Developer Notes #2 - Game Feel and Game Design

Unborn Tenebris was an unstoppable menace. Primordial Tenebris has both counter-play and a cost associated with playing him.

It never feels good to lose, but it is often a fair outcome. Mitigating this negative feeling is one of the most important aspects of game design.

Game feel defines the experience of playing a game. This applies to the emotions of the player as well as how the game flows. Game balance is the concept that the game is fair for both players. In order for a game to be both fun and fair for all participants, the gameplay should make the players feel in control of the outcome of the game. providing meaningful decisions to players, and then giving their opponents the opportunity to interact with their choices is a surefire way to improve upon game feel without sacrificing game balance. This was an early issue faced in the development of Flagbearer.

Originally, Naturae could utilize cards straight from the discard pile, which caused several major issues. playing cards from the discard meant that they effectively never lost monsters as, even if they died, they could be re-played with little cost. In turn, we nerfed access to milling (placing cards from your deck directly into the discard pile) in order to put a cap on their efficiency. This effectively boiled down every game against Naturae into a gamble if they would get out one of their 5 Sowers of Destruction (their go-to milling relic) which could then be destroyed if not properly protected. This seems wildly unfair for the Naturae player until you realize that leaving that relic up for even a single turn was practically a game loss for the opposing player. So, what did the players think?

One of the most frequent pieces of feedback we heard at the time was that “insert Naturae monster” was too strong. I say that because the complaint was easily applied to any Naturae monster as they could all sweep the board given proper setup. The second most prominent concern at the time was that it was too difficult to mill as Naturae. Clearly, making mill more consistent would only make the former issue more prominent. So, what did we do?

Our solution, introduce mulching (mulching places a card from your discard pile into a new mulchyard zone). By requiring an additional step for the utilization of effects, we could both improve the game feel of playing Naturae by increasing the reliability of their relics, while also providing key counter-play by means of destroying mulching relics. Furthermore, playing a card once was no longer a guarantee that it would remain on the battlefield until the end of the game. The response to this change was wildly positive. The game balance remained fair, but the game feel had been measurably improved.

Using random chance as the sole balancing measure to hold back Naturae’s power certainly backfired early in development. Next week I will be talking about the impact luck can have on a game and the design space its presence opens up.

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