Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Initial Hand in Card Games

How a game unfolds in a card game is very dependant on the initial hand. Essentially, the initial draw gives you a random subset of your total abilities to work with. That means your game plan changes with your draw. A lot of the work in deck construction for CCGs goes towards making that initial hand has good options for playing.

The big advantage of this is that each game is slightly different. Sometimes you'll have lots of small effects to harass your opponent. Other times you'll have to stall until you can play a big effect.

Contrast this to WoW. In WoW, you always have access to the full set of your abilities. That means that most non-raid boss fights tend to progress in the same manner. First you play ability A, then you play ability B, and so on. There's some reaction abilities like Kick or stuns, but by and large, once you have worked out a rotation, you stick with it.

(I suppose this doesn't apply to healing in a 5-man, as that is very reactive, and thus different each time.)

Imagine what gameplay would be like if a random 2/3rds of your abilities were locked out when the fight started. I think it might be pretty neat. Every fight would be slightly different. No Fireball this fight, use Frostbolt!

However, it's pretty hard to come up with a reason to justify only having access to a random subset of your abilities in non-card games. In a card game, it's just obviously the way a deck of cards works. Once you accept the metaphor that your powers are cards in the deck, you don't bat an eye at not having access to all powers at all times.

I can't really think of a way to justify not having all your abilities available for a non-card game. Why shouldn't a Warrior be able to use Mortal Strike when he has enough rage? Yet, the initial draw is a very interesting mechanic that goes a long way towards countering the repetitiveness of individual fights.


  1. Funny that you use that metaphor. It's exactly how I viewed my abilities when choosing which ones to put on my skill bar in Guild Wars. I played a Ranger and had to carefully construct a combination of skills to use, as I was limited to no more than 8. It was a delicate balance between damaging abilities, utility abilities (like snares and interrupts), the Resurrection Signet to res a fallen ally.

  2. I wonder what's up with the multiple attempts to tie MtG and WoW lately. Honestly, the 2 games have such a vastly different style of gameplay that making comparisons is unfair.

    There are many other adversarial multiplayer games where the set of abilities each player has is fully unlocked (or, at least, the subset of those abilities that they can use in the match) at the start of the match, and they are far more similar to WoW then MtG would be.

  3. rj, is that really true?

    Most RTS games involve a building phase before you get access to the powerful units or get a significant force. You can't use the major pieces in chess at the very start. You have to open up the board before their power can be fully utilized.

    Plus, I think that looking at very different games is useful. You can see the difference and see the advantages and disadvantages, and think of ways you can get their advantage in your game.

    Finally, there's really only so many emo posts on the state of paladins I can write.

  4. Rotating shields, or equivalent effects, are almost like the random draw of a deck of cards. At any given time, the mob may be immune to physical damage, frost damage, poison, etc. WoW uses this to some extent, though not in such detail.

    This mechanism operates more on the group as a whole, rather than on the individual toon, though. Many classes can be shut down almost entirely by a single type of shield, where mages and warlocks, for instance, can switch to a different school of magic while one type is shielded.

  5. I'm reminded of the old West End Games pen-and-paper RPG Torg. All the players had a handful of cards from a deck of action cards. They could play cards based on various skills listed on the cards to give them bonuses to advance the action by using that skill. The GM also used the deck to offer bonuses/penalties to players during fights, so that there was always some give-and-take going on.

    All the cards had various quotes on them, to encourage flavor text.

    In a similar vein, the Kingdom of Loathing RPG has moon phases that affect stat gain and health/mana recovery quite a bit.

  6. I was having games like Counterstrike and Battlefield in mind, actually. Players choose a "class" and get a subset of their abilities (if not all of them) right off the bat to use in the instant match, and that's all they get (generally).

  7. There is a mechanism a little like this, which has to do with aquiring new gear. You cant guarantee what you're going to get from a boss, nor do you know how long it may take. And while improving your gear is certainly a factor in progressing, there are many ways to get gear & many combinations to get the fight done. But, you will have to work around the characteristics of your particular gear setup at any given moment.

    Getting a raid together is similar - your group makeup is a bit like the initial hand, and while you can control it to some degree via the objective mechanics of class, spec + gear, its the unpredictable human elements that make it so much more fun.

  8. Single-queue for a battleground sometime. If that isn't an "initial hand" mechanic, I don't know what is. You never know what the heck you're going to get, in terms of class balance/synergy, gear, spec, experience, attitude, etc...

  9. I rarely see ideas that are so interesting. This would make PvE and PvP a lot more interesting, but I'm sure as paladins we can both appreciate some certainty, some freedom from the RNG. Balance could be a PITA. Imagine if a hunter found himself with only melee abilities and hunters mark.
    I can also see how this would really help people learn how to use all their abilities.