Why Turns?

We’ve had a few people ask us “this is a real-time game, why do you have turns”? The answer is simple – we tested a lot of other systems, and this was the one that was the most fun. The biggest single thing that turns do is give a framework that players can use to understand and break down a game. The other really great benefit is that they provide a rhythm to the game that was lacking in our more freeform tests.

Framework

Having a framework around the progression of a game is really helpful. A great example is MOBA games compared to RTS games – in the MOBA, there’s a clear progression (character level) that is a common thread through all players’ experience. Even with wildly different characters, the level up progression is very similar. When you see your lane opponent hit level 6, you know to watch out for their ultimate. This allows players to quickly make sense of an incredibly complex system, and to intuitively know whether they’re ahead, behind, or on track.

Rhythm

In a game where reading your opponent’s cards is important, maintaining a rhythm is vital. If too many cards show up at once, it’s impossible to process everything, and that leads to a poor experience. Gating card play and card flow in a smooth, regular way turned out to be the key to creating a really fun experience. Once we put the turn structure into place, a massive amount of confusion simply disappeared, and that let the fun shine through.

Things We Tried

We had a version of the game where every card had its own cooldown timer. This did two bad things. Firstly, there was way too much information to track – you needed to follow everything that was going on, read your opponent’s cards, and plan reactions to your opponent. Secondly, it made people feel that they were “wasting” actions if they didn’t act immediately as soon as a card was off cooldown (even if it was better strategy to wait). Thirdly, it encouraged players to play as quickly as possible, and play from a script, rather than reacting to their opponents.

Any system that rewards you for playing quickly tends to devolve into “playing as quickly as you can” – look at Starcraft; you need to have an insane APM to be competitive, and you follow a script, at least in the early game, where you’re taking hundreds of actions without making any meaningful decisions. Starcraft is a great game. It’s just not the game we’re making. (We could get into a long discussion on whether Starcraft is a strategy game or a tactical game, but we won’t go there.)

We had a version where every action queued up and resolved at a set time later. This was great in theory – it gave a really fun flow to the game. Where it broke down was the UX; it was impossible to display all the information we needed in a sensible way.

One thing we had in several previous versions was to have the first attack be made by the player who finished their action phase first. In theory, this is a great mechanic – it encourages players to play quickly, and means that there’s a tangible benefit for playing your cards first. In practice, it didn’t work for a very subtle reason – there’s a disconnect between finishing your action phase and knowing that you’ve got the first attack. What players felt when they played in that system was “It’s random who gets to attack first”, which is definitely not the experience we wanted to create, so we switched to “strongest unit”.

Using Time

There’s a lot of opportunity in the Nova Blitz design for mechanics that are time based, rather than strictly turn based. We’re going to code these up, playtest them, and pick the best ones. We will be including time-based mechanics in the game; those mechanics aren’t coded yet. Expect units that care whether they’re the first unit played in a turn, and maybe units that grow or trigger every N seconds (these are interesting because they punish slower decks more than they punish quicker decks). And, of course, there will be cards that affect the flow of time itself…

Also, expect more cards in the “proactive card” camp – cards you want to have in the arena before your opponent plays a card. A good example would be a card that passively protects your units from other powers. There aren’t cards like this in the demo build, just because we didn’t have those mechanics coded yet.

Do you have ideas for other time-based mechanics that we could use for Nova Blitz within the turn-based structure? Want to debate whether Starcraft is a strategy or tactical game? Post on the forums!

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