Crystal Clash

In this blog I will discuss the ongoing process of designing Crystal Clash, as well as Magic and cubing.

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Crystal Clash - The Impetus

Tommy Occhipinti
United States
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Magic Fanboy
Microbadge: Math GeekMicrobadge: Dark Souls fanMicrobadge: Futurama fanMicrobadge: Spirit Island fanMicrobadge: Rainbow
Welcome to Crystal Clash, where I hope to discuss the ongoing process of co-designing a new deck-building game, Crystal Clash. This game is still very much a work in progress, but I hope that by writing about the process I can clarify it in my mind. In today's post, I discuss the motivation to design a game of this sort, and the original idea in its barest simplicity.

First, a bit about me. I am a long time Magic addict, and continuing devoted fan. I am primarily interested in limited, and I tend to have multiple draft cubes at any time. Magic is, by a really very wide margin, my favorite game. To me, though, Magic is a board game much like any other. By that I mean that I would like to be able to pull out Magic on a game day with 2-4 people, draft decks, and play them in about 2 hours, and put it away and play something else (or do another draft!). I'm not a tournament player, and I don't do any constructed.

Looking back, I think this all started in the wake of Dominion. I had played Magic a lot in college, and I had a lot of cards laying around, and I missed the game. Playing Dominion scratched the itch in some way. But, as they say, scratching the itch just makes it worse! What was awesome, though, was that all of my friends really liked Dominion too. It seemed they were ripe for the plucking. So I grabbed some of my old cards, picked out my favorites, and made my very first draft cube. We played a bunch, and it was overall quite successful.

Of course, I hadn't played Magic in about 5 years at this point, so I had to go look at all the cards I had missed. See, I had the theory that, in order to make the cube as fun as possible, I should combine as many fun and neat and interesting cards as possible. Over time I discovered that this simply isn't how it works. R&D spends a lot of time creating careful synergies among the cards and mechanics in a given set, and pulling just a few of those cards out and throwing them in a hyperenvironment with other cards destroys a lot of the work that is done very carefully by professionals.

It also creates something I didn't at all understand back at the start, complexity. Playing out of the cube as it evolved was brain melting because every card in the cube was intrinsically interesting. They all did something. Almost all had activated abilities, many multiple activated abilities. Many of the cards read like a riddle. What is this card for? What combos exist? While I found this exhilarating, those I played with (who had not spent the majority of their childhoods playing Magic) were not such big fans. They craved more structure and more stability, and most of all simpler cards. So I began using draft cubes that contained cards just from one block. Of course, this simplifies things a lot. You see, it turns out sets are designed by Mark Rosewater and friends with this exact issue in mind.

Still, the deck building aspect makes this very scary for the new player. After all, a game is a three step process: A) Draft 45 cards B) Build a deck with those cards C) Play a game with the deck you built. There is then a huge problem with skill acquisition. After you lose, it can be very difficult to identify what step you lost at. Did you draft poorly? Did you build a poorly structured deck? Did you make play errors? This creates a lot of depth that makes the game rewarding, but at the same time creates what to many new players feels like an impenetrable barrier to entry. It also creates a huge issue for a game I own to have: it is very difficult to get people to play it. Someone who has never played Magic before has a lot of work ahead of them to do a draft and feel like they are doing well. This is a commitment most people (my blessed gaming group from Tucson aside) are just not willing to make.


So, we have a clear issue. Building a deck is unintuitive, and a deck building phase of a game is unattractive to many players (particularly new ones). It should be noted that new players tend to like the part where they draft cards. It is the part where they have the narrow the focus of those cards are remove entirely some cards they might very much like, or play some cards that they very much don't, that they enjoy less. There are also some finicky issues such as deciding mana bases which are perhaps not particularly compelling for new players (but end up having a big effect on the game's outcome).

How can this be solved?

One method, employed by an increasing array of games that began with Dominion, is to remove the A->B->C system and make everything simultaneous. You build your deck and play at the same time.

The idea behind Crystal Clash is simple: remove B. In other words, in Crystal Clash players should pick a random pile of the included cards, draft them (i.e. distribute the cards amongst the players in some way resembling a mini game), then pick up the pile of cards they drafted, shuffle them, and play the game. This removes the part of a Magic draft that new players tend to find most unpleasant, while maintaining the part I find most fun: the drafting!

The idea clearly had promise, but how would it work? Join me next time when I talk about how my co-conspirator and I began to nail down the specifics of gameplay by asking the question: "What makes Magic gameplay so compelling, and how can we capture it in this format?"
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Fri Feb 18, 2011 3:43 am
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