(Metagame Archive) Design Vs Live Chat: Unanswered Questions

By Danny Mandel

We’re taking a little break from the Vs. System Design Bible today for something a bit more topical. Don’t worry—the Bible will be back soon.

This past Thursday I participated in a Live Chat at vsrealms.com, and it was a blast. Sure, my Internet connection kicked me offline a couple times, and I’m not the fastest typer, but all in all it was a lot of fun.
For the past several weeks there was a thread on the Realms that had players posting questions they’d like to see asked at the Live Chat. In preparation, I took notes on a bunch of those questions, and for a couple of these questions I even tried to cut and paste the answers from my notes, but that didn’t work so well. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to go over every question posted on the message boards. This was partly because the “scripted” questions were interspersed with live questions from the peanut gallery. Today, I’m going to answer all the questions that didn’t get answered during the chat.

Artic Breaker asks
: How big of an impact do you think willpower will have on the game?
Well, I know it’ll have a huge impact on Green Lantern Corps Sealed play. I’m only half-kidding, though. We definitely wanted willpower to present a fresh draft experience.
 
Willpower’s a strange one to think of as just a mechanic. In a lot of ways, it’s like there’s this mega-team called “Willpower” that bridges the Green Lanterns, the Emerald Enemies, the Anti-Matter teams—and Manhunter Lantern! The cool part is, in the future, we can do new teams that tie into the willpower mechanic, effectively adding them to the mega-team. It’s similar to how one might build a cosmic deck using a bunch of cosmic characters from Superman: Man of Steel and a bunch of ways to replenish cosmic counters. In the future, any cosmic characters or teams we make will get added to the “mega-cosmic team.”
As far as how I think willpower will impact the metagame of Golden Age? Well, I think the willpower team is a strong one with lots of weapons, so I’m optimistic.

Canamrock asks
: The GL set has completely ditched the evasion keyword. Was there deliberate design intent to not use it, or was it just not brought up? On a related note, will this keyword likely see the light of day in future sets?
Sometimes we make a conscious effort to really feature a keyword, like willpower in the Green Lantern Corps set or cosmic in the Superman set. Other times we just sprinkle it in wherever we feel it makes sense, like evasion on Scott Free Mister Miracle. In the Spidey set, we decided to make evasion an integral part of the Spider-Friends. Since then, while we’ve occasionally put it on characters, we haven’t yet made a second full-fledged evasion team.
Some keywords work better than others as once-in-a-while mechanics. For example, invulnerability is a fine power for a single character in your deck to have. But willpower works a lot better when you have lots of willpower characters.
While evasion is a pretty good once-in-a-while mechanic, it shares a lot of similarities with the concealed mechanic (keeping your characters safe at the expense of your endurance being the main similarity). While it’s fine to have both evasion and concealed characters in the same set, it’s easy to slip into the trap of having too many keywords at one time, which can put too much pressure on players—especially new ones—to remember what’s going on.
All in all, we didn’t feel that having a handful of evasion characters would add that much to this particular expansion, and there weren’t really any characters that screamed, “Put evasion on me!” Will evasion be back in later sets? Count on it.

Canamrock asks
: Was there any reason the Fearsome Five didn’t get anything in this set, or are they just that depleted for new card ideas?
This is a question I hear a lot. Unfortunately, not every team we make gets the full team treatment. For example, while you can build a Skrull deck, I wouldn’t exactly call them a major team.
When working on the DC Origins set, we decided that the Fearsome Five also weren’t going to get the full team treatment, though they’d get more action than the Skrulls. This was for three reasons.
1. They have a pretty small roster.
2. They’re not exactly a major force in the comics.
3. There just wasn’t enough room in the set to give them the full treatment, and the other option was to cut them entirely, which would have been sad.

In the end, the Fearsome Five was designed to be a minor team with several powerful abilities that didn’t really synergize with each other, and therefore wanted to be splashed into other decks. For example, Jinx tends to see more play in League of Assassins decks than in Fearsome Five ones. We knew some players would want to try a pure Fearsome Five deck, so we gave them a few tools and powers that rewarded you for playing Fearsome Five, but in general, we treated them as powerful unaffiliated characters that happened to all be on their own team.
Now, what does this mean for the future of the Fearsome Five? Will we ever flesh them out as a full team? Only time will tell. Will we make more one-of cards as legacy content? Almost certainly.
And on another note—no, they’re not depleted for new card ideas. Coming up with new ideas is the easy part. It’s framing them into the structure of a set or an environment in a meaningful way that’s the hard part.

Asmodeus asks
: Are there plans for a combined DC and Marvel Modern age, something like the most recent set from each being usable?
A question similar to this one was asked during the chat, but I figure it’s worth going into more detail.
There are two main Vs. System formats: Golden Age and Modern Age. Golden Age is defined as all sets. Modern Age is defined as the last year’s worth of sets. We can also divide either format by a specific brand—for example, Marvel Modern Age or DC Golden Age.

Currently, the only Constructed formats we hold at high-level events are Golden Age, Marvel Modern Age, and DC Modern Age. While it would be exciting to introduce new formats, one thing we have to keep in mind is that too many formats can lead to players having trouble finding opponents. For example, Logan might show up at the local comic shop with his Golden Age deck, but Clark only has his DC Modern Age deck and Medusa has her Marvel Modern Age deck.
While the above is an extreme case, the point is that too many formats can be confusing. Now, I’m not saying we’re never going to try out new formats—in fact, we’re toying around with a few as we speak. It’s just that we don’t want to go overboard, either.

That said, I’m just speaking about official Vs. System formats. There’s no reason you and your friends or your local shop can’t run any format you can think of. Play Highlander (where you can only have one copy of each card in your deck), run a single set Constructed tournament (Vs. plays surprisingly well even if you’re only using cards from one set), or play combined Modern Age. It’s all good. Plus, if enough players want something, like team formats or multiplayer, we’ll make it work.

Twanbon
asks: When it comes to Legacy cards, what’s the point of making a legacy card that is almost unusable? I must say that in this set, there were not nearly as many bad legacy cards as before, but things like Reign of Terra or the new Titans characters are never going to see play (though I must say that most of my frustration with this came from seeing Lockjaw in MMK). Couldn’t these spots have been used to make a playable card for Fearsome Five? I guess my question is, how do you justify making completely unplayable cards—especially due to the design nature of this game, in which a single card can make a team go from non-viable to viable?
To be fair, the word “unusable” is a little harsh. It’s true that some cards are not as obviously playable as others. But consider that it’s difficult for us to make cards that appear unusable but actually have clever uses, without making cards that appear unusable and actually are unusable. While we design lots of cards with specific uses in mind, we also try to give the players lots of tools to work with in creative ways.
A good example of this is Devil’s Due. Now there’s a legacy card that didn’t immediately have a home. However, three sets down the line, it’s part of the main engine and the kill card in a powerful combo deck.

Also, I don’t really think of Reign of Terra as a legacy card. It was originally intended to be an efficient way for players to remove team affiliations from their characters. Then Humpherys added the line about keeping the Deathstroke affiliation because he thought it would be cool (as did I). Now, as to what players do with Reign of Terra—that’s up to them.

As for the Titans characters, it’s true that we weren’t trying to make cards that help the classic Titans build. However, Aqualad and Jericho can be pretty cool in the right decks, and Impulse, well . . . I’ll admit he looks pretty weak, but he does have the word “ready” on him, after all, and that can’t be entirely bad.
To answer your specific question, we don’t set out to make completely unplayable cards. Every card we make has some goal in mind. Many cards are aimed to make Sealed Deck and Booster Draft a better experience. (Think weak combat plot twists.) Many are aimed at making teams competitive in Constructed. Many are aimed at providing flavor. And many are aimed at fostering some players’ desire to make wacky, outlandish decks.

Scrappy
asks: Do you design the cards before or after you see the artwork that is usable for the set?
It’s kind of a back and forth process. We often have lots of card concepts in mind before we send out the art descriptions to our art director, who then sends them to the artists. The tricky part is that sometimes when we get the finished art back it doesn’t quite match up with the mechanics we had in mind, so we often have to do a bit of juggling.

TCCJoe
asks: The metagame for Marvel Modern Age was quick and deadly, with a lot of games ending on turns 5 and 6. Do you think the DC Modern Age Format will be the same way, or do you think that it will go the other way and be a slower, more powerful format?
“Powerful” is a tricky word. To me, “quick and deadly” seems powerful too. But I digress. I hope the format will feel different than the last Marvel Modern Age one. Mostly, I just want there to be lots of different archetypes for players to mess around with before settling in on their favorite decks. As for the speed of the format, well, there’s less hidden stuff, and higher average DEF stats, I think so perhaps it will be a bit slower. I can’t really go into what our in-house metagame looks like because I don’t want to influence the real-world metagame.

TCCJoe asks: Reign Of Terra. Was the pun intended?
 
Yup. That’s what you get when you let me lead a set.
 
There was actually a reasonable amount of debate as to whether it would be confusing to players, but in the end it was decided that the card is so vastly different from Reign of Terror that it’s probably okay.
 
On a side note, we used to have “No Fear” in the Batman starter, and we also had a reverse “No Fear” that some of us were hoping to call “Know Fear!” which I thought would be cool. But that got shot down. Frown.

TCCJoeasks: Will the cards released in the new starter decks only be available in the starters? With all the other ones, the cards were available from a set.

 
They’ll only be available in starters.

TCCJoeasks: How do you determine what old teams get new cards in a set?
 
In general, we try to give each of the old major teams at least one new card. We also tend to give more cards to the more recent teams, and sometimes we give extra cards to the teams that need the most help.

TCCJoeasks: With the Modern Age formats around, will you still release cards that help teams from more than one set back?

 
Yes, definitely. While more recent teams tend to get more cards, we like to give fans of every major team something to add to their collections.

TCCJoe asks: Will a lot of cards in future sets base themselves around willpower?
 
Hmm . . . I’m not sure I’m allowed to answer this. There will definitely be willpower characters, willpower-referencing, and willpower-enabling cards in future sets.

TCCJoe asks: Marvel Knights contained a ton of loyal and even doubly loyal characters. Why were there no characters in this set with loyalty?
 
In general, we’re moving away from heavy team-stamping. This allows players more freedom when building team-up decks.
 
A lot of the loyalty in the Marvel Knights set was doing more than just team-stamping. The double-loyalty characters helped foster two-team archetypes both in Booster Draft and Constructed, and on the low-cost characters, loyalty was a mechanism to force players to go off curve.

TCCJoeasks: You guys are making a lot of very good team ups. Is it a long-term goal of the Vs. System production team to get players to team up more?
 
Totally. While there are plenty of different deck concepts when players stick to single team builds, the combinations get really crazy when it’s easier for players to team-up. One of the lynchpins of the TCG experience is getting to mix and match your cards. Team-ups really help with this.

GaryWasks: Are you, by chance, related to respected French actor Tcheky Karyo?
 
Sigh. I hate you, Gary Wise! (shakes fist.) Actually, Tcheky and I are the same person. Have you ever seen us in the same room at the same time? Aha! Actually, by that logic, I guess I’m also the same person as Julia Roberts and Tim Duncan.

Cyke asks
: How goes the errata of Savage Beatdown and Nasty Surprise? Almost done with that?

Latuki Joe asks
: Are we going to see the rest of the Green Lantern Oath as card titles in future sets?
I sure hope so, but it may take a while.

Mr.Man asks
:Why are bad rares made? I’m talking about cards that just don’t cut it as rares, and should have been a common or uncommon instead. For example: Reign of Terra (nice pun). It just doesn’t seem that it would be that useful in game play. That is, unless you know something we don’t.

Poor Reign of Terra. Generally, we try to keep cards that don’t help Sealed Pack or Booster Draft outside of the common and uncommon slots. As for Reign of Terra being useless, well, not every card has to have obvious playability. In fact, to some players, it’s the lumps of coal that end up becoming diamonds in the right deck that makes the Vs. System great.

Warran asks: Is it true that Humpherys’s slow play slows down the design process of new sets? Man, who plays a TCG that slowly?
 
Humpherys is probably the slowest person I’ve ever met. And not just at Vs. or other TCGs! I mean, we’ll all be ready to go to lunch and stuff, and he’s like the mummy, dragging his broken ankle along the ground and moaning. (He hurt his ankle when we were playing basketball a couple weeks ago and Brian Hacker landed on it. What a jerk!)

Agg_toaster asks
: I’m also interested as to which teams do you think need the most help and which of the new teams from the new Green Lantern Corps set will hit Tier 1 the quickest.
I think right now, everyone wants Arkham to make some waves, and probably all the Superman teams. Also, I think all of the Superman teams need a kick in the pants. As for which Green Lantern team will hit Tier 1, I think we all know that the answer is the Emerald Enemies, featuring Dr. Light, Master of Holograms.

Default asks
: What is your opinion on the top decks in this set?
I’m not sure how to answer this, especially because as more of a designer than a developer, I’m more concerned with there being lots of ways to play the game than I am with which decks are dominating the metagame.

I do think there are some pretty cool willpower decks. The Emerald Enemies resource-KO’ing build is wild, and the Manhunters do some pretty unfair things. That said, I think my favorite deck is an Anti-Matter build that uses a bunch of characters with high DEF and lots of direct endurance loss. (I love Fiero!) Is it a top-tier deck? Probably not.

duel4fun
asks: Lots of folks seem to think that UDE is pushing for later turns in the Vs. System. More than half of the folks that went to the release for Green Lantern Corps think so. Is there?

 
What does the other half think? Just kidding. The nature of a TCG is to evolve. While we made a lot of late game cards and late-game facilitating cards in this set, this is not a forever thing. Mostly we just want to allow players to employ lots of different play patterns, including rush and stall strategies.

duel4fun
asks: What are the chances of seeing “Construct Locations?”

 
Actually, we had one for a while. Emerald City was once a location, but in the end we decided to make it a plot twist. But, yeah, there’s no reason we couldn’t make Construct locations.

Mr. Holmes asks
: Are we getting a card that returns cards (or at least characters) that have been removed from play?

 
If you mean cards like Bat’s Belfry and Fifth Dimension, then yes. If you mean a card that lets you return cards from the removed-from-game zone that were put there by some other effect, then you’d have to talk to Matt Hyra. He tries to break the fabric of the game more than any other designer.
I don’t see why we couldn’t make a card like that, though.

TCCJoe asks
: Is every card checked to make sure it wouldn’t have a broken effect if combined with a card or deck type from a past set, and if so, will it take longer and longer to finish sets as the years go on?
The developers try to test as many combinations and archetypes as possible. They have builds of all the tier one decks, which act as sort of a gauntlet when it’s time to test new cards. However, there’s only so much time devoted to development, and there’s an insane number of card combinations, especially as we create more sets. The good news is that the game is built to handle things when we miss an archetype or combination. Hopefully there are enough checks in a given environment, so that while there will be tier 1 decks, if any single one of them gets out of control, there will be an answer deck.
One way to think of it is that the developers are pretty much like any other team of Vs. deckbuilders and playtesters, except they get to change the cards as they go. And quite frankly, we’ve got a bunch of fantastic players—especially if you don’t count me or Mike Hummel.
 
Cyke asks: Are there any plans for a sort of crazy set, with goofy random cards just for the casual scene? I mean, you could make cards of the R&D team, top players, prolific online personalities and writers, and create your own goofy super-heroes, just have a fun time, and give the causal fans something to enjoy.
 
I’d love to work on a set like that. There are no current plans for it, but maybe we can convince Jeff Donais and Mike Hummel. If you guys really want to see something like this, the best thing you can do is hype it on the forums.

Cyke asks: Are you happy with the current state of the game, from a marketing, profit, and playability standpoint, such as balance and the metagame?

 
It’s weird for me to think about marketing or profit. Since they don’t let me out of my cave, I don’t really know how that stuff works. As for balance and the metagame, nothing makes me happier than when we have a diverse metagame. Not even rice pudding! As such, I was kind of alarmed by the Curve Sentinels deck’s dominance, though I felt a lot better after the Xavier’s Dream and New School decks showed up. Go, Glorious Godfrey!
 
Now, of course, we’ve got the Dr. Light craziness, which may or may not work itself out. I’m psyched that such a neat deck exists, but we’ll have to wait and see just how powerful it is.

Cyke asks: When should I expect my Green Arrow team and 7-drop Cyclops for X-Men? Sometime after the Alpha Flight set?

 
Well, I hope Matt Hyra doesn’t get mad, but you can expect your Green Arrow right around when JLA comes out. As for a new Cyclops, well, I can’t really comment on sets past JLA, so you’ll just have to wait and see.

Cyke asks: Have any comic creators, like writers, artists, or editors, ever contacted UDE about ways you have represented their character or could possibly represent that character in the future?

I’m not entirely sure I understand the question. (Cyke, please feel free to email me with clarification.)

 
In general, we talk with DC and Marvel all the time about ways to represent their characters. If you mean, have any independent creators contacted us, well, I’m not allowed to talk about things that are still in the works.

Icymattasks: One of the bigger arguments during the previews was why Two-Face was a 7-drop level powerhouse. What reasons did the Vs. crew have for making him that powerful?

One thing we always have to keep in mind is that one of the goals of the Vs. System is to blend flavor with gameplay. With this version of Two-Face, we wanted to give him two powers: one that feels like a coin flip and another that fits with Arkham’s previous mulligan mechanic. His 16 ATK, 16 DEF, and general power level are more about gameplay—we really wanted him to have a dominating board presence. As for the flavor implications, I like to think he’s one of the Batman’s few foes that could actually give him a good physical fight. Or maybe, as someone mentioned, Harvey is 8 ATK/8 DEF and Two-Face is 8 ATK/8 DEF.

Cyke asks: How often do you visit fan sites, and do the opinions of the players affect any aspect of the game? If so, how do you feel about the seemingly large amounts of players bored with the current state of Golden Age and Curve Sentinels dominance, plus the overuse of Savage Beatdown, Nasty Surprise, and Overload?
 
I can’t stress enough that our job is to make the players happy. This doesn’t mean that every decision we make will make all players happy. In fact, sometimes we have to make tough decisions in the short term in order to improve the long-term health of the game.
 
We’re been working on the issue of the current Golden Age metagame and the Savage Beatdown/Nasty Surprise/Overload play pattern for several weeks now, and we will be making an official announcement in the near future.
 
Also, we check the fan sites pretty much every day.
 
TimsWheelbarrowasks: I’ve noticed that in this set, more so than previous ones, there has been a greater shift away from the ‘standard’ ATK/DEF values for characters. (For example, Kyle Rayner 4 with his high ATK and low DEF, or Malvolio, who is much more defensively-oriented.) Is this a conscious effort to accentuate the strengths and weaknesses of teams, or purely to shake up Sealed Pack by allowing for more “curve-jumpery”?
 
This question was asked at the live chat and I tried to cut and paste my notes on it. Unfortunately some of it got cut off so I’m putting it here. Also, there was a similar question asked on the board—

DynamicDuo
asks: For Man of Steel, you guys decided to play it safe with the stats: see all the Supermen, Eradicator, Orion, etc. But in the Green Lantern Corps set, we see a lot of stats which would otherwise not have seen print during Man of Steel, like Two-Face, Parallax, Legion, Kilowog, and others. Any opinions on this design decision?
The Vs. engine’s combat system has both scalar and threshold aspects. By this, I mean that changing a character’s ATK has scalar ramifications, in that 1 more point of ATK equals 1 more point of endurance loss when causing breakthrough. But it also has threshold ramifications, in that an attacker needs exactly enough ATK to match a defender’s DEF and nothing more in order to force a stun. (Changing a character’s DEF works the same way, but inverted.)
 
We must always consider the dual aspects of altering stats with regards to the character curve. For example, increasing a 5-drop’s ATK from 9 to 10 means 1 more point of endurance loss when causing breakthrough. However, it doesn’t make it that much different with regards to its ability to stun a 6-drop, since the average 6-drop has around 12 DEF.
 
All right, I’ve done enough rambling about this issue. To answer your question, there are two factors at work here.
 
1. The Marvel Knights expansion really pushed the boundaries on having outlandish stat combinations, and we felt it worked out really well, so we did more of the same in Green Lantern Corps.
 
2. I wanted to make a bunch of low ATK, high DEF characters in Green Lantern both because I wanted to see if we could introduce some stat-based stalling strategies (both in Sealed Pack and Constructed) and because it would make for an interesting experiment in, as you said, “curve-jumpery.”
 
Okay, that’s all of the stuff that wasn’t covered at the Live Chat. Tune in next time for Part Five of the Vs. System Design Bible. Send your questions or comments to dmandel@metagame.com.
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