I’m Ken Nagle, Design lead for Transformers TCG. Now that you’re well into your War for Cybertron: Siege I boosters, cards, characters, and decks, I want to tell a story about the design of a couple of those cards. Hopefully this will show some of our design process and the level of detail we try to hit with each of our cardboard pieces of art and science, and how it evolves.
A Tale of Two Cards
Let’s rewind the clock back, way back to the old times of August, 15, 2018. This is the date I created a new decklist in our internal database to test Wave 3 cards. That’s right – we work somewhere between 9 months to a year in advance because of our physical timelines. I was originally just going to show this decklist, but there’s more going on here than just a collection of cards.
Sergeant Cog // Heavy Force Defensebreaker
Private Flak, Private Top Shot
Grimlock – Dinobot Leader
3 Improvised Shield
3 Force Field
3 Grenade Launcher
3 Power Punch
3 Energy Pack
3 Backup Bag
3 Emergency Defense Field
3 Reckless Charge
3 Treasure Hunt
3 Backup Plan
3 Work Overtime
3 Peace Through Tyranny
1 Scavenge the Battlefield
First, let’s go over everything that’s going on here:
- I’ve bolded the above cards that are in Wave 3. During testing, we heavily emphasis getting what I call “table time” to characters and battle cards from the currently in-design wave.
- I have a sideboard slot between Private Flak and Private Top Shot. At the time, we knew we wanted one of them to be 4 stars and the other to be 5 stars, but we weren’t sure which one was which.
- Almost all my playtest decks are like this. I can “hot swap” one or more characters quickly get playtest data on multiple teams. There’s a saying around here for game balance – “You can get 80% of the way balanced in the first 20% of effort.” Even though there’s also the shuffle of the deck, who goes first, and everything my opponent is playing that’s throwing noise into my data, we’re professionals at honing in on our targets very quickly despite all that.
- For speed’s sake during data entry, my battle decks are 13 cards with 3-of and a singleton for the 40th slot.
- The Wave 3 cards are constantly changing! If you’re perceptive, try to find the card that sticks out the most as being “wrong.”
- Including all that, this deck is also trying to use Backup Bag in a fancy way to keep Grenade Launcher, Power Punch, and Force Field on your character for multiple turns. It can also use Scavenge the Battlefield to keep Heavy Force Defensebreaker.
- I brought this deck to Origins 2019 to play any and all comers.
While designing Wave 3, we had the Battle Master dual card type working relatively quickly. They are small characters starting in Bot mode that KO into Weapon mode. This is in line with the toy line.
We also needed a “Weaponizer”-style character. In the toy line, a Weaponizer is a large-sized character that breaks apart into multiple weapons, enough to outfit a whole team of other characters. We wanted to mimic that, but we didn’t quite know how. The most obvious choice is the Weaponizer is oversized compared to the Battle Master. We settled on Cog as the character, and made him a Super since he’s the only Weaponizer and no matter what, he’s going to end up fancy and complex to get across the “Weaponizer” part.
We first tried an ability to go find Weapons in your deck at the start of the game and put them under Cog. When Cog becomes a Weapon, it also puts those other Weapons onto your other characters. So, a literal interpretation of the toys. This version was 13 stars, but we’re very wary of removing all of the randomness from the game starting on turn 1. Also 13 stars felt too high for a character that was to “outfit the team” – too often Cog was simply the final character left and never got to do his thing.
The next iteration is what he ended up with – you draw cards and then can upgrade your characters, but at least it’s going to be different each game what happens. We pulled the stars down to 10 so you can play up to 3 of the small characters in Wave 3 if you’re so inclined. After testing 10 stars at 5 attack and +5 attack, we settled on 4 attack and +4 attack since that basically guarantees Heavy Force Defensebreaker is the best weapon in the game. Playtesting all the cards in Wave 3 had shown we had to go out of our way to make sure Battle Masters and this Weaponizer where better than the Weapon you already had, since it’s not a choice to attach the Weapon mode and scrap your old weapon.
That’s the backstory of how we tried to get Cog to mimic the physical toy, but in game terms.
If you’re perceptive, you probably spotted Energy Pack in the above deck being very out-of-place. After all, it only goes on 11+ star characters so it just doesn’t work in my deck. However, at this time, Energy Pack went on 10+ star characters. It’s also our first +health card. Here’s all the things going on with Energy Pack:
- Now that we’re into Set 3 of the game, there’s a real metagame. In general, players gravitate towards building mono-orange or mono-blue. Additionally, the wider your team the more push towards orange, and the taller your team the more push towards blue. As a consequence, there’s room for what I’ll call “format pressure” cards that fill in gaps.
- Energy Pack is specifically trying to be a “Tall Orange” card. Meaning you only have large characters but you’re also playing orange cards. You can probably find other examples if you look for them.
- From the beginning, we felt that +health is a relatively complicated stat to just throw around willy-nilly. Just yesterday, we answered a rules question about Energy Pack – it just gives health, it doesn’t actually remove damage counters from your character.
- We’re very afraid of decks that can repair their characters to full health every turn. This can easily lead to games that never actually end. It’s not really a game then, more of an exercise in frustration, busy work, or a staring contest. While we aren’t willing to repair 4 damage from a character in almost any situation, Energy Pack giving +4 health is not actually repairing 4 damage. You can’t stack them up. If Energy Pack is removed, your character might get KO’d right then. For all these reasons, we like what Energy Pack is doing.
- A final reason for Energy Pack is we felt that large characters were having difficulty in our playtesting against the new black icon in Wave 3. We weren’t entirely sure if black icons would be “the hero” or “the villain”, but their guaranteed nature had us searching for a way for a large character to not get pierced to death by several small characters with black icons. Energy Pack may exactly address this, but it’s more than capable of buying a large character another turn against Pierce 3.
- Numerically, we felt +2 health wasn’t impactful enough, +3 was about right. However, there are some very dangerous 10-star characters that can wear an Energy Pack, as my deck above demonstrates. As part of the metagame cementing, there feels like a breakpoint of sorts at 11 stars. If you have two 11-star characters, it’s impossible to play a 3rd character because there’s no 3-star character at all in the game – you’ll be looking for star battle cards like Bolt of Lightning that I previewed here. For this reason, as loose as it may be, we settled on Energy Pack for 11+ star characters to help that breakpoint a little more.
Today we’ve taken a trip back one year to a deck I made. It’s not just a deck, it’s an insight into the many moving parts of how we create new cards for the game. This article is the condensed version – we skipped over character selection, card concepting, art commission, editing, and rules reviews. I hope you’ve been enlightened about the kind of work and care we take in making this game for you.
Until next time, may your efforts bear fruit in one year’s time.