Great Designer Search 2 : Original Content, Do Not^H^H^H Steal – 04

(Actually, for all contest designers that might’ve stumbled onto this blog, everything in here’s under a CC license anyhow. GO AHEAD AND USE THIS. Just do me the courtesy of crediting me when you do~ It’s not necessary, but it is polite.)

Mark Rosewater, back in GDS1, and presumably still in GDS2, hinted that he was looking for that bit of innovation. Something in the veins of Double-Strike, itself invented by a Create-a-Card contest entry. A simple, yet elegant rethinking to current and historical design paradigms that would make card interactions just that much better, or that much more elegant, or just something new and unprecedented.

I think I have something.

I was discussing with a friend (hi ILF) about mechanics design for his custom set. Alas, he didn’t make it past the cutoffs for Round 1, but what he lacked in the essay department, he’s got some very useful tools developed in his actual template. More’s the pity that Wizards’ll not be looking at it this round – if there’s ever a GDS3, I think I’ll help him refine his approach.

But that’s neither here nor there. What’s actually relevant is that his capacitor-inspired mechanics gave me an inspiration. Right now, the keyboard mechanic paradigm is in two parts, based on string-length (augh, I’ve been playing with Python too much):

Type 1: Flying, First Strike, Metalcraft, etc. Single-word or single-phrase keyboards symbolizing a set of actions or rules.

Type 2: Bushido [Value], Madness [Cost], etc. Action + Modifier, symbolizing either a reiteration of an interaction, a cost of the interaction, or an increased value of the interaction.

I actually vastly prefer Type 2 to Type 1, though both are necessary to cover the phase-state of possible mechanic designs. But the modularity of Type 2 mechanics lends itself to far greater flexibility in design and far more intricate and elegant mechanical interactions. But while Type 2 mechanics greatly increases the size of your toolbox, there still remains plenty of design space it doesn’t touch. Furthermore, when you try to stretch Type 2 mechanics to cover a breadth of design that otherwise requires full-length ability texts, you get shite like Chroma, which can’t decide what it wants to do, only that it vaguely involves color.

So, here’s what I’ve figured out – a third design paradigm that stretches the keyword mechanics space juuuust a little farther:

Type 3: Action + Modifier + “Object” – The keyword action, the modifier that determines its value… and the “object” that modifier affects or is affected by.

Examples are better than explanations, even if both are basically walls of text. For Longhai, here’s my idea of how a Type 3 mechanic cycle might work.

Whitecard: Tribute – 2 Life (During the beginning of your first main phase, you gain the Tribute value)

Bluecard: Tribute – 1 Card (During the beginning of your first main phase, you gain the Tribute value)

Blackcard: Tax – 1 Card (During the beginning of your first main phase, target opponent pays the Tax value)

Redcard: Tax – 2 Damage (During the beginning of your first main phase, target opponent pays the Tax value)

Greencard: Tribute – 3 Mana (During the beginning of your first main phase, you gain the Tribute value)

So there’s two keywords on display here, and its iteration in all five colors is stupid-easy to comprehend. When the Tribute/Tax ability is relevant, you gain or lose based on its value and object. And neither Tribute nor Tax is bound by color, really – White can easily have Tax – 1 Permanent as a powerful and devastating pseudo-Vindicate a turn. Blue might need an entire different keyword – Restrict – 1 Creature – to indicate a tapping, for example, but the general concept, I think, is pretty darn sound, pretty blatant in execution, and dead simple.

I think it’s really, really elegant! I’m kind of excited about using it – think Tax’ll replace Infect, cause a rewrite of Exchange, and bring me back down to only one old mechanic – always a good thing.

There’s also potential for a Type 3.5 mechanic design, in which the keyword and modifier are affected by a list of parameter conditions. I’ve only now thought of this, as I’m writing this paragraph, and haven’t really toyed with it yet, but needless to say my dabbling into programming has a clear and beneficial effect here… Thanks, Vornicus, for teaching me Python~

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~ by Gonzo Mehum on October 12, 2010.

9 Responses to “Great Designer Search 2 : Original Content, Do Not^H^H^H Steal – 04”

  1. So, um. How would you categorize, for instance, Cumulative Upkeep, or Cycling, or (for a more complex example) Suspend?

  2. Type 2. Ability, Modifier/Cost. Some examples get REALLY weird with their effects – Cumulative Upkeep builds upon itself, for example. But in principle, they’re part of the Type 2 design space, if on the peripheries, working mainly off of one parameters, with fulltext modifiers in-card to affect the details of their implementation.

  3. I’m confused them. What’s the difference between a type 2 and type 3? Your description of those other abilities as type 2 — especially when cumulative upkeep, among others there, can be life (see Glacial Chasm) — makes me wonder if there’s something I’m missing about Tax and Tribute that make them a type 3.

  4. Actually, cumulative upkeep probably /is/ a Type 3 mechanic design, now that I think about it. I’m used to thinking of it in terms of static mana costs, but it /has/ been linked with other resources, huh? My main differentiation between Type 2 and Type 3 is the flexibility of the second parameter. …actually, that isn’t quite right either.

    Argh. Answering this after I finished the test questions makes my head hurt.

    Okay, basically: Type 2 has one parameter effecting the mechanic. Type 3 has a parameter affecting the /parameter/ affecting the mechanic.

  5. As someone relatively unversed in Magic mechanics and games, I’m guessing that if someone wanted to build a Tax/Tribute deck, they could basically create gamestates similar to the Vise/Rack (or whatever the combination was that punished you if you had fewer than four cards or punished you if you had more than three.) where an opponent could be exhausted, decked, and defeated without actually having been able to, well, do anything. Perhaps Magic has resolved itself into a game of “first strike wins”, and is deliberately about finding the holes in the mechanics to allow for someone to say, “I play this, and you die. No, you don’t have any way of surviving it.”

    So, I guess what I’m asking is twofold, and they’re probably not actually design questions – 1) Is there any room in the game for casual players to have a shot, even against the highly hardcore, and (2) If there isn’t, how exactly do you expect the new mechanic to get people to join up (as the hardcore players will no doubt buy plenty to experiment on.)?

  6. A Tax/Tribute lockdown deck probably isn’t feasible for the simple reason of sheer cost. Actually, what would be hilarious is if there was some hugely overcasted Tax cards that can nonetheless be eventually winnowed out with Exchange, thereby allowing a convulated way for a newbie to the game that’s nonetheless excited about the game to eventually lock down an eight-man multiplayer game, and cast mercy and vengeance like a mad magistrate upon his or her peers.

    There needs to be a tall, Chinese hat involved. Maybe as an equipment. Maybe an actual hat.

    However, the actual answer: Tribute is anti-Tax. Tax is anti-Tribute. Only Tax has the inherent design space to lock opponents out – whereas newbies’ll probably rather like Tribute’s inherent buff mechanics… Either way, the tension between competitive and casual design is a legitimate concern, but one that can only be addressed by fine-tuning the set after everything’s been laid out first.

  7. Fair enough. I just wanted to see whether or not your were keeping casual players in mind when designing or not, because I suspect that WotC wants them and new people to join and get into the craze a little bit more than just to keep all the people they’ve already got.

    I do like the mechanic’s simplicty and ease. Are cards with this attribute going to require additional mana cost to activate their abilities, be inherent abilities to cards, or mostly be instants?

  8. One of the binding things about Madness and Bushido is that the parameter is just a number — the same is true of Rampage, Scry, Fateseal, Modular, Soulshift, Dredge, Bloodthirst, Graft, Ripple, Absorb, Frenzy, Poisonous, Devour, and Annihilator. For other things – Cycling, Cumulative Upkeep, Kicker, etc – the parameter is typed: mana, or life, or cards, or I seem to recall something with CU that gets paid in removing +1/+1 counters, of all things. Then you’ve got Reinforce, which takes a number and a cost!

    I kinda like poking through the rules book once in a while.

  9. http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=4505 <— found it!

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