Content of the article: "“Created By” Isn’t An Interactive Mechanic"
Hey all, J_Alexander back again to talk about how card generation mechanics are some of the least interactive ones in the game, as they currently exist.
I'm sure many of you are thinking that mechanics like "charge" or "stealth" are less interactive, right? Allow me to convince you otherwise by thinking about what it means to interact with something meaningfully.
It's an all-to-common scenario to be playing a game of Hearthstone, feel like you have everything wrapped up, and then having the rug pulled out from under you by some cards carrying the words, "created by" under them. It can feel truly awful to deal with and leave you feeling like there wasn't much you could do about, or learn from, the experience.
We've all been there before.
To be clear upfront, I am not not saying that playing with card generation isn't (or can't be) skill-testing. Sometimes it can be, sometimes it might not be, like many other cards and effects in Hearthstone. Navigating your way through a bunch of random resources successfully can involve a lot of decision making.
What I am saying, however, is that, to the extent lots of random card generation is skill-testing, it's mostly skill-testing for the player generating the cards. When you generate cards, you have all the knowledge. You can pick them when discovery is an option; you can plan for how you're going to use them in future turns; on the most basic level, you know what the cards you made are and what your new range is. The person doing the card generating is very much in the driver seat of utilizing their skills.
But what about the opponent? That player is much more in the role of a passive recipient. Knowing the range of an opponent's deck has always been a skill-testing aspect of the game, but when that range begins to include some number of new random things – from almost none to approximately a full additional deck's worth – that skill set can be correspondingly constrained.
If you know what decks you're likely to face on ladder, you can build a deck to counter the meta. This is possible for mechanics like Stealth (non-target damage effects) or Charge (Taunts/Heals). On the other hand, it's not particularly possible to build a deck that counters lots of random card generation because, well, it's random. You don't know what you'll have to counter. While you can try and counter a deck's main game plan, you cannot counter the random elements of it nearly as well.
Similarly, if you know what you're likely to face on ladder, you can play around opposing tools and properly utilize your resources. However, it's also not particularly possible to play around lots of options that could be created over the course of a game, as playing around one option often means playing into another. When options for creating even 1-cost spells can be as wide as, "Deal three random damage" to "Add 10 random spells to your hand," that doesn't leave nearly as much room for utilizing your understanding of matches on a game-to-game basis.
If you're creating a lot of stuff, then, this leaves the opponent very much in the position of, "Guess I'll just ignore the fact that random cards exist, make my best play with the knowledge I do have about their deck, and hope it works out" because that's about all they can do. It's usually the win-rate maximizing play, anyway. Just play around the standard range of the opponent's deck, and hope you don't randomly get punished by an AoE or some burst damage they don't start the game with access to. After all, playing around a potential random AoE effect when their deck naturally contains none can play into random single-target removal instead. Since there's often no good reason to assume a random spell might be an AoE, or burst, or single-target removal, the correct play can be to play around nothing.
This is the core of what makes the "created by" mechanic non-interactive: it's something that one player does and gets to think about, while it's something that happens to the other player. Skills in deck building and meta knowledge get circumvented. The more things get created, the larger the range of created by things, the less interactive the mechanics become.
It doesn't have to be this way, of course. Not that discover needs to be changed, but here are four possible ways discover effects could work:
The opponent sees neither the options nor the choice (like now)
The opponent see the discovered card
The opponent see the options offered
Opponent see both the options and choice
All these options have different implications for how games play out, how interactive the mechanic is, how skill testing it is, its power, and how exciting/frustrating/satisfying it can be. They're definitely things to think about.
Now in recent interviews, Iksar has suggested that the "created by" meta is at the peak of what we could expect to see, and we should expect it to be confined to certain classes more moving forward, in an effort to make it feel like more of a class identity.
Regardless of whether we want to consider "random" an identity or not, simply confining the mechanics predominantly to one or a handful of classes (like Mage, Rogue, and/or Priest), doesn't fundamentally do anything about how non-interactive it can be. It just might mean those classes gain reputations for being frustratingly random at times when they make opponents feel like they couldn't reasonably plan for what happened during the games.
With that in mind, I also wanted to look at some common points made in favor of the created by mechanic, and why players feel it is good for the game.
- "Created by" card generation makes games feel different
For me, this is not particularly true. When a game is decided because of a Lackey making a spell for lethal, I don't feel like the game was lost to that spell; I feel like the game was lost to the Lackey/Miscreant (or whatever made the lackey). When a game is lost to a flurry of mage generated cards, I don't feel like I lost to a Flamestrike; I feel like I lost to a Mana Cyclone (or whatever made the Flamestrike).
As the generator cards are always in these decks, games against them don't end up feeling very different. It more feels like the same game as usual against the archetype (as the broad game plans are generally similar from match to match), but now I'm taking that typical match and also rolling the dice to see if something I shouldn't have been playing around or anticipating in the first place ended up punishing me.
While the created by cards might make games feel different for the pilot of the deck, it's not clear that feeling translates as well to the opponent.
- "Created by" card generation is good for Free-to-Players
The idea here is that many players don't have full collections and can't play with the cards they want. These cards that make random cards are good for that type of player because it lets them play with cards they otherwise wouldn't have. While that much is true, that's more a criticism of how expensive Hearthstone is for some players. Saying random generation is good for players without many cards is more using the mechanic as a justification for the current pricing model of the game.
If players had access to better collections for less time/money, they would actually be able to play with more cards they wanted, rather than random ones.
- "Created by" is simply fun to play with
And that's totally fine if you like it. There's no doubt that a certain group of players really does enjoy just logging into a card-based casino and rolling the dice a few times to see what wacky things happen. Those players should absolutely be catered to and supported. For that purpose, there is the entire game mode of Tavern Brawl, for instance. Just some casual fun.
That said, if ranked ladder is more your thing but you still want tons of randomness in your games, the odds are likely good that winning games isn't as high a priority. In that respect, cards that make random cards could be made at power levels that simply leave them not particularly competitive. That way, players can use lots of cards that make random things happen if that's their jam, but it does less to take away from the players looking to have more interactive, competitive experiences.
- Reflecting on the “Created By” Meta
- Deck of Kings (need some homebrew help)
- Unite Dominion is relative consistent now
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