I’m Ken Nagle, Design Lead for Transformers TCG. Now that we’re just before War for Cybertron: Siege II previews and you’ve already got 3 Waves of boosters, cards, characters, and decks, I want to discuss a problem. It’s something I have to deal with on a daily basis. And there’s no cure.
Games Over Time
Invariably, when you play a game over and over, it will get stale. It’s human nature to get bored of the same thing. Moreover, a trading card game with fundamental deckbuilding has a discovery element to it that will also eventually run its course. What’s the cure?
More cards. It solves more than one problem at the same time. It keeps players entertained and Wizards of the Coast in business. But there’s a mounting cost to all this.
If we keep adding to the game, the players who consumed all the content leading up to the present are happy. However, every new player entering the game now has a bigger complexity hurdle to jump over to get up to speed. The bigger the gap between seasoned player and new player, the less likely they are to have fun, see eye-to-eye, or stay engaged. Players are doing their own matchmaking after all. We call this increasing complexity “Complexity Creep” and it’s inevitable in as games add more content.
Let’s just outline it. Let’s say you’re a “I love Transformers!” kind of person and there’s a new game, the Transformers TCG. Here’s what you need to learn for Wave 1:
- Begin with a starter deck and/or buy boosters for cards.
2. Build/modify a deck.
3. Card types – Character, Action, Upgrade.
4. Turn order – Draw, Action play, Upgrade play, flip, Attack, Defend, flip. Untap.
5. Traits – Leader, Melee, Ranged, Specialist, Tank, Plane, Car, Truck, Motorcycle, Spaceship, Dinobot, Insecticon
6. Battle icons: Orange battle icon, Blue battle icon, White battle icon
7. Keywords: Bold, Tough, Pierce
8. Cards: 40 characters, 81 battle cards
Wow, that was plenty to learn, but remember this is a relatively simple game (in my professional opinion).
OK, that’s great. I’ve been playing for a while now, I have an Autobot deck, a Decepticon deck, and maybe a couple more, like Dinobots or Insecticons. I played all my friends and we’ve made many assumptions about the game. While it’s fun to play, our interest is starting to wane.
Wave 2 is here! Here we go with ONLY the additional content:
- Green battle icons
2. Combiners and Enigmas: Aerialbots, Stunticons, Sentinels, Predacons, Dinobots, Dreadwing
3. Keywords: Plan, Star battle cards
4. Cards: 46 characters, 81 battle cards
Yikes! Those Combiners are crazy! I’m surprised and delighted. There’s now twice as many cards in the game!
From the design side, a powerful part of the trading card game design is the problem space/possibility space grows geometrically with every new card added. There’s plenty of games where this is the opposite – there’s only so many spaces that can fit on a Monopoly board. There’s only so many buttons that can be added to a video game’s user interface. Since the medium of delivery and anatomical unit of a trading card game is a card, only the cards currently in the decks matter, but you can pick from all the cards in your collection. It’s quite marvelous.
- Black battle icons
2. New Characters: Micromasters – tap ability, Battle Masters
3. Keywords: Focus, Secret Actions
4. Cards: 48 characters, 64 battle cards
I’m not mentioning the extra stuff like Starters, Ancillaries, and Convention boosters. The game continues to grow! There are new rules – a banned list, sideboards, formats. Perhaps you’ve customized the game further yourself with your own 100 points vs 100 points epic battles or played a group multiplayer game.
We’ve come so far. That’s a lot of cards, art, characters, battles, games, and stories made socializing with your friends.
Let’s say we wanted to go the opposite of complex – a noble pursuit. One exercise I ran about this time during Wave 3 was trying to make the “simplest” deck possible. As a game designer, it’s imperative to know the complexity barrier to entry into your game. There’s also a great reason to have a deck like this on hand – I teach new people at our company either with this deck or the Starter decks.
Here is my stab at such an exercise:
Autobot Novastar – Search and Rescue
Inferno – Fearless Fighter
1 Bolt of Lightning
3 Primary Laser
3 Armored Plating
3 Handheld Blaster
3 Reinforced Plating
3 EM24 IR Laser Launcher
2 Noble's Blaster
3 Urban Camo
2 Energy Pack
3 Leap into Battle
3 Squish Them Like Bugs
3 Plasma Burst
3 Team-Up Tactics
There’s a handful of goals I wanted to meet:
The fewer characters, the simpler the deck. The game currently supports realistic teams of 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 (Constructicons!). The so-called “team of 1” Metroplex and Wave 4’s Trypticon are secretly teams of 4 just deployed over time. I feel a 2-wide team is the simplest deck to pilot.
- I’ve chosen Autobot Novastar and Inferno as my two characters. Novastar has just her stats and traits whereas Inferno can flip to shoot his “water hose” at the enemy. So it’s relatively simple to relegate your flips to only Inferno and leave Autobot Novastar in Alt mode.
- There’s a couple ways to make use of the fact they are both Autobots (Diagnosis, Noble’s Blaster) and Trucks (Team-Up Tactics). Novastar is the only character that can get both parts of Team-Up Tactics since she’s both a Car and Truck.
- I choose lots of simple blue battle cards and zero icon battle cards so the flipping part of the game is relatively simple, but not bereft of drama.
- Heavy-Handed, Squish Them like Bugs, and Energy Pack are bonuses for a having characters with large star costs.
- There’s plenty of repairing with Team-Up Tactics, Medic!, and Diagnosis to try and keep your large characters healthy.
- As far as complexity goes, the green icon on Noble’s Blaster is a hurdle. Keywords include Bold, Tough, and Pierce, and also a star cost on Bolt of Lightning. Diagnosis and Noble’s Blaster calls out the factions while Squish Them Like Bugs, Energy Pack, and Heavy-Handed call out stars.
As you can see, I didn’t quite get there on the simplest deck possible in a game of growing complexity, but at least it’s not a Combiner, Battle Master, Titan, or any other crazy Transformers we might have coming down the pipeline. At least I tried!
Today we’ve reviewed everything the game has up until this point in Wave 3. While all that together makes for a grand kitchen of ingredients to personalize your game, decks, and collection, it’s also a mounting wall of complexity creep. If you’re going to introduce a friend to play, I’ve offered a potential deck aiming very low on the complexity scale to get them started.
Next week should be around the time we start Wave 4 previews so I hope this review has you ready for some more complexity creep!
Until next time, may you enjoy the simple things in life.