The reason I’m posing this question is because the idea of early access or an open beta is to have players play the game early and give feedback about how the game could be better or to find and report bugs. While it would be helpful is this is how it happened, should players be obligated to complete these extra tasks? The answer that is obvious to me, is no. Players should be able to play the game without having to do anything else if they don’t want to, especially if they paid for it. Even without an obligation though, is there an expectation? I personally feel a bit of guilt thinking back on certain situations playing early access games and offering no feedback or not taking the time to report a bug I ran into.

Effortless Feedback

The best example I can think of where I don’t feel guilty is playing during the early access period of Slay the Spire. This is because I found out that the developers were tracking/collecting user data to help regarding balancing the cards. Card pick rates and event choice pick rates from all players gave them a lot of data to make balance changes to cards that were too strong or cards that were rarely picked. If providing helpful feedback is effortless on my part, then merely playing the game is enough to do my part.

Playing the game and running into a problem while playing is a different story though. It would make sense to report a bug so that one doesn’t have to run into anymore after it gets fixed. The issue here is that I never ran into game breaking bugs that prevented me from playing the game, just weird niche bugs that don’t matter that much. As a result, I took the lazy route and went about playing the game, putting thoughts of the bug out of my mind. I have two examples of such bugs.

Minor Bugs

The first was found playing Hades many months ago. The developers had added a system to the game that allowed experienced players add modifiers to the game that made it more difficult before they started a run. The bug was related to these covered statues of Skelly the skeleton that are awarded to players who complete the game with specific amounts of these modifiers turned on. In this courtyard area where the statues are located, the player can attack with the various weapons and use them against Skelly as a means of testing them out before starting a run with them. I had decided to attack the covered statues, because I didn’t know what was under the coverings until later, in a pretend attempt to try and force my way into finding out what the secret reward was. Doing so ended up crashing the game. This has long since been fixed, and since the game could still be played without issue if I didn’t attack the statues, so I did nothing.

Image of the Courtyard with the covered statues of Skelly in various poses. 8 Heat (the flaming skull) is the modifier threshold needed to unlock the first one.

A more recent example involves graphical issues playing Legends of Runeterra. These issues often happen when a leveled-up champion card Karma is in play. When leveled-up, Karma essentially plays a second copy of the same spell card you’ve just played with the same targets. The bug I experienced recently was playing a Shadowshift card on one of my units with a leveled-up Karma on board. Shadowshift brought the targeted unit back to my hand and left a Living Shadow in its place, but then the second copy of Shadowshift repeated the process on this newly created Living Shadow. The rest played out as expected except I realized that my recalled unit and the recalled Living Shadow were both invisible. They became visible when I hovered over them and were still playable on future turns but were otherwise empty spots in my hand that took up the expected amount of space a card would take up. It looked interesting after I drew another card and it was visually separated from my other cards by the two invisible cards. Again, since it didn’t break the game, I did nothing.

Games Collecting Dust

Something else that I derive a bit of guilt from is not playing very much of games that I paid to get early access to. I’ll admit that maybe I’m confusing buyer’s remorse for guilt in such cases, but I knew that I would want to eventually play the finished version of the games, so I bought into them. I Kickstarted a game called Roguebook because it had some of the features Slay the Spire had, along with some new ideas and because it was being made by the developers who made Faeria. After playing a bit of it after getting access to the playable alpha, I haven’t played much of it since. Perhaps I feel bad about not playing it because it is a wasted opportunity to help make the game the best it can be, but I end up playing other games because there are so many to play and I only have so much free time to play them in.

Image from the Kickstarter page. A lot of what drove my decision to back at this tier was to get access to the playable alpha right away.

I’m still convinced that consumers can do what they want with the games they purchased and that there is no obligation to do anything after that transaction, not even play the game. However, I’m still perplexed by the feelings of guilt I’ve discussed here, because while it doesn’t seem to be strong enough to change my behavior, it is somehow strong enough to make me want to write about it here. Perhaps an expectation can be formed through the framing of how feedback is solicited. I’ve experienced both, developers who are eager to get your feedback as listening to the community is something they care about, while others frame it as backing the game at the required Kickstarter tier lets one into a sort of exclusive club where you have the privilege of giving feedback to the developers. Perhaps the latter example is more likely to expect their backers to respond, and I feel guilty for not doing so. Regardless of these negative feelings, I do still enjoy playing games in early access to not only spend less time waiting to play it, but to also follow its development progress and weigh the pros and cons of major changes to work on improving my own game design knowledge.

Lately, I find myself playing a lot of card games. Every now and then I stop and think about the possibilities of new cards for a game that it currently doesn’t contain. I try not to think about it for too long to avoid being overwhelmed by the sheer number of possible ideas. I think that the vast design space for card games comes from how many mechanics there are related to the cards. Cards could do something when drawn, when played, when discarded, or maybe even do something while it’s in one’s hand. A hand might have a card limit and drawing a card when one’s hand is full may discard or destroy the card. Cards are often drawn from a deck that can be shuffled, added to, looked at, and specifically arranged to just name a few mechanics. This doesn’t even cover any mechanics that may be specific to a game, i.e. the mechanic may or may not make sense in another game. When a card could be designed with any combination of these numerous mechanics, it’s easy to see the possible number of options skyrockets.

While there are a great many card games that I could draw examples from, I’m going to discuss three rogue-like deck-builders that I’m rather fond of.

Slay the Spire

In Slay the Spire, there are currently four different characters to play as and each character has a different pool of cards that they can make use of over the course of a run. The cards that make up these pools are focused around a handful of archetypes that are generally unique to that character. The Ironclad is good at gaining strength, sacrificing health for a benefit, and exhausting (removing for the rest of the battle) cards that are less useful to focus on damage to name a few things. The Silent is better defensively by gaining dexterity, yet also dealing damage through shivs or poison. A lot of the fun of this game is finding the synergy between cards. A potential card design I’ve come up with is a 2-cost Ironclad skill called Inner Strength that gives strength for every card in your hand. I’m not sold on it though because the Ironclad has other cards that give strength with an easier condition to meet, and generally is not very good at getting a large hand of cards. Certain relics, objects that give passive abilities, like Runic Pyramid: you no longer discard cards at the end of your turn, could make it better, but even though strength is a core mechanic for the ironclad, this card doesn’t really fit.

Nowhere Prophet

Nowhere Prophet has similarities to Slay the Spire but sets itself apart with its unique theme of playing as a prophet leading a caravan of people, in a doomed world, to salvation. The mechanic that really makes things different is that these people are cards in your deck that are played onto a field to fight in battles. If a person falls in battle, they are wounded and if a wounded person were to fall in battle again, they are killed and permanently removed from your deck for the rest of the game. There is another related mechanic where if a wounded person deals the killing blow that causes you to win the battle, that person becomes blessed, which not only heals their wound, but also gives them plus one attack for future battles. I’ve wondered about having a card that has 1 extra health for every blessed person in your deck. My initial reaction is that it could be too strong, as it rewards the player too much for already doing well. A win more or win harder card like this could be tricky to balance.

An example Convoy Deck. The red slash on Cutthroat denotes being wounded. The skull denotes units that have died and are no longer available. I could click on them to make them disappear, but I like to leave them there to remind me of who I lost.

One Step From Eden

One Step From Eden is a game I’ve often heard described as Slay the Spire meets Mega Man Battle Network. For those of you who also have never played any of the Mega Man games and have never heard of this one, the important point is that combat happens in real time on a grid that is split into a player side and an enemy side. Since cards are played in a real time fight, it’s tough to simultaneously plan out how to strategically use your attacks while also dodging attacks from the enemies. Because there are a lot of cards and they can be difficult to parse without a visual I will show you a picture of a card that is like the one I’ve come up with: Ion Cannon.

This game has GIF-like previews of each card in action so the player can see what it could do before they add it to their deck.

My idea is a card that fires an orbital beam at all four corners of the enemy grid and cracks tiles called “Cornered”. This card has a flavor that doesn’t feel out of place for the game, given its sense of humor that really shows through the flavor text cards can have, but its use cases are narrow. How often would a player choose to put this card in their deck?

Card games seem to have so much design space because different mechanics can be combined on one card with a super large number of combinations. Each new mechanic added, multiplicatively increases the number of possible combinations. So, once the game has over 10, possibly 20, different mechanics to work with, the number of possible cards that could be made are so numerous it stops being worth it to try and count. The issue is that only some cards are worth designing. The ideas I’ve come up with for the three games don’t really fit despite using mechanics that are already in the game. So perhaps card games have limitless potential design space, but the actual useful design space is finite and likely harder to find.