Tiger Crab Studios
Advice: Game Design, Luck and Skill Part 2
Design Choices in Nevera Wars
Last time I wrote about luck and skill in games, I realize now that I wrote about them as if they were opposites and that having more of one means having less of the other. However this is not true and luck and skill have their own values in games; you can certainly have a lot of both or a little of both and have certain parts of the game be all about luck and certain parts be all about skill. With that mentioned...
Goals For My Game
So going into the game design for Nevera Duels, I knew I had three goals for what I wanted my players to experience when playing my game:
1. To include enough opportunity for skill so that players feel powerful, intelligent and in control when making decisions and choosing from their options. So that when players win, they feel they won because of the choices they made, not only by chance.
2. To include enough luck so that sometimes players with a little less skill can be victorious, so that newer players are not turned off by being resigned to losing their first 100 games.
3. To include enough luck that sometimes players who are part way through a game and losing can turn the tables and victorious (or at least create tension and drama). It is important to me that players who have a less than ideal first few turns are not then resigned to losing.
I can now address elements within my game Nevera Duels, and how they were chosen to aim at these particular goals.
My first decision is that I was sure I wanted to create a deck construction game. Deck construction means that you create your deck before the game begins, like with Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon TCG (deck building games are games where you create the deck during the game, as with Dominion). This fulfilled the goal that games would be won based on a large element of player skill in how they chose to construct their decks.
I decided that each card would have four abilities, drawn from a large pool of abilities, with no two cards sharing more than two of the same abilities. This meant that each card would be different enough to be significant and that players could make meaningful decisions when creating their decks and have the freedom to pursue different strategies.
Each creature has four separate abilities which can be activated. Normally a physical attack, a magical attack, a buff and a debuff. However there are four copies of each creature in a deck and each version of that creature has a slightly stronger one of those abilities. For example a Dryad 1 has a slightly stronger physical attack, Dryad 2 has a slightly stronger magical attack, Dryad 3 has a slightly stronger buff and Dryad 4 has a slightly stronger debuff.
The desired result is that the player can reliably draw a Dryad at any given time, but which version they get will be up to chance and possibly help them out of a tight situation or force a change in strategy. This level of chance and variance I am hoping will give players who are behind in a game a boost or a way forward in way that doesn't unbalance the game too severely.
The main element of luck would come at the draw phase, where at the beginning of each players' turn they draw card from their deck to their hand. Which card they draw will give them different options, strategies and decisions. However it was important to me that this part of the game not hinder the pace and rhythm of the play which can happen in games where there is a likelihood a player might draw a card they have no use for or cannot use.
To this end, I decided that all cards in the deck would be creature cards, which could be played face down as resource cards (a design choice used by Duel Masters and Kaijudo). By doing this instead of having dedicated creature cards and dedicated resource cards, it would minimize the chance of drawing a resource when player doesn't need one or a creature when a player doesn't need one. It was my goal that players mostly lose because of what they do with their cards, rather than what cards they draw.
The number of possible actions a player can take in a turn can be said to really determines the amount of skill being asked of them. If a player has to choose one of three possible actions there is little skill, insight and judgment being asked of them. However if a player is being asked to choose ten actions out of a possible twenty, then each one has to be considered and weighed against all the others in a kind of messy matrix of 184,756 possibilities (which some players love by the way, again it just depends what your design goal is).
In my case, I restrict the play to having a maximum of three creatures on the board at any time, each creature has four abilities, and players may only use one ability from each creature each turn. So players are restricted to using three abilities, each of those being from a pool of four, resulting in 64 possibilities (4 x 4 x 4). I feel comfortable with this as a starting point for complexity to be analyzed through play-testing and a good demand of skill that does not yet feel oppressive even for newer players. Feel free to throw fruit at me if my math is off here.
Finally I decided that I would distribute the game as entire blocks of approximately 300 card sets. Fantasy Flight Games calls this model a Living Card Game, and others sometimes call it an expanding card game. This means that players can acquire complete sets of cards, with no random booster packs or rare cards.
This was partly because card games which attempt the booster pack model often do poorly, as it requires too much player investment and turns players off (other than the few juggernaut titles). But this decision also levels the playing field more as all players new and experienced have access to the same cards with which to build their decks, meaning new players can expect a reasonable chance of winning the occasional game against more experienced players.