(Metagame Archive) Keyword Categories

By Mike Hummel

When we begin design on a new set, we spend a good deal of time reviewing what will eventually become its new mechanics or keywords. The reality of this process means that many of the mechanics proposed at the beginning of the design cycle never make it into the final set.

To clarify, we are definitely NOT looking to create a new mechanic just so we can present something different with each set. Each new team that we release already gives us the ability to present players with different play patterns. Playing a Squadron zero hand deck, an X-Statix single character deck, or even a Kang deck with the non-keyword text “Kang is not unique” provides players with a unique new way to play the game.

While the mechanics that eventually make it into the sets have a strong thematic link to the teams that appear with them, R&D needs to ensure that the rules defining these new keywords help expand the established parameters of the game in both a fun and functional way. Here are a number of design expansion categories we look at when evaluating a new mechanic, along with some examples of previous keywords that fall into each category.
Expanding the Functionality of an Existing Card Type

Examples here include “boost,” “transferable,” and “dual-affiliated” characters. These keywords enable a given card type by providing it with additional functionality beyond its original rules within the game engine. With the boost mechanic, we wanted to provide a larger window of play opportunity for characters beyond their printed cost. A boosted character could potentially have relevance much later in a game than a standard character. This would allow for more diversified deck builds and would help facilitate Sealed play situations where players didn’t have access to optimized character pools.

The transferable keyword provided similar enhanced playability for equipment cards. Equipment works on the same cost axis as characters, meaning that it competes for space in decks with character cards. It also becomes unplayable if an equipment card is drawn instead of a character, since it must equip to a character in play in order to work. With the transferable keyword, we could make equipment better than characters in certain areas of the game. While players could only recover a single character each turn (usually their biggest), a piece of transferable equipment could continue to jump from character to character, potentially surviving the entire game. Finally, dual-affiliated characters added to the existing character card rule of printed team affiliations by doubling them—a simple mechanic that adds significant diversity to deck construction and multi-team decks.
Altering the Existing Rules of the Game

Examples here include “invulnerable” and “cosmic:” keywords which either overwrite or rewrite rules that already exist in the game. For example, stun endurance loss is a day one game rule that requires a controlling player to lose endurance equal to a character’s cost when that character becomes stunned. Invulnerability negates this game rule for characters with this keyword. Before the cosmic keyword, players had full access to a character’s powers so long as that character was not stunned. Cosmic allows certain characters to receive powerful game effects at lower costs (with a balancing component of making the text “turn off” whenever the character becomes stunned).
Introducing Additional Costs or Card Type Categories

Examples here include “willpower” and the Mutant traits. Willpower provides an additional way to cost certain effects. In addition to resource points and threshold costs, cards can reference a prerequisite amount of willpower needed before a given effect can be generated. This facilitates the creation of new types of decks that work to generate willpower over other standardized goals such as hitting your curve every turn. The Mutant traits provide an additional layer of card pool division beyond team affiliations. To gain access to certain powerful cards and effects, players need to explore the strengths of dual-team or even tri-team decks that contain characters from one of the three different trait categories.
Creating New Game Rules

Examples include “concealed,” “evasion,” and “reservist.” The concealed ability clearly alters the basics of game play by creating a brand new play area as well as expanded combat rules that define how hidden characters can be attacked. Evasion and reservist are in a bit of a gray area, however. I could have just as easily included them in the first category, since they increase the functionality of character cards. I decided to place them in this category because they interact with game rules that go beyond how character cards are played. Before evasion, you could not choose to stun your own characters and were limited to only one recovery during the recovery phase. In addition to expanding the functionality of character cards, evasion created new game rules for how characters could become stunned and how they could recover. Similarly, for the reservist keyword, while it creates additional flexibility for character cards, it also created new game rules for bringing a card from your resource row into play. 
0-for-7!  

Congratulations to Vidianto Wijaya for winning Pro Circuit Atlanta! Have fun spending your hard-earned $40,000 and playing with your shiny new Extended Art Savage Beatdown. Maybe you can spare some of that money to buy me a pie, because sadly, my pie record is now 0 and 7. In yet another tearjerker, Squadron Supreme lost the player pie bet by just one vote to Morlocks Evasion. Avengers Reservist was picked as the most likely deck to win, followed by Morlocks Evasion. Seventeen different types of pie were picked as the voters’ favorite, with a three-way tie between cherry, pumpkin, and apple. I’ll try to continue my losing streak next time, and I’ll see everyone at Pro Circuit San Francisco.

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