Playing Gwent nowadays

If you’re looking for a game where your decisions matter, definitely check out Gwent.

My disappointment with Eternal is that it has become even more random and less strategic.  Cards like Throne Warden make Armory even less interesting to play against as relic weapons repeatedly remove your board.  Set 2 has introduced Champion of Fury, a needlessly swingy card that clearly finds its home in a mindless SMOrc/aggro archetype.

So let’s talk about Gwent.  Gwent’s developers have been willing to make huge changes to the game to try to make it more fun.  Less interesting mechanics (e.g. the uninteractive Kambi combo) have been nerfed so that they won’t see mainstream play.  When they make balance changes and rework cards, they’re clearly thinking about whether or not a card is fun to play against.

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My criticism of Eternal’s balance and card design

First off, let me say that the metagame just before the wipe was insanely good.  It was extremely diverse and many decks were viable. The really interesting thing is that many Masters players would intentionally play underpowered jank (e.g. dark Clockroaches) on ladder.  Everybody knows that Clockroaches isn’t tier 1 (probably tier 3 or 4).  But Clockroaches made up several percent of the metagame that I faced because it was fun.  It is wonderful that people are having fun in this game.

What that being said, let me get into why some of the post-wipe changes strike me as mistakes.  Cabal Countess is the most questionable decision:

  1. She moves the metagame into the wrong direction.  Ideally, jank like Clockroaches should be semi-competitive- not too good but not too awful.  Cabal Countess widens the power gap between tier 1 and fun jank. She will likely harm metagame diversity.
  2. She has less strategic depth and interesting gameplay than Shadowlands Guide.
  3. From a card design perspective, she has unnecessary complexity.  This makes the card more difficult for new players to grok.

cabal-countess

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Say hello to our new Queen overlords

Well… the wipe changes were a little unexpected.  Cabal Countess strikes me as needlessly strong.  She is good against enemy sweepers- she can be played after the sweeper and get in 4 or 6 damage while leaving a very strong body behind.  Any card that can reliably deal 6 face damage is very good in Burn Queen.  She looks like a very good addition.

cabal-countess.png

Control decks that relied on Secret Pages for influence fixing and getting to double justice for Harsh Rule (or a single Primal for Lightning Storm with only 2 power) have basically been nerfed.  I don’t think that these control decks will fare well against the new annoyingly-fast queen decks.

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Game design and skill ceilings

(This is a follow-up post to Eternal’s skill ceiling.)

I don’t think that a high skill ceiling is necessarily a feature of a great game.  Many strategy games have a high skill ceiling without being popular, such as obscure Chess variants (e.g. bughouse) and games like Go.

In terms of commercial success, I think that the most important thing is for players to love a game.  Players love Magic The Gathering for different reasons.  The game’s lead designer Mark Rosewater has labeled the main demographics as Spikes, Timmies, and Johnnies.  Spikes are interested in winning.  Timmies are interested in throwing down big creatures and winning in a splashy way.  Johnnies are interested in being creative and winning in a creative way, e.g. winning with jank.  It’s only the Spike demographic that cares about skill ceilings.

As far as skill ceilings go, there are different aspects to it:

  1. Building out an eSport around a game to drive interest in the game (so that it will make more money).  The most skilled players in a game may avoid becoming a tournament pro if their skill doesn’t necessarily translate to tournament success (and therefore being able to make a living as a pro).  I’m not sure if a tournament scene is necessary from a financial standpoint.  Some companies like Nintendo don’t even care- Nintendo actively antagonizes the grassroots Smash Brothers Melee competitive scene and seems disinterested in re-releasing the game.
  2. A player may leave a game once they hit the skill ceiling; a game may become boring after you have mastered it.  Personally, I stopped playing Arena Hearthstone once I largely figured it out and got bored of it.

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