“Deal 3 damage to target unit or player.”
That’s what Steam Blast does right now. It’s simple. Direct. Concise.
“Deal 4 soft, cuddly damage to target unit or player.”
That’s the text for Teddy Bomb. Other than a bit of “fluff” text (sorry), it’s virtually identical. All that changes is the amount of damage.
And that’s kind of a challenge. We’re going to have over 300 cards in Nova Blitz. The alpha already has about 215. Directly dealing damage is a fundamental effect in a TCG. We knew from the start it would be in the game in some form or another. However, if all we do is vary the amount — make Card A deal X damage while Card B deals Y — we’ll run out of options fast. Cards will start feeling like each other, which is bad. Worse, our five Aspects will also start feeling the same. A smite of Divine lightning, a Chaos rocket launcher, and an Arcane death ray operate on different principles. If the only variance between them is how hard they hit and what art’s on them, the game won’t be as compelling. It’ll be drab. Vanilla. We don’t want that.
Fortunately, all it takes is a little creativity (and a talented coder or two) to add mechanical variations that give a distinct and thematic feel to every direct damage card, not only keeping Nova Blitz interesting but also adding subtle nuances that astute players can turn into unexpected wins.
Consider Chaos. (Arguably, it’s the Aspect we should consider first anyway. It’s where both those earlier example cards came from and is already at risk of becoming bland.) One of Chaos’s themes is risk and unpredictability. Right away, that suggests adding a random element to the damage, either in where it goes (like with Ricochet Bolt) or how much is caused (like one internal idea for a Chaos unit that dealt 1-3 damage to the largest enemy when it entered the arena). We can have cards with situational risk rather than chance-based, too, like Bomb Juggler and the now-defunct Weirdbolt, which might get used against you if your opponent has enough Energy, or like Rigged To Blow, which could damage your own units.
Divine has themes of healing and of justice, so it gets a damage power that also heals you (Lightning Bolt) and a power that damages or heals, depending on whether the target is hostile or friendly (Holy Light). Draining life shows up in Arcane too (in the cleverly-named Drain Life card), where it’s well-suited for the Undying faction and its vampires, liches and necromancers.
Themes of pestilence and venom call to mind images of lingering death, which gives us yet another common variety of damage in games: damage over time, which we’ve standardized with the Poison status and given to Arcane and Nature. Though slow, Poison damage has a subtle advantage: it bypasses the Armor trait, which normally reduces any damage dealt to a target. The rest of Nature’s damage is either hard-hitting or wide-ranging, to reflect the Aspect’s awesome and indiscriminate strength, but can’t injure your opponent directly. (Balance-wise, this stops Nature from being strong at too many mechanics at once. Thematically, we attribute it to a wild beast’s tendency to focus on what’s immediately in front of it.)
As for Tech, damaging things from a distance is something they’re not particularly adept at. Their strengths lie in other areas. Tech doesn’t get a unique twist on direct damage. Instead, they don’t get much of it at all.
Even if it weren’t for giving all the Aspects appropriate mechanical feels, there’s another entirely unrelated and very good reason to vary damage effects. That reason is energy costs.
Let’s revisit the two cards at the start of this post: Steam Blast and Teddy Bomb. Three damage for 1 Energy, or four for 2. Originally, we envisioned following a simple formula for our direct damage cards: 2 damage per energy. Playtesting showed this wasn’t exciting at the low end, so we bumped it to 3 damage for the first energy and 2 more for each additional. This made Teddy Bomb 5 for 2, but playtesting found that was too strong, and fixing it posed a challenge: do we drop the damage, or do we raise the cost? Both options result in an (arguably) overcosted card relative to the original. TCGs are rife with situations like this, where the “correct” cost for a card is somewhere in the fractions between two whole resource points. We went the 4 for 2 route, but we’re still watching both cards.
We may yet tone Steam Blast down or strengthen Teddy Bomb in a subtle way that both differentiates them and makes them fit their costs in a way that simply adjusting a number by +/−1 can’t. And, as we continue to develop the game, you’ll see other mechanical adjustments to direct damage cards, to give each one its own unique flavor.