Playing in Real Time

Playing in Real Time

Playing in Real Time

From the outset, the Nova Blitz team was determined to make a game with shared turns. One thing a fast-paced game absolutely needed to avoid was long periods of inactivity for either player. Alternating turns, where only one player gets to act the entire time (known in the wargaming world as IGOUGO), were precisely what we didn’t want. We could address that by adding precisely-defined reaction windows to every action one’s opponent takes, but that approach leads to turns with long strings of confirming that, no, you really don’t want to respond and it’s okay for your opponent to do something else now. That wasn’t acceptable to us either. The approach that gave us what we wanted was to let both players be active at the same time, playing cards whenever they wanted.

As we playtested this, however, patterns began emerging. Smart players waited until the very end of the turn to make their moves. In hindsight, it made perfect sense. You almost never wanted to be the first player to act. It would tip your hand to your opponent. Worse, it provided him with greater choice of where to play his removal powers for best effect. In the case of mass removal, it let him eliminate all your old units plus any new ones from this turn. What we wanted to be a lively game of dynamic interplay was, instead, turn after turn of two players watching 19.5 of the Action Phase’s 20 seconds tick away, then trying to play their key card precisely and have it hit the arena after their opponent’s but before time ran out.

We called this “playing chicken”. It was Not Fun. But as we thought about how we could get rid of it, it dawned on us: we couldn’t. Not entirely, and not while maintaining shared realtime turns. The advantages of playing chicken are too fundamental. You can’t make “destroy all enemy units” not be better when it’s played after new units are.

Since we couldn’t eliminate chicken, we had to embrace it. The first avenue we pursued involved the one thing that was actually bad about playing last: giving your opponent Initiative. Since the drawback of having your opponent attack first in combat wasn’t enough to counterbalance the benefit you got from having greater power to eliminate his key units, we looked at improving Initiative’s benefits. No buff to combat would have been sufficient, no matter how strong — the player who lost the chicken game usually had too little left on the board for it to matter — so we investigated giving that player bonus cards or energy next turn. These bonuses turned out to be too opaque and unintuitive, not to mention a little too strong, so we returned Initiative to what it was and looked elsewhere.

We did some basic retuning. Removal effects got weaker, costlier, and scarcer, and we retooled the Done button so it didn’t lock players out of acting for the rest of the phase. Yuri Tolpin, a recent addition to the Nova Blitz team as a designer and playtester, suggested splitting the Action Phase in half and making problematic cards weaker if played in the second one. That way players would need to choose between playing a card at the very end or playing it for full effect, which is more interesting than choosing between playing it at the last moment or never. (Right now, the only cards that function this way are Units, and it only affects attacking, but we’re looking at expanding our game engine to allow Summon abilities and Powers with stronger effects when played early.) We also put more Summon and Last Breath abilities on units so they have greater utility even if they don’t live to see the Combat Phase.

All together, these changes reduced waiting times and dead turns to levels we were happy with — and we hope you are too!