Welcome back to Robots in Design. I’ve got a couple of star cards to preview today, so I’m going to kick it off with a look at how we design star cards.
As we were closing in on the final form of the core game system we went through several quick evolutions. There was a brief time where the teams were always characters and all characters had equal power. That quickly gave way to a star team building system that you would recognize, starting with 10 total stars and moving upwards to 20, and then finally settling at 25. Note that we weren’t changing the size of our expected teams, just rescaling their star values. The character who would become Optimus Prime, Battlefield Legend started at 5 stars, went up to 10, and then settled at 13 during this same time.
This progression in stars was primarily driven by a balance between resolution (how accurately can we express the strength of a character in a limited range of star values) and math processing (how much are we taxing our players to build their teams. To many of you, that second factor might not seem that important, but you must remember three things:
- We designed the game to be accessible to kids as young as 8 years old.
- Up-front complexity is the most likely to keep a new game from “sticking”. People are much better at single-digit math, so we chose a range where the majority of characters would be 10 or fewer stars.
- You get diminishing returns with increased resolution. At some point, the precision of the measurement is finer than your accuracy. If we had had a 100-star scale, I doubt that the design team would have been able to reliably distinguish whether a 35-star character was stronger or weaker than a 36-star character.
Even with the 10-star scale, we had no 1-star characters, as we knew a 10-character team would not lead to a fun play experience. The idea of star battle cards was there almost from the beginning, but we always planned to save it for the second set. The amount of power that you could have in a one-star battle card was one of the drivers that helped push the star total to 25.
Star cards walk a delicate line. We want them to be powerful enough that you are happy using them to fill out your ideal 22 or 23-star team but not so strong that you’re tempted to run something silly like a 15-star team with 10 star cards. (And yes, we’ve seen and been amused by the discussions online about running a 4-star character and 21 star cards). We want them to be swingy enough that you’re excited to draw them but not so much that a game feels like all that matters is who played the most star cards.
Star cards are a lot of fun to make. The fact that they are self-limiting means we can take a lot more risks in their design and that we can play with effects that are exciting in small doses but scale problematically.
This brings us at last to the first of our preview cards. In Wave 1, one of the most important cards was Force Field. In Rise of the Combiners, I was trying to design a slightly weaker Force Field with a different feel. Unfortunately, it ended up being even stronger (way too much stronger) and got cut from the set. We toned it down a bit and tried it again in War for Cybertron: Siege I, and it was still too good. It got cut again. Finally, in Siege II it gets to see the light of day. Walk through the fire with Blast Suit.
This card is remarkably efficient. If your opponent is swinging for less than 10, it prevents more damage than Force Field does. If you’ve set it up with a Backup Bag as well, it’s a real beating. As another point of comparison, Medic! will repair you 2 damage with one card play. If your opponent is attacking for at least 3 damage, Blast Suit will save you at least that much damage. Finally, Raider Needlenose is Blast Suit’s best friend. Recurring the Blast Suit will give him incredible durability and let you draw out the game to continue accumulating advantage.
Our second preview comes out of the paradox of interaction. We want there to be a healthy amount of interaction in the game. There should be plays and counterplays. Gambits that pay off and those that crash and burn. The challenge is that too much/too easy interaction can be almost as frustrating as no interaction. Because the Transformers TCG has no mana/resource system (we’re action based), it is possible to have lines of play where nothing “sticks”.
Data Pad? Ramming Speed.
Force Field? Bashing Shield.
Noble’s Blaster? Vaporize it.
Full Loadout a bunch of Upgrades? Inferno sends them all back.
Even when you get some incremental value from the initial use of your upgrades, play patterns like this lead to people feeling frustrated that they can’t progress their board state. When you just want your opponent to leave your stuff alone and let you play with your shiny toys, I highly recommend you bust out Indestructible Sword.
Don’t think of it as a Primary Laser. Think of it as a Primary Laser that NEVER GOES AWAY. Even if the character is KO’d, it still comes back. Also, it’s yet another double black battle icon to ensure that one way or another, you’re going to be getting some damage through.
I hope you’re enjoying preview season. We’ve got a lot of exciting reveals still to come, so enjoy your discussion of Blast Suit and Indestructible Sword while keeping an eye out for more.