Apr 14, 2017

Balancing Nevera Wars


This post is regarding some of the balancing decisions I have made as a result of play-testing Nevera Wars. Specifically balancing the minions' abilities. Each minion has four abilities, and the goal is for none of the abilities to be overpowered or under-powered, which is a high bar, but worth pursuing as diligently as possible.

Early in the design process I determined as the basic economy of Nevera Wars would be that one resource would be worth inflicting three damage. I could then price each ability accordingly, so that inflicting six damage would be worth two energy, inflicting nine damage would be worth three energy, and so on. The real challenge would be determining how many energy would drawing an extra card be worth, or how many energy would having an opponent's minion skip a turn be worth. 

This was the focus of the bulk of my play-testing; properly costing the non-damage causing abilities.
Each ability comes in four tiers, scaling up in energy cost and power, and so you will see me refer to abilities by batches of four names. I will include card images to help contextualize the information.


Embrace, Stifle, Constrict, Choke
These abilities allowed you to prevent the opponent's minions from using an ability of your choice, this was a little too powerful in being able to shut down the opponent's options. However instead of simply increasing the energy cost to use these abilities, I changed the lower power versions to only prevent the opponent's minions from using a damage causing ability of your choice, which helped the ability scale better in the early game.

Burst, Blast, Cyclone, Plasma
Originally these abilities would cause one, two, three, or four damage multiplied by the number of energy cards a player had on the board. This very quickly showed itself to be way too powerful by the middle of the game, and so instead I changed them to two, three, four or five damage multiplied by the number of cards the player has in hand. This mitigated the power to an appropriate level and also gives the player another path of strategy; of holding more cards in hand to increase the power of these abilities in exchange for fewer options on the board, or trying to draw more cards to increase this ability's potential.


Sorrow, Dirge, Despair, Anguish
These abilities allowed a player to look at the cards the opponent held in hand. This was simply not as useful as the other abilities available to the player, and almost never worth the energy cost compared to simply inflicting damage to the opponent. In response I lowered the cost of the abilities, but also added the extra effect of looking at the next cards the opponent would draw for a bigger tactical advantage.

Addle, Misfortune, Discord, Peril
These abilities affected the dice rolls of the opponent, meaning that the player could cause the dice rolls of the opponent to automatically have a negative outcome. This was very under-powered because there simply are not enough abilities that require a die roll to make this an effective option. It was already a cheap ability, so instead I changed it to cause an opponent's minion to have to make a die roll even then they wouldn't. This gives the ability a much more playful edge and can really mess with the opponent's strategy.

Unintended Consequences

Spark, Shock, Thunder, Bolt
Originally these abilities would inflict a little damage, but also have the added effect of forcing the opponent to return an energy card from the board to their hand. The intention was to set back the opponent's progress in accumulating energy. However because all of the energy cards are also the minion cards, in the late game this can be really beneficial to the opponent who might get back a card that would give them new options or get them out of a bind.

After a few minor adjustments failed to change the nature of the effect, I eventually changed the effect of the ability to simply tap (or make unusable) one of the opponent's energy cards for that turn. This improved the balance of the ability and the flow of the game greatly.

Flash, Aura, Shell, Beam

These abilities removed effects on minions, however it was not clear which minions were able to be targeted, and whether negative and positive effects could be removed. This led players to have a lot of confusion and questions about how these abilities could be used. In the end, in the interest of clarity I changed the wording of the ability to only remove negative effects, but also to safeguard it from future negative effects to keep its usefulness high. 

Next we'll be looking at the larger design decisions of the game and how they impacted the final version of the game. 

Apr 7, 2017

Nevera Wars Card Design Decisions

I am very proud to show the final design for the cards for Nevera Wars, my necromancer themed deck construction game. Layout by Scott Nicely and Illustrations by Matheus Graef. I'm going to spend some time talking about some of the design decisions on the cards and the reasons behind them. If you want to hear me speak about art you can also check out this presentation I gave in March 2017 at the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment with advice on working with freelance artists.

The vast majority of the illustrations for Nevera Wars are of bipedal creatures who are taller than they are wide, and so it made sense to me to have tall illustrations that go almost the whole height of the card, instead of the more traditional short and fat illustrations. I always wanted the illustrations to be a big area of engagement for the game, and so I wanted to give a great deal of space for them to breathe. I wanted the illustrations to do a lot of world-building for Nevera and I believe I have struck a good balance with how much of the card they take to do that.

The abilities of each minion are aligned on the left of the card so that when the cards in the player's hand are fanned out, all of the abilities will be visible to the player. Each minion has four abilities to give the player a range of options for their turn, but also to ensure that all cards are competitive.
The order of the abilities is generally a physical attack, a magical attack, a buff, and a debuff. This means the players will generally be focused on the top two abilities and will check out the bottom two when they need a strategic option.

Each ability has a title, which is not necessary for every game, however for Nevera wars all the minions take their abilities from a common pool of abilities. This means that players can gain familiarity with abilities over time by associating them with their names and gives an extra thematic boost to the minions and what they are capable of.

There are very few icons used to support the ability text, a total of four to be exact. Plus two other icons on the card to denote specific information. With four abilities on each card it was important for the learning curve of players that very few icons exist within the game to take the pressure off of the player's memory.

The simplicity of the icons was also very important, that they be easy to see and be black and white. Partly so they do not overpower the illustration, but also so that players with sight challenges can easily determine them. The icons utilized resources from the wonderful websitegame-icons.net and were chosen to be as intuitive as possible. Icons are an element where it is completely okay to be unoriginal in service to their purpose.

The messy outer border was chosen to add to the necromantic theme, and also to make small printing edge errors less noticeable. The color of the border also indicates the type of minion. There is no green border as that would appear too conflicting with the necromantic theme.

The semi-opaque backing to the abilities allows the text to be read easily but also to showcase more of the illustration, sometimes with some fun world-building or setting features.  When getting caught up in the excitement of illustrations it is sometimes easy to forget that the information is the most important element of the card, and that needs to be the highest priority on the card.

Want tips and advice when working with freelance artists? Check out my presentation here. 

Apr 3, 2017

Presentation on Working With Artists

In March of 2017 I gave a presentation on Working With Artists at the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment in Oakland, for the Bay Area Tabletop Developers group.

I have worked with over 15 freelance artists on various projects including logos, graphic design, comic books, video games and board games. I am very appreciative for the opportunity to share my experiences and advice.

It was a great experience, a lot of fun, and it received some wonderful feedback. You can see the whole talk here, split into four topics...

Project: Best practices for how and when to incorporate an artist into a project.

Language: Some useful terminology and how language can impact a project.

Direction: Your role and responsibility as an art director.

Relationship: General reminders and tips for a good working relationship.

Special thanks to Eliot Miller for recording, editing and uploading the video.

Artwork by Marek Jarocki