Monday, September 22, 2014

Weekend Art Challenge Review 091914—Code Geass

Weekend Art Challenge Review
Here's the challenge we're reviewing today.

We've seen this mechanic before, but I like it for a rebel faction that depends on numbers, anonymity and hit-and-run tactics to score victories against a better equipped foe. Tempted to remove "without maneuver" to shorten the text and make it a bit more powerful, but I'm not sure that's as intuitive. Maneuver would play best in combination with token making, can't-block effects, and creatures built to survive attacks better. It also plays into the tactical gameplay Alex wants to feature.

We've also seen overthrow before and it's still a compelling mechanic. Amusingly, it also works best in combination with the same things maneuver works best with, though for very different reasons. Like raid, it encourages attacking and the reward usually comes after combat (but can also apply to combat tracks). It replaces the conditional-bonus of raid with cost reduction, which is generally less exciting despite being very strong in practice.

I quite like the story it tells on a rebel faction—The more people we see bravely striking out against our common oppressor, the more of us will join the cause.

Blade of the People features three power of first strike which is pretty unusual for a common and I've only seen it in Modern at less than {5} on the absurd Porcelain Legionnaire. Since we also have cost reduction, I'd expect Development to shift the numbers here.

Freedom Fighter will start the revolution for {7}. Maybe other rebels will start it for more or for less. All your rebels become battle-ready soldiers when the revolution starts. That's pretty cool.

In a vacuum, this card isn't worth it to the player or the publisher. Paying {7} for +0/+2 and one can't-block effect is a terrible deal. Of course the goal is to have a bunch of rebels and flip them all for some total benefit that's worth not just the mana investment, but also the opportunity cost you paid in getting all those rebels out there without trading them off in combat or dying while you built up. Hmm, that thought combined with overthrow's flavor makes me wonder if the revolution shouldn't require a mana payment, but instead a threshold of rebels owned or attacking.

The next question is whether the revolution needs double-faced cards. Freedom Fighter could be single-sided and have two abilities: "{7}: Revolt" and "When you revolt, ~'s base toughness becomes 3. Target creature can't block this turn." That's a little different because you can revolt multiple times, but I think that's worth considering.

Led by example triggers when you attack with a creature, but only if you're also attacking with another, meaner creature. At first it seems like the creature attacking with this ability is the one, y'know, leading by example (so much so that I originally 'corrected' the ability word to "lead by example") but the only way I can make sense of this is if it's the larger creature that's leading and the guys like Inspired Protector that are following that example. That's why it's "led by." I'd suggest "Follow the leader" or something that uses an active verb rather than passive.

So, we've got a bunch of guys that get better when they attack with a bigger thing. I can see rebels being inspired by a charismatic or passionate leader, but in terms of being at their best when fighting behind a bigger badder thing, I'd actually attribute that to the oppressor's soldiers more. Mechanically, this ability only turns on when you're attacking with multiple creatures; in that way it should play like battalion, though going taller rather than wider. Unusually, led by example actually gets worse if you buff the creature it's on. You can buff the big leader guy, but then you're putting all your eggs in one basket.

This mechanic could certainly be red-green.

Partisan Saboteur's overthrow rewards you for having fewer creatures than your opponent. Given that comeback mechanics are more relevant to pulling out games than win-more mechanics, and make better stories too, that's not a bad goal. We do need to be cautious about making the same mistake as the loner mechanic from Avacyn Restored; specifically, encouraging players to put themselves in a losing position for a reward that might not save them.

This particular execution is flawed because in addition to requiring you to be in an inferior board position, it requires you to attack from that position, and can still be negated if your opponent simply chooses not to block. You have to get them low enough on life they need to block, and have enough life you can afford to attack without losing on the swing-back, all despite having fewer creatures. That's a rare enough confluence that we shouldn't try to reward it with a named mechanic.

Now, if you replace "becomes blocked" with "blocks" then you've got a mechanic that rewards you for playing defensively when you're on the defense and can help you climb out of that whole. Whether we want to reward blocking and thus punish attacking is the concern that version brings up, but we're closer when the hoop lines up with what we want to be doing in that scenario anyhow.

I'm not personally feeling the theme here because rebels are usually most interesting when they're fighting a wealthy minority on behalf of a downtrodden majority, but I can see it being justified by the story if the rebels are a minority group lashing out against an overwhelming majority society.

On Rebel Recruiter, overthrow is an ability word that's a harder version of bloodthirst but offers a variety of effects in place of just making creatures bigger. It can also trigger multiple times. I'm all for exploring variants of bloodthirst and it's nice to see a version that could even appear on spells. By making the hoop smaller, players will have to alter their playstyle more to trigger overthrow, but the fact that you can try every turn means you won't be holding back creatures to get their ETB effect like we did with bloodthirst. Presumably, most of the effects we get for triggering this once will help us to trigger it again, which sounds different, but actually plays in similar ways as bloodthirst. Interesting.

I'm not as convinced this mechanic feels like overthrowing an oppressor, or particularly rebellious. In fact, I could more readily imagine the brittanians using this mechanic to punish rebels and keep the populace under their thumb.

Abet is a weird exalted. Trading the +0/+1 for trample is actually pretty neat, keeping the game moving toward your opponent dying and away from a repetitive game state. It's the part where we tap to target a creature before it attacks that strikes me as strange. We could just making "{T}: Target creature gets [violent]", though the ability to choose after blockers are declared would complicate combat math considerably. Respecting that, you could just make the ability sorcery speed. Or you could remove the {T} entirely and make it a triggered ability like exalted. It's worth observing that as nice as this ability is, using it is considerably worse than attacking with Raid Leader a good bit of the time. As I imagine good triggers, I can't help but end up at the simplest: battle cry.

The People's Sword has a different overthrow ability word: it gets a bonus for attacking alongside a similar creature. I like that a lot, though I have to wonder if it's worth making it an ability word so that we can give different keywords or trigger effects, versus just making a keyword that always grants +N/+N. Rares could still add extra triggers, "Whenever ~ overthrows, it gains double strike until EPT."

Not sure why we're using the word 'overthrow' again here. I'd expect something more like 'coordinate' or 'cooperate' or 'solidarity' or something. That's not terrible for a rebel faction; and I like how it could be re-used in core sets and the like.

We didn't get a whole lot of submissions this week. Given the occasions I've seen you artisans rise to in the past, I doubt it was that the challenge was too hard. Perhaps some of us didn't feel much love for the set, or didn't feel like working within someone else's set. If you're just doing this for the fun of it, only you can decide what's fun for you and what's not. For those of you trying to hone your skills as a game designer, or even aiming to develop the skills that will be needed for your inevitable position in R&D, you missed a big opportunity by sitting this one out. Professional game design is all about making projects you don't otherwise care about better. That's what you get paid for. And even if you have no interest or expectation of ever being paid to make games, all game design benefits from community. Those who gave their time and energy to Alex have a reasonable expectation that others will want to help them out when they need extra input too, not because they're owed it, but because they have shown themselves to be committed to the community and worth supporting.

Once again, if you'd like to give Alex additional feedback about his set, feel free to do so on his project page at Multiverse..


  1. Did my submission not count? I guess it didn't particularly match the art. But I think the usual mention of the art wasn't in the post when I wrote my comment.

    1. I thought your submission was just as applicable as the others on the thread. But you do raise an interesting question of whether design challenges for Artisans' custom cardsets should also be art challenges or not. (In case it's not obvious, this is intended to be the first of a number of challenges where we can help each other by submitting contributions to each other's custom cardsets, for those of us who're working on such things.)

    2. Come to think of it, maybe the art could be a "bonus points if you use this art" addition? So it still acts to give people ideas, but people don't _have_ to stick to it?

    3. Ah. I missed that submission. Saw mechanics posted, but not a card. Was thrown off by the line-spacing, I guess. Adding now. Sorry about that.

  2. In my case it was a combination of what Jay stated, the overly high number of restrictions (must be common/must have a new keyword mechanic/must be red/must fit a certain flavor), and the art plainly not being very interesting.

    If it were just the art, the set themes, and no other restrictions, here's what I would have designed (not a creature!):

    Coup d'Etat 1BB
    Sorcery (R)
    Strategize 2 (2, Reveal this card from your hand: Exile a card from your hand face down. As long as that card has strategize, you may cast it from exile as though it had flash. Strategize only as a sorcery.)
    Destroy target creature. If that creature was legendary, its controller loses 3 life.

    For me CG is all about thinking two steps ahead of your opponent, tricking him into making the play that he thinks will outsmart you when you expected him to do that all along -- winning the battle before even setting foot on the battlefield. So I made a mechanic that combines the instant-speed combat relevance of Rout with a guessing game. (Strategize would appear in all colors.) The legendary-matters rider was for flavor, hopefully relevant with the overabundance of legends in the set, and only added one more line onto the card.

    1. Aha, yes! I definitely agree Code Geass needs to have a mechanic about prediction and planning. I've started a more dedicated thread on that aspect, and copied your proposal onto it for further discussion.

    2. Why do I reveal one card with strategize in my hand, to conceal another card with strategize in exile? I like the idea of planning surprise moves ahead, and I can even see a bit of mind games happening here where you get your opponent thinking the hidden card is the same as the revealed card, but the mechanic still seems constrained. If we boil it down to this, do we lose the heart?

      Strategize (When you cast ~, you may exile a card from your hand face-down. As long as that card is exiled, you may cast it as though it had flash.)

  3. Jay: I didn't contribute this week. It's not because I'm averse to working on someone else's sets, it's because I'm not familiar with the anime or this faction. Top-down design based around a specific IP is *very* challenging, and I didn't want to contribute sub-par work to a project Alex is clearly very passionate about.

    1. Mmm, it sounds like we needed a bit clearer communication about the aims here. Just like with Tesla, any GA design thread will produce an overabundance of ideas and suggestions. I'm not going to be annoyed with any suggestion even if it did happen to be "sub-par"; the idea is to get enough ideas that one of them (with tweaks, riffs, and development) will be able to be what I want.

      I know that most Artisans here won't be familiar with Code Geass, and I knew that when making the proposal to Jay that we set you all a challenge to help. That's why I tried to single out a couple of particular topics that really don't need any knowledge of the source anime. I thought a single paragraph on the Black Knights' motivations, while hopelessly inadequate as a summary of the arc of the Black Knights over 50 episodes, is nonetheless enough to get experienced designers like you guys enough of a feel for what a keyword mechanic has to reflect. The flavour of a Magic faction is communicated by many things, after all, not just the faction's mechanic.

      You may notice the description of the challenge over on my overview page doesn't quite match Jay's challenge. That's due to a lack of communication on our part. I think if we do another challenge inviting Artisans to contribute suggestions to one of our custom cardsets, the challenge-poster (Jay) and the cardset creator probably need to iterate back and forth a few more times on the proposed wording, background, and so on.

    2. Fear of delivering something less than optimal is a distraction designers universally struggle with at some point. It's fed by ego, and something we must endeavor to overcome. Failing to design anything is worse than designing something suboptimal, because suboptimal designs can be iterated on, and can inspire other, better designs. We learn nothing from abstaining.

      I have no familiarity with Code Geiss, as many of you have realized, but I went ahead and offered up a rebel mechanic based on what I knew about rebels, and from what Alex had described about the rest of his set. Is it perfect for his project? Unlikely. Might it help him anyhow? At the very least it illustrates a vein of design Alex can now choose to explore further and ignore entirely. Even if it were useless to him, exploring it at all gives me and anyone who thinks about it just a little more perspective on possible Magic design space elsewhere.

      Yeah, this challenge did suffer a bit from insufficient communication and that's more my fault than Alex's. When I do something like this again, I'll endeavor to do better with that.

    3. No, it's not "fed by ego," it's fed by a lack of interest in this anime. Please don't insult the contributors to this community for choosing for whatever reason to sit out from a challenge. This is not a job.

    4. My intention was not to insult you or anyone. Apologies.

      Every game designer grapples with ego and one of the ways that happens is when one's ego prevents one from trying a design for fear of under-delivering. The only reason I mentioned that here is that you said the reason you didn't participate was lack of familiarity with the subject matter. Surely, you can see how a person might interpret that as "and because I'm not familiar with it, I doubt I would design something sufficiently relevant." Note that if that *had* been your reason, me detailing the ego problem is NOT meant as an insult, it is meant to illuminate a roadblock to better design that—again—every single designer ever deals with.

      Now that you've explained what you meant by that, I will refer you back to the closing statement. If you're just here for fun, then pass on anything that's not fun for you. Definitely. That's totally cool. This is not a job and you owe no one anything.

      If your goal is to improve as a designer and/or to become closer to the kind of person who Wizards would pay to design games, then you do yourself a disservice by not accepting this challenge. I don't presume to know which of those reasons each artisan is here for, nor do I assign any value or judgement to either. I expect there were many artisans who falls into the latter camp and didn't participate in this challenge for other reasons. Again, life happens, this site is entirely optional. I believe there were artisans who fall into that camp but chose not to engage the challenge for the reason I described. I'm not judging them. I'm not angry, and I'm not disappointed. But I would do them a disservice by not explaining why they would have been better off participating.

      Again, I'm not judging anyone, and I'm not singling anyone out. We all deal with life in a variety of ways, and my only purpose is to do what I can to help.

    5. I should clarify that I see how my response could have been read as an insult. I regret that ambiguity because insulting people is the last thing I want to do. Seriously.

      Also, no one ever has to explain themselves to me. I'm happy to talk with anyone who does, but I am not a figure people owe anything to (unless they promise something specific).

  4. Guys, I know I've been sitting out the past few Weekend Art Challenges, but this weekend was the Khans of Tarkir prerelease. I wasn't able to work on card design because I was busy winning packs Saturday and Sunday! lol.
    As for the rest of it, my wife and I got a new puppy about a month ago and it's been extremely time consuming. My weekends move so quickly I'm not even opening my laptop.

    1. Heh. Yes, I was thinking the prerelease would be one reason why people would be too busy to do much in this challenge. I know I was busy all Saturday!

  5. I've become blunt in my old age, particularly when addressing game designers (because blunt feedback just leads so much more efficiently toward progress).

    My closing paragraph probably sounds like an admonishment, or that I think Alex or I deserve apologies for the lack of participation. Not my intent. Life happens; we all have our own humps and challenges to face; none of us owes any of us anything. I wrote that strictly to give anyone who might have had that particular thought process the opportunity to reconsider it for future purposes, and for no other reason.

    We're all good.

  6. Just to clarify, I was certainly intending to have all revolutions cost 7, which is why I put the 7: in the reminder text. I think that it is important to that the trigger always happen at the same point.

  7. I also submitted a card design that got skipped over (though it was a green card)...

    1. Fixed.
      Missed it in the block of text it was attached to.

  8. My apologies for being a week late (I just saw it today and man that art is awesome). I really like anime and I figure since there's a dearth of designs I'll toss mine into the mix.

    Black Knight Lieutenant
    Creature- Human Rebel Soldier
    Whenever Black Knight Lieutenant attacks, it gains +X+X until the end of turn, where X is the number of attacking rebels you control