they tinker (read: poke, prod, and eventually blow up) with artifacts, like with Goblin Welder and "Goblin Archaeologist."

I'm not sure there's ever been a Goblin depicted as dumb, expendable, pranking, and tinkering all at once. But that sounds like a fun challenge for another time. Anyway, back to Knights - we only need to show Knight-ness in at least one way for this green Knight.

The most important thing to do for this assignment, though, is to create a Knight that might be lumped in with category of Knights that White Knight and Black Knight are - what Knights used to be. Blood Knight was a later addition to this "grouping" of classic Knights. Re-imagine and design like that for nowadays. So, we'll examine what aspects of Knights above that would remind us of the classic Knight design of White Knight and Black Knight.






Knight Vision

 

White Knight and Black Knight exemplified qualities of "swearing to destroy evil" (protection) as well as its ability to be adept in combat via first strike. This "destroy evil" thing intrigues me, so we'll go with that.

I did some brainstorming off-screen here, and it's a messy (but awesome) process sometimes, and I landed with caring about abilities that represent the enemy colors but are shared with green as well. The same applies for every other color in this cycle. I'm only mocking up green, but here's the text form of what each color would care about:

  • White: lifelink, first strike
  • Blue: hexproof, prowess
  • Black: deathtouch, lifelink
  • Red: first strike, prowess
  • Green: deathtouch, hexproof
So, for each color, the Knight would have those abilities (not bad, for each creature) and then would not able to be blocked by any creatures that have either of those abilities. We're not doing protection anymore, and I wanted to find a simple perhaps-combat-oriented way to show the hate so that it could still prevail against this "evil." I chose "can't be blocked" as the way the Knight prevails and the "evil" to be represented by the abilities its enemies also share.

You might say it's ironic that this creature can't block an opponent's copy of this Knight. Perhaps, as a show of respect to each other's devotion, they don't hurt each other. And what about fellow green creatures that have hexproof and deathtouch - perhaps this Knight's mastery means it knows how to evade such creatures that shares its traits.

Lastly, coming back to the art, you might be wondering why a moose-riding, unassuming Knight can do hexproof and deathtouch. If you look more closely at the art, there's magical, glowing green vines surrounding the Knight. These vines can restrain and choke creatures to death as well as wrap around the Knight and protect him or her from spells. =)

Knight Cap


So, here's my design:



I decided to have "card name during development" fun and did a double pun for its title. "Jaded", like with the color green; and "Vineguard", as in "vanguard", because he or she is a Knight. But has vines surrounding him or her.

Anyway, so, a black Knight in this cycle would have deathtouch and lifelink and it would also say "CARDNAME can't be blocked by creatures with deathtouch or lifelink."

I also made this a Human instead of Elf (seems dressed like a Human, anyway) since Humans can be any of the five colors, and that'd be fitting to mirror the creature types for the cycle as "Human Knight."

O.K., that's it! What do you think?

Concerns I have: I know, it costs 4 mana and that sucks, but I think I had to cost it that high based on how much it should cost to get hexproof, let alone deathtouch, onto the table. Also, I wonder if this Knight would end up being un-fun to play with if you just left this forever on your side as a good threatening blocker (like you do with your Deathtouch Snakes and Rats). Then again, protecting you IS Knight-like. In the end, it should feel fun, but I haven't playtested this card.

Also, not sure if I got the order of abilities of "deathtouch" and "hexproof" correct along with the rest of the templating. I THINK so, but not sure.

Cheers,
Bradley

Friday, September 18, 2015

It's Not Easy Being Green (or Red)




After holding out for only a few days before finally caving in, I purchased Super Mario Maker, the recently-released Wii U game where you can design and play custom courses created by you or others from around the world. While I was creating a course, I noticed something while looking through my pallet of course elements: the 1UP Mushroom has the label "1UP" on it.

Of Course


Here's a picture of my screen:



In-game, when you discover a Super Mushroom, you see this sliding red mushroom. For a 1UP Mushroom, this experience is exactly the same, except the mushroom is green. However, while creating a level, the image representation of a 1UP mushroom has a "1UP" displayed on it. Why is that? The mushrooms are already differentiated by the colors red and green and the 1UP Mushroom in the game doesn't have this label. I have a theory.

When you play a Mario game and discover a mushroom, you almost always are going to grab it. Grabbing one of these mushrooms is almost always a good thing to do. You don't discern, you go for it, whether it's a Super Mushroom or a 1UP Mushroom. It at least doesn't hurt, even if you already are Super Mario (larger Mario) or have 99 lives.

Conversely, when you design a Mario level, you're going to care about your mushroom types.

Let's say you want to place a power-up in a particular place in a Mario level you're making. You decide you want the Super Mushroom. So, then you look through your arranged design elements, locate that red Super Mushroom, and place it into the level. No biggie.

Now let's say you're red-green color blind and then want to make sure to put a 1UP Mushroom and NOT a Super Mushroom into some secret part of the level. You might discover this issue: both the Super Mushroom and the 1UP Mushroom are only differentiated by the colors red and green.

That's where the "1UP" label comes in. Because of the existence of that label, red-green colorblind fans/players will not have a problem at all choosing the appropriate mushroom.

Super, Nintendo


When you're designing Mario levels, you care about your mushroom types. When you're playing a Mario level, you don't really care as much. They're all "good things" to grab. So that's why that decision to put "1UP" as a label on a green mushroom in the level editor is necessary. This is a super-smart accessible design decision.

Good job, Nintendo. This makes me happy and proud.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Uncommon Solution of Panini's DBZ TCG


Last time... on Dragon Ball Z TCG blog posts:

I wrote something called The Common Problem of Panini's DBZ TCG, a piece on how terrible it is to have a difference in rarity among personality level cards within the same set/stack (Trunks Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4), especially if those rarities are common and uncommon and found within booster packs.

This was a problem because:
  1. Players who buy multiple booster packs will end up with more Level 1 and Level 2 cards than Level 3 and Level 4 cards
  2. Common personality cards means way too many wasted pieces of cardboard

These factors above end up with the truism that many players of the Panini Dragon Ball Z Trading Card Game who buy booster packs will have very, if not completely, useless cardboard.

I wasn't alone in recognizing this as a problem. Retro DBZ also had an article on this.


Set for Success



Heroes & Villains, the second set, was like Set 3, The Movie Collection. Set 1 was a larger set that was released with starters. Set 2 was simply an expansion set with four booster pack personalities. Set 3 was also an expansion set with four booster pack personalities. A difference between the two? Set 2 had Level 1 and Level 2 common personality cards while Set 3 did not.

There doesn't seem to be any reason for this change other than Panini recognized that this is an issue and then did something about it. That's fantastic. I like that Panini is willing and readily able to adapt and change according to the needs of the game and that support is not limited to just balancing gameplay environments. Rapid iteration of making a successful trading card game is awesome.

For The Movie Collection, the Level 1 and Level 2 personality cards are now uncommon. What's more is that the Level 3 and Level 4 personality cards are still uncommon! Woohoo! This means, on average, a player is going to have the same amount of copies of personality cards for each of a personality's levels.

This solution fixes #1 mentioned above. This also helps problem #2 mentioned above but doesn't completely solve it. But, it's tricky to solve this because there's another factor that Panini seems to be concerned with: Rainbow Sealed format.


Pot of Goals



Whenever there's a new set, players are going to want the new cards and play with them. Launch tournaments exist as a fun event to promote a set's release and give the opportunity to play with the new cards due to the sealed pack format Rainbow Sealed.

For Rainbow Sealed, you bring your own main personality to play in conjunction with the new cards, but you're allowed to play with the new main personalities, provided you get all four levels of that personality. With the number of packs that each player gets, having common personality cards means folks are definitely going to get new personalities they can play with. Having rare personality cards means that folks are pretty much never going to be able to play with the new personalities in a Rainbow Sealed. The sweet spot is the uncommon slot, where you'll stand a decent chance at getting the cards needed to be able to play, say, Garlic Jr. in your Rainbow Sealed.

So that solves that problem, but, the thing is, if you're going to buy a booster box or two of a new set, with personalities in the uncommon slot, you're still going to have a surplus of personality cards. So, as you can see, utilizing the current pack distribution to solve BOTH the problems of having too many personality cards and being able play with new personality cards in Rainbow Sealed is currently impossible.

So, we have two contradictory goals:
1) Lessen the number of cards that become useless as players purchase more booster packs
2) Increase the chances of having a full set of Level 1 through 4 for one of the new personalities at a Rainbow Sealed Launch event

Increasing the rarity of personality cards in booster packs helps Goal #1 while lowering the rarity helps Goal #2. So, now what?


Multiple Personality Disorder



Personality cards are always going to be among the cards you'll want the least number of copies of within your DBZ card collection. You can play three copies of Saiyan Upward Kick within a deck, but you can't play three copies of Garlic Jr., Crazed. Even though you can only play a single copy of Master Roshi ally in your deck, one or two of your decks might also make use of a Master Roshi ally, so it's not as bad as having multiple of the same main personality.

Let's go over how frequently you'd want to see certain cards appear in booster packs:

  • Main Personalities: Rarely
  • Named Cards: Sometimes
  • Allies: Sometimes
  • Dragon Balls: Sometimes
  • Masteries: Nevar!

Main Personalities: In comparison with the rest of the cards in that list, you're going to need copies of these cards the least.

Named Cards: You might want up to three copies of named cards, so you want to see these more often in booster packs than main personalities

Allies: You might be playing Nappa in each of your two villain decks, for example, so you'll want to see these more often than main personality cards.

Dragon Balls: For the same reason as above for allies, several of  your decks might be playing Dragon Balls. As for the rarity discrepancy between them, (7-star Dragon Ball being more rare than the 1-star Dragon Ball) this is not as offensive as the Main Personalities in Set 1 since you CAN play Namek Dragon Ball 1 without Namek Dragon Ball 7. So, while Dragon Ball Victory decks will want a full set, this is all right.

Masteries: Once you get a mastery, you're done with needing that mastery. Just like with main personalities you only really want one, maybe two copies of that mastery. A good solution that has been adopted by Panini is to have masteries only be included in the starters, so folks who buy starters don't have to worry about duds in their booster packs.

Based on the above, it seems to be that you'd want to see main personalities show up as often as rares do and others a bit more often than that. Again, having main personalities as rare cards means that you'll probably not play any new main personalities in Rainbow Sealed. 

Part of the Pack


But what if I told you that you can have rare personalities and still have a decent chance of playing a new main personality in a Rainbow Sealed tournament? What if, when you opened a booster pack containing a main personality, your booster pack looked like this:






 Much like how a foil takes up one of your common slots, a main personality that is rare would take up three of your common slots. This is fine. Here's what this solution does:

  • Perfectly solves any imbalance in the number of level cards you have for each main personality (No disproportionate number of Level 3's or Level 1's compared to the other Level cards for that personality)
  • Helps reduce the number of copies you're likely to own of a main personality (2 Garlic Jr. sets out of two booster boxes? Not bad!)
  • Maintains a likely probability that you can play a main personality in a Rainbow Sealed tournament
Keep in mind that the above booster pack contents ONLY occurs if you receive one of the booster pack main personalities. If it were a regular rare card, then you would still get 7 common cards, 4 uncommon cards, and 1 rare card.

Now, I know this may be something that's tricky to do in whatever manufacturing locations are determining the randomization of packs. 

But, if it's logistically possible distribution-wise, this solution might help improve the quality of Dragon Ball Z Trading Card Game booster packs.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Commander 2015 and Enemy Dual-Color Commanders Speculation

Kruphix's Insight by Igor Kieryluk

Let me start by saying that this is a speculation piece on a theoretical future Magic: The Gathering product. A product called Commander 2015, as of the time of this writing, has not been announced by Wizards of the Coast. I am not privy to any leaked information related to such a product. Lastly, while this blog post itself does not contain any card designs that aren't released Magic cards, some of the links in this post do lead to unofficial, original card designs.

Too Long, Didn't Read


The short version of this blog post: Commander 2015 will be announced this weekend at San Diego Comic-Con and will have enemy dual-color commanders.

On Four-Color Cards


I know I might sound like a broken record when it comes to talking about four-color cards. I've written an article series on designing a four-color set. I've speculated that Dragon's Maze would have four-color cards (Dragon's Maze fell short of my prediction of four-color cards by releasing three-color cards). I've also re-surfaced the four-color subject recently with my writing on solving the problem of easily communicating to players what cards are vanilla creatures if there were to be a four-color "faction" that cared about vanilla creatures in a "four colors matters" set.

I firmly believe four-color cards have a place in Magic: The Gathering beyond the mere five four-color Nephilim cards that were printed years ago. Some folks point out how difficult it would be to design four-color cards. This is very true. I'm not discounting that an expansion set with a world featuring "four colors matters" would be hard to create, but I don't think it's impossible. If Magic is going to survive for many more years, "four colors matters" has to be a design space that is mined at some point in the future.

It's because of these factors that I passionately talk about four-color cards so much, until they're proven to be a thing by Wizards of the Coast. I guess if it weren't for four-color cards, I'd be talking about Gnomes in Magic: The Gathering more. This is the part where I say, "But I digress."

Hypothesis

Wheel of Fate by Kev Walker

For this writing, I'm speculating once again - this time about Commander 2015. The hypothesis I have is that there will be five pre-constructed decks, just like with each of the previous Commander products (except Commander's Arsenal, of course), each one with a color identity that is one of the five four-color combinations enemy color pairs. The reasons why I say this has to do with what has already been released in previous Commander products, timing, and current needs in the Commander format.

So, during my writing and research, I came to a conclusion that the Commander 2015 product will feature enemy dual-color commanders and NOT four-color commanders. I began writing this with the original hypothesis for four-color commanders and came out of it believing the opposite!

Wedge Commanders

Riku of Two Reflections by Izzy

Back when just Commander 2011 was released, the color combinations that were chosen for the decks were the three-color "wedges." It was a strong choice for two reasons: 1) three-color commanders are popular; and 2) there was only one commander choice for Commander decks with a wedge color identity. In fact, this need for more wedge-color commanders was called out on the product information page for Commander 2011:
These combinations have been woefully short-supplied on legendary creatures, so each deck contains the corresponding Planar Chaos Dragon (such as Intet, the Dreamer) as well as two new legendary commanders in those colors, plus oversized foil versions of all three.
Additional new commanders of note, released in other products in-between Commander 2011 and Commander 2013:


Shard/Arc Commanders

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician by Michael Komarck

For Commander 2013 (there was no "Commander 2012" product), the three-color "shards" (or, "arcs") were chosen as the color identities for yet another set of five precons. A safe choice, since three-color commanders, as stated before, are popular. The two-color combinations could have been pursued, but they weren't because Return to Ravnica had already done good work on two-color commanders, as noted in Mark Rosewater's article on designing Commander 2013:
The team examined one-, two-, three-, four-, and five-color options. It decided against two-color decks because the product was going to be coming out shortly after the Return to Ravnica block, which would be hitting the theme strongly.
Then Theros happened, and gave us more commanders, with at least one for every possible mono-color and two-color combination.

Conspiracy also provided five reprints and five new commanders, of varying color combinations.

Mono-color Commanders

Teferi, Temporal Archmage by Tyler Jacobson

When it came to Commander 2014, the next-most-popular color combinations were chosen to be featured in five precons, which turned out to be monocolor, as Ethan Fleischer noted when seeing Devon Rule's article, "1,000 Commander Decks,":
I had recently read an article by Devon Rule, "1,000 Commander Decks," where my fellow Great Designer Search 2 finalist and current Commander rules committee member broke down 1,000 decklists submitted by members of the mtgcommander.net community. Hmmm...monocolored decks were surprisingly popular!
And so mono-colored Commanders were created for Commander 2014 - a planeswalker commander, a new legendary creature, and a reprinted mono-colored commander.

Continuing the contributions the year of 2014 made toward mono-colored commanders:

Besides mono-colored commanders created during Fall of 2014, there have been these multicolored ones, leading up until now:

Commander 2015 Commanders = ???

Teferi's Puzzle Box by Donato Giancolo

So what color combinations should Commander 2015 be? Since Commander 2014 had just done mono-colored commanders, that option should be thrown out. All three-color combinations have already been done at least once. That leaves two-color, four-color, and five-color.

For two-color commanders, ally dual-color commanders shouldn't the focus for Commander 2015 since we just got ten new ones during Khans of Tarkir block.

Enemy dual-color commander representation, though, haven't seen any new ones created since Journey into Nyx. It's been over a year! Though, one could say that each of the five sneakily-three-color commanders can be played as if it were a two-color commander, but it's pretty weak for enemy dual-color commander representation, I would think. Battle for Zendikar, if it's going to be anything like either of Zendikar block or Rise of Eldrazi, then we're probably not going to see enemy dual-colored commanders in that set.

I have this belief that Wizards has this tiny goal of trying to make sure there's a bunch of new commanders for as many color combinations as possible within a reasonable amount of time. Let's take three-color commanders as an example. Wizards did a good job with Commander 2011 having three-color commanders which led to Commander 2013 having three-color commanders. Just when you thought that might be the end of the road for a while for three-color commanders, a block was done that had three-color commanders.

Another example are the dual-color commanders. Return to Ravnica block gave new commanders for every one of the ten combinations. Following that, Theros block did the same, with the Gods. Even Khans of Tarkir block had the ally dual-color Dragons in a block that started off with wedge three-color commanders.

Lastly, the mono-color commanders have had excellent support in the Core Sets as well as within Khans of Tarkir block and Commander 2014.

Whether it's Archenemy, Planechase, Conspiracy, Commander, or a new block; Wizards has plenty of opportunities to ensure new commanders for various color combinations.

And it's at this point where I realize that the possibility for enemy dual-color commanders is higher than four-color commanders. Given the following facts:

  • I think Wizards might care a little bit about the commander crowd seeing new commanders for their favorite color combinations within a "reasonable amount of time" (2 years), at least until there's PLENTY of options to choose from for commanders of any color combination
  • May 2014 was the last time we saw new enemy dual-color commanders
  • Battle for Zendikar might not feature enemy dual-color commanders
  • One of the reasons for not doing four-color commander decks for Commander 2013 is because there were no four-color commanders that already exist that could be reprinted, just like what has been done for each commander product for their respective color combinations: two new commanders and a reprinted commander
Even if the summer product in 2016 has enemy dual-color commanders, that feels like it's too long to wait for new enemy dual-color commanders. It's time to do new ones this year in Commander 2015. 

Four-Gone Conclusion


Ancestral Vision by Mark Poole

Sorry, four-color commanders. You're going to have to wait. You might just have to wait until a four-color set is released at some point then wait a bit more to have the commanders in that theoretical four-color set to be reprinted in the even-more-into-the-distant-future Commander product.

Fall Commander products have historically been announced in July, during San Diego Comic-Con. The past couple years, Comic-Con was around the end of the month. This year, though, Comic-Con is earlier in this month. In fact, this weekend! Will Wizards still have a Commander announcement during their panel? I think so! And maybe the announcement will be that there will be new enemy dual-color commanders (perhaps with some exciting new twist or mechanic?). And if I'm wrong and it's four-color commanders, I'll just shed a tear (of happiness). 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Full from Vanilla

For years, I've been fascinated with four colors mattering in Magic: The Gathering. Like, cards that specifically care about whether you're going exactly four colors - and definitely not five colors. If you've followed my Magic design activity online, perhaps via the #mtgdesign hashtag on Twitter, you might have seen my previous attempt at creating a four-color set.

I haven't given up on that set.



There are five four-color groupings that are possible, which I tentatively referred to as "factions" during development of the aforementioned set, and the one I'm focusing on today is the nonblue faction. 

This faction I had decided would care about vanilla creatures. This created a few issues.

They are as follows:
  • Vanilla creatures are not referred to as "vanilla" creatures in Magic terminology
  • How can a player recognize whether or not a creature is a vanilla creature?
  • How do we make vanilla creatures exciting enough to care about?
  • Is it correct to have this faction care about vanilla creatures?

There is no such thing as "vanilla" creatures


The Magic rules don't have a definition for a vanilla creature. So, what is a designer to do? Don't worry, the solution doesn't involve an update to the Magic comprehensive rules. We'll just refer to vanilla creatures by what they actually are - by the definition of a vanilla creature.

A vanilla creature, by definition, is a creature with no abilities. So, to have cards care about vanilla creatures, just have "creature with no abilities" within the rules text of the card that cares about vanilla creatures. That's it. 



It's incorrect to say that any creature with an empty text box is a vanilla creature since some creatures have text in their text box that is all flavor text. Which ties in the next point...

How can we make vanilla creatures that are easily recognized as vanillas?


There may be doubt, sometimes, as to whether a creature is a vanilla creature. Besides the flavor text example I mentioned earlier, which might be a "gotcha" for newer players, some seasoned players might even question whether a creature that has just an enters-the-battlefield effect is vanilla. Thankfully, an elegant solution had already been introduced.

In Future Sight, there were full-art vanilla creatures. This set was full of cards that might possibly be a glimpse in Magic's future. I wouldn't know until much later that the full-art vanilla creatures in this set would end up being the solution for showing whether a creature is a vanilla creature.

If someone was looking at the theoretical four-color set that this vanilla creature faction was in, they would have no doubt that the cards that have full art are the ones that are creatures with no abilities.

Some of you may point out that vanilla creatures in the past aren't full art, so this might be confusing. I hear you, but this is all right. We have Humans as a creature type now in Magic, which clashes with the fact that many years' worth of Magic cards in the past didn't have an explicit "Human" creature type written out. 



So, it's O.K. The full art will help to serve the newer players most, and if they're experiencing this set, then they're likely not also experiencing a ton of old Magic cards at the same time.

Also, this isn't a proposal for making all vanilla creatures to ever exist in the future to change to being full art. This set containing these full-art vanilla creatures would just be like a Zendikar, where lands mattered and, thus, basic lands had full art.

How can vanillas be exciting?


Luckily, the solution mentioned previously, with the full-art lands, make these vanilla cards pretty cool. I mean, take a peek at these:







Cool, right?

Besides cool full-art creatures, the mechanic that cares about creatures with no abilities would also help to enhance the excitement of playing a deck that cares about vanillas.

Lastly, sometimes, there are mechanical themes in sets that appear that suddenly make older cards actually matter for reasons which they didn't matter before. This is one such case, as there are hundreds of vanilla creatures from Magic's history ready to become more relevant than before.

Is a vanilla creatures nonblue faction a mistake?


This is a fair question to ask, of which the answer I do not know and would be finding out through development.

It is my believe that Magic: The Gathering has room in its limited design space for an amount of cards that cares about vanilla creatures. And when there are themes in a Magic set, you need enough cards in the set to support that theme. A faction of a set that cares about vanillas seems good (better than being a major theme like the artifact card type was for Mirrodin), and what better to help increase the number of cards that care about vanillas than to utilize the maximum number of colors for a distinctive "group"?



Having a four-color faction care about vanillas means that, at common, there can be four common vanilla cards, one for each color in the faction. That, or two common vanillas per faction. That's four to eight creatures, which is enough! (This isn't counting cards that would have the mechanic that cares about vanilla creatures.)

So far, it still seems to be a solid direction.

Whew. I'm relieved! I got the solution to "How do we easily communicate vanilla creatures in this set?" out there to you folks on the internet and off my chest. =) Tune in ...sometime in the future when I decide to pick back up designing my "four colors matters" set.

For more on the vanilla faction itself, you can read more from my past writing on this topic here.
For more on vanilla creatures in general, I wrote this and, its sequel, this.