Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Multiple Choice Magic Design Question of the Day 32

32) Which of the following is an experienced designer most likely to discover through playtesting rather than before?
 a) That the timing on an effect makes it nearly useless.
 b) That a creature's power and/or toughness are too high.
 c) That a spell's mana cost is too low.
 d) That a card is confusing.
 e) That a mechanic isn't fun.

Click through to see the answer and my rationale.

This is a tough one because all of these things are easier to discover through playtesting.

Timing concerns come up most frequently on saboteur effects (the best example being cypher, because those effects also had to work on sorceries), though they can crop up in the most unexpected places, and that's kinda the point. Over time, a designer starts to learn where most timing traps are and can avoid them before playtesting. Not all, mind you, which is why A is an acceptable answer.

A creature's size primarily in matters locally, in terms of the raw power level of the card in an abstract sense, but also globally, in terms of how those stats play in the card's Limited environment, as well as across Standard and Eternal formats. With time and effort, it's not hard to get a decent bead on local balancing—most Artisans and Pro Tour players probably feel pretty good about their judgment in this regard. Thoughtful practice is also required to get smart about global balancing, but it's much harder, and it's a skill you only really get to practice while developing games professionally. B is a fine answer.

Mana cost is also measured locally and globally, but the global impact is smaller and harder to perceive: Is there a reasonable mana curve for Limited? What about among tournament viable cards within each of their relevant decks? Should Disdainful Stroke be able to counter this? The difference between 2 mana and 3 is almost always bigger than the difference between a 2/2 body and a 3/3. Mana cost also includes color (which must respect the color pie and support the set's archetypal themes) and color commitment (which matters more on the best cards in each color and on the cheapest). C is also a fine answer.

It's one thing to red-flag a card for having more than 4 lines of rules text, or for having multiple abilities, or an awkward Magic-ese template, but comprehension complexity is often invisible to designers. Once you've expressed an idea, no matter how simple or tricky it is to you, you become the least qualified person in the world to judge how well you expressed it because you know what the idea is, and that makes it very hard to read it with new eyes. You also know the context of the card/mechanic/set where that idea lives, which players newly experiencing the card may not. You also know why that idea works the way it does and why the game wants it here. Seeing how players interpret every piece of your game is the most important information that playtesting renders. D is the best answer.

E is the second best answer. For the same reasons that you are too biased to clearly see how people interpret pieces of your game, you are even more biased in believing your game is fun. Never do you show a game (whether for playtesting an early version or pitching the final version) that you don't think is fun. Sometimes first tests are optimistic, "I think this could be very fun, but I really don't know," especially when you're exploring new ground; but most of the time a designer actively believes their game is fun… that's the whole point of games. You absolutely have to put your game in front of peers and strangers (family and friends are optional) to see what aspects they enjoy and how much, and what they don't. The reason E isn't as strong an answer as D is because you can play your own game with your design partners and at least know it's fun for you (and thus that'll be at least some fun for some people), but you and your design partners will never understand how hard or easy it is to read your rules/cards or learn your game.

In summary D > E > B ≈ C > A.

This question tests your knowledge of the benefits of actual design practice and of playtesting.


  1. The keyword here is "experienced," which I'll assume means this designer has made and playtested quite a few Magic cards.

    Through process of elimination we can most easily cross out B & C, though if a set has cost reduction mechanics, playtesting may help find some hidden issues with C.

    A and D are better answers, but I think an experienced designers will probably have at least a suspicion that there are problems in those two areas even before testing. Heck, I'm a beginner and I ended up having to change a mechanic concept several times due to A. Playtesting will help answer those concerns.

    E is the one best suited to discover through testing simply because even with experience, a designer cannot so easily abstractly determine what other players are going to find fun to play or to play against. The designer probably has a history of player reactions to go on, but the more innovative a new mechanic is the harder it will be to determine if players will find it fun without testing.

    1. Agreed. The way I interpreted this question was "For each group of cards that had the given problems, which one has the highest percentage that were discovered through playtesting rather than before?"

      To respectfully disagree, Jay, I think the proportion of 'confusing cards' caused by 'red-flags' are large, and the ones our brains gloss over (like Suspend) are a smaller proportion. On the other hand, I think a lot of cards we design are secretly unfun for whatever reason, often for subtle reasons where they'd be fun in any other set except this one, or they're too synergistic to be fun, etc.

      However, if we assume experience designers are less likely to design red-flagged cards entirely, maybe the answer does go back to D!

  2. Notes and answer, before clicking through:

    A is easy to think through before playtesting. B and C are dev concerns (and experienced designers can usually make good educated guesses about them before playtesting). D is mostly a function of templating, though gameplay does play a role. E is a higher-level issue that's harder to notice before playtesting. I'll go with E.

  3. I also said E before clicking through. I see the argument for D, but still think you can have some idea of certain types of complexity before you playtest, and “this is fun for me” is often a product of you wanting something you spent lots of time on to be fun. I think D and E are equally good answers.

  4. I also picked E. I might be biased as a teacher, but I think it's possible to evaluate comprehension complexity. To me, fun is more subjective and less predictable.

  5. I like E over D. The test I used for this was whether it was possible for a second experienced designer to look over the cards and help discover an issue without playtesting. E would be the hardest to do so.

  6. I will throw my hat in the ring for E over D as well. Particularly playtesting picks up on when a mechanic is really unfun to play AGAINST.

  7. E may very well be the better answer.
    I found one vector that justified D over E, but there are at least a couple that do the opposite.
    Thanks for playtesting my question!

    1. I think our playtesting revealed that your question is confusing, but fun. :-)

  8. I chose E as well before looking at the justification. I found some definite insight in your reasoning. The most important aspect to consider while thinking about playtesting is that it shows how well your game holds up under the scrutiny of OTHERS. I was thinking mainly about playing out my own designs with my team and seeing whether they did what I expected.

    Realistically, a question about playtesting is intended to bring in the variable of the outside player, a "beginner" to your design. For that reason, I think that D is a great answer because it goes back to the same problems magic players have when they first learn the game and are actual beginners - comprehension.

  9. If anyone's looking for more multiple-choice practice questions to try out before Friday, I posted a 15-question mini-test on my own blog. Check it out here!

    1. Those are pretty interesting questions, but I'm not sure if many people are going to be taking the time to read over the answers on Friday morning since they'll have the actual test to worry about.

    2. True. Might post them late tonight then. As I see it, most of the useful practice comes from trying the questions, not seeing the answers.

    3. The useful practice is both working through your own thought processes and hearing the thought processes of others, so your justifications for the 'right' answers are still useful.

    4. Answers posted! (In the comments)

  10. I picked E because the other 4 can be reasonalbly handled with "fundamentals."

    A is something you can figure out by reading the card and knowing about timing.
    B. and C can be determined by precedent (I am pretty sure most of us would cost a common 1/3 lifelink creature the same)
    D Also can be handled just by looking at the card (if you look at the NWO and Complexity articles you can i.d. a complex card pretty well without playtesting)

    All of these get EASIER with playtesting like all things but each can be handled decently well on a level of pure theory.

    E is the only one IMPOSSIBLE to figure out without playtesting because it is by defintion how a card plays.

    Complexity, power level and rules wonkiness are far easier to apraise than fun is.

    E is the answer.