Development Diary #22
Saying Goodbye to the Hive and the Veil
The last Alpha playtest session with the Xizeks and Ethereals has concluded. Of course there will be more tweaking and playtesting in the future, but it is time to move on to the Alpha testing of the Astracite mirror matches. Here are the results of the playtest session and my reflections on the two kingdoms as a whole.
Refined Resources as Gold as Superfluous Mechanic
This playtest saw the experiment of Refined Resources in the place of Gold. Refined Resources were upgraded versions of naturally generated tribute/kingdom resource. At the 180° reward on the domains, players were able to exchange basic resources for refined ones that were worth more when used. This worked very much like gold where you cash it in for what you want, with the difference being that tribute/resource were already a part of the game, where gold added another resource type to keep track of and had no natural use to be spent besides the conversion.
Refined Resources were able to diminish the over the top upkeep of gold; however, with the changes to the domain resource reward orientations, there was no clear benefit to refine resources. Players experimented with the mechanic in the beginning of the game, but it quickly became forgotten. It added no dynamic strategy to the game, and ultimately showed, the orientation rewards are probably the better route to explore resource management development.
The World Turns Towards Tribute
Tribute was placed at the 0° orientation and was awarded like gold when the domain returned to its resting position. This made Tribute available more than normal. Though players produce no Tribute their first turn, they are able to play a building, and even upgrade it if they desire. They could also stock a Magic if they wanted to plan some spell casting. After that first turn, Tribute becomes available, and it allows for those first few turns to be more interesting. Overall, I think this change to Tribute is just about perfect, and I see this being the standard for the governed domains.
If the World Turns Towards Tribute ...
With Tribute per turn feeling like it has reached its optimal amount, this really leaves it up in the air on how to handle Kingdom Resource and Magic. This is the next thing that will be explored with the Astracite playtest sessions. I'll have to decide what resources should be prioritized and easier to get, and that will take some finessing on my part.
Magic is OP
The spells in Kingdoms of Immacus can do some fun things, and controlling the battlefield is one of those things that is fine in finite amounts, but it will need to be reevaluated. This is more of a costing issue than anything else I feel. The spell costing curve is much simpler (and cheaper) than the unit costing curve. Therefore, Magic may get bumped to the 180° orientation of the domains, making it more of a cost to players to focus on spells to dominate the battlefield. Kingdoms of Immacus is not Hearthstone. A player shouldn't be able to clear the board with low-costing spells since the units in Kingdoms cost so much. There is much more investment in units to bring them out (cost and unit cap cost) and upgrade them, than there is for spells (cost for Mage Academy/upgrades).
For unit/spell balance I have two options. I either need to make it so it is easier to play units, so losing them is not horrible, or I need to make the spells that swing the game harder to play. With a busy game, I'm opting to make it harder to play spells. I originally thought I did this with the Mage Academy gatekeeping master spells and enlightenment, but the building upgrade cost may be too low. Altering Magic's location on the domains may be enough, so I will start with that.
What bothered me most about the playtest session before this one was the number of cards players had to keep tossing as they reached their hand limits. When I was originally theorycrafting the game, I felt more cards would be better to come up with a strategy; however, I now realize that isn't the case for Kingdoms of Immacus. Having an initial 8-card hand with the domain and Blueprint pile at a player's disposal, is too much. For this playtest, the hand was dropped to 5, which was much more manageable.
There was no reason the player needed 8 cards when they couldn't play from their hand until at least turn 2 in most cases. That meant by the time they were ready to play cards, they were at hand cap, and that's dumb. The 5-card hand seemed to work really well, so that'll be the starting hand moving forward.
Fomenters Keep on Fomenting
I feel like I always need to report how great the Fomenter units are doing. Good news, they are still doing great. The way Fomenters engage in battle is interesting mainly because of the limitations on them. If a player chooses to throw all their Fomenters on an opponent's domains, it really limits their response to a player who then plays Fomenters themselves. Once a Fomenter is on a domain, it stays on there until it is killed or liberates a domain. It also splits the battlefield into two distinct fields with different strategies. Non-Fomenters engage with other Non-Fomenters, heroes, and buildings, so its more intuitive to have non-Fomenters, but not having Fomenters really shows their importance. What better way to rage quit a game than to have your economy crippled by Fomenters.
Reflections from Hive Xendrula
Over the course of the Alpha Xizek testing, the Xizeks have evolved from insanely overpowered with Hero Bond increasing Xenic's attack and defense to underpowered with no proper control mechanics, to just about right in their current form. Once testing goes through the final Alpha with equipment and constructs added in, Beta will open up and allow players to help us fix any kinks I missed with the Xizeks. In their current form, they have just the right amount of control through Xenic's Miasmic Master spec or through the sludge/cripple opponent strategy. They have a nice balance of damage spells that can help the Xizeks in a crunch, but their ability to mitigate damage makes them fun to play. Hero Bond, Hardened Carapace, and Regenerative Hemolymph make them feel cohesive in their damage reduction/avoiding abilities, which will get more defined over time and with more cards.
Their endemic abilities to evolve, level quickly through their ungovernable domain, and propagate through cards like Suspicious Pustule and Xetze Swarm helps round out their theme. I'm very happy with how they have come out, and I'm looking forward to any improvements I can make with them over the course of this journey.
Reflections from the Veil
I never really thought these tricksters would be so tricky to use, but the Ethereals definitely give new players some trouble. By new players, I mean players that have never played card games before. Ideas like the benefit of drawing additional cards or having opponents discard cards are not as obvious to new players as opposed to direct conflict. Combine that with Phase, Veil Cost, and Mania, and you have some players more confused than the Ethereal's status aliment. Since Chef Buu's hero abilities are directly tied to those mechanics, poor Chef Buu never got the love he deserved, and definitely to the detriment of the Ethereal players. Over the course of Alpha, there were many times Phase could have wiped unnecessary damage, and Buu's abilities could have buffed units coming back from Phase. And maybe Chef Buu will see some tweaks come Beta, but I'm going to move forward with him as is until then.
Despite some confusion about Ethereal mechanics, there were highlights from these playtests where Ethereals shined and stomped the Xizeks. Spirit Possession, Return of the Ancestors, Esolta Samara Bearer, and Dazzling Kitsune are a few cards that come to mind that drove the Xizeks crazy in a good way. I would like to see what experienced players would do with the Ethereals, and perhaps a match against the Astracites is in order once the mirror matches feel good and the bugs get worked out. I'm very happy with the way the Ethereals feel, and how their tricky mechanics play together in such a way that gives experienced players interesting decisions to make. They always seem to make me smile when they successfully cast Mimic Mirror on a nasty spell.