(Metagame Archive) Batman Starter Preview: Spoiler, Wildcard

Justin Gary

Hey, everyone! It’s Danny Mandel here with your weekly Design vs. article. Man, I hate Humpherys. Did I mention that I am very tall?* Perhaps you’d like to hear some stories about my dog. Do you like robots?**

Okay, okay, I give up. The truth is that I am not Danny Mandel. My name is Justin Gary and I’ve taken over this week’s Design vs. series because I was lead designer on the upcoming Batman starter deck. Don’t worry—Danny will be back on Friday with a preview from the Batman starter (and I promise it will be a good one). Over the course of this week, we will be showing you five preview cards from the upcoming Batman and Fantastic Four starter decks. Today, since I’m taking over the column, I’ll be talking about our goals in designing the starter decks and some of the differences between designing a starter and designing a normal set. In addition, since this week is about spoiling some of the new cards coming out, we’d better get to the spoiler:

Hah! Get it? It’s a spoiler of Spoiler! You see, it’s funny because the word spoiler describes the article but is also the name of the card . . . Well, I thought it was funny, anyway.

Spoiler is one of my favorite cards in the starter because it does a good job of highlighting what we wanted to accomplish with the starter deck cards. This is the first time that we have designed cards exclusively for release in a starter deck. This naturally leads to the question:

Why make starter decks at all?

Starter decks are integral to the long-term health of the game. They provide a convenient entrance point for new players. This helps to keep the game growing and to make sure that all of the current dedicated Vs. players (you folks reading at home) will always have people to game with. In my mind, the greatest thing about the Vs. System is the communities that have developed around the game. Going down to your local store to play in a PCQ, a Sneak Peek, or even just to hang out and game with friends is a great experience. Ensuring that we keep those communities alive is a responsibility that lays both on those of us here at Upper Deck and on you, the player. No matter how good a game is, the only way that communities will grow and thrive around it is if current players teach their friends how to play and get them excited about the game. These starter decks are designed to help you with this process. To do this, they must be simple enough for a new player to handle, yet fun and interesting enough to illustrate how great a game Vs. can be. These goals are often in conflict and presented a lot of interesting design constraints. Thus, I present the four basic rules of starter deck construction.

Rule #1: Keep it simple.

Vs. has a lot of strategic complexity. Even without complicated card interactions, the basic strategic decisions of playing the game (formation, attacks, playing plot twists, and so forth) can be very intimidating to someone seeing the game for the first time. This is particularly true for those players with no TCG experience. These starter decks are designed with such players in mind. A card like Spoiler is a reasonably elegant way to combine card utility with simplicity. A new player needs only to read one line of text when recruiting Spoiler, perform an action that is already basic to the game, and then forget about it. “Come into play” abilities are inherently easier on a new player because they don’t require that anything be remembered while the card is in play (has anyone here played a game with Braniac on the table?). For low cost characters in particular, it is important to keep the card effects simple while the players learn the basic mechanics of the game. As the turns of the game progress, we can gradually introduce more complicated effects (such as activated powers, static modifiers, and so forth) to illustrate the range of possibilities in a game of Vs. System.

Another important aspect is speed of play. We don’t want players to have to spend a lot of time doing things that aren’t essential to game play. Figuring out how to make a formation and attack can take a lot of mental energy, particularly when playing the game for the first time. Imagine then trying to figure out what card to discard to Have a Blast! or which character to Signal Flare for. To help alleviate some of these decisions, we wanted to avoid cards that had an open-ended search effect or that required a discard as a cost. Spoiler does a great job of helping to ensure that players will hit their character drops without forcing them to look through their decks. Another step we took to help new players pick up the game faster was to give both starter decks the same plot twists. This way, when a player sees his or her opponent play a powerful card, that player will likely have seen that card in his or her own deck and thus know how to respond. The player only has to learn the card once and can then worry about other things.

Rule #2: Keep it fun.

Rule #2 is the most important. Even if we can get new players to play the game and understand it, we have wasted our time if the game isn’t fun. Well, what makes a game fun? Fully exploring that issue would take at least another full article, but we can highlight a couple of elements specific to a starter deck. The biggest difference between a starter deck and a regular set is that the starter decks are designed to be played primarily against each other. This means that they need to be balanced to be fun. This puts an interesting constraint on deck design—if one card needs to be changed because of its impact on Golden Age, then usually another card needs to be made better (or worse in the opposing deck) to compensate. I have played these decks against each other at least a hundred times and I can safely say that they probably make the most well balanced starter set we have put out so far. To be fair, as lead designer I may be a little biased, but you’ll have to try it for yourself to prove me wrong.

Rule #3: Keep it interesting.

Now, while these starter decks are targeted at new players, we haven’t forgotten our core audience. Starter decks should have some appeal for current players. To help accomplish this, every starter deck has entirely new art (including an awesome looking Jim Lee Batman). Also, we made sure that the games had interesting play decisions and enough variance to make repeat play interesting. Sometimes as the Gotham Knights player, you spend the game trying to maximize use of the 7-drop Batman, and sometimes you need to use your cards earlier in the game. The League deck can play a character control KO strategy or a more straightforward big bruiser plan, depending on which characters you draw.

Finally, we tried to throw in a few cards that established players could use in their decks. Spoiler is one of those cards. She is arguably the best 2-cost character on the Gotham Knights team. Because Spoiler replaces herself when you play her, she can help to fend off a quick assault while maintaining your hand size for use later in the game. In addition, she can be part of an off-curve strategy. Combined with cards like Birthing Chamber, Spoiler can help ensure that you draw enough cards to keep playing multiple characters each turn. She may even have a place in the Big Bat deck, since that deck relies on drawing many cards. The most obvious comparison to Spoiler in the Gotham Knights team is Barbara Gordon, Oracle. While Oracle has the potential to draw many more cards than Spoiler does, Oracle requires a lot more investment before she does anything. Spoiler doesn’t sit around in the bat cave researching; she is out there on the front lines fighting, and an extra point of attack can mean a lot in this game.

Rule #4: Keep it cheap.

We all know that collectible card games can cost a lot of money to play. We wanted these starter decks to allow people to play the game without making a huge investment. At $9.99, these starters are cheaper than any stand-alone product we have yet released for the Vs. System. The starter deck comes with everything you need to play. Price can be a huge barrier to entry for new players, and we wanted to make this game as accessible as possible. Since the decks include all new art, two foil cards, and exclusive content, anyone buying the starter will be getting a lot of bang for their buck.

Okay, that’s it for my article. I hope you like the starters and get your friends to play Vs. with them. That way, you get to keep playing the game you love, and I get to keep my job. Sound good? Great.

Stay tuned the rest of this week to see more spoiler . . . er . . . preview cards.

* Not as tall as Matt Hyra, but then again, who is?

** Little known fact: Jeff Donais (like all Canadians) is actually a robot.***

***Just kidding . . . not every Canadian is a robot.

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