(Metagame Archive) Drawing Up the Dark Knight

By Danny Mandel

I’d estimate I designed about ten percent of the cards in the DC Comics Origins set. Matt Hyra probably designed another ten percent, and Mike Hummel did about nine. Other individuals like Dave Humpherys designed some of the remaining 71 percent, but, as always, the majority of the set was collaboration, with all of us bandying about ideas and riffing off of each other. The reason I bring this up (in addition to looking for any excuse to use the word “bandying” in a sentence) is that this article is about Batman, The Dark Knight, and while I may have come up with the initial concept for the card; done all the important testing, theorizing, and balancing; ultimately designed the finished product; and just plain done everything, I wanted to point out that it was a team effort.

All egomaniacal jokes aside, I’m reasonably sure I came up with the initial idea for Batman (if not, Mike or Matt will probably beat me up). It looked something like this:

Batman
Character, Recruit 7
10 ATK/10DEF
Batman gets +1 ATK and +1 DEF for each card in your hand.
(Batman’s second power)

Note: I’m withholding Batman’s original second power because we’re going to be using it as a mechanic a few sets from now, and I don’t want to spoil the fun.

The thing about Batman is, compared to the other heavy hitters in the comics universe, Batman’s just a guy. I mean, sure, he can take any normal dude in a fistfight, but should he really be able to stand up to the likes of Magneto or Raven? I think the answer is a qualified “yes.” If he’s had time to prepare, he should be able to take down anyone. In Batman’s case, I tried to represent his level of preparedness by the number of cards in his controller’s hand. The more cards you’ve drawn and the more information you have, the more ready you (and Batman) are for any given situation. (His original second power was bolstered by his ATK/DEF and so was also invested in the card draw thing.)

I should back up for a moment and explain that when we sat down to define the basic goals and parameters for each of the DC teams, we decided that the Gotham Knights (or Batman Team as we then called them) should have access to consistent card draw. Thematically this was to represent their detective skills like information gathering or digging for answers. Also, as Matt likes to say, “Cards in hand equals training!” I don’t know why, but he really likes to say that. It’s like his mantra.

Knowing that the Knights were going to get a decent amount of card drawing, I thought it would be cool to have the top end Batman act as a quantifiable reward for all those cards. Let’s do some quick math. Batman’s base stats are 10 ATK/10 DEF. You start the game with six cards in hand (after you draw on turn 1). Let’s assume each turn you’re going to play one resource and one character (even though many decks don’t have early plays) and over the course of the game you’re not going to discard cards or play plot twists from your hand, but you’re also not going to draw any extra cards. That means that on turn 7, you’d have four cards in your hand, making Batman 14 ATK/14 DEF. While by no means huge for a 7-drop, that’s still a pretty respectable set of default stats. Now add in the extra cards you can easily store up by forgoing one or two early drop points in your curve or by running some of the Gotham Knights’ many card drawers, like Catwoman or Barbara Gordon (and don’t forget cards like Bat Signal that end up netting you a card in hand), and suddenly Batman’s a monster, easily reaching 20 ATK and above.

Which brings me to one of the early problems in the development of this card. Having lots of cards in your hand is already good. It means more options, more cards you can discard to payment powers or additional costs, and more cool air when you fan yourself. Out-carding an opponent is a basic way to get ahead in the game; if you’ve got nine more cards than your opponent, an easily-produced giant Batman comes dangerously close to being just a “win more” card. (That is, a card that’s useless unless you’re already winning, and, if you’re already winning, the mechanism with which you finish off your opponent shouldn’t matter anyway.) The card advantage is what’s winning you the game—everything else is just details.

Because we really liked the stats-equal-cards-in-hand riff of Batman, the questions became how to balance the card such that it wasn’t too easy to make him enormous, and how to make him more than just a “win more” card. That last part is really important and is connected to Batman’s second power. For a while we were having so much trouble coming up with a workable second power for Batman that we almost cut it out completely (everyone wanted his second power to be awesome because, hey, Batman’s awesome, so we came up with lots of mechanics that were difficult to balance or template). The problem was, if we gave Batman only the single stat-modifying power, he’d be pretty dry, and, as they say, “Nobody likes a dry Batman.”

Let me cut to the chase and skip ahead to the finished product. In the end, we needed to lower his stats even further (dropping his printed stats to even lower than the 5-drop Batman), but we mitigated that by allowing his second power to help fill up your hand. You see, up until that last iteration, while all of the other potential second powers for Batman were augmented by his having souped-up stats, they didn’t actually facilitate his getting souped-up in the first place. By making Batman the Knights’ ultimate card-drawer, there was no longer any concern of his being just a “win more” card. In some matchups he acts as a big finisher, but in some he draws you a bunch of cards so you can take control later on.

It’s probably worth noting that for or a while, we toyed with having Batman’s ATK/DEF function like an on/off switch attuned to a certain threshold number of cards in your hand. Similar to Colossus, Batman’s power was something like, “While you have ten or more cards in your hand, Batman gets +10ATK and +10 DEF.” We just felt having the stat bonus scale up or down was smoother than having the difference between nine cards in hand and ten be so jarring.

Also, and this is a bit of a lead-in to next week’s article, a secondary reason we gave Batman (and the Gotham Knights in general) card drawing was that we knew we wanted the Arkham Inmates to get a healthy amount of discard (they have The Riddler, Riddle Me This, and Professor Hugo Strange, and originally Museum Heist used to be team-stamped to just the Inmates), and it would be pretty cool if in a matchup between a GK card draw deck and a AI discard deck, the primary axis of interaction was all about cards in hand (as opposed to the standard axis of interaction, board presence).

Okay, that’s all I got. Next week: “You’re food now, shirt!”

Send questions or comments to dmandel@metagame.com.

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