Gloom of Kilforth: Designer Eric Lang on STAR WARS: The Card Game

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Designer Eric Lang on STAR WARS: The Card Game

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Recently, we started our series of previews for Star Wars: The Card Game™ with a look at the game’s unique model of deck-building. Today, as we wait for the opportunity to control the Star Wars universe’s most legendary heroes, villains, and starships, designer Eric Lang kicks off our series of previews with a look at how the game was built to capture the magic of the movies!
Eric Lang on “The Cinematic Experience”
The first “real” movie I saw in the theater as a kid was Return of the Jedi. It blew my mind and forever changed my impressionable young view of just what a movie could offer. I remember the first time I saw the assault on the Death Star and Luke’s epic showdown with you-know-who. The line, “Go on, strike me down!” gave me my first serious movie chills. Call it cliché, but those scenes changed my life. I came out of that theater reborn as a bona fide geek!
Watching the classic Star Wars movies again as an adult brings me back to that place of youthful awe. They transport me back to that transformative moment, and I’m again overwhelmed by their relentlessly awesome scope. Everything is larger than life, everything is epic. Most importantly, they explain only enough to excite our imagination, where even in the moment, we are freed to dream about the universe beyond the scene. It’s magic. Such moments make us feel.
I’ve known for years what I wanted to do with a Star Wars card game. I wanted the game, like the movies, to transport me to that primal place, to rekindle the spirit of those scenes, and to give me the tools to dream beyond the moment.
I wanted to make a game that was quick and action-packed, but where every tiny interaction held the promise of greater scope, even if you didn’t see it at the time. I wanted my Star Wars to be a game that captured you in the moment and made you think. More importantly, it needed to make you feel.
Cutting to the Action
Living Card Games® (LCGs), in play, do one very interesting thing very well: they simplify complex ideas into visceral, flavorful interactions. In Star Wars: The Card Game, I call these interactions “movie moments,” and I wanted the game to focus entirely on delivering them turn after turn.
I dubbed this vision “cinematic design.” Every facet of the game stems from this idea – from the new style of deck-building to the quickness and open-endedness of battle, card interactions aimed at capturing spirit over direct simulation, and the game’s dramatic, bluff-tastic edge battles.
My first goal was to whiteboard a series of “movie moments” I wanted to see find shape in the game. Having played (and designed) several games based on licenses I love, I saw this as an obvious first step. Since this was a card game, I knew early on that I wanted to get to those moments right away and not worry about anything else. In a way, this game could play out like a hundred different trailers for your own Star Wars experiences.
The scope of the LCG brings these moments into stark relief: on turn one, you’ve already dived in and played through at least one scene. And the pressure is on as the game progresses – if the light side doesn’t mount an offensive, the dark side automatically wins. But the game favors the aggressor overall, so the dark side player can’t just defend and win. He has to take advantage of every opportunity, figure out what is important to the light side player’s strategy for that game, and Force choke him out of existence.
Cinematic gameplay focuses on the big picture, the excitement and the stakes. Whatever gets in the way of this focus is trimmed or cut, leaving us a lean, mean, action-packed game!
Building the Set
What really excited me about designing Star Wars for the LCG format was that I got to try a wholly new approach that could only shine with this awesome platform FFG had developed. One of our big innovations in this game is its approach to deck-building itself. We kept the quality of decisions, heightened the stakes between the choices, and trimmed the rest.
As you saw in Nate French’s previewStar Wars: The Card Game allows you to customize your own decks between games, but it takes a different approach. Choose at least ten different objectives, each linked to a set of five more specific cards, and your deck is built! Simple to explain, simple to dive in and experiment. But just as with many classic games, once you dive into the decision-making process of set-building, the depth quickly becomes apparent.
Set-building has several advantages, but two of them outshine the rest. The first advantage, which I’ve dubbed “Trust Your Feelings,” is that it simplifies deck-building both in the critical early stages when you start playing, and at any point in the future when you return to the game after a break.
Equally exciting is that Star Wars: The Card Game offers a completely new way for experienced players – Jedi Masters, if you will – to look at building their decks. The overall number of decisions they face is fewer, but the stakes of those decisions are very high. Nate did a great job of summarizing this earlier. You have to adjust your thinking and see how the Force binds all things. The value of a card lies not only within its own stats and abilities, but in those of the surrounding cards in the same objective set.
In design and development, we put a lot of thought into how the objective sets are built. Objective sets are organic entities, and they’re designed as a whole. This means they don’t just open new avenues for players; they create new possibilities for game design. In fact, one of my design mandates for future sets is “design sets; the cards will follow."
Edging Closer to Victory
Another innovation built into the game is the edge battle. Conflict is at the heart of Star Wars: The Card Game, and since players will be in engaging in many different conflicts over the course of play, I wanted to make sure there would be a high amount of variance. Additionally, I wanted to make sure the game offered a hefty dose of uncertainty in conflict, as this captures the spirit of the classic Star Wars movies.
Edge battles are blind bids for initiative that capture those moments when forces maneuver into position or circle about each other in tense lightsaber duels. Each card in the game has a number of Force icons, and the player who bids the most Force icons wins the edge, the initiative, and the chance to strike first in the ongoing combat. But once the initiative has been decided, all cards used to bid are discarded, and this increases the tension of each edge battle.
Winning the edge is a crucial component to winning the game because it not only gives you that important first strike in an opposed conflict, it unlocks the true potential of many cards in the game. But you don’t have to win the edge all the time. You can’t win it all the time. You have to manage which cards you are going to keep back to try and win the crucial edge battles.
Additionally, the Force icons that would help win you edge battles are also useful on units in play, as they can contribute toward tipping the balance of the Force in your favor. This is another important element of the game to manage, and you’ll have to decide from deck to deck, game to game, and round to round, which victories are more important to you…because you certainly can’t win them all.
The decisions you face in edge battles mean your choices each turn are a bit less about how to squeeze the most out of your resources and more about how you manage the use of your cards overall. More importantly, they may lead you to manage a few cards over the course of multiple turns, sculpting your hand for a perfect alpha strike when you need it. Of course, doing that denies you the ability to play those cards…oh, the dilemma!
You’ll get more thoughts about design in future articles. In the meantime, I hope Star Wars: The Card Game unlocks as many movie moments and moments of joy for you as it does for me!
    –Eric Lang, Designer Star Wars: The Card Game
Thanks, Eric!

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