More thoughts on Digital Card Games

Anyone who has been reading my blog for a while knows a few things: I really like Solforge, and I really like thinking out loud about game design. Combine the two and you get a sort of unofficial, impromptu series about digital card games.  This is going to be looking at elements of games in an online space.

At the end of the day, MTGO has one problem that will never, ever be overcome. Magic: the Gathering is a terrible game to play online cause the most common action you do is hit a button passing priority. It’s boring and produces misclicks. You can’t really do anything else that doesn’t mangle the game in the process, since even DoTP suffers from the problem to some extent. And everyone else has instead decided that you should only be able to do things on your turn. There’s no reason why it has to be that way. Case in point: Dominion

Dominion has a fair amount of potential interaction, mainly in it’s Reaction cards and some attack cards. Isotropic showed that Dominion as a game works well enough with limited interaction. The biggest problem was always waiting on someone who was afk. Now Dominion is arguably not the best example given the nature of how decks are made, it’s all open knowledge. The point being that on some level it does work well enough. This does demonstrate the key problem: the need to maintain hidden information and having an impartial, impersonal interface. Although let’s be clear here: the problem is quantity of clicking and how that can produce mistakes. Spending time is no different than any game in real life where someone is making a decision. This has the question become: so what does work?

Answer: something that has minimal amount of clicking in order to minimize players zoning out and clicking through something they wanted while at the same time gives the design space of being able to act when it isn’t your turn. I feel like something along those lines exist in some fashion already: the very, very basic rules of FFG’s LCGs. In particular I am referring to the Response keyword. For those who are unfamiliar it’s how they already work in things at “instant speed” and on board tricks. It’s at best a subset of cards within any supertype and is sparsely used. The trick going forward would be to operate on self imposed in order to stop the game from becoming MTGO.

At the end of the day is all speculation though, I don’t have a fully minted prototype to test out these ideas. It’s just something that game designers should keep in mind going forward.

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Review: Battlestar Galactica: Pegasus, Exodus, Daybreak

This is going to be different than my other reviews in that I’m reviewing three things at once. As such, I’m eschewing the normal format.  Let’s get cracking.

What do all of these things have in common?: They all cover an additional season of the show and add new cards, characters and mechanics. Base BSG is a very balanced game and these expansions do mess up that balance, although not noticeably in most cases. The trade off is that they add variety and fix some problems, or at least try to from the base game.

What gets added: New cards for each deck, seven new characters,  a new skill deck called Treachery, a different end game that goes to New Caprica, a new sympathsizer mechanic called Cylon Leaders.

Treachery: Treachery represents bad stuff. It only goes from 1-3 in strength and it’s abilities can only be used by revealed Cylons. They also work hand in hand with the Reckless mechanic: there are sill cards that can make a check reckless in exchange for triggering Treachery cards that have skill check abilities.

New characters:   1 for each role plus three Cylon Leaders

New Caprica: this tries to represent the Cylon occupation of New Caprica.

Other random stuff: Executions are added as well as the Battlestar Pegasus board.

How does it work?:  Alright, it has problems though. First of all Helena Cain is broken, her OPG is the single most powerful one in the game by blanking an entire jump cycle and her draw invalidates Adama and Tigh as Military Leaders. Banning her is eaiser than trying to come up with a fix that’s actually rewarding. Treachery and Reckless work well enough except for one point: humans have control over when things are Reckless, this means that those abilities rarely come up. Cylon Leaders have the main problem of their Agendas being terribly designed, most of them only work with New Caprica. There’s no suspense in Agendas so it just means that one team has a solid member from the beginning. Speaking of, New Caprica is a radically different game than the rest of BSG and is highly unthematic, but it’s different, which can be nice. All in all, it’s ambitous and while it falls short it is playable.

 What it adds: New cards, new characters, Cylon Fleet Board, Conflict Loyalties, Ionian Nebula.

New cards: Power creep summarizes most of them rather well. It adds 0 strength cards which are so insanely swingy. 6 strength cards which are either insanely powerful or laughably bad. Crisis and Quorum cards are also powerful. Destinations throw out any semblance of balance and are crazy.

New characters:  Are by and large terrible. Tory is incredibly busted, Gaeta is alright, while his OPT serves as a sort of quasi loyalty at every jump I haven’t seen it really come up. Anders is so laughably bad. Cally is just toxic to gameplay and not fun to have in a game.

Cylon Fleet Board: Is hands down the best part of this expansion. It replaces Cylon Attack Cards with the Cylon fleet board, which creates an always present threat of Cylon ships. It’s a nice change of pace but plays really poorly in anything that isn’t a 5 player game.

Conflicted Loyalties: Rarely come up. There are two kinds: Final Five and Personal Goals. The former punish zealous examination of loyalty, which only comes up if the person has a title. The latter requires sub optimal play in order to save yourself a resource at the end of the game. The biggest problem is that it seeks to correct the problem created with executions. It adds an extra card to the loyalty deck, which means there can be only 1 cylon. Nothing is worse than having a 1 cylon game…or a no cylon game with 4 players for that matter.

Ionian Nebula: In order to represent all of the horrible stuff that happens to the people on this ship, as well as the fact that there are other people on the ship, trauma and allies are introduced. It’s a neat concept: except it doesn’t play out so well in practice and the very existence of disaster trauma and their executions are horrible.

How does it work?: Poorly. The cylon fleet board is the only really redeeming element that this expansion has to offer. Everything else is either bad design or the product of crazy power creep that only works in narrow circumstances. You can skip this and not miss much.

What it adds: New crises, skill cards, crisis cards, Mutineer, Earth, characters, revamp to Cylon Leader and Treachery.

New cards: Are all around good. They play well and are well designed.

New Characters: These are all over the place, some of them are are broken, others are terrible.

Mutineer: Is a new mechanic that uses the Mutiny deck, a deck that plays like the Quorum deck in many ways except all of the effects are double edged. Get too mutinous, get brigged. There’s also the new sympathsizer mechanic called Mutineer based around it.

Earth: The new destination that done’st do anything really special with the endgame or change up the gameplay in any radical way. It makes the game go to 10 distance but it adds in Missions and the Demetritius that effectively make it a wash.

Revamped stuff: Treachery and Cylon Leaders now work a lot better.

How does it stand up: Well aside from the not insignificant fact that the expansion seems to hate progress and games ending in a timely fashion, this is really good. It improves on all the problems with Pegasus and makes things have meaningful interactions and games.

Well there’s the long and short of how I view the BSG expansions. If yo uhave any further questions, feel free to ask in the comments.