Sunday, December 9, 2012

Death by Naga Demon

"It's curtains for you, Bradley Rose. Gently... wafting... curtains." - Captain Hammer ...sort of.

I died. Fought as I did throughout the month of November to succeed at completing a game for National Game Design Month; I did not manage to have a completed game, let alone have it played at least once, before December. However, as I've stated before, this is all right. I currently have zero games that I've created to show for my game design aspirations within my portfolio. NaGa DeMon, though, jump-started my designing to a point where I have a card game that I can't help but to fully complete. Without this, I might still be at ground zero with nothing. I may have failed at this arbitrary competition that encourages game design, but I succeeded at getting something valuable out of it.

Now that I don't have the constraints of the NaGa DeMon deadline anymore, I can... set a new deadline for myself! Because I know me, and I don't do what I should do if I don't have a deadline. I'll just end up procrastinating on finishing designing my card game, as much as I would love to have it done. And I need to tell YOU guys my new deadline, so that I would be held accountable. And here it is: finish designing a playable prototype before the year 2013 rolls around.

Sure, it's true what Shigeru Miyamoto said, "A delayed game is eventually good. A bad game is bad forever."

This is true of any game or project. There's a certain amount of work that needs to be done for a game to be at that point where you can stop and leave it alone and be finished. People estimate the time it would take folks to complete the full amount of work and set a deadline. Sometimes, though, 100% work wouldn't be finished by the deadline. You then have a choice - delay the game to finish putting in the amount of work needed to make a great game, or make your game worse by cutting features/content or diminishing quality or certain things.

What you don't do is justify your procrastination by reciting Shigeru's quote. Because that's not what he means. You have to keep on designing. As long as you're doing that, then damn the estimated deadlines if you want your game to fully blossom into the beautiful game you want it to be (though, like with artists, I hear you can get to a point where you're infinitely tweaking and tuning your game, and you just have to tell yourself to walk away and move on to your next work).

Let's back up a bit. During the last week of November, when I was fervently attempting to finish my card game and have it played once by my friends, I truly believed that I was able to make it. ...Until it got to a certain point in time where it seemed impossible. That's when something awesome happened. 

My friend would come out of his room at the apartment I was staying over at for a few days and ask me, "Don't you have a card game to finish?" Whenever I would stray and get caught up in being distracted by social media and subsequent links to interesting things, he would find me doing this and say, "Get back to work." He also actually contributed one card design that's awesome for my game: the Honeycomb Shield.

This friend would keep insisting that I can do it, even though I didn't think I could. And I would respond, "Dammit." Because if he believed I could, then not going back to work was giving up.

When it was just one day left and a seemingly-insurmountable amount of work needed to be done, I would announce to another friend that I had to throw in the towel. I wasn't going to make it. And he said, "Yeah, I kinda new that." Oh did this really get my goat. I was impassioned to prove him wrong. That I can be great and defeat the NaGa DeMon. 

Of course, these could just be tactics that don't necessarily reflect how they feel about me in designing my card game. But they do the job in pushing me in the right direction. I'm glad I had the support while I was agonizing over some part of the game, oftentimes insignificant parts of the game like how an item is named or how the concept of a monster is with no impact on actual gameplay (I really need to learn to just move quickly and rapidly develop on the foundation of the game first and only apply polish and such after the game is designed. I'm aware of myself doing this, but I'm stubborn and focus on these unimportant things anyway because I want to because it just doesn't "feel right" or isn't yet "perfect"). 

We all need support and encouragement when pursuing our dreams and other sorts of endeavors. A third friend of mine just gave away his decks and box of the Vanguard CCG to me when we weren't playing it anymore during that short month or so because he wanted to support my card game development (and these can be used as material for sleeving up prototypes or just as inspiration).

As of today, I am currently happily designing items with a Zelda-like feel for my card game. I wouldn't be at the point where I am without National Game Design Month, my ambition to create games, and the support from my friends and the community. Thanks, you guys.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fearing the Naga Demon

As I was vacuuming my home during the last week of November in preparation for my leave to Washington state for my cousin's wedding, my mind wandered to my National Game Design Month card game. Specifically, I thought about how I was walking to the train station the day after Thanksgiving in the dead of the night down a path I had never taken before. It was cold and dark, and the path included streets with no streetlights at all. During this walk, I experienced feelings of dread and became frightened.

The town I live in isn't the most stellar. From what I can see, there's just a bunch of old homes without any hustle and bustle like in city of San Francisco. This one time on the bus toward home, I had an altercation with another passenger which resulted in him, in a subtle manner, threatening me by stating, "Do you know where you are?" He meant Pittsburg, CA; which might be implying that crime happens a bit more than usual, perhaps in the manner of street violence.

This illustrates why I was scared to walk in the dark during the night with no lights. Violence does happen. So, I stayed alert and frequently looked behind me. I turned on my flashlight app on my phone to illuminate the area around me. Sort of like a torch. ...And that's when I realized I was experiencing exactly the same situation I wanted to evoke in my card game. Brilliant!

I recalled all this while vacuuming until I came to a corner of the carpet. ...and a jet black spider appeared in the area I was going to vacuum. Upon seeing it, I stumbled backward, saying, "Jeez!" ...Wait. I experienced yet another situation where I was scared! I smiled to myself while I was still reeling from being surprised by the spider.

This is what I've noted from my fear during both of these moments:

  • Fear of the unknown: Not being able to see anything in the dark meant I had no idea what to expect to walk into.
  • Fear of death: Getting hurt or dying was a possibility and heightened my fear.
  • Fear of scary-looking things: Spiders usually are harmless, but people still get freaked out by them because they look so scary. Just like with centipedes and other things that don't look so fuzzy-wuzzy and have a different number of arms and legs.
The first two point wouldn't apply to the card game since the very nature of playing games allows for safe surprises. So, I combined it with the second - not knowing whether you're going to get hurt or die. And that's detrimental toward your efforts to winning.

So, how did I implement this? Well, if I'm going to make things dark, I was going to have to put out the torch. The game has a main mechanic of passing around a torch to players to pass initiative. I decided to make the torch a double-faced card where one side shows a lit torch while the other side has an unlit torch.

But what did this do to the game? Well, that was easy - normally, you can see which monsters you're currently facing. So, if the torch is put out, you have face-down monsters instead. This provided a problem with you decision-making since you could be choosing to engage with a monster that is too difficult for you to handle - and everyone else blindly chose and ended up not choosing the same as you. Owie.

However, what would cause the torch to be put out? The "levels" in my game has variation, and I decided to include one setting that would take care of putting the fire out - underwater. When you're underwater, it can be scary to face some deadly creatures of the sea. Worse would be if you can't even see them due to your torch not being able to light underwater.

The third point above about scary-looking things made me want to decide on choosing monsters that people are normally afraid of. I chose to include animals such as bees, rats, and wolves. I also have supernatural monsters with ghosts, zombies, and the kraken. These kinds of monsters help contribute toward that overall feel of the game and reminds the player that they're trying to be brave.

Well, as I write this, tomorrow is the last day to have my card game completed with at least one playtest done to have "won" NaGa DeMon. There's a high probability I won't succeed - but that's O.K. I'm heading to Washington and will be surrounded by family members on the day before the wedding, which happens to be tomorrow, the last day of NaGa DeMon. So, hey - it could happen. Time to apply finishing touches while on the plane!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Braving the Naga Demon

I did it. I finally did it. You know the card game I'm designing for National Game Design Month? Well, I'm getting a huge sigh of relief now because ...I have decided on a theme! (Heh, I'm FAR from being done creating it.)

Yes, my NaGa DeMon card game is quite late in its development comparative to how many days I actually have left in the month. But I'm O.K. with that. I mean, the fight's not over, yet. But even if I fail to make a game by the end of November; the greatest thing I will get out of this is that I'm going to actually have an original game I can call my own. I'll go from 0 games in my portfolio to 1. My heart will swell.

I did spend a truly vast amount of time agonizing over possible themes for my card game, but it was all worth it. I was riding the BART train (the San Francisco Bay Area metro train within California of the United States), looking out the window, letting my thoughts flow, when I suddenly had a "Eureka!" moment.

Since my game's mechanics are based on the prisoner's dilemma situation, there would be simultaneous secret decisions made by each player. But when you reveal each of these decisions at the same time, which ones get resolved first? Is there a first, second, third, and fourth player? But we can't have the same player always be first each round. So, we'd have to pass around the "initiative." (Vs. System, a Trading Card Game, had something called "initiative" that players took turns controlling for the simultaneous turns built into the game system.) But what would make sense flavorwise to portray this?

"Passing around the initiative" made me think of the phrase, "pass the torch." And just like that, everything clicked. I took that as a literal passing of the torch, as in the players each take turns holding the group's single torch. Which led to needing a reason for a torch - darkness. Exploring a dark cave, for example. Or a dungeon like in a lot of role-playing and/or roguelike games. There's a game called "Torchlight" for goodness' sake! And which of the themes was I considering that most closely matches this? The Zelda-like one with "being the most brave" as a goal!

This theme of "braving against the darkness" is a jackpot of resonance. Everybody has experienced the dark. And everybody has been AFRAID of the dark: the unknown lying in the shadows, the monsters under the bed or behind your closet, walking alone after dark, creeping around an empty house by yourself interpreting any noise as something alarming. Anything could pop out and become illuminated by your torch. This makes it that much scarier - you don't know what you're going to face. This theme is perfect, and everybody can relate to it.

A spontaneous sketch: my attempt at a unisex avatar while depicting the general feel of the game.
Caves are inherently dark. And finding your way out via a torch makes a lot of sense - we've seen this before. Also, when you get lost in a dark cave, it also makes sense that you don't know exactly when you're going to make it out. This fact is important since the game has a variable ending - you don't know when it's going to end (this is something that aids the functionality of this series of prisoner's dilemma situations within the mechanics of the game).

Another important thing about this discovery with having a torch is that I also have an answer for how monsters will attack. The one holding the torch will have his or her action resolve first before all the players, but this benefit would be balanced by the fact that the monsters would choose to attack the player with the torch first (mind you, I'm not simply letting a gang-up of monsters happen. I'm mindfully designing around the fact that the person with the torch is going to be in the worst position during the round of monsters attacking). The person with the torch is emitting flame and light and draws attention - naturally!

Having the torch mechanic not only solves two problems (order of resolving players actions and deciding how monsters will attack) but also helps provide strategic depth to the game. When you're secretly choosing your action from among your hand of possible actions (these are drawn from your deck, meaning the possible actions will vary, being dependent upon your draw), that Hide card becomes possibly much better than that Attack card in your hand if you're the one holding the torch that round.

Lastly, I want to note that the game's setting won't be strictly adhered to being in a cave. As you travel through, encountering monsters, you'll also encounter cards that will either be a game-ender (rare) or a path toward the next area, which can have a variety of flavors - a dark forest, an eerie lake, a ghost town/mansion, a foggy field, etc. I'll do more exploration on this - but this game definitely isn't focused on taking place in a cave. The DARKNESS is what matters most.

I've found my theme, and I LOVE it. I am completely satisfied with the chosen theme and am no longer stressed by this part of the game-making. Now that I have both my mechanical and thematic sketches in places, I can let each of them build off each other as I continue the game design of my NaGa DeMon card game!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Defeating My Inner Naga Demon

"I'm not going to let my life suck," I said to myself as I scrambled out from under five layers of blankets. After my cozy session of re-watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind followed by reading the comic by The Oatmeal about creating content for the web, I turned on my house's heater for the first time this season.

What did turning on my heater have to do with not letting me have a sucky life? Was I really that dramatic? Nay! I was thinking a series of "this will lead to that which will lead to..." thoughts! It went something like this:

  • That was an inspirational comic I just read!
  • In fact, it relates to how I'm currently behind in designing my card game at the moment.
  • I'm behind in creating my game because I just stare at the computer sometimes for periods at a time or distract myself with social media and interesting YouTube videos.
  • I sit there in front of my computer consuming content instead of creating some of my own because, often, my hands are tucked underneath my legs.
  • My hands are underneath or tucked in-between my legs because I'm cold.
  • I'm cold because I don't have my house heater on.
  • If I don't turn my heater on, I'm probably going to keep doing this perpetually.
  • If I keep not creating, I'm not going to have an original game by the end of November.
  • Not having a game I can call my very own means I'll have regret and be sad.
  • Me living with regret and sadness would suck. Thus, a sucky life.
  • So... I must turn on that heater!
I recalled how my decision to purchase a box of hot chocolate packets was fantastic. Sure, I could just live off of water. My body would be taken care of but my soul wouldn't. So I made sure to treat my soul. And then, sure enough, my happiness points increased, and it made doing whatever I was doing that much more awesome. And that helps when you're trying to do productive things!

Anyway, I was recalling my hot chocolate experience and applying it to myself in regards to my situation with my home's heater. Sure, I could survive and make do with always wearing a sweater around the house and using tons of blankets. But, since I wasn't completely comfortable, I was hindered from creating! After turning on the heater, I'm already blazing through and typing out this blog post about how I'm blazing through and typing out this blog post about... and so on and so forth. =P My sweater is off, and I'm super comfortable!

All right, I'm comfortable. Now what? I work on the card game I'm designing for National Game Design Month (NaGa DeMon)!

Last time, I brainstormed a ton of different themes I could use for the mechanical sketch of my game's design. I discovered something, though - I could keep coming up with all sorts of themes to apply to my card game, but I'm going to come up with a bunch of crap. Some are good, but there would be a bunch of unfiltered nonsense as well. While brainstorming, I wasn't focusing on what would make for an exciting theme for players. I was just coming up with ones that fit the criteria I listed out.

This is part of knowing your audience. When you're creating content for whatever medium it is you're creating content for, whether you're a writer, game designer, comedian, etc.; you gotta know the consumers. I'm making a game that anyone that is interested in board games would want to play. A theme of being eaters of ice cream in an ice cream factory isn't really interesting, even if it does fit as a theme. But being a zombie IS interesting, for example (except the theme as a whole has been severely played out).

So I learned that I would need to come up with not just a theme that fits but one that is compelling. A lot of the themes I brainstormed during my previous post I threw out. I eventually settled on these themes:
  • a party of rogues on a dungeon quest trying to get the most treasure
  • zombies trying to eat the most brains
  • pirates voyaging to different islands trying to get the most booty
  • pandas trying to eat the most food
  • kids trying to have the most fun toys out of everybody
  • a group of adventurers trying to be the most brave
As you can see, most of the ideas I have fall under one of two things that players would want to have the feeling of when trying to acquire the most of something: food and wealth. The prisoner's dilemma mechanics with the goal of trying to get the most of something easily led itself to tangible goods like num-nums and treasured goods.

The only one that stands out from the list above is trying to be the most brave. Bravery as a desirable goal appealed to me because of The Legend of Zelda. Zelda had been on my mind because of this Kickstarter. And acquiring bravery was DIFFERENT.

Having the most courage as the goal in the game wasn't the usual "slay goblins and dragons, get gold and loot, yay!" thing. I want my game to stand out. I want to be refreshingly original. And that's what this theme is delivering. But it's more difficult to convey. Bravery is an abstract concept and not a physical thing that people will instantly get when they're trying to learn and understand my game.

But whatever I do, my game will suck. It's gotta suck because it is my first game. Somehow, someway, it's not going to be as impressive as whatever I would like it to be in my own head. While I was in college, somebody once said that the first ten games I make will suck. So it's better to get them out of the way as soon as possible so that you can get to making the good stuff. In that case, and because the game mechanics and not the game theme is the focal point of the project: I might as well choose a theme that is most resonant with the player, originality be damned!

For deciding factors, I decided on tangibility, what theme has its components that most easily fits the mechanics, and what lends itself to some compelling content. And this led me to cutting the possible themes down to this:
  • a party of rogues in a dungeon trying to get the most treasure
  • pirates voyaging to different islands trying to get the most booty
  • kids trying to have the most fun toys out of everybody
I cut zombies because it's boring to deal with different kinds of humans. What you want to see are a bunch of different zombies - but you're the zombie! And you have to be the zombie because the game's mechanics need you to be trying to eat the most brains. It's not quite the same if you flip it around when the human goal is trying to survive the longest or kill the most zombies or something.

Having a party of rogues is funny. And it's fitting of the mechanics because everyone is doing things that a rogue does - trying to get the most money, even by stealing, and killing monsters while sometimes backstabbing others. 

Pirates naturally seek out treasures and is a better flavor fit than rogues since more people get what pirates are all about. The different islands correspond with the possibility of going through different themed decks - in this case, it'd be different island decks. 

The thing that's throwing me for a loop is whether or not I want to push dirty innuendo of "getting the most booty." I could change it to "getting the most treasures," but it's not quite as in-theme as "booty." Oy vey.

Young children can sometime want to hoard all the toys for themselves. Or, at least, have the best toys. Having a "get the most fun toys" theme would let you channel your inner child-like desires of toy-hoarding.

Now that I've got a few themes picked out based around amassing tangible wealth, I can just leave my possible themes on the table for now and continue forward with fleshing out the rest of the game's mechanics. But that's a topic for another day.

Pst. Would you rather quest through dungeons (rogues), sail the seas (pirates), or get as many toys as you can?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dragon's Maze Will Have Four-Color Cards

Prophetic Bolt by Slawomir Maniak
Edit (03/11/13): Read my follow-up article!

I could feel it. It’s coming. The article you’re about to read has been sitting for weeks on my laptop’s hard drive, half-completed. I fear the announcement of “Sinker’s” set name, the name of the third set in Magic: The Gathering’s Return to Ravnica block. After all, Pro Tour Return to Ravnica is over, and so are the U.S. presidential elections. Commander’s Arsenal has already been released, so there should be news of some kind coming up soon to keep players excited.

It’s 9:01 P.M., and I’m on the west coast – I check Daily MTG. I hold my breath. I see the "Announcing..." Magic Arcana image. Heart beat increases. *click* …And there it was: Dragon’s Maze was announced. Crap. The impact of my article has now been at least slightly diminished. I better finish it – now. Also, I must replace all instances of “Sinker,” with “Dragon’s Maze.

Sinker? I Hardly Know 'Er!

Dragon’s Maze, the third set in the Return to Ravnica block, will have four-color cards. Now that I've said that, I must say that this is merely a speculation blog post. And I am setting myself up to look extremely foolish if I turn out to be foolish. I'm O.K. with that. I don’t usually passionately write speculative blog posts, so let me explain why I’m doing this now.

Within the community of Magic: The Gathering design enthusiasts who don’t work for Wizards of the Coast, I have my own identity. When you consider Jay Treat, you think of The Great Designer Search 2, Goblin Artisans, and the fan-made Magic 2013 set. I, on the other hand, am the guy perhaps most-known for writing a regular column designing a four-color Magic set called "You're a Designer, Harry!"

As others within the Magic: The Gathering design community know, I’m an advocate for “four colors” as a viable theme for a set. However, some doubt the merits of four-color cards being a part of a major theme. While I haven’t solved the problem of supporting a four-color cards theme myself, I don’t doubt the ability of a bunch of the most seasoned Magic designers at Wizards to be able to crack the code. Once the eventual four-color set is released, it’ll all make sense to everyone how it was possible.

(In fact, there's a lot of heavy hitters on the design and development teams for Dragon's Maze, including Eric Lauer, which might indicate that this set was extra-difficult to design - perhaps due to a four-color card theme.)

But I spent a lot of time thinking about how to do four-color cards as part of a major theme. I put in effort along with the design community, especially Jules Robins, in making four-color cards work in a set. In fact, Jules and I met up at his to playtest mechanics from my “four colors matters” set. Also, on a related topic, Jules wrote about four-color Commanders here.

Ink-Treader Nephilim by Christopher Moeller
As a budding Magic: The Gathering designer, I can’t prove what was figured out correctly by me and those who collaborated with me in supporting a four-color card theme unless I write about it BEFORE we see the solution to the puzzle – which I believe to be in Dragon’s Maze. So that’s why I’m writing this right now, on the heels of the announcement of Dragon’s Maze.

Now that that’s said, read on to see why I think four-color cards will be in Dragon’s Maze.

Drafting Class

You’re in the middle of a Magic: The Gathering draft of Magic 2013. Cleverly, you draft cards belonging to one of two colors since you know that Magic decks can easily accommodate this. From experience, you also know that you could dabble into a third color if you’re careful enough with your card selection and have cards that support your mana base, like an Evolving Wilds. What’s most important is a smooth mana base! Also, having some fantastic cards in your third color would make “splashing” a third color worth it.

Now, you’re drafting the Return to Ravnica set. There’s no doubt you’re going to be building a two-color deck. There’s a bunch of great two-color gold spells, after all; and there are more cards that help you build a smooth mana base for your two-color deck. However, like the wily guildmage you are, you know that with all the extra cards in this set there are for mana support, it is even easier to build a three-color deck.

Compared to Magic 2013’s Evolving Wilds and Gem of Becoming (and besides green’s usual card slot in sets that enable multicolor in the form of Farseek), there’s a high chance you’ll see these kinds of cards in your draft: any of the five Guildgates, any of the five Keyrunes, and Transguild Promenade. That’s 500% more lands and 400% more artifacts than Magic 2013 has! Also, green has THREE nonrare cards that help fix your mana base as opposed to Magic 2013’s one.

As an aside, I’m only mentioning nonrare cards as cards that you can count on for building a multicolor deck, since it’s so rare (hah!) to find any one particular rare card in a draft. But if we’re counting rares, Return to Ravnica still definitely has the upper-hand over Magic 2013 in terms of mana support.

So, in Return to Ravnica, you might draft an Azorius/Selesnya deck. To support your three-color deck, you might have acquired a Transguild Promenade, a Guildgate, and a Keyrune. Or maybe just a couple Guildgates and a green mana-fixing spell. This is great mana support for including a third color!

Witch-Maw Nephilim by Greg Staples
In the future, you’ll be drafting Gatecrash. Again, you’ll be doing the same thing you were doing in Return to Ravnica with these new cards pertaining to the five remaining guilds. There’s going to be five more Guildgates, and there will be five more Keyrunes. And then there will be a common artifact or land that is the equivalent of Return to Ravnica’s Transguild Promenade.

Though, keep in mind that I’m not saying going with a three-color deck is always the correct choice. You might open a Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice, and you’d need to adhere very strongly to green and white. Perhaps you wouldn’t have the right color-fixing cards, either.

In the more-distant-future-than-the-Gatecrash-future, you’ll be drafting the third set in the Return to Ravnica block, Dragon’s Maze. Dragon’s Maze is a small set, and it will be drafted with both Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash. Representation for all ten guilds will be available in Dragon’s Maze. After you draft the first pack (the Dragon’s Maze pack), you’ll draft the Gatecrash pack. So what colors will your deck be?

Let’s say that, after drafting the Dragon’s Maze pack, you decided to go into red and white – Boros. When it comes to the Gatecrash pack, like someone with a sharp wit, you’ll draft white cards, red cards, and white-red gold cards. And then the Return to Ravnica pack is drafted, and you’ll draft the white cards, red cards, and… wait a minute. There no white-red gold cards in Return to Ravnica. Every single gold card isn’t in your colors! Also, the amount of color-fixing support is limited to, barring whatever will be in Dragon’s Maze, is limited to the Boros ones, Transguild Promenade, and whatever the Transguild Promenade-equivalent is in Gatecrash. You’re missing out on a lot of cards in the Return to Ravnica pack!

On a side note, I want to share how interesting it is that the amount of guild support your deck has exponentially correlates with the number of colors your deck has:

  • 1 Color = 0 Guilds 
  • 2 Colors = 1 Guild 
  • 3 Colors = 3 Guilds 
  • 4 Colors = 6 Guilds 
  • 5 Colors = 10 Guilds

So, the more colors you have in your deck, the more mana-fixing you need. Luckily, the more colors you have, the more guild mana-fixers you have access to! And, of course, there will be more cards to choose from that are in your colors. So, you might think to yourself, “If going two colors is a bad idea when drafting Dragon’s Maze, then how many colors should I be drafting?”

Glint-Eye Nephilim by Mark Zug
Here’s the answer: at least three. If you have at least three colors, you’ll be sure to have access to powerful gold cards in both the Gatecrash and Return to Ravnica packs. Let’s say you pick red-green-blue: Izzet, Simic, and Gruul. In Gatecrash, you’ll have access to red, green, blue, and all Simic and Gruul cards. In Return to Ravnica, you’ve got your picks of red, green, blue, and Izzet cards.

But, as you can see, the amount of cards that are relevant in each pack is not equal. Dragon’s Maze will, of course, have something for everyone, but Gatecrash will have the greater share of cards for you when you choose red-green-blue than the Return to Ravnica pack. If you want a more even spread of support for your colors, you’ll need to kick it into either four colors or five colors.

Dragon Fource

Now, five colors, as a theme has been done more than once. It was done back during the Invasion block as domain, and it reappeared in Conflux. So, I’m not suggesting that there is going to be a five-color theme in Dragon’s Maze. No way. …I’m speculating that there will be a four-color theme instead!

Here’s why Dragon’s Maze will contain a theme where it’s important to focus on four colors: the mana-fixing support, the block structure, the cards referring to basic land types, the flavor support, and the existence of Commander. O.K., the last one doesn’t necessarily influence set and block design decisions, but it helps that it’s a boon instead of something bad for Magic: The Gathering. Whenever something would be bad for Magic, it can even be scrapped as a decision. This is not the case for four-color cards and its impact on the Commander scene.

Multicolor as a theme is very popular, and players love the identities given to each of the ten two-color pairs in the form of the guilds. Shards of Alara brought us five more identities for each of the ally three-color groupings. Domain (five colors) has already been done twice. This leaves just ten identities left: the five “wedge” colors and five four-color groupings.

I feel that, like the shards in Shards of Alara, the “wedge” colors have enough design space to merit its own block. When it comes to four-color cards, however, it’s tougher. And this is especially why four-color cards would be a perfect fit as a small set twist for the Return to Ravnica block.

The mana-fixing support you need for four-color cards is tricky – if you include too many cards in a set/block’s design that help you have access to four colors, then what would stop a player from simply having a five-color deck? This is a unique challenge for the four-color theme: it would be “domain” all over again. So, you’d have to be careful with how you dole out your mana-fixers.

Yore-Tiller Nephilim by Jeremy Jarvis
Luckily, Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash has already helped set up for four-color card support. The Guildgates and Keyrunes only offer two colors of support – and rightfully so. They support two-color guilds. These cards, along with Transguild Promenade, the Gatecrash-equivalent to Transguild Promenade, and whatever mana-fixing support is available in Dragon’s Maze will help to make four-color cards possible without going overboard and enabling five-color decks.

Now, when you’re drafting Return to Ravnica by itself, going with a two-color deck is an absolute minimum with the option of going with a three-color deck is you pick up those mana-fixing cards. And like I said above, when you’re drafting with Dragon’s Maze, going with a three-color support is the minimum for optimal card choices between the Gatecrash and Return to Ravnica packs. So, it stands to reason that your color strategy for the Dragon’s Maze drafting format is: three-color minimum with the option to go four colors.

Four In Policy

Normally, when you’re increasing the number of colors your deck supports, you’re sacrificing some of the punches your deck could have in exchange for smoothing out your deck and having a wide variety of spell effects. But when you’ve got two-color gold cards, something happens: the power of the card is higher compared to a spell of the same converted mana cost. This makes up for you going out of your way to make sure your mana base supports two colors! You get powerful cards.

As a rule, the more colored mana symbols there are in a card’s converted mana cost, the more powerful it can be. It has heavier restrictions. This is why the guild leaders can be more powerful because they each require a whopping four colored mana symbols. The guild leaders also scream: play just my two colors. Have a ton of black and a ton of red, and Rakdos will be yours to summon. And he will be powerful.

But, as another rule, the more different kinds of colored mana symbols there are in the mana cost of a card, the more powerful it will be. A gold card with a white mana symbol and a green mana symbol is more powerful than a card of the same converted mana cost with two green mana symbols. That’s because you can simply throw a ton of Forests in your deck to achieve casting the latter card.

So, take these two rules of the power of cards with colored mana symbols in their mana cost, and apply them to a theoretical four-color card: you get super-powerful cards. This power you get balances out the fact that they’re difficult to cast. Just look at Woolly Thoctar as an example of how much it dwarfs Centaur Courser in size because it requires red, green, AND white instead of the Centaur’s measly “one green” requirement. Here, let me demonstrate:

Bonebreaker Giant is a 4/4 for 4R.

Add one more colored mana symbol for a cost of 3RR yet still keep it monocolored, and you get a 5/4 Fire Elemental!

However, if you make that extra colored mana symbol a second, different color instead of the same color, perhaps with a mana cost of 3RG, you’ll get a 6/4 Streetbreaker Wurm! Two more whole points of power for the same amount of mana as Bonebreaker Giant because there are more colored mana symbols and more colors.

Lastly, to demonstrate the power of requiring maximum number of colored mana symbols with the maximum number of colors on a card with a converted mana cost of 5, I present to you: an 8/8 Fusion Elemental! That’s QUITE the jump from 4/4 (yes, I do realize that its uncommon rarity may mean it had a bump in power level - which, on a side note, makes me upset - but you get the point)!

With all this power of four-color cards, you’re going to want to run it in Standard. But how will you support four-color decks? Ah, with a heavy-hitting line-up of the five ally dual lands in Magic 2013, the five enemy dual lands in Innistrad block, and ten guild dual lands in Return to Ravnica block.

It’s these guild duals that are particularly important because they each have basic land types. There’s been a curious increase in the number of cards that care about lands that are not just basic lands but have the basic land types. In Magic 2013, there’s Arbor Elf, Farseek, Ranger's Path, and Gem of Becoming. If you have the Return to Ravnica block duals, your color selection is vastly increased, despite fetching "just a Forest," which might be helpful when you’re trying to cast your four-color cards in your Standard Decks!

Notably, what was determined with my own “four colors matter” set is that the key to making a set that supported four-color decks but not five-color decks was basic lands. Cards that required you to need basic lands in your deck were leveraging the natural restrictions of devoting card slots for those basic lands. The similarity between cards that cared about basic land types and cards that care about basic lands is interesting!

Now, for something completely different: Commander needs four-color legendary creatures. There are currently none to choose from when you’re trying to find a Commander. Mark Rosewater said that if he could go back and change the only five four-color cards in Magic: The Gathering to be legendary creatures, he would. And with Wizards of the Coast’s recent strong support for Commander by providing new Commander products every year, it’s safe to say that Wizards likes it when something is Commander-friendly. So the fact that having a set with four-color cards in theme means there’s an opportunity for the existence of four-color legendary creatures only helps to reinforce the decision to have a four-color theme.

Which brings me to my next point: flavor. It’s difficult to define each of the four-color groupings. What does it mean to be nonblack? How do we do what we did for Shards of Alara but with even more restriction? How will a four-color nonblack card feel different from the Bant or Naya shards?

This is yet another reason why Dragon’s Maze would be perfect to house four-color cards: the flavor supports it. You see, the protagonists have already been defined and have clear identities: the guilds. The guilds are back and all ten will return in Dragon’s Maze. The difference between the original Ravnica block and the Return to Ravnica block is that there now needs to be a strong opposing force to all of the guilds (Nicol Bolas? Maybe.)

However, as in the Ravnica story in the books and in articles on DailyMTG, there WAS something terrible all of the guilds were facing: the Nephilim. Sadly, these four-color Nephilim creatures didn’t get much presence card-wise. There are seven Nephilim-related cards: one for each of the five Nephilim and two measly cards that referenced the Nephilim.

Dune-Brood Nephilim by Jim Murray
In the original story, Niv-Mizzet had quite the ordeal with these Nephilim. He destroyed two of ‘em and then fled the scene (Ravnica) with Rakdos destroying a third Nephilim. The last two retreated underground or something. …which is a fact that’s important! Niv-Mizzet eventually came back, and… well, what’s he up to now? He’s having the Izzet League doing strange things. I wonder why? Perhaps he’s BUILDING A DEFENSE AGAINST THE NEPHILIM?! …and creating a maze of stuff underground, thus the “Dragon’s Maze” set name! Eh, eh? All right, so that's a bit of a stretch, but you see where I'm going with this, right?

Ultimately, the story is right there and ready to welcome the four-color Nephilim cards. A few may have died before, but the nature of the Nephilim is unknown (regenerative properties, for example) and the new Ravnican story was able to accommodate the re-forming of the guilds despite the Guildpact being broken in the previous block’s story. So, the plus-side is that this totally supports having five four-color legendary creature cards.

On a tangential note, Wizards has stated that there will be new guild champions for each of the guilds. What better time to have guild champions to fight for each of their respective guilds than when the Nephilim re-emerge to wreak havoc upon Ravnica? And, yes, I am aware that this means there would be fifteen legendary creatures in one set. It’ll be all right – five mythic legendary creatures and ten rare guild champion legendary creatures.

I can also see as a possibility that there would be humanoid/dragon/other four-color legendary creatures that channel their respective four-color Nephilim. I’m stating this in case I get so close in my prediction yet people will point out that the Nephilim didn’t end up being the four-color legendary creatuers. Might as well cover my bases with far-reaching speculation like this!

I also realize that designing four-color legendary creature is entirely possible to do with just the Commander products. This is something I fully support happening and think should happen. This would mean even MORE potential four-color commanders. However, this shouldn’t take the place of Magic: The Gathering eventually having four-color Block and Standard decks! That’s an experience yet to be had!

Fourm of the Dragon

I can see how I could be wrong about the four-color card theme, though. For example, there could be a multicolored vs. monocolored theme between the guilds and "the guildless" with cards that use the words “multicolored” and “monocolored” as hinted at in the cards Pyroconvergence and Ultimate Price. Jay Treat at least briefly mentioned thisbefore. (Though, "monocolored matters" would be a hard sell for me since the drafting Gatecrash and Return to Ravnica both encourage multicolor). Perhaps Gates will be very important (or they’ll help fuel the four-color card support in the mana-fixing cards in Dragon’s Maze). But four-color cards is going to have to be my guess (which may or may not also have the "multicolored matters" theme, too).

Multicolor as a theme doesn’t happen every year. And when multicolor does show up as a theme, it isn’t always the right time for four-color cards. But Dragon’s Maze is the perfect time for four-color cards. The block structure is right, mana-fixing support is correct, and “four colors” is something that needs to happen in a Magic: The Gathering set someday. If there’s any time to do four-color cards… this is it!

If hindsight is 20/20, four-sight is Dragon’s Maze.

Ral Zarek by Eric Deschamps

Saturday, November 10, 2012

31 Flavors of Naga Demon

This is my second post regarding NaGa DeMon - National Game Design Month. Participating in this means that my card game project must be created with all of its necessary pieces entirely within the month of November and then played at least once. So far, I've decided my card game will have mechanical elements that emulate the prisoner's dilemma situation. Currently, I still haven't yet decided on a theme, despite the helpful feedback I've received from fellow NaGa DeMon Hunters.

As I said in my last post, while it's very normal and possible to design games without a theme (just look at all the card games that use a standard deck of playing cards), having that flavor established early on can help further game designing which in turn can help influence the theme and so on and so forth.

So, right now, I'm going to focus on cranking out some theme ideas. To help me in this process, I've decided to theme this blog post with a title referencing Baskin-Robbins' "31 Flavors." So thematic. So productive. I'm going to force myself to come up with thirty-one different themes right now as I write this. I've only got a few swimming around in my brain, so I'm excited to see what I come up with! 

This is what I really should be doing at this stage. No second-thoughts and such during the brainstorming process! Just let it all flow out of my mind and put it all down. Only until after the brainstorming is finished must I begin to think critically about the theme possibilities.

But before I begin, I will first define the game mechanics that must be described within the context of each of these themes. Here they are:
  • The scenario - This has to be a situation that the players are involved in such as a high school rally, a fantasy dungeon quest, or a series of therapy sessions.
  • The players - The players have to be somebody or something that's doing all this simultaneous cooperating and competing. Who are they?
  • The "loot" - The players will be trying to be collecting the most of ...something. In Mario, this would be coins. Zelda has rupees. Note that this doesn't have to be gold or jewels nor does it need to be a tangible object. Also, the verb (player's action) associated with this "loot" doesn't have to be "collect." In summary, they need to be [VERB]-ing [SOMETHING].
  • The "health" - I want to add a layer of complexity to this game that makes this more than just an iterated prisoner's dilemma. As such, the "monsters" can hurt the player's "health." This "health" may influence the player's decision-making. Anyway, what is this "health" within the context of the theme?
  • The game-ender - The game, mechanically, will end at an indeterminate time. But what is the flavor that causes this scenario the players are in to end? This quality of the game seems to not be as important to define but would definitely enhance the game that much more if defined.
  • The encounter-able "things" - The players, within the scenario, will encounter ...stuff. Within the context of a typical swords & sorcery fantasy adventure, this would be monsters, treasure, traps, puzzles, etc. There's going to be bad stuff and good stuff and a lot of these things will yield the "loot" mentioned above.
So, here we go! Oh, and for the themes I list, I won't repeat ones that were already suggested to me, like an treasure hunting theme escaping from a crumbling temple due to a stolen idol (Indiana Jones). Anyway, 31 themes:
  1. Blood-sucking Vampires - The players are vampires trying to suck the most blood before the sun rises. Vampires have a physical health (yet can never truly die, of course) and face humans and animals of various types.
  2. Meat-eating Werewolves - ...This may or may not be cheating, and this may remind you of Twilight, and maybe it's because I've got Magic: The Gathering's Innistrad / Halloween on my mind due to building my cube: The players are werewolves trying to eat as much meat before the full moon disappears. Werewolves have physical health (but are superbly resilient) and face humans and animals of various types.
  3. Brain-eating Zombies - Oh, boy, another horror theme: The players are zombies trying to eat the most brains before the military nukes them all. Zombies' "health" is represented through their body parts. Losing body parts doesn't impact your abilities - it's just a flavorful representation. Losing all of them, though, causes you to need to re-attach your body parts, which costs you. You fight against humans, mostly.
  4. Booty-Plundering Sexy Pirates - I apologize in advance for this one: The players are sexy pirates trying to "plunder" the most "booty" before the voyage ends ...or whatever. Since the core mechanic of plundering booty is already a sex euphemism, the rest of the game will also play into this by using thematic pirate things and terms. Like a nice-looking (treasure) chest (it's like this stuff writes itself!) The players' have libido they must not let "get too low." ...Again, I'm sorry!
  5. Rising-in-Fame Musicians - The players are musicians/bands gaining fame and trying to become the most famous before they all die or go to jail or become too old to play anymore. Etc., etc. During cooperations, this can be seen as playing at a show together. The players have gigs/private shows/entertain fans/etc. Their "health" can be inspiration, motivation to rock, soberness/cleanliness until they eventually hit a low place and lose some fame as a cost to getting back on their feet again.
  6. Book-Reading Library Nerds - The players are book nerds trying to read the most books before library closes. Library patrons and various library-specific objects would be your encounters and your "health" is drowsiness or eye-weariness or something.
  7. Laughter-Inducing Comedians - The players are stand-up comedians trying to get the most laughs by telling jokes, performing skits, etc. before the end of the show. Their "health" would be how funny they are. Or their originality.
  8. Pizza-Eating Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - I'm gonna go ahead and cheat with an IP idea: the players are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles trying to eat the most pizza before Shredder shows up. The turtles can fight together or solo Shredder's minions in the meantime that Shredder hasn't shown up. What I don't get is why there would be so much pizza being carried by the bad ninjas - stealing them? *shrugs*
  9. Competitive Space Bounty Hunters - The players are space bounty hunters trying to collect the most bounty earnings before ....something space-related happens. Some bounties are tough to hunt down and might be best to require cooperation!
  10. Doughnut-Eating Cops - The players are cops trying to eat the most doughnuts before their shift is up. They encounter criminals of all sorts, and getting tired/injured requires them to recover by eating some of their own hard-earned doughnuts.
  11. Stealing-from-Homes Robbers - The players are robbers trying to steal the most wealth from households before everyone wakes up in the morning. The robbers can work together for more difficult places to break and enter and/or wealths to acquire (like laser-guarded diamonds). Sneakiness can be health, and having zero sneakiness means you need to hide until you gain your sneakiness advantage again.
  12. Competitive Fisherman - The players are fisherman trying to fish the most fish before the end of the day. Fish, fish, fish. Some "fish" are ridiculously heavy and may require more than one fisherman to fish up, like, say, a SHARK or KILLER WHALE?! Players encounter all sorts of fish. Players have bait to look out for.
  13. Orgasm-Seeking Orgy Participants - This is just straight-up X-rated, as opposed to the innuendo-ridden pirate one above: the players are humans (!) in an orgy trying to get the most orgasms/sexual satisfaction before the end of the night. The "monsters" are sexual partners, cooperation with other players end up being those threesomes and whatnot, and the "treasure" cards are stuff like sex toys or sex machines. Health is stamina or libido.
  14. Jehovah's Witnesses Sharing the Good News - And now for possibly offensive, but it fits so well with the unknown-when-it-will-happen game-ender: The player's are Jehovah's Witnesses trying to spread the good news to as many people as they can before Armageddon occurs. You can witness to people not already in the truth and even do so cooperatively. Their "health" is how much they're deviating away from Jehovah. Getting down to zero "health" means they must have a shepherding call, so they can be brought back closer to Jehovah.
  15. Fun-Seeking Carnival Attendees - The players are attending a carnival and they try to have the most fun before the end of the day. They'll ride rollercoasters, play carnival games, etc. Their "health" is their excitement or fatigue - sometime they need to sit down and have a bite to eat or something!
  16. Money-Making Food Chain Companies - The players are food chain companies trying to sell the most food  to climb to the top of the food chain (ahahah... hah. ...hah) before the economy goes bad. Meeting demand in various areas may take more than one food chain (player) to fulfill whereas others are perfectly fine with just one food chain. Your health is your food supply. Sometimes food shortages happen.
  17. High School Kids Striving for Popularity - The players are "the popular kids" in high school trying to become the MOST popular before the end of the school year. Encounters would be students, teachers, various school events like clubs and rallies. "Health" is your confidence/arrogance or something.
  18. Cross-Country Car Racers - The players are each racing in cars across the country trying to get the furthest before... hmm. Before Armageddon happens? I dunno. "Health" is running out of gas. And cooperation is... yeesh, this theme needs a lot of work. I'll take it, though!
  19. Competitive Christmas Decorators - The players are trying to decorate their Christmas trees with the most decorations before Christmas comes! "Health" is their Christmas spirit. They'll encounter carolers, santa, and other Christmas-y things. Cooperation is kind of a stretch, though, since they each have their own trees to decorate. Perhaps they're just putting up decorations in general?
  20. Competitively-Studious Students - The players are trying to study to gain the most knowledge before finals yet need to possibly share books! They must fight their own sleepiness or face the consequences of a short nap (health mechanic). 
  21. Head-Collecting Fantasy Heroes - The players are trying to slay monsters and collect the most monster heads before heading back to their kingdom to be awarded the title of "Hero of all of everything ever" or something. Players may end up cooperating against more-difficult monsters
  22. Affectionate Romantics in a Love ...Pentagon? - The players are all trying to show the most affection for their shared romantic interest before the romantic interest ultimately decides to enter into a relationship with one of them. Various encounters would involve different romantic gestures. Some are gifts (treasure) that earn you some easy affection as opposed to candlelight dinners, etc. Your passion is your "health."
  23. People-Scaring Ghosts - The players are ghosts trying to scare the most people in a haunted mansion or something before dawn comes. Your “health” is your “presence” or how frightening/haunting you are.
  24. Follower-Gaining Twitter Users - Twitter users trying to get the most followers before "something happens." Various tweets containing humor, links to articles, or links to blog posts would occur. You'll have some kind of Twitter "tenacity."
  25. Competitive NaGa DeMon Game Designers - Game designers trying to design the most fun game before NaGa DeMon is over. You can work on game mechanics by yourself or cooperate in conversations for truly innovative ideas. Inspiration/creativity is your "health."
  26. Taxi Drivers Making Money - The players are taxi cab drivers trying to make the most money by the end of the day. Some passengers will require a greater distance and might require a couple cabs yet will yield a lot of  money (cooperation). Your "health" is your gas? Hmm. That means you're always losing health. Sleepiness? Willpower?
  27. Competitively-Fabulous Mall Shoppers - The players are going out shopping, and they're trying to have the most fabulous clothing before it's time to go home. When shoppers cooperate, they'll have to receive less fabulous-ness since they both bought the same thing. "Health" is fatigue.
  28. Competitive Ice Cream Eaters - The players are in an ice cream factory after it's closed for the night, and they must try to eat the most ice cream before it opens again. Going after the same ice creams will mean less ice cream for each player. "Health" is how close you are to a brain freeze.
  29. Pot Smokers Getting High - The players are all trying to smoke pot to get the most high before the party later on tonight. You can choose to go to various sources for weed, whether it's the next-door neighbor or that pot dealer you know. "Health" is how much you're coughing. Sometimes, you'll need to cough a bit too much, which costs you your "high-ness."
  30. People-Saving Firefighters - Firefighters trying to get the most gratitude (or be the most heroic) from saving people from a building on fire before the building is completely evacuated. Sometimes, you'll need to cooperate to help carry out heavy people, but they'll REALLY gracious and will award more gratitude whereas easy ones like children give little gratitude. Pets and such are easy but don't give ANY gratitude. "Health" is your bravery/courage.
  31. Vandals Competitively Causing Damage - The players are vandalizing anarchists trying to cause the most damage to the city during the night. There's all sorts of acts of vandalism you can attempt, but some are really hard to do without cooperation. Your "health" is how discreet you are.
Whew! That took longer than I thought. Well, some of these are just not doable like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one. Well, I could still do it, anyway; but that specific one doesn't even have a strong flavor, and I won't be able to go very far with this project without getting into trouble or something. I'd rather have an original theme.

While writing this, I was trying not to censor myself and just let the ideas flow, so a few of these I won't actually consider, like the Jehovah's Witness one since that might be offensive (trivializes the religion, etc.) and it's not the best theme for players to get excited about. A lot more people would rather pretend to be blood-sucking vampires than Jehovah's Witnesses, I surmise.

So, now that I've written this list out, I'm going to need to decide. I could swap around some of the different parts of themes and mash them up for a better theme, too. For example, ice-cream eating firefighters. O.K., maybe the ice cream can melt, so you put the fires out? ...Bad example, but you get what I mean. 

Perhaps you can help! Which of the above themes do you like most? Or perhaps you have a different idea? Thanks in advance! Let me know by leaving a comment on this post or tweeting at me: @bradleyrose

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Naga Demon Dilemma

For about a week now, I have had tabs in my internet browser open for Wikipedia articles including "Prisoner's dilemma," "Unscrupulous diner's dilemma," "Peace war game," and "Nash equilibrium." Why? Because of NaGa DeMon - National Game Design Month. NaGa DeMon is where you create a game along with all the necessary pieces and play it at least once all within the month of November. This month is going to be the month where I design my very first original game.

Yes, for those participating in NaGa DeMon like I am, I know that research could (preferably) have been done before November started. During the latter half of October, however, I was focusing my efforts on building a Magic: The Gathering cube and designing Magic cards for the set pitches contest for the Goblin Artisans 2012 set project. But excuses, excuses; right? Anyway...

So, a week has gone by, and the percentage of my game I have completed by now amounts to about diddly-squat. This is what I've decided on so far: it's a card game, and the mechanics will have elements of the prisoner's dilemma. Why a card game? Because, like The Joker, I adore card games. And they're easier to make than a lot of other games. Why the prisoner's dilemma? Because I've been fascinated with it, especially since when The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords implemented it.

The prisoner's dilemma is a situation where two players are given the same set of choices that they will each make secretly from each other: cooperate or betray. There are four outcomes with two players with varying degrees of rewards. The best thing that can happen is one player betrays while the other cooperates. The worst thing is when you get betrayed while you cooperated. So why would you ever cooperate? Because the second-to-best thing is when you both cooperate. The second-to-worst thing is when you both betray each other. If you both keep betraying each other, you're both getting some bad rewards. So, then you both cooperate to get better rewards. But then somebody can get selfish and reap the best rewards and betray. Dilemma!

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords implemented this by making collecting rupees a competition. The players must both cooperate to traverse the dungeon, defeat the monsters, and solve the puzzles. At the same time, there are treasure chests and rupees lying around alongside these important and dangerous obstacles that require teamwork. Players have the ability to mess with the other players, even being able to go so far as to throw other players into a bottomless pit.

So, let's say you just enter a room with this boss monster and some treasure chests lying around. The boss monster starts attacking the players, threatening the welfare of everyone. Three of the four players immediately start working together to fight the monster. The fourth player, however, decided that the other players will probably fight the monster, and three would be more than enough to keep the monster distracted. So, the fourth player sneaks over to the treasure chests and starts collecting rupees, helping them gain the lead in the rupee competition. The rest of the players are doing all the work while you're making out like a bandit!

In another scenario, EVERYONE gets this mindset of desiring to get to the treasure chests first before dealing with the monster. So all four players starts heading over there - but nobody is taking care of the monster. Then the monster attacks and hurts everybody. Sad times for all. But, hey, you might have been able to sneak one treasure chest or something. ...But if you ALL WORKED TOGETHER and beat the monster first, you could have still gotten one treasure chest or something but without all that damage you endured just now.

However, Four Swords doesn't just work like the prisoner's dilemma - it works like an iterated prisoner's dilemma. This is different in that there are multiple times where you must make the decision to cooperate or betray. And you have memory of all the outcomes and decisions made by the players from previous prisoner's dilemma situations. Knowing what has happened before can alter your decision in the next prisoner's dilemma. This is great. But then there's a problem.

The problem with the iterated prisoner's dilemma is that when there is a known finite number of times the prisoner's dilemma will be played out, this will usually influence the behavior of the players to betray during the last known round of the prisoner's dilemma - because there will be no consequence to their actions afterward. But since you know that betrayal will happen during the last round, you might as well gain the upper hand and betray during the second-to-last round. And then it goes on and so forth like this until you've determined that the best decision is to relentlessly betray right from the beginning.

So, what is needed is an unknown number of rounds of the prisoner's dilemma. How do you do that? Well, a deck of cards is great for randomizing things in an order that you do not know. However, simply using a deck of cards with events in it with a "game-ending" event inside of it won't be enough. Because you'll know how likely it is when the game will end the closer and closer you get to the end of the deck of cards containing the game-ender.

One solution is to have a deck of cards with randomized encounters along with that one card you'd want to POSSIBLY end the game. This one card would actually be random itself in whether you continue the game or end the game there. When you get a "continue card," you reshuffle this deck of encounters along with all previous encounters and include a new special event card that may, again, end the game or continue the game. Or you could use a new deck. Doesn't matter. Just as long as the randomizer of encounters does not reveal a good approximation of when the game will end.

Within the context of a "medieval high fantasy" theme (I don't want to use such a played-out theme, but I may end up ultimately using it), you may use a Dungeon Deck full of monsters and treasures and a single special card that determines whether you continue to the next area (shuffle up the deck again with a new special card) or you've found the dungeon exit. Of course, you can always associate boss monster events, etc. to these special event cards.

You can control the randomness of the special outcomes in the game by parsing the deck into multiple sections like what is done in Pandemic. In Pandemic, there are special Epidemic cards. In a regular game, there are four of them in the deck. However, during the set-up of the game, the deck is divided into four separate piles with a randomized Epidemic in each pile. Then the deck's four piles are stacked on top of one another. What this does is create four separate "stages," where, within each stage, you'll experience an Epidemic sometime. This way, you KNOW that the game will not suddenly throw three Epidemics at you three turns in a row and the game quickly ends from there. If you find an Epidemic card during your first turn, then you know you've got quite a few cards to go before you experience another one.

I think I need to determine just how long I want the game to last and then design the game in a way that the game will end within the general timeframe that I want it to end. This can be fine since knowing how much time you've got in the beginning before the game will end isn't as detrimental as knowing how much time you've got in the game left.

In terms of theme, this is what I've been banging my head against a wall over for the past few days. I just can't come up with one satisfying enough and whose flavor can accommodate the mechanics of the game. Having the theme determined from the beginning along with the mechanics of your game is a huge boon, if not vital, when you're designing the game. This is because design can influence the game's theme while the game's theme can influence the design. Design and theme play off of each other and reinforces one another. Perhaps that "finding love while riding a train" theme influences the design to contain some "crying baby" content or random large groups popping up to take all the seats.

I've got the general idea of how the game's pieces will be played out: you'll be revealing cards from the top of the Dungeon Deck (I'll be calling it this for the purposes of this article and perhaps even myself until I settle on a different them or a better name) that may contain monsters, treasure, or that special event card. These will be laid out face up for everyone to see to represent what's currently available to engage with. Then the players will, with their hand of "action cards," decide what they will engage with. This decision will be simultaneous (simultaneous turns) yet secret. What you can engage with will be one of the revealed cards (in a four-player game, I'm guessing having three cards revealed at a time would be best), another player, or yourself. When you engage with another player, you'll be putting them at a disadvantage. When you engage with yourself, you'll give yourself some kind of benefit. It still wouldn't be as good as engaging with the laid-out cards but it's at least a safe bet. Perhaps you'll hide or heal yourself (healing yourself would then force players to not always engage with themselves since the benefits of engaging with yourself every turn would have diminishing retunrs). this is where I'm at. I've got some project planning to do, so I can make sure I keep on track, but I'll figure that out soon enough. Right now, as I write this, it's past midnight, I'm tired, and it's my nana's birthday later on today. Gotta snooze!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Magic Halloween Cube

Lurebound Scarecrow by Nils Hamm

After drafting multiple times with two other players with my friend’s two boxes of Magic: The Gathering’s Return to Ravnica set, the experience was becoming stale. I suggested to my friends that we cube draft – something that none of us had done before. For those who don’t know, Cube is a casual format where you select at least 360 Magic cards from your collection intended for drafting or playing sealed deck with other players (typically eight people). After explaining what Cube is all about to my buddy, he desired to try this out. My soul… it’s so ecstatic. Problem, though: none of us have our own cube!

Between my friends and I, I have the most extensive Magic: The Gathering collection. I have enough material to at least be able to sculpt something fresh from among my cards and not just have it be something like Zendikar: Cube Edition. So, it was up to me to put together a cube. I was relishing this chance. I’m excited about crafting a Limited experience by my own hand for others to enjoy – this must be related to why I loved making Dungeons & Dragons dungeons during middle school.

Gimme Some Sugar Cube

What kinds of cards go into a Magic: The Gathering cube? First, what makes for a strong cube is to have a theme. Every person’s cube has a different theme just as different Magic sets have their own themes. The most popular kind of cube, however, is one full of the most powerful cards in Magic ever. In fact, for some folks, “a bunch of the most powerful cards” and “Cube” are synonymous. While I have no doubts in how fun playing with those cards can be, building a cube with this theme doesn’t excite me. Also, the most powerful cards in Magic tend to be some of the most expensive. And I don’t have these expensive cards. …I’m definitely doing something else.

Some cubers (people who play Cube; or, incidentally, people who solve puzzles like Rubik’s Cubes) have pauper (all commons) cubes or “no rares” cubes. Others have tribal cubes (cards that care about creature types and a bunch of creatures with the same creature type, so you can have Elf decks or Goblin decks and whatnot). Fittingly, I ended up building a tribal themed cube; though, I didn’t do so intentionally.

Delif's Cube by Mark Tedin
I was wracking my brain for what theme my cube would be all about when I started thinking of the kinds of themes other games tend to cover. Free-to-play games, the part of the games industry I have experience in, tend to generate a lot of content (usually weekly) with all sorts of different themes, and the kind of theme always-leveraged are holidays. So, that’s when I thought of Halloween – perfect!

Here’s why Halloween is an awesome choice of a theme:

1) It creates a deadline for finishing my cube. I tend to not define deadlines for the projects I work on (a bad habit of mine). As you can imagine, the projects I begin typically are never completed. I couldn’t let this happen, especially when there’s a friend who’s waiting on me to finish building a cube.

2) A Halloween-themed cube lends itself to being consisted of the cards I love. Obviously, because Halloween is related to horror, we’re going to use cards from the Innistrad block. Innistrad is one of my favorite blocks, but so is another block that is fitting for this cube’s theme: Shadowmoor (It's the closest to a Nightmare Before Christmas feel, which is great). Shadowmoor was the first set to be released when I had gotten back into playing Magic: The Gathering after “quitting” during Fifth Dawn (Yes, this does mean I missed the original Ravnica block, Kamigawa, and Time Spiral), so it holds a special place in my heart.

On an aside, I returned to playing Magic: The Gathering after Morningtide had already released, and partly due to the nudgings by my friend while I was in college. Another part of me getting back into Magic was getting pumped by this commercial.

So, Shadowmoor block has a lot of artifact creature Scarecrows in it (over twenty of them). Mashing it up with the races of Innistrad meant that we’d have SIX major creature types. This was instrumental in deciding that my cube would have a major tribal theme – something that Innistrad wasn’t before.

You see, Innistrad is a set with mechanical themes that related to creatures dying and spells in the graveyard; also, the mostly-werewolf mechanic of double-faced cards was a big mechanic. The tribal part of Innistrad was only a lesser component – it was never a major theme. The Halloween cube is the chance to bring back Innistrad’s Werewolves, Spirits, Vampires, and Zombies and make building a deck with a bunch of creatures of a certain creature type actually matter.

Drogskol Captain by Peter Mohrbacher

The Six Faces of the Cube

So, here’s what’s new being brought to the table with using these Innistrad cards: creature types matter even more than before, there’s a new tribe (Scarecrows), and cards from the previous tribal blocks, Lorwyn and Onslaught, would be used to support the tribal theme; so cards of old would be interacting with the new cards in a meaningful way. Lastly, for Humans, Vampires, Zombies, and Spirits: there’s a lot more older cards to use to join and/or replace their Innistrad counterparts.

Human creatures, obviously, are in all the colors. In Innistrad block, they were green-white focused. However, curiously, there are a significant number of red “Humans matter” cards when Avacyn Restored was released. There are also the red Werewolves that start out as Human before they transform into non-Human. So, when combining cards from Innistrad, Dark Ascension, and Avacyn Restored; you get Naya Humans (red-green-white). This led to me looking to stretch the colors of the other tribes to an extra ally color (yet another twist)! And because Shards of Alara block existed, there would be the mana-fixing cards to include in the cube to support a three-color mana base for decks.

Sadly, however, black Werewolves and blue Vampires are scarce (there aren’t any monoblue vampires). But how could I NOT include the original black Werewolves? Luckily, though, blue’s got access to “vampires:” The Mistform cards from Onslaught block. Also, for every color, there are the Shapeshifters with changeling (a keyword that says the creature has every single creature type ever). So, it’s not that bad to decide on Jund (black-green-red) Werewolves or Grixis (blue-black-red) Vampires. Though, Esper (white-blue-black) Zombies is kind of awkward, since there’s not that many white Zombies either. Well, besides the changelings.

I decided to go ahead with having three-color mana support cards, anyway; to shake up the two-color tendency of Limited Innistrad decks. Also, this enables the Naya Humans and Bant (green-white-blue) Spirits decks.

Vigilante Justice by Steve Prescott
I won’t provide my actual cube list because it’s not optimal as it is now – I don’t have all the cards that I would like to include, and I’m missing certain dual lands. This led to not having Greater Werewolf and Lesser Werewolf and me choosing to use some less-than-stellar cards in lieu of others I would have preferred but don’t own. But, I will tell you about some interesting things I’ve found when building the cube.

The first thing I did was grab all the Scarecrow cards I had. I had just about twenty different Scarecrows. Sadly, though, I don’t have Straw Soldiers or the original Scarecrow card (Straw Soldiers is totally going into this cube in the future)! So, in order for Scarecrows (and Werewolves) to be able to compete with the other creature types in terms of numbers available in the cube, I was going to need to build a smaller cube than some of the ones that others have.

The number of 360 cards, the smallest suggested amount for a cube, was perfect. This meant 45 cards for each category: white, blue, black, red, green, artifact, multicolor, and land. And there would be just over twenty cards in each color that would have creatures – this meant that Werewolves would be able to shine, and this also meant Scarecrows, being about twenty in number, can effectively inhabit the artifacts slot as if it were a “sixth color.” Lastly, building the minimal amount of 360 cards is a great place for me to start, as this is my very first cube.

Building Blocks

Having a starting point for the Halloween cube with tribal cards very much helps narrow down the decisions you make. If it weren’t for deciding upon horror creature-type tribal, then I wouldn’t have been able to narrow in on using cards of only those creature types and tribal cards to support them from Onslaught block and Lorwyn block. It also helps narrow down the kinds of cards you need to include for every color.

Moonmist by Ryan Yee
For example, Moonmist is a Fog-like effect that is a Werewolf tribal card. Green usually has a card that has an effect like Fog. Thus, since I know I’m including this card, I was able to eliminate all the Fog-like cards I had in my collection from taking up any of the remaining twenty-or-so noncreature card slots. Rise from the Grave made the creature you bring back a Zombie, which is great for this cube, which meant I didn’t need to consider other cards that bring creatures back to the battlefield.

The same goes for the kinds of abilities on creatures. Green usually has a creature that taps to give you mana. Avacyn’sPilgrim is a Human and does fulfill that criterion – this means Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise are not eligible for including in my cube!


Spirits were exciting to work with since they are found in every color. Also, there are quite a few Spirit token-making cards! Sure, there are creatures from Innistrad that gave you Spirit tokens upon dying, but there’s Funeral Pyre, Spectral Procession, and Midnight Haunting all available to be used together! Because of this, I knew there was now a tokens archetype in my cube, so I included cards like Intangible Virtue and strongly considered anything that made tokens, whether they were Humans or Zombies.  An example of this is Penumbra Spider, providing not only the reach keyword that green needs but the token that token decks care about. Finally, black has Aether Snap to combat the tokens (and counters of any kind) specifically (don’t worry, though; the other colors have ways to handle a bun of tokens, too; Evacuation in blue, for example).

And Kamigawa was a gold mine for Spirits, giving me cards like Wandering Ones (a vanilla 1/1 for blue with a creature type that matters) and Harbinger of Spring (protection from non-Spirit creatures? How tribally-relevant). The big thing was having Spirits to include that had Soulshift, a mechanic that returns Spirits specifically from the graveyard to your hand. It’s combining cards together like these that made me discover how much I love putting together a cube.


Ghoulflesh by Igor Kieryluk
Zombies provided the most extensive amount of creature cards available to choose from, so I’ve got cards like Cemetery Reaper, Grave Defiler, and Soulless One in the cube. I was most excited by using Ghoulflesh! You see, black has a thing where it has both negative Auras (cards you’ll want to enchant your opponents’ cards with) and positive Auras. Often, the positive Auras can also be negative in that it might provide more in exchange for taking away from toughness. In Ghoulflesh’s case, the fact that it turns the creature into a Zombie matters in this cube. In fact, it might become a positive card when you want a non-Zombie you control to benefit from a card you have that cares about Zombies.

Sadly, alongside not having the card All Hallow’s Eve (a must-have for a Halloween cube) I do not own Zombie Apocalypse. Once I acquire one, it’s totally going in. And when I eventually cast it, I'll enjoy the relevance of Flight of the Conchords' "Humans Are Dead" song.


For Vampires, I had to include the iconic staple Vampire of Magic: The Gathering: Sengir Vampire. Next, the fact that Vein Drinker is a black Vampire with as red activation cost made it a perfect inclusion. To support the potential for a Grixis Vampire deck, I had Szadek, Lord of Secrets included among my gold cards (he also supports the milling strategy).

Sengir Vampire by Kev Walker


Now, the Werewolf-y cards in Innistrad block didn’t just care about Werewolves – they also cared about the creature type Wolves. So, I made sure that both green and red had Wolf cards alongside the Werewolves. Howl of the Night Pack has never been so exciting! What was really cool was finding Tel-Jilad Wolf in my collection. Its ability is perfect for interacting with opponents’ Scarecrow cards! Lastly, having Tundra Wolves in white to fulfill a one-drop slot and the need to have first strike in white somewhere was awesome.


Since there are so many Humans to choose from, after auto-including the cards that mention caring about Humans specifically, I looked to include any Humans that support any archetypes. While Hedron Crab and Merfolk Mesmerist are fine cards for supporting a milling strategy, Cathartic Adept’s “Human-ness” made it more valuable as a milling-related creature in my cube.

Actually, a note about Hedron Crab: It’s a powerful milling creature. I would love using it in my own milling decks. However, it would be so wrong to include in this cube, and it’s not because it’s a Crab creature instead of a Human. It’s because the card cares about lands entering the battlefield, which detracts from the tribal theme of the cube. This is a lesson in Magic: The Gathering design – the cards you have in your set (or Cube) need to pull their weight in contributing toward the greater good, especially the commons.


Because Scarecrows were going to be a major tribe, it needed to be on the same level as the other tribes. The other tribes have cards that “hate” against them. Human Frailty destroys Humans and Angel of Glory’s Rise wrecks Zombies. I needed a way for players to foil Scarecrows (but not too much – Fracturing Gust would just be mean). Thank goodness Magic R&D decided to design Boggart Arsonists. I love this card so much for specifically referencing Scarecrows AND for actually having plainswalk, a rare ability to find on a creature.

Boggart Arsonists, while awesome, isn’t enough. It’s a good thing there’s already red, white, and green cards that destroy artifacts. I actually considered including Terror for the unique situation of black NOT being able to have an answer for a creature with a major creature type when facing Scarecrows, but my cube was too small to include this destruction spell when I already had tribe-related “destroy” effects in the form of CruelRevival, Pack’s Disdain, etc. In fact, I may have too many! But I opted to include potentially too many awesome tribal effects like these rather than not have enough. Part of having a cube is that you often update it at least four times a year due to a new set releasing with new cards that would be applicable for your cube.

Ancient Stirrings by Vincent Proce
Ancient Stirrings was beneficial when playing with Eldrazi back in the Rise of the Eldrazi set. Ancient Stirrings in this cube’s context means you can pick up a Scarecrow! Sa-weet. Also, blue’s Fabricate pulls more weight in this Cube with being able to tutor for the Scarecrow you need (perhaps a Reaper King?).

Also, props to Innistrad for adding one more Scarecrow, which was an appropriate decision given the setting of the plane.

Solving the Cube

Creating a Halloween cube was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself in terms of Magic: The Gathering. I’m a Magic design enthusiast and creating a cube helped my development sensibilities. As I was going through the cards in my Magic collection, I was sorting the noncreature cards by the types of effects they provide. Now, I know I’ve been involved in Magic design theory and know what sort of effects go in each color, but there’s nothing quite like seeing all the iterations of the same kinds of effects in front of you. All the Giant Growths, Murders, and Lightning Bolts; and deciding which ones will matter most with the context of the other. And when I play this cube with my friends, I’m going to see what worked and what didn’t. And that’s doing Magic development.

Doubling Cube by Mark Tedin
The decisions I was making from the starting point of Halloween theme all the way down to the individual card choices were like solving a puzzle and placing down the puzzle pieces. I love that. But, this puzzle was like solving a Sudoku puzzle. When you select a card to put into your cube, it’s not just putting that metaphorical ‘3’ in a square for a row – you’re also fulfilling the ‘3’ needed for that same column and larger square it is in. Again, Hedron Crab wasn’t quite the ‘3’ you needed for the collection of milling cards in the cube – the Cathartic Adept was. And it’s a Human, for cards like Human Frailty to care about (not that there will be many games where someone will actually cast Human Frailty on it rather than a more-threatening Human card). And it’s a creature that costs one mana, to fulfill the need for a certain number of cards in blue that cost one mana. God, I love how it all fits together.

It’s Halloween as I write this, which means I’ve got a completed cube and a Halloween board game party to attend (cthulhu-themed and zombie-themed board games!). And the after-party: Magic: The Gathering Halloween cubing! Happy Halloween, guys!

All Hallow's Eve by Christopher Rush