Today, I'm going to be talking about a couple abstract concepts. First and foremost, I'll be making some Magic: the Gathering references, as it's quite simply the quintessential CCG. No other CCG has ever come close to what M:tG has done. And a lot of the thought-processing that has gone on this week has been in M:tG terms, so forgive me if you are not a player. This week, I've been working on Siege set 2 a lot - The factions and contents of which we'll reveal in due time (Read: soon), and I've had a bit of a revelation. I don't have revelations all that often, but when I do, they're quite powerful and altering - and this particular revelation... Well, it's kind of a crazy one, so buckle your bootstraps; Siege has near-unlimited design space.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, design space is the sum of all of the possible ideas that can exist within a given system. For instance, you can have a 1/1/1 Army, a 1/1/2 Army, a 1/1/3 Army, a 2/1/1 Army, and so on. You can give them abilities, you can give them salary, give them different costs, different Logistics and Command ratings, name them different things, and so on. As I've been working, I've figured that there's really nothing that we can't represent via the Siege platform that would break the system. Which, in a grand sense, means that we really can't make anything 'Broken'. And I suppose I don't mean that in the sense that you're probably taking it. I'm certain that there are cards that we can make with an impact so deep that it changes the face of the game. For instance, we could potentially make an army that's 7/4/5, which is a ridiculously large card, but there are two main things preventing something like that from being broken - First and foremost, that single card can only attack a single army. It can't split its damage amongst multiple sources. Which seems like an enormous hindrance, and in some ways, it is. However, the big thing that makes that card not broken is that you can't pump it that much. Even if you can, attack isn't a timer for your opponent's life total. In Magic: the Gathering, a 20-attack creature gives your opponent one turn to live. You can then do a number of things with that creature to end the game immediately. Fling it at your opponent. Make the critter unblockable. Kill all of your opponent's creatures. Drop a 7/4/5 in Siege, and it might be six or seven turns before it has an impact, if it has an impact at all. A horde of 1-strength weenies could hold that thing off pretty much indefinitely. But in either case, that's a really strong army, and would have an enormous, irreparable impact upon the game - And that's where flavor enters the mechanics game. If Cretan Archers are a 2/1/2, what does 7/4/5 represent? Larger humans? Humans with rocket sleds? There's just not that much room in history for that much variation. Of course, stone-age barbarians with rocks are no match for Teutonic Knights on horseback, so there will be room for things like that. But what I'm mostly referring to in terms of us not making anything 'broken' are bans and restrictions. I made a vow a few years ago to never ban or restrict a card. This may or may not hold up, but as it stands, I can never see a card bad enough to warrant restricting or banning. Mostly because of the engine and the platform that Siege runs off of.
As a result, there is an exponential amount of more player-based interactions on the levels that matter, and much, much less on the levels that don't. For instance, playing a structure is a single-player action. You may want to glance over and see what it is that your opponent is playing, but beyond that, you're not going to be too overly concerned with it. Armies marching towards you, however, are gigantic, glaring problems that you need to pay attention to. Never in Siege will you see an opponent "Combo Out" and go off on you without a single piece of your interaction. I can think of 120 decks extant in Mt:G that herald little to no opponent interaction. Not only that, but most of those combos are set up so that your opponent just scoops their cards at the onset, knowing what's coming. But more than that, there's a huge, huge spike of things like that in M:tG. I remember Astral Slide decks back in the day. You'd drop a morphed Exalted Angel on turn three, flip it turn four, and every turn thereafter, if someone wanted to kill it, you'd have instant-speed, uncounterable ways to tell your opponent to suck it, because there was nothing they could do. More recently, Jund decks made use of the Cascade keyword (A bone which I will pick shortly), at which you could massacre everything in play with relative impunity, swing for huge numbers quite early, and there wasn't much an opposing deck could do about it. Which I disliked. I've always run 'rogue' decks at M:tG tournaments, and I've always been disappointed. Mostly because the 'competitive' field only catered to two or three very narrow deck archetypes at a time. These are the best decks in the current field, period. And that's it. If you don't run X card or Y card, you just straight-up lose.
And the conclusion I drew from that was "this is wrong". I came to this conclusion after designing the newest two factions - I wanted a simple, executable keyword that could work on multiple levels for multiple factions. Ones that wouldn't wreck the game or imbalance the extant power levels beyond a certain parameter (Or set thereof). Twelve ideas later, I realized that I had seven or eight more readily available for other factions, and my brain's gears started turning counter-clockwise, thinking of different cards that could be made, different modes that could be played, and so on. And this is my normal modus operandi for Siege - I've got more ideas in my back pocket than in my front, so to speak.
I've been down this road before, it's a familiar place, and I love it. I love getting elbow-deep into these unexplored reaches of game design - I've done it all my life, and it's where I'm at my most stimulated as a human. I've had visions as to where I want to take the game in the future, and I've had moments where the entirety of gameplay just opens like a flower in spring - I'll come up with three or four hundred ideas in one sitting, and then I won't touch the sets again for a few weeks, my brain completely spent for a bit. But something special happened the other night, and I don't think I quite grasp the ramifications of it yet. We know we have a fantastic game here, and we know that there's demand out there for it.
Everyone who has played the game has been drawn in, and there have been shockingly few complaints - Of course, those who played a while ago may want to get back into it, because as I alluded to last week, there have been a ton of changes since last we did a closed beta. And as we went through what we were planning on releasing for set 2, I realize how horrendously outdated everything was - We've changed costs, we've updated abilities, fleshed out rarities more, gotten power levels fixed, made changes to the number of armies, tactics, structures, and the like... Pretty much everything has changed since the early days of beta-testing. And of course, nothing will be perfect - We are humans, and we will make mistakes, but I think we've gotten the Siege platform to a point where there's a ton of wiggle room, and most of that wiggle room is fun, flavorful, and easy to monitor.
But in either case, as I was working on Set 2, I started digging into scholarly texts and contacting scholars who know far more about the era than I do, and everything that I found sparked an idea in my head. And it hit me - the types of keywords that we can have, the things that they represent, and the ways that they can interact with other cards is absolutely obscene. This is perhaps my proudest "innovation" with Siege - the expansiveness keeps the game fresh. And freshness, to me, is key. I purposefully did not attend the Gatecrash prerelease this past weekend, and there are some very specific reasons why. After nearly two decades of playing the game (And trust me, I loved the game for much of that time), I looked at what decks I was making in my spare time from my casual collection - And the entirety of them were my old decks - Turbo-Stasis, Channelball, Prosbloom, AlkaSeltzer, Goblins, Domain... I could go on, but I won't. But seemingly, all of my decks have stagnated into the same 100 decks or so. Yes, 100 (I have a bit of a CCG problem). But in the course of recent deckbuilding, I realized something - I haven't really made a deck using new cards in nearly ten years.
Now, I'll stop there and clarify - some of that is because I don't have as much access to new cards as those that I already have, of course. I've made decks with new cards, yes. And, of course, I've put new cards into old decks. Hell, Frozen Aether went straight into Turbo-Stasis, and the deck turned mono-blue from that point forward. I've made Type II decks (Which are now just called Standard or Modern or whatever the Hell), I've made decks for pre-releases (I went to Return to Ravnica, and hated it), but my point is this - I haven't actually used any of the new keywords. I don't care about any of the new mechanics. I don't have fun making decks with new cards. I haven't made any decks with new concepts. I've tried - Good God, I've tried. I loved the Original Ravnica block. Hated this one. Multi-Colored blocks like Invasion and Ravnica are amazing to me. I'm amazing at drafting them and playing them, and they (used to) make me happy. But not anymore.
So what changed? Magic just got old to me. I still play from time to time, mostly because my old decks are so old that new players (Which most of them are) don't recognize them at all. Which is thoroughly enjoyable. But beyond that, if people ask me, I respond with an "I don't play anymore". So, to tie this in, I realized why I don't play Magic anymore, and why all of my decks are "Old School" decks (Legacy or Type I or whatever they're calling it now). Beyond the whinging and complaining about Planeswalkers being overpowered and overcosted (Of which I am a partial subscriber to both camps), I came to this revelation that I've been blathering on about this whole time. And the revelation is about CCG design in general - I realized that there's nothing *interesting* about the game anymore. I took a look at the cards, and I was able to compare every single one to a card that already existed. Sure, there are new cards, and there are new keywords, and there are new abilities and costs and all that. And I'll admit that each card is technically different, but if you really get into the bread-and-butter of it, nothing is *new*. Nothing is wow-worthy. The new card frames weren't bad, but they weren't wow-worthy. They were a gimmick. When I saw Platinum Angel, I didn't say "Wow." I thought immediately, "Iridescent Angel." When I saw Darksteel Colossus, I didn't say "Wow," I thought about Polar Kraken. When I saw the card "Rakdos Shred-Freak," I slapped my forehead. It's just been this awful progression of less and less innovation with each set. And sure, some of the newer cards are pretty okay, but as time has gone on, the game has just gotten less fun. Nothing makes me say "Wow". Perhaps it's me and my seen-it-all, curmudgeony nature, but it's a problem. They've lost their entire customer base a few times over because the game can't stay fresh. Perhaps this is the doom of CCGs.
This isn't an M:tG hate-party, but everything about it these days is lacking. The names are awful, the lore is wanting, the mechanics and keywords are miserable and stretched beyond compare, and all they're doing is a formulaic rehashing of what's come before, recycling it, and throwing it back up for the baby birds who haven't gotten a chance to experience. Which is cool - They need to stay in business, and the new kids haven't gotten what we got. Their marketing is trying to keep them above water. And I respect that. This is their livelihood. And I would likely do the same in their position. But what we had was special, way back when. And I wanted very much to recreate that with Siege. So much so, that I've purposefully held tricks back from the launch just so that they can be debuted later and keep the game fresh. And as a result of this, I have learned. I have become a better developer because of M:tG's mistakes, if you can call them that.
But that doesn't answer why I kept making the same decks, but the answer is quite simple - Because since I'm no longer competitive, I no longer have a reason to make anything but "my" decks. And my decks are complete. They don't need innovation. They operate the way they operate, and there's not much that they could release that could replace cards in these decks. I don't want to build a deck around "Battalion" or Gates or "Evolve" or "Cipher" or any of that. There's nothing fun in those keywords. There's nothing fun about the mechanics or the concepts. The creatures aren't fun, they're not interesting, they're not unique. All of the keywords, there's nothing like Cumulative Upkeep anymore - They're all power keywords. There's nothing that shakes the game up in a fun way anymore. There's nothing for the casual player. And that's a loss for them. A huge one. I didn't bail when all of the other players did - I stuck it out. "It'll get better," I said. And it never did. There were moments, of course, just like everything, but as time went on, all my mind screamed was "Gimmick!" and "Cop-Out!"
But what does all this M:tG banter have to do with Siege? Well, quite a bit. I don't want Siege to be that game. I specifically don't want Siege to be that game. We've made it so that Siege is necessarily not that game. Pretty much every mechanic and system that we've designed, the first question we've asked ourselves is, "Can this survive the long-haul? Can we make something fun and flavorful and not obsolete ourselves after five sets?" And the answer is both yes and no. The 'Yes' part of that answer is that in some ways, Siege can go on forever. In another way, of course, people will get sick of it eventually. That's kinda the nature of the beast with CCGs. But it's my job to make sure that it can go on for as long as humanly possible, affect as many people as possible, and really - make life fun for some people. At the end of the day, isn't that what it's about? Fun? Getting away? And I'll tell you, just like I've said before, Brad and I have more fun playing the game than testing and building. And while that's bad for the game in some ways, it also assures me that what we're doing is going to be fun and interesting for you guys.
So, at the end of the day, I can see why M:tG is where it's at right now. And it's unfair of me to expect them to be where they were at twenty years ago, to an extent. But it's currently the benchmark by which every CCG is judged, and as the creator of a CCG myself, I have to make mine better. I have to rise above and view the silly stuff that they do and fix it. That's what I do for a living - I fix things. And I can only hope that I do a good enough job with Siege to inspire someone to do better than I did - to show everyone that it is possible to have a dream, pursue it, and succeed at it. Because I'm the proof. Next week, I may just go into that - Give you guys a bit of backstory behind me. Until then, keep your eyes open for updates!
I promised a write-up on The Stockpile this week, but what I really want to be doing is developing. It's strange, blogging. Writing is kind of my second love (Or first love, depending upon how you look at it), and oftentimes, I enjoy doing this more than I enjoy developing. But at the moment, I am elbows-deep in the new Set 2, and it is going smashingly. If anything, there's far, far too much information for me to sift through. History has this really weird habit of having conflicting information, outdated information, and information in languages that simply don't exist anymore. Which leaves a really awkward amount of empty space where we know that stuff happened, we just have no definitive proof of what that stuff actually was. We have rumor and hearsay, but how much of that is actually truth? They do say that the victors write history, and there exist things like the Voynich Manuscript that to this day remain undeciphered. And then you add in things like the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and the Grand Library of Baghdad, wherein we (Humanity) lost countless historical documents. How do we know for certain that everything that's written is true, and that everything that's written gives the whole picture? We really can't, and don't. But even so, there's so much information to go through and so much creative control over how to represent factions, and I'm having a blast doing the research to find out more about the parts of history that I haven't yet (I stumbled across stuff about the Mauryan Empire last night, and lemme tell ya - Bad. Asses).
But that's not what I'm talking about this week. As cool as theme and flavor and history are, and despite how vital they are to the game, it's the mechanics that make Siege what it is. And one of the coolest mechanics that we've introduced with Siege is The Stockpile. In the stockpile, you keep track of your resources - Morale, Food, Metal, Wood, Stone, and Gold. And if you want, you can keep a running tally of your Logistics and Command Ratings there also. The Stockpile operates on a simple base-10 system, where no value can be more than 10 at the *end* of any Season. This means that during the turn, you can accumulate more than 10 of any single resource, but by the end of the Season, your stores just can't hold more than that. And any resources you accumulate within those parameters follow you from Season to Season. So, while you may only have a single Lumberyard on the field, you're not entirely out of luck. You also get to build up resources for huge structures, immense armies, and so on.
There are a couple nuances about the Stockpile, though. First, food spoils at the end of each Season. So if you make it, eat it. It will not keep. This is kind of a control mechanism as well as a flavor mechanism. For those of you just joining the game, you primarily produce Food equal to the number of territories you control uncontested (Referred to in the game as 'Friendly Territories'), and each army eats a food. This is a great balancing factor, and a really good reason to go grab territory early and often. It also encourages not sitting back, because you'll be at an inherent disadvantage food-wise if you do. Secondly, Command and Logistics are not "Spent" in the same way as other resources. They're just static ratings that tell you when you can play certain tactics, or when certain things become available to your Empire. For instance, if you have a Logistics rating of 6, you may play any number of tactics that equal 6 Logistics in the same season. But the cool thing, is that your Logistics doesn't deplete when you do this - You don't lose Logistics or Command when you play stuff. You only lose the values when the card that provides it stops existing. As a result, if you play 6 Logistics worth of tactics, and have a card that triggers off 5 Logistics, then you still get the bonus from having 5 Logistics.
Now, aside from the concept of the Stockpile as a new CCG concept, there are some really key interactions with how the Stockpile works inside a CCG. First and foremost, you're not 'Tapping' resources, they're there regardless of whether or not you have structures to produce them. To borrow from Magic: the Gathering, were 'Armageddon' a card in Siege, it would do very little comparatively. Sure, you're not going to produce any *more* resources if all structures were destroyed, but the one-sided nature of a card like 'Armageddon' is lessened, the cheapness factor nearly entirely nullified, so much so that I think a card like 'Armageddon' could work rather well in Siege. Will one ever exist? Probably not, but I never say never, because I've actually had crazier ideas for cards in the past. But beyond the obscure ramifications of cards that probably won't exist in Siege, this brings up an entirely different dynamic on how you play the game - One that I don't think I've even fully grasped yet. For instance:
Let's say that you have five cards in your hand, five structures on the board. Your structures are 2x Lumberyard, 2x Mine, and 1x Market. In your hand, your cards cost MW, MMWW2, WWWW1, MMMMMM, and MMMMW1, respectively. In your stockpile is 5 Metal, 2 Wood, and 3 Gold. What the Hell do you play first? What's your best combination? What do you play first, second, third? This is what makes the Stockpile such a great addition to the game. This part, along with Territories and Simultaneous Turns, makes Siege a true 'Strategic Card Game'. And there's no 'right' play for the above. All of that depends upon what you're facing, what your opponent's setup is, what your Morale is at, and so on.
Stockpile Management is something that I'll go into more detail about in the future, but for now, I'll just be introducing concepts to you guys. In the future, we'll be doing open calls for testing if anyone is so interested. I'm going to sign off for now and put some more elbow-grease into Set 2. Next week, I'll be talking a bit about the process of development, and perhaps starting to rewrite my Treatise on Research and Game Development! Stay tuned!
I wanted to update you folks on some progress things and go into a bit more detail about the game. Today, I'll be talking about progress - Where we're at currently, what we're doing to move forward, and how close we are to getting there (I'll answer that one right away - We're freakin' close)For those of you who have been with us for a bit, you know how much Siege has changed during the development phases. From just Attack / Armor to the addition of a Strength stat, the addition and subsequent subtraction of the Siege deck, and the addition of the Siege mechanic. The addition of Morale, the redaction of Markets as a non-basic structure (And Gold as a non-basic resource)... The addition of Logistics and Command, the removal of Ranged, the reintroduction of Ranged, the implementation of Cities (And trade), the concept of card draw being less vital and food being our dump resource... All of these things have led us to this point. And what point is that? Well, as of a couple weeks ago, we began finalizing set 1. And I'm proud to be able to say that we are currently at 100% development for set 1 - entitled "Rome vs. Greece". And yes, those are the first two factions that we'll be introducing into the Siege engine - Roman Legions, strong and loyal, ready to march at the Caesar's orders... And Greece, stalwart and smart... Prepared to defend their homeland against all invaders. And while I won't say anything about future sets, necessarily... If any of you ask the question, "Will ______ be a faction you explore soon?" The answer is 'Yes'. Yes we will. Except for Canada.
We initially had plans to release a particular subsequent set after this (Brad and I have been wanting to get our hands into these factions since day one), but changed gears shortly after set 2's initial development, and ended up with an even better concept - to be announced quite soon. And we've been working feverishly to get set 1 to a place where we're both comfortable with it - and we've done it! But not only that, but we've also been working quite hard at getting Kickstarter things ready, getting distribution models updated, working on our business plan, finalizing artwork, contacting distributors, and so on. And while the vast majority of our past has been development on the game itself, we're now to the point where we're no longer interested in making changes to the system.
Through all of these changes to the game, we've finally landed in a place of balance and a place where it feels right. New elements don't disrupt the game, and old elements don't stagnate the way they do elsewhere. Power Creep isn't nearly as much of an issue with Siege as it is in most other games (I'm looking at you, PoxNora [I beta-tested PoxNora, and tested it in the clusterf- that followed])... And of course I say these things, Siege is my baby. But mt point lies in the system - It is so easy to mold the way we want it to be. It's such an open platform, there are literally limitless possibilities with the game engine. Listen to me, speaking like Siege is a computer simulation. But it kind of feels like one. I can't say too much about it, but at the end of the day, I've dreamed many, many more things that are possible with Siege than we're putting into it currently. I guess my point is this - the platform that Siege creates by existing is far more important than what we do with it now. Siege as a platform and as an engine has so many ramifications, so many possibilities, so much impact to the concept of gaming in general, that I don't even think that Brad and I quite grasp it yet. But this is good. This is longevity. this is where the game needs to be, and where it's been heading for the past... What, four years? These things don't happen overnight, and we've poured limitless hours away from loved ones trying to get this project off the ground. And I'd be pandering if I said that it was all for you guys (But in most cases, it is - I want you guys to be happy with the efforts we've made), it's for us too. Honestly, a good portion of our time has been spent playing the game that we love instead of making the game that we love, but that also speaks vehemently to how much fun Siege is (No one's disliked it yet, which gives me unbelievable amounts of confidence at the game's success). I've had a blast playing the game and analyzing the cool aspects of the system, and just envisioning all the things that Siege can make possible. Knowing how close are to launching just makes me giddy.
And now we're almost there. We need artists, and art. We need talent who can invoke emotions that no one else can invoke. And this will take a while. We are using our savings for this project at the moment, but we'll be opening funding projects in the not-too-distant-future to help with costs. And if we can get the project funded by fans of gaming and games and history, then we can keep making these things for you. Because Siege certainly isn't the only thing that's on our list to do. Siege is the starting point. It's the point at which all of my decades of thought and creativity (And Brad's too) can be channeled and shared with the world. It's the concepts and ideas that make people happy - this is why we do this. I want to see people happy. And I know that sounds trite, but it's the most honest truth that I can provide. Those of you who have known me for years know that I'm not exactly a run-of-the-mill, everyday guy. In good ways and in bad. But I try my best to make a change for the positive. And I think that if I can better someone's life, whether it be through making them smile when they crack open a pack of cards, or whether it be through a briefcase of money I leave on their doorstep on Christmas Eve, I want to be able to make that difference. And that's where Siege comes in. I've never had a concept quite like Siege just plopped down on my lap like this. I've been blessed enough to be able to work on this project with Brad for a number of years now, and my faith in it is just through the roof. Everyone that plays the game loves it - we know it's a hit. It's just getting word-of-mouth out there about the project, who we are, and what we're out there to do. And I hope that I can make a living at it while I'm doing it, because this is what I love and this is what I live for. It's quite literally my childhood dream.
But enough of that. On to actual game stuff! First, I'll be talking about simultaneous turns. This is perhaps the most difficult and most overlooked part of the game. Most people fall into two camps - Those who notice the simultaneous turns right away and flip out about it, and those who have no idea until the game's over and I mention it to them. It's strange, because those who don't notice the simultaneous turns are sort of shellshocked by the concept afterwards, but are overall happy with them. The execution is so smooth, and fits so well with the concepts of Siege and what we're trying to do with the game. I can't imagine doing something like Siege - Or any type of Strategic Game, really - in anything except simultaneous or real-time now. And I'm the type of guy who loathed real-time strategy. I played the original Command & Conquer for all of seven minutes before throwing the controller down in anger, frustration, and hatred. I loved Warcraft (Specifically Warcraft II), but I could never get past half of the missions - I loathed the concepts of RTS. Games from my childhood like Utopia and Sim City - All real-time, but I abused the Hell out of the pause functions of these games, because I just couldn't handle it any other way. As a result, I quickly adopted turn-based strategy games as my own, but Siege kind of changed all of that for me. I now understand why games like Vandal Hearts worked as well as they did - simultaneous turns rock socks. It's as simple as that. It's completely even, perfectly level playing ground. There are no inherent advantages or disadvantages in it - Nothing depends upon, "Oh, if I had won the coin flip..." There's none of that nonsense. It's all flat ground, so to speak. But simultaneous turns make Siege possible - You don't have to sit and wait for your opponent to do something, you can look across the table and see what he's doing and how his stuff is interacting with yours - When your armies move, his move also. It's as simple as that. Your troop movements are key, your build orders are key, if your general were to notice the shield wall that your army is facing, he would - in actual, real-time, decide what his best course of action is. And that's freakin' cool. But it's less impressive to explain and more impressive to show. So any of you who want to hit me up for a game in the next few weeks, feel more than free! And I'll show you why simultaneous turns kick ass.
But this isn't the only thing that sets Siege apart from every other game - Not by a long shot. Along with simultaneous turns, we have the Stockpile. The Stockpile is another really unique, amazing concept - One that I don't even have a full grasp on yet. In other games (Like Magic), there's less resource-management. You count your lands and then you count the numbers on your card. In Siege, you go a bit deeper than that. But that is a topic for next week. Next time, we'll talk about the Stockpile, resources, and the concept of cost. As always, feel more than free to contact either of us with questions or if you'd like to playtest!