Custom Card Game Design
Does set size and playability matter?
April 9, 2012Posted by on
So this weekend I finally printed out and sleeved up a singleton cube of my first set, Caeia, and did a few winchester drafts and sealed pools with a buddy of mine. We started at about 10PM (after my wife had gone to bed) and before I knew it, the time was 5:30 AM and I was still wide awake and having a blast.
Lots of changes came from this round of testing. Luckily, nothing turned out to be ridiculously broken or poorly designed, but about 18 cards out of the set (224 cards without the basic lands) needed small revisions (mostly small tweaks to P/T or costs), and a few cards needed added (Added a red enchantment that acts as a life gain hoser, as life gain was a bit too strong and hard to compete against. Added one additional prismatic creature to give more prismatic options, and added a cycle of common enchantment auras that modify their enchanted creature’s color, enabling purity). Printing out the revised cards, as well as the new additions (A few of which you see above and throughout today’s post), today after work and I’m already looking forward to the next playtesting opportunity.
One thing arose from the playtesting that I did not expect. Up until this point, I had really boxed myself in with regards to design, sticking to WotC conventions on size (1 large set around 250 cards and two small sets around 150 cards with typical rarity distribution per block). As mentioned, I printed out the set as a singleton cube and I’m already finding some issues with it. (Disclaimer – I’ve never cubed before, so I may be overlooking some things) With only 224 cards in the set (231 after this weekend’s additions), the set is simply not big enough to function as a cube for 8 players (minimum size needed would be 360 cards). While it worked for Winchester drafting, and for sealed, what I currently have is not functional for 8-players without reprints or additions from other sets On top of that, there are some issues with the cards themselves. A lot of these cards were designed with constructed in mind and don’t function as well in limited.
So what’s the problem? I followed WotC’s conventions, yet my set isn’t completely playable! The issue here is that, of course, I’m not WotC.
With any MtG set (excluding special products like FtV, precons, etc.) any player should be able to creak open a few boosters and play any style of draft they wish. Booster packs are awesome – you don’t know what’s inside them, and you don’t know if the next one will have any duplicates or a full 15 different cards. This is what makes booster drafting so entertaining. Hell, my first booster draft win was because I drafted a deck with like 7 Shriekhorns in it. However, in cube drafting (even cube booster draft), the variance isn’t going to be there. You can’t have true randomness – you get what’s in the cube and not a card more.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily the problem, but it does bring about the question – what size should my custom set be? Although I’ve not decided what I’m going to do with the current block (Soco, Amaretto, Lime) since I’ve already got over a year’s worth of work into it, I plan on designing any future sets with playability in mind. This means designing sets that are a stand-alone 360 cards, or possibly 2-set blocks with 180 cards each, as well as doing smaller designs like duel decks. It also means that my other planned ‘codenames’ (Blood, Sweat, Tears and The Good, The Bad, The Ugly) are out the window. WotC feel free to use those (/wink)
One final consideration is constructed – do you even need to design cards for constructed formats? Or, truthfully, the question is really whether or not people will actually be playing your set in constructed. My personal leaning is yes, as constructed is much easier than limited thanks to programs like Magic Workstation and OCTGN.
Your mileage may vary. Many/most custom designers stick to WotC conventions because that is what we’re familiar with (and, for many, because they want to eventually be noticed by WotC). For me, I’ll likely be designing all future sets with Cube play in mind.
Thanks for reading!