Monday, September 26, 2016

Tesla: Come into Play - Playtest, Prerelease, and the Future of Tesla

Hi everybody. This weekend, something big happened: Kaladesh came out! That doesn't mean our project is over, though we're certainly nearing the end. This week, I'm going to discuss what it means for the future of our project, and also compare my experiences with the prerelease and with playtesting Tesla.

As the spoiler season began for Kaladesh, it became more and more tempting to adjust our file to include cards from Kaladesh, even art from Kaladesh. And with the release of the set, we can see all the cards and concepts we shared, as well. Fabricate is a lot like Tinker! Energy, as an interconnected system, is a lot like Access the Machine! And Vehicles are almost exactly like the Crew mechanic we discussed! Charge and Energy both capture the same flavor! It's incredible how close we got in some areas, and how we differed in others. Heck, we even got the plot pretty closely, as well!

However, for all of our similarities, we also have quite a few differences. We decided to focus our attention in certain areas more than others, mostly due to simple differences of opinion. For example, our storyline was more about inequality and simmering conflict, hence Revolution, Raid, and Justice. Thopters were largely abandoned for Kaladesh, while we actually emphasized them even more. And so on.

Do not think of this as what we did 'right' and what we did 'wrong'! We have crafted a very successful set from the same starting point, just with different decisions along the way. Stuff that we ended up sharing is certainly exciting, but areas where we're different are points of pride rather than mistakes!

What this means is, we're not going to be changing the file to reflect the real Kaladesh. While we might opt to "preprint" some of its more simple designs - such as Take Down, for example - I do not think we should "preprint" cards that are more specific to Kaladesh, or decide to follow along its flavor lines. For example, I am very proud of how our version of Kaladesh stayed true to Indian mythology and culture while remaining respectful; I'd hate to see us remove Naga in favor of Vedalken, or Vanara in favor of Gremlins, or to cut Garuda and Asuras because they weren't present in Kaladesh.

While comparison between our version of Tesla and Kaladesh is valid - in fact, I'll be doing some of my own in the next paragraph - we must keep in mind that Tesla's goals and context are vastly different than Kaladesh. We set out to make a set representing the steampunk ideals of inequality and progress in all forms; Kaladesh set out to create a world of invention and optimism, a brighter tomorrow. They may share mechanical similarities, but environmentally they couldn't be more different. Keep this in mind. Kaladesh is not something to copy; it's just another data point.

So, on that note, what can we learn from Kaladesh prerelease? Well, let's compare it to a lot of the playtesting we've done for Tesla so far:

Kaladesh has 21 common artifacts, we only have 15. We have 8 common nonartifact artifact token producers, Kaladesh has 6. This means that Kaladesh has a higher as-fan of artifacts, and is more likely to see them in play; however, in our playtests with Tesla, artifacts were still often present on board and often impactful in decks. Kaladesh had to account for its higher number of artifacts with a cycle of artifacts that have colored activated abilities. In addition, it gave up its common land slot, whereas we opted not to. So, overall, we ended up very similar in this regard!

In my playtesting with both Tesla and my prerelease experience with Kaladesh, I definitely liked that Tesla artifacts all felt colorless. So far, we haven't mixed together artifacts and colors much - except for the DFC cycle at uncommon, where colored spells become artifacts. Yet the artifact is still 100% colorless on the backface. In Kaladesh, many artifacts were intertwined with colorless for balance purposes, and it diminished their identity a bit. It did let them be pushed more, and to create a higher variance in how they play out (which was a design goal for Kaladesh), so it's not a failure on their part. Just something I'm proud of Tesla for achieving. We've never seen an artifact set where the artifacts were not tied to colors at least a little bit - until Tesla!

How we miss you, Thopters.
Another large difference were Thopters. They do not exist in Kaladesh, which is a shame. I feel like making the skies matter was a big deal in a steampunk set, and I'm very proud of Tesla for achieving this. In addition, we have similar number of tokens on the board, which is nice. And speaking of tokens, I really dig how all the tokens in Kaladesh are artifacts - it reminds me of my original suggestion that 'tokens matter' could be good for an artifice theme. Maybe we should consider converting any non-artifact tokens in the file to artifacts? Regardless of whether we follow suit in this way, I'm proud that even though we jumped up the as-fan of tokens quite a bit, they haven't affected complexity much.

However, in other areas, Kaladesh has much better control over its complexity. The games all played out interestingly, but individual cards and mechanics felt very simple and intuitive, and though boards were often full of strategy, they rarely felt confusing. Rather than comprehension complexity, the games were spun out of decisions and strategy. It helps that the set only has three mechanics, and they're simple as well.

Unfortunately, Tesla has struggled with complexity a lot more. In Tesla, we currently have Raid, Revolution, Justice, Recharge, in addition to DFCs. That's a lot of complexity in comparison, and we have been running into issues with complexity of individual mechanics in playtests. We'll see how the complexity issues manifest when we playtest with LSPs, and consider lowering our complexity as well.

Lastly, Kaladesh represents a new era of limited design, if predictions will bear out accurately. It doesn't take statistics to notice that some cards have been crazy pushed, though... anyways, we designed Kaladesh to represent the power level of sets along the lines of the past few years of design, and had no way to anticipate such a change. I don't think we should retrofit Tesla to match Kaladesh's power level, either - it's far easier to design an environment with years of precedence, and it'd require a large overhaul. Keep this in mind while we use Kaladesh as a datapoint. Just because Kaladesh is pushed, doesn't mean Tesla hasn't been fun - or dangerously powerful in its own right, sometimes!

We've still got quite a future for Kaladesh. The work on uncommons and rares is proceeding relatively smoothly - if a bit slowly, my apologies - and expect to see more playtest reports from us soon!

Until next time, have fun playing Kaladesh and working on Tesla!