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OverRealm - Buff me baby one more time

Stallagrowth - Rock Smash

Hey everyone!

In my previous blog post, I discussed that my card game OverRealm is modeled after the video game Pokémon, and seeks to fix all of that game’s excessive complexity while maintaining (or exceeding!) all of the interesting decision making. However, OverRealm is not the first game to attempt this.

David Sirlin’s Kongai is a fixed Pokémon. It’s a great game, and he has a fantastic blog post detailing his design goals when addressing Pokémon’s design issues (Sirlin has a ton of other blog posts about his other game designs that are worth reading. His board games are also very good, especially Flash Duel and Codex). Kongai has influenced the design of OverRealm, so it would be in poor taste to not mention it.

So why create a fixed Pokémon when Kongai exists? Well, it comes down to preferences of design decisions. While there is nothing inherently broken with Kongai, there are things that I wish were different or absent altogether.

The numbers are too big

A pet peeve of mine is when games incorporate larger numbers than necessary - I call it the Yu-Gi-Oh! problem. In Yu-Gi-Oh!, monsters have attack and defense powers in the thousands, when two digits would suffice. 18 is easier to comprehend than 1800. Sure, 1800 feels stronger, but it’s an unnecessary complication.

To be clear, Kongai’s numbers are nowhere near that size, but they’re still higher than I’d prefer. Health totals upwards of 100, 100 max energy, attacks dealing 65 damage, etc. The case for numbers in this range of say 0 - 100 is that it allows for a higher degree of design gradients and flexibility. But I think relying on a wider range of numbers is a design crutch preventing clever solutions.

Multiplication

This ties a little bit into the previous point with numbers being large, but I think multiplication is less intuitive than addition/subtraction for most people. Kongai’s resistance system is a smart distillation of Pokémon’s, especially when looking at multi-hit attacks. Asking players do perform 11 - 3 * 4, in my opinion, is again too much, and a system like this requires bigger numbers to have the impact on gameplay that it requires.

Two double-blind decisions per turn

This last point is my biggest gripe with Kongai. Each turn, players must make two separate double-blind decisions. The first determines the “distance” for the turn - close or ranged - and the second is used for selecting your action for the turn. This idea of range is a clever one because many character actions can only be used at close or ranged. This allows players extra strategic wiggle room within matchups. However, sometimes this mechanic is irrelevant. In the instance where you have two characters who prefer fighting at close range, neither is incentivised to change the range for a given turn. This adds some clunkiness to the game by forcing players to make a decision neither cares about.

More importantly, I think one of the core promises of the Pokémon formula is selecting one double-blind action per turn. It’s important to understand what adding something like this does to a design, but equally important to understand what it’s taking away. And I think it’s taking away too much.

Back to OverRealm

The best way to illustrate the ways OverRealm addresses these design quibbles I have with Kongai is with an example. All of the monsters in OverRealm have four unique action cards. These cards are displayed openly on the table, and selected by using an action board concealed by a player shield. Here is one for Stallagrowth (please note that the graphic design is all still in prototype form):

OverRealm - Rock Smash

Rock Smash is a rock type attack that deals 4 base damage (indicated by the sword slash symbol). Additionally, if this hits either a fire or electric type monster, it deals an additional 4 damage (in the case of it hitting a monster that is both fire and electric, it adds the lower of the two elemental modifiers, but they’re both 4 in this circumstance). Rock Smash has a speed of 7, where higher speeds are faster, which determines which actions hits first. This attack has some attack text, but I won’t be focusing on that today.

In order to even select this attack, you must discard three cards from your hand, indicated by the three minus card symbols. You start the game with two cards in your hand, drawing one at the end of each turn. So on turn one, you can’t even use this attack.

Note: one of Kongai’s smartest design ideas was decoupling speed from the character, and instead attaching speed to actions. This makes the decision making process way more interesting.

Buff me baby one more time

Lastly, but most importantly, are the two “Buff” icons beside those discard icons. When selecting this action, you can optionally use up to two cards from your hand to augment Rock Smash. Buffs have a wide array of effects, but at their simplest, they can increase the selected action’s attack or speed value.

Buffs are OverRealm’s wiggle room. These allow players the same sort of tactical and strategic rewards that Kongai’s distance mechanic offers, with the added bonus of excitement and unpredictability, all without an additional double-blind phase. All buffs and discards are selected before anything is revealed, so you need to make all of your decisions before knowing what your opponent is doing.

Your deck of buff cards is determined by the monsters you selected for your team. Each monster has four buff cards, and a team is composed of three monsters, so a deck is 12 cards small (actually it’s 14 cards but that’s a different topic). This has a ton of fun downstream effects on the game:

When deciding which monsters to have on your team, it’s important to consider what buffs they could provide other monsters. It also makes your team feel like they’re supporting each other even when they are not in play.

You know what buff cards your opponent could have lurking in their hand from turn one since team composition is open information. This also means that discard piles indicate what players are now unable to do (these decks do shuffle when empty).

Not only do players need to select an action for the turn, they also need to worry about what they discard. Maybe it’s not worth discarding your entire hand because then you lose access to those buffs you’ve been saving - and need.

It’s hard to overstate how important, impactful, and simply fun this buff mechanic is in OverRealm. It makes each turn feel different from the last. It makes matchups with the same monster but with different teams feel different. It’s the lifeblood of OverRealm.

What if I told you that’s not all buff cards do? Well that’ll have to wait for the next blog post!

Comments

Sounds very interesting!

I really find the concept interesting. I find the idea and what you have presented very real. Your game seems like a game that has gone through many iterations.

You also bring up valid points about Yu-Gi-Oh! too. Big numbers and multiplication for the most part have no place in most games. I naturally mean TableTop games... Not video games...

However nowadays with smartphones, it is possible to code an App that does some of the computation for you. If it's a stand alone App without any need for Internet... Well you "could" use bigger numbers and multiplication.

So while I really do applaud your simplified concept... Just be aware that there are ways to make a game more complex but still retain that simple feeling.

Cheers!

Re: Sounds very interesting!

Thanks for reading questccg.

questccg wrote:
However nowadays with smartphones, it is possible to code an App that does some of the computation for you. If it's a stand alone App without any need for Internet... Well you "could" use bigger numbers and multiplication.

I would definitely say that Kongai gets away with multiplication and larger numbers because it's digital. A smart GUI can lessen the computational load of these types of modifiers. Hover over the action and display how much damage an attack (or whatever it is you're doing) does, post maths.

It's always important to design within the constraints of the medium you're designing for, as well as leverage the medium's strengths to convey information as clearly as possible. In OverRealm you have to manage the health pools of three different monsters. Doing this digitally is easy, but physically is kind of annoying. If the pools were larger numbers - say 50 instead of the average ~10 they are currently - that would be way way more annoying.

I'm all about reducing fiddliness!

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blog | by Dr. Radut