Sunday, March 10, 2013

"What we're building, no one knows!"

This is how I feel about attempts to make Steamflogger Boss work:

If I were to make a list of the various questions that go through my mind as I consider the merits of a new mechanic, it would look something like this:
  1. Does it create fun gameplay?
  2. Does it work within the rules?
  3. Is it comprehensible and intuitive?
  4. Does it have sufficient design space, especially at common?
  5. Does it mesh well with the other themes of the set?
  6. Does it have resonance with the world's flavor?
  7. Does it appeal to many different kinds of players?
  8. Can it be templated with a sufficiently small word count?
  9. Is it novel?
  10. ...
This list would go on for quite some time before reaching the question:
  1. Is it backward compatible with a single rare from an unpopular set from six years ago that was created as a joke?
I understand why people want to make it happen. There's a tiny core audience that would be extremely happy to see Contraptions work. But I don't want to prioritize that audience over the large majority of players who have never heard of Steamflogger Boss.

Any attempt to make Contraptions work must stand or fall on its own merits. It must be a mechanic that we would be glad to use even if Steamflogger Boss had never been printed. Appeasing the elite few is not a worthwhile goal; it's only a bonus that you can tack on after the teeming masses are already happy.


  1. I agree with your premise, but I'm not sure about the numbers. Steamflogger Boss represents an interesting challenge, but I would've abandoned it a long time ago if I thought the audience was as narrow as you do. MaRo keeps mentioning how Contraptions are one of the things he gets the most questions about (he said top 5 in today's Making Magic). I believe that the group that emails him is more enfranchised than average, but elite is hardly the term I would use.

    I don't have the numbers, but if WotC felt it was necessary to make the guild watermarked cards in RTR fit right into a deck with watermarked cards from the original block, I don't think this situation is all that different.

    Both are about appeasing fans of old sets and the newer players they've shared their love with. I would never sacrifice a good version of Contraptions for a bad one that worked with Steamflogger Boss, but my list would put it somewhere nearer to #20.

    1. That situation is hugely different. If Steamflogger Boss were a block instead of a single card, and we were designing Return to Steamflogger Boss, then backwards compatibility would be an important concern. But it's one card! And I guarantee you, one popular rare in an unpopular set is much less memorable than one of the most beloved blocks in Magic's history.

      I think the term "elite" is actually very accurate. Magic has millions of players. Those who send e-mail to the head designer are certainly no more than 1% of the player base, and they are a highly non-representative sliver. Otherwise, Future Sight would have sold well.

    2. I mean, read what MaRo wrote about FS in his own bracket:

      [Future Sight] was meant to be an expert expansion with wide appeal. In that regard, Future Sight was a failure. It sold poorly because the majority of the audience couldn't follow it. Yes, those who understood it loved it, but that was a minority of the intended audience (although a possible majority of those enfranchised enough to follow me on social media).

      He makes it very clear that the kind of people who e-mail him about Steamflogger Boss are not representative of Magic's audience.

    3. I think the social media following is actually pretty different from the emailing group, but regardless your point stands. If we don't know the actual numbers, the fans can wait until we have better data.

    4. I'm sure that people must have e-mailed Maro about Steamflogger Boss when it was still a new card. In other words, the phrase "assemble a contraption" is so evocative that I'm sure new players who saw that also wanted to know what it was, and wanted it to be real. That kind of interest and audience reaction is different from enfranchised players tracking down old card references.

      If we attempt it because the phrase "assemble a contraption" is evocative and exciting, I'd say that's a good thing. If we make an inventive gameplay that matches the feel that those words hint at, it would be good for new and old players alike.

      If we do it merely to tickle players who know the old card Steamflogger Boss, that's a bad reason to do it as you say.

  2. To me, assembling a contraption is like the third most interesting thing to do in Magic, after assembling a deck and assembling a combo. Too bad it isn't doable yet, because it hadn't been printed! Soul Bond could have been as good, but I think they botched the execution and made it too swingy.

    To me, it has nothing to do with scoring points with people who remember some old card from Future Sight.

    1. If it has nothing to do with Steamflogger Boss, why call it "assembling a contraption" instead of "building a machine"? And why make it backwards compatible?

    2. To me, backwards compatibility is not important. I would take a "build a machine" mechanic as a compromise rather than not seeing it printed. So I guess I agree with the point of your post, that backwards compatibility should not be the point of the mechanic and the mechanic has to stand on its own merits.

      That said, "Assembling a contraption" sounds extremely inventive. I would love to be able to play with a mechanic if the game play of that mechanic captures the feeling I get from those words. If it were up to me to make some compromise, I would sooner make this compromise:

      Let's say the words "assemble" has to be used mostly on Contraptions, but can be used on Rigger cards as well. (Kind of like the way regenerate is usually on the regenerating creature itself but can also be used on creatures that regenerate others.) That might mean that contraptions don't work as closely with Riggers as was hinted, but I could care less. If necessary, I would errata Steamflogger Boss to read "Whenever a Contraption would be assembled by an ability of a Rigger" and then put the errata'd Flogger in the new set.

  3. You might as well add "Yes Virginia, there is no Santa Claus". Steamflogger Boss set out a huge design challenge, the ultimate Johnny/Melvin card. No, I don't believe they will ever actually use assemble or contraptions, at this point it would kill the mystique of the card. It might as well say "Turn all of your lead to gold" for the carrot it gives to novice designers.

    Despite its incredible hoops, contraptions will persist as the third rail of set design forever. They are too tempting, but simultaneously too difficult, to do anything but stir endless debate. Nothing can change that until that more than likely mythical day when the contraption set is actually released.

  4. Also, it's worth adding that making the assemble/contraption mechanic work with steamflogger boss is question number 2, not a million. If you're calling your mechanic Assemble instead of Build, Construct or Jury rig, it had better work with steamflogger boss as he is written. That's the challenge of the puzzle! If it doesn't work with him, you really need to pick less loaded Ability names.

    1. So don't call your mechanic Assemble. Where's the problem? They left the words Build, Construct, and Repair open. It's almost like they didn't want to use up a good word, since they knew the mechanic would never get printed.

  5. Nothing is impossible!!

    First: we need to define what a rigger is. (the card pretty much does that for us, and shows us that riggers are a new creature type.)

    Next we need to define just what a "rigger" should do. In thinking about this, what if we handled the creature type "Rigger" the same way that we would handle a keyword??


    Bird U
    Creature - Bird
    Flying (can only be blocked by flying)

    the keyword flying denotes that the creature flies.

    Leech B
    Creature - Leech
    (at the beginning of each opponents upkeep, leech deals one damage to them and you gain one life)

    This time, the ability is a function of their creature type. So that would mean that as a rule of magic, forever, whenever you had a creature that had the type of "leech" that meant that they had the above ability, just like any creature with "flying"

    The problem with this is that you need to consider that fact every time you make a leech going forward, and every leech that may already exist. but we can circumvent those issues by creating a creature type that it unique to the setting (al la the rigger.)

    So what if "Rigger" meant this:

    Every creature that is a rigger, has the following ability (because it is a function of being a rigger)

    T: assemble a contraption (to assemble a contraption, you sacrifice two artifacts, and put a 1/1 contraption artifact creature token into play under your control)

    That leads to cards like this:

    Goblin X-Welder R
    Creature - Goblin Rigger (common)
    (T: assemble a contraption. -to assemble a contraption, sacrifice two artifacts, and put a 1.1 AC OTB-)

    The common and uncommon riggers can have the reminder text, and the rare and mythic rare riggers can not. BUT ALL RIGGERS WOULD HAVE THAT ABILITY!

    also then the set can have cards like this:

    Feedback Rupture 2R
    As an additional cost to playing ~ sac an artifact.
    ~ deals 5 damage to target. Put three "Scrap" artifact tokens into play under your control.

    so for this set there can be spells that create "scrap"

    the scrap doesn't do anything, but can be used by the riggers and other creatures in the set or something.

    what do you guys think?

    1. This is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about. You started with question #1729 and ignored #1 - 1728 on the way.

    2. all im saying is that as a designer, trying to come up with mechanical reasons for the otherwise :joke" card is a fun exercise in itself.

  6. I'm of the opinion that once you make the mechanical, top down action of building a machine work, Steamflogger Boss falls in place.

    SFB is the easy piece. It's making building a machine translate that's proving difficult.

  7. Even within R&D, Aaron Forsythe's opinion of Steamflogger Boss is not shared. I'm with Ken Nagle!

  8. This is the thread I feel should be the place to put mechanic ideas about contraptions. They should just live here so that the rest of the site can continue without constantly invoking the Godwin's Law of Magic design (All discussions about new mechanics devolve into debates about Steamflogger Boss).

    Here, I'll even start:

    Assembly Goblin - 1R
    Creature - Rigger Goblin
    When ~ ETB, assemble a contraption. (Put a token that's a copy of a non-creature artifact you control onto the battlefield, except it's a Contraption in addition to its other types and it gains "When this artifact becomes tapped, sacrifice it.")


    1. This looks like a good effect.

      I wish it made artifact creatures die after combat, rather than giving them defender.

      Does the word "When ~ ETB, assemble a contraption" work with Steamflogger Boss? I was thinking it would have to be "When ~ ETB, Assembly Goblin assembles a contraption. " But I guess it's like referencing "cards exiled with ~" when the cards just say "exile a card" rather than "~ exiles a card?"

      But actually I would just errata Steamflogger Boss to work with Riggers that just say "assemble a contraption."

    2. Wobbles version specifically targets non-creature artifacts. That said:

      When ~ ETB, assemble a contraption. (Put a token that's a copy of an artifact you control onto the battlefield, except it's a Contraption in addition to its other types and has haste. At EOT, sacrifice it.)

    3. I considered that option, too. I think I wanted riggers to feel different from Kiki-Jiki, but honestly I'm sure that's a far better implementation. You don't want Contraptions to out last the original artifact, because it's too hard to track what they do.

      @chah I'm pretty sure this ability wouldn't require errata for Steamflogger Boss, because that's basically against the rules of the Steamflogger Boss Challenge.

    4. Making a group of cards that emulate one of the most beloved legends in the game's history doesn't seem like a bad thing.

    5. I really like this mechanic, but I think it'd be better to ditch the Contraption rider and make it less wordy in the process.

      When ~ enters the battlefield, Trace target artifact you control (put a token that's a copy of it onto the battlefield, except it has haste. At end of turn, sacrifice it.)

    6. It's just a question if you want it to have a unique identity. I mean, you could certainly just write the ability out if it was only on a few cards.