Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Planning Mechanics

I love it when a good plan comes together; I just wish I'd had one a few months ago!

I'm going to reiterate a bit of previous stuff to show why seeding mechanics is so difficult if you don’t have a deliberate strategy.

Previously, I mentioned that I had a ridiculously low quantity of common cards that play into the “token” theme, yet thought I was right on the money. How could I have been so off-track??

If you look at the roadmap for mechanics I gave in the last article, you’ll see that my new target is 38 cards that are part of the “tokens” theme. I also said that I figure roughly 60% of the cards in a theme should be at common. (In this case, I’m actually going with 55% at common.)
Tokens: 38 cards
Target: 55% of these at common
Total target for common cards in theme: 21 cards

How many did I actually have at common?
18 cards.

18 cards instead of 21 – not bad for having worked without a plan, right? And yet something went wrong – we never had enough tokens in our games to use the cool effects that relate to tokens…And I had to dig a bit deeper to find out why:
Tokens theme: 18 cards (yay!)
Cards that generate tokens: 5 (doh!)
Cards that punish tokens: 8 (double-doh!)
Cards that leverage/reward tokens: 5

So my roadmap has to contain more detail than just “qty of cards with mechanic X”. I actually have to identify – for each mechanic – how many cards have the mechanic; how many punish/prevent it; and how many reward/leverage it. And figure out (through trial and error) what makes for a good balance in these categories (generate/punish/reward).

And that’s the real subtlety (or at least it was too subtle for me to realize intuitively):It isn't good enough to say "There are 18 cards in the token theme at common", because it matters what those cards are doing with the theme.

Instead of having 13 common cards that generate tokens, I had only 5! Not only that: instead of a mere 3 that punish (i.e. destroy) tokens, I had 8! Ouch!

I hope this is of some use to somebody out there. I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into my set already, and now I have a bunch more ahead of me to shape it into what I really want it to be. If I’d planned better up front, I would be much further along now.

(Having said all that, I had to go through a certain amount of brainstorming-type design simply to hit on mechanics/themes that I liked enough to build a set around. But I should have switched to “planning” mode way earlier on…)


Behrooz said...

I remember MaRo mentioning that if they wish to push a mechanic, they'd have ZERO cards that punish it.

Might be something to consider - you need some 'safety valves' of course, but if you want to let people have fun with a mechanic, you don't want to bifurcate the metagame...

Johnny GoTime said...

Hi Behrooz, thanks for reading!

I hear what you're saying, I admit that I included the "mechanic-punisher" cards more out of a fear of a pro player breaking the set than from a genuine desire to play with them...

It's been a month since my last playtest group; I'll pay attention to the "hosers" at the next one and see how it's going.