Pssssst… Wanna know a secret?
All right. I’ve got some top shelf Secret Actions to show off to you. And because you’re such a good customer, I’m going to give you a sweet deal. Three secret actions for the price of one.
Are you ready?
Here you go…
BAM! BAM!! BAM!!!!!!
(That joke never gets old)
OK, OK, I do have three pretty cool secret actions to share with you, but first I want to share some theory about secret action design and about Transformers TCG design in general.
Let me begin by asking a question. What was the most important battle card in Wave 1?
Here’s my choice:
You can argue that another card might have been more important, but I think you would be hard-pressed to argue that Force Field wasn’t at least among the top 3.
Why is that? I believe it’s because it’s an inherently non-linear card. It scales in effectiveness based on how much damage you can expect your opponent to do. It might prevent 10 damage. It might do nothing at all.
Contrast this with armored plating, which while never exciting, is at least consistent.
Cards like Force Field put pressure on the extremes towards the middle. They say “Sure, you could go mono-orange hyper bold and try to swing for double-digits every turn, but there are so many Force Fields around, maybe you should run some blue since your damage will be capped half the time anyway.” (By the way, if Wave 1 had ended up blue heavy instead of orange heavy, the most important card might have been Piercing Blaster instead). The less the game is about stacking maximum offense vs maximum defense, the more important other cards become and the more room there is for nuance and outplays. Interestingly, this pressure towards the middle also makes simple linear cards like Armored Plating more impactful. A difference of one defense vs double digit attack is almost negligible, but against a swing of 4 or 5 becomes meaningful.
Now consider Defensive Formation and Dampening Field. We see the same linear vs non-linear contrast. Defensive Formation will always be worth one defense, while Dampening Field might be worth nothing, or (against a really bold deck) might be equivalent to +5 Defense.
The great part about Secret Actions is that there’s an additional dimension at play here. You’re looking to deduce your opponent’s optimal strategy and play your Secret Action at the perfect time to wreck them, or at least make them fear getting wrecked so much that they take a sub-optimal line of play. Meanwhile, they’re trying to get a read on how punishing the secret action will be for them and whether they have a counterplay.
As the person playing the Secret Action, you want your opponent to be constantly questioning whether they’re calling your bluff or walking into your trap.
Having non-linear cards that are very strong in narrow circumstances goes a long way towards creating this pattern, but what truly brings it all together are the linear cards that always have a baseline effect. This gives you twice as many opportunities to “get” your opponent. The mere existence of cards that give you consistent value makes the highly non-linear cards more effective because your opponent has to account for the case of them trying to outplay your Dampening Field and instead hitting Defensive Formation, making their “outplay” all for naught.
Best Kept Secrets
Enough with the appetizers, here (finally) are three exciting non-linear Secret Actions that play along three entirely different axes.
At its core, the Transformers TCG is about giant robots smashing into each other. The base game play to create that feeling is to draw a card, play an action, play an upgrade, and then attack. We love seeing inventive decks that push the boundaries in one direction or another. It can be exciting and powerful, but those areas are also where there is the most danger, both because those areas of gameplay are where the game is more likely to be broken, and because if you spend too much time on the boundaries, you can lose the spirit of the core.
Drawing a few extra cards is a healthy part of the game. Drawing a ton of extra cards can lead to degenerate and uninteractable games. So, we like to print cards from time to time that exert some pressure back towards core Transformers play. Hijack is one of them. The “fairer” your opponent is playing, the worse it is. But, if they’re going nuts with Equipment Enthusiast or their Shockwave deck is wrecking you with System Reboot, Hijack will be an unpleasant surprise for them.
Sometimes Dampening Field isn’t enough, or your aiming for a total blowout rather than half measures. If your opponent is reliably getting Bold 5 or better, Overheat is going to make them regret getting out of bed that morning. This only works against the boldest of bold decks, but let’s just say it’s not a coincidence that there’s a car in the art.
The best part is that the counterplay to this card is to not even play your bold cards, which makes the guessing game I talked about in the previous section so much more punishing when you choose poorly.
For the cost of being more all-or-nothing, Overheat also doesn’t punish you for being heavy tough, so you’re much more likely to completely blank an attack if you time this right.
Finally, Swerve is an entirely different kind of non-linear. It’s not looking to punish your opponent for going “out of bounds”. Instead it’s like a magnifier of your own characters. I’m very excited to see what you all do with this one.
Will you run it with Bluestreak for guaranteed defensive turtle?
Will you run it with Metroplex to up your defense and deploy faster?
Will you run it with Bumblebee, Trusted Lieutenant to get an action played at a surprising time?
Will you run it with Nemesis Prime to get some extra damage out there.
The sky’s the limit. I look forward to seeing what combos your creativity produces.