SkyWeaver - Game Design Fundamentals

Coulter L. Baker

Jun 18, 2019

Hi, I’m Jon Loucks, lead game designer of SkyWeaver. I’m here to tell you about the game design of SkyWeaver, a trading card game from another dimension, created by all of us at Horizon.

I’m thrilled to write this article. I became a game designer because of card games. I played competitive Magic: the Gathering for a decade, made it to a few pro tours, and into the top eight of a Grand Prix. I got involved with the community by writing strategy articles, co-hosting a podcast, and streaming. I even made it to the WoW TCG national championships one year ;)

These experiences landed me my first job in the gaming industry as a game design intern on Xeko, and I’ve been a game designer ever since. I’ve been privileged to work at the big places—Microsoft, Amazon, Riot—as well as scrappy startups, like when I shipped Loot & Legends. I even worked at Wizards of the Coast on Magic itself! I’ve been fortunate to have great opportunities and mentors. Richard Garfield was my teacher in college—how lucky!

I’m now the lead game designer on SkyWeaver, which is a privilege and an honor. I’m making this game for my friends, my community, fellow designers, and—of course—the players. While I love card games, I feel underserved by the current offerings of the genre, and I don’t think I’m alone. I want to do better, and I think we can. Today, I’m going to share how.

First, let’s address some of the problems with card games in the market today.


PROBLEMS WITH CARD GAMES IN THE MARKET TODAY


Financial accessibility is an issue.

Screenshot of Hearthstone, Copyright Activision-Blizzard

Free-to-Play is the go-to business model these days, and for good reason: more people can play the games! But, “free-to-play” is often a misnomer. It is common to call a draft mode “free-to-play”; for a small grind, or a low cost, players compete on an even footing. However, when these games claim that their constructed modes (i.e. modes in which you compete with decks you’ve built from your card collection) are free-to-play, I take issue. To build competitive constructed decks costs hundreds of dollars or months of grinding. If you can’t afford the price tag, you’re stuck with an underpowered deck getting crushed by players with truly competitive decks. It’s akin to playing League of Legends or Overwatch without your character’s ultimate ability. These games were designed to be played with a full kit, and could be called “pay-to-compete”.

Rotating sets penalize players who take a hiatus.

Screenshot of Hearthstone, Copyright Activision-Blizzard

Every so often, you might not have the time to play your favourite game, so you need to take a break. Perhaps it’s for a few days, a few months, or a year. When you return to a game that rotates its cards out of play, you might find that the deck you invested time and money into is no longer playable.

Deckbuilding is a burden.

For some reason, many card games make building a deck a massive project: visit some third-party website, research options, cross reference decks against your collection, build your own budget version, import the deck into the client, and then finally, you can test your deck in the wild.

Deck building redundancy reduces variety of gameplay and limits design space.

Screenshot of Magic the Gathering Arena, Copyright Hasbro

Non-singleton deck building is the standard in today’s card games, meaning you can play multiple copies of the same card in your deck. This approach is touted for its consistency. For example, playing 4 copies of a card in a 60-card deck gives you a 40% chance of drawing that card in the first seven draws. With that baseline consistency included in the deck building, there’s not a lot of design space left for cards that dig through your deck!

Patching and balancing are tricky business.

Buying a card, only to have that card’s value decrease as the result of a patch, can be frustrating. Heck, even seeing a card buffed can be frustrating if you just sold it! However, without patches and balancing, the fun and competitiveness of gameplay can suffer.

HOW SKYWEAVER IS DIFFERENT & HOW WE’RE SOLVING THESE DESIGN PROBLEMS

SkyWeaver is Free-to-Play, and the gameplay is easy to learn.

To call SkyWeaver “free-to-play”, we believe it’s essential that playing the actual game—and not some lesser mode of the game—is free. Thus, SkyWeaver is a truly free-to-play constructed card game.

In terms of gameplay, we aim to achieve both ease of play and top-notch depth. SkyWeaver guides you along and hints at which cards can be played next, which makes learning basic gameplay fun and simple. To become one of the best players requires skill, strategy and dedication.

SkyWeaver is eternal. We don’t rotate cards out of play.

While most card games rotate cards out of their primary format over time, we don’t think that’s necessary to maintain a healthy evolving metagame. We want buying cards to serve as a permanent investment in gameplay, so that if you take a break, your collection remains playable when you return. That’s why SkyWeaver’s primary format is eternal, which means that we don’t rotate cards out of play. Adopting an eternal philosophy from the start will allow us to grow in a sustainable manner.

SkyWeaver makes deck building fun.

Rather than needing to jump through a bunch of hoops, we’re putting everything you need in terms of deck building directly into the game. This means that you’ll be able to launch SkyWeaver, check out the latest leaderboard of decks, choose a deck, and then play with this deck right away—all inside the game! And we’re not talking about a curated list of decks that makes the format look more diverse than it really is. No, SkyWeaver provides a true deck leaderboard, based on the performance of those decks!

SkyWeaver is singleton, which makes games more exciting.

Deck building in SkyWeaver is singleton, which means that you can play only one copy of any given card in your deck. This subtle change has sweeping impact. The chance to draw a single copy of a card in the first 7 draws of a 30-card SkyWeaver deck is 23%, almost half that of the 4-ofs we see in the decks of some other card games. Since the singleton system is naturally less consistent, this gives us more design space to print cards that add consistency through their effects.

The design space allows us to protect against decks being too inconsistent (or too consistent!) while enabling naturally diverse and varied games. The top of the deck is the healthiest form of randomness in card games, and putting more randomness in the draw means that we don’t need as much randomness in the effects of the cards themselves.

We like the depth that singleton adds to competitive play. Since you only have to play around a given card once, you will have more room to maneuver in unequal matchups along with the opportunity to be rewarded for careful planning and sequencing.

We also hope that singleton lends itself to more personal touches in deck building, and to a wider range of relevant cards in the metagame.

We truly listen to our players.

Card games are deep and engaging only when they’re difficult to solve. This makes balancing competitive card games an interesting challenge. We’re committed to making SkyWeaver as engaging as possible, which means that the balancing process will be an evolving one.

New Image - Player Feedback

We need you, the players, to teach us about the game. When you show us ways to improve SkyWeaver, you better believe that we want to make the corresponding enhancements. SkyWeaver is a community-driven game, and collaborating with players really excites us. After all, this game is for you!

We recognize that patching cards impacts their value. For example, to nerf a card devalues it, which can frustrate holders. To enhance a card makes it more valuable, which can frustrate non-holders. In light of these considerations, we’re taking great care to establish a balancing process that maximizes enjoyment, transparency and fairness for everyone. We value your trust and contributions in this process.

Now, I'll touch on SkyWeaver's gameplay.

SKYWEAVER GAMEPLAY

We have typical card game features: a deck, a hand, a mulligan, incrementing mana, spells with one-shot effects, and creatures that battle with attack and health. SkyWeaver's timing and combat is fast-paced and exciting: players take turns back-and-forth, creatures have to wait a turn to attack, and a creature can attack an enemy of its choice.

Beyond the basics, we’ve made a lot of innovative customizations that I’m really excited about. You, the SkyWeaver, start in play with 1 attack, and you start with 1 mana and a mana cap of 99. Creatures can hold spells, the hand overdraw and deck overdraw rules are more strategic and less punishing than in other games, and there are no adjacency mechanics, so the gameplay is faster. We’ve created some amazing and unique card mechanics, designs and so much more. The combination of these unique features with our philosophy and the underlying blockchain technology create the recipe for a game and experience like never before.

I encourage you to check out this introductory post about SkyWeaver, so that you get a sense for how blockchain will make your gaming experience a lot better.

For a full How To Guide on how to play SkyWeaver check out this post.

See you in Sky!

You can find me on Twitter @JonLoucks, or you can join our Discord server to chat directly with us, subscribe to our subreddit to share your ideas, and follow the SkyWeaver account on Twitter if you just want to say hey!

To invite friends into the private beta, please have them sign up to become a SkyWeaver now.

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