Clash Of Inventors Design Review Part 1 - Mechanics and Subthemes!
Coulter L. Baker
Jul 20, 2022
Welcome everyone, to our Clash of Inventors design review! In this post, we will be reviewing the design of Clash of Inventors’ primary mechanics and its Prism-specific subthemes, to give you an overview of how the design of the set, its mechanics, and subthemes developed over time.
Dash was actually designed long before Clash of Inventors itself. From a card and gameplay design standpoint, having a keyword that says “this card can attack immediately” is incredibly valuable, and as long as two years ago, we already knew that whenever Skyweaver’s first major expansion arrived, this would be the first new Trait to be added to the game, and were planning accordingly.
Beyond its usefulness as a long-term design tool, the immediate design goal with the addition of Dash to Skyweaver is to provide the means for players to utilize units in place of more traditional spell-based removal tools, providing a means for players to answer enemy threats, while simultaneously presenting their own threats. By allowing decks to run units as removal, perhaps in place of some removal spells they’d traditionally run, Dash will help make the flow of gameplay more unit and board driven. This allows more defensive decks to retake board control more aggressively and threaten opponents in the early and mid-game, and allows more board-focused aggressive decks to run a higher density of units, reducing their dead cards when matching against defensive decks.
Similarly to Dash, Micron Drones were another design that had been in the pipeline for a long time. A 1/1 unit is fairly weak in Skyweaver in particular, as it will die to a single hero attack while dealing minimal damage, so Dash was a key part of their functionality.
The first Micron Drone card designed was actually Micro-Swarm, as the idea of three 1/1’s that could attack immediately was very appealing as a removal option, allowing three damage that could be spread around, and the idea expanded to its own token unit from there.
Initially, we had envisioned Clash of Inventors being themed even more around Micron Drones. They would be created through a number of different cards and having a lot of synergies. However as time progressed, we realized that would limit the space for other cards in the set, so we decided to dial back the number of them slightly, and ultimately they only appeared on five cards, but we’re confident we’ll find lots more places for them to pop up in the future.
Since we’re currently launching more compact expansion sets than other TCG games, it was important to work in appealing and powerful sub themes for each prism into the set as a whole, ensuring each Prism a distinct direction and identity within the context of the set, and opening up new play-space for the Prism in the game as a whole.
One of our design considerations with Clash of Inventors was to further the mechanical and thematic distinctions between the Strength and Agility Prisms, as both are fairly aggressive prisms and can sometimes feel similar. To this end, the goal for the design of Strength cards was to support and bolster the part of its identity centered on playing large units, to help allow strength to ‘Go Tall’ with larger singular units, while Agility typically aims to ‘Go Wide’ by playing many smaller ones.
The design of Strength’s subtheme began with Chromeosaur, as an enabler for Strength’s existing pool of large units, and expanded from there. Discover was a no-brainer, providing both a useful and thematic tutoring and cost reduction effect while also serving as a parallel to Intellect’s Seek. Some cost cheating was developed as design progressed, in the form of Dracoimpact, which also saw us incorporate the Dash mechanic into a big unit support card. Another similar cost cheating addition was the near return of a long gone card ‘Clash’ in the new Primal Clash. Through enabling a heavy hitter strategy for strength, we hope to open up more opportunities and play-space for more midrange and late game aggression, allowing Strength decks a means of pressuring and threatening opponents beyond the point where traditional aggressive decks would have long since folded.
We've been pushing a play style for Agility for some time now that encourages it to spend its health aggressively by attacking enemy units with its hero and using cards that damage its hero in exchange for additional power and speed, a design that occasionally felt frustrating to players, who felt they were damaging their own hero for no reason. When designing Clash of Inventors, We knew from early in the process that Agility’s subtheme would be centered on cards that took advantage of its tendency to damage its own hero by rewarding it for spending its health aggressively, allowing it to convert the risks it takes into rewards.
When designing this suite of ‘health loss reward’ cards, we’ve opted to have a number of different conditions to provide diversity in how the cards could be used - cards like Dash for the Cup care for total health lost in a turn rewarding attacking into big units, while Bloodletter triggers each time you lose health, rewarding many small health loss events, and Drone Surge becomes more powerful when your hero is at half health or below, naturally coming online as the game progresses. One thing that showed up in testing was actually that agility could occasionally struggle to damage itself effectively enough to make its new payoffs really pop. Moving forward, we’ll be adding some more cards that will allow Agility to reduce its hero's health, as well as those that reward it for doing so, to help balance out the mechanic.
Wisdom’s subtheme was designed to work in tandem with its inherent ability to draw cards and accumulate resources, with cards that reward it for holding many cards in its hand. The flagship card designed for this sub theme was Overdraft, in service of producing a thematic and powerful removal spell for wisdom that would also provide a clear “large hand size” reward. As we worked on the development of the subtheme, however, we found the design space somewhat limited, and as a result, we expanded the definition of how cards could ‘work’ with hand size.
One primary way the subtheme expanded and grew was through cards like Junk Golem and Dreamcalling caring about hand size indirectly. Both these cards scale in power based on the number of elements among cards in their player’s hand, allowing them to support the hand size subtheme of Clash while building upon wisdom’s existing ‘rainbow’ subtheme, which rewards players for having cards of many different elements. Similarly, Tortugan Chef will buff a unit of each different element in hand, so even though it doesn’t explicitly dictate that you should have a large hand size, it still wants you to have many units of different elements in hand to get maximum value from its effect. To round out the subtheme, cards like Pokey, Mailpig and Mixolotron were designed to help fill your hand with resources to enable the subtheme’s other cards. One other fun design element which isn’t gameplay specific but was intentional was that as a rule, Wisdom’s cards were visually chosen to look like Festival staff and helpers - Cooks, Bartenders, Vendors, Mailmen, etc. Fitting into the idea of wisdom wanting to understand the workings of the world, and its place within it, so thematically, the Wisdom creatures were chosen as those who help keep the larger gears of the Festival of Invention turning.
As a Prism, Heart already has the strongest inherent subtheme in its use of the graveyard, so our goal for Clash was mostly to build upon that in new and interesting ways, achieved through cards like Scrapstrosity, Tireless Iteration, Harbinger, and Scarabot, which provide new benefits based on your dead or dying units, and allow Heart to interact with its graveyard in new ways - returning a spell, combining unit stats, discarding units from deck etc.
However, beyond this initial subtheme, a secondary theme started to emerge during development, and while it didn’t become a full subtheme for Clash of Inventors, it is a subtheme we intend to build upon in the future, that being Heart having a focus on the ability to buff units in your hand. Cards like Soul Drain and Crystal Restorer, and to a lesser extent Harbinger are some of our first. The idea of pre-buffing units fits in well with the “life” side of hearts identity as the “Life and Death” Prism, building up your units before summoning them for big tempo swings. It also strengthens the idea that the cycle has a plan, preparing proactively for what’s to come. Keep an eye out for more designs like these in the future!
When developing the initial design for Intellect, the initial direction was actually more focused on manipulating Enchants! Micron Drones were always a part of the Prism, but we were leaning towards a more enchant focused theme, with cards that could spread their enchants with others, etc. In fact, Amaruath’s Will was actually initially planned to be an Intellect card in Clash of Inventors, supporting this major subtheme! However, Matthew really pushed to focus more on 1-cost cards as Intellect's subtheme, owing to it being a previously existing sub theme currently with limited support, which included changing our flagship Micron Drones from 0-cost units to 1-cost ones.
This new direction proved quite fruitful to design around, as the inherent power of 1-cost units and spells made cards that interacted with them inherently useful and appealing. In particular, Fren-Z and Ooh! Shiny! are particularly exciting tools for 1-cost focused decks, offering a huge payoff and a major value play. The effect of this sub theme and Micron Drones as a whole was bolstering the previously underpowered Unophobia archetype, which can quite reasonably gain 10+ 1-cost cards over the course of a game from drone producing cards alone. It saw a lot of play in our test server, and while it didn’t prove overpowered, it is certainly a deck we expect to see a lot more of in the coming weeks!
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Unfortunately, that’s about all the time we have for this week’s post. I hope you all enjoyed this look into the design and development of Clash of Inventors’ mechanics and subthemes. Join us next week, when we’ll take a more in depth look into the design goals and development stories of some of Clash of Inventors’ individual cards!
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