Q+A with Kelsey Gamble (Kindofsquishy) and VideoJames on all things Gods Unchained and Game Design.
Kelsey Gamble here, Head of Community for Gods Unchained. With our next big expansion Mortal Judgement on the horizon, we thought we’d sit down with Game Designer VideoJames to dive into all things game balance, design, and community feedback. And of course, to talk a little more about our new keyword mechanics!
As one of the earliest members of the Gods Unchained team, VideoJames led this upcoming Mortal Judgement expansion, in addition to the Genesis set, Core set, and the recent Core Set refresh. Read on for a sneak peak of what’s next for Gods Unchained!
Designing Gods Unchained
Kelsey: First of all, let’s chat a little about your team’s overall methodology when it comes to game design.
VideoJames: Sure! In general, game balance is all about macro balance, but we only have micro tools to interact with it – which can be a tough thing to wrangle. So we like to think about it as an ecosystem; we have three dominant strategies, aggro, control and combo. Without each of these strategies seeing some play, we would start to run into problems.t's a little bit like grass, sheep, and wolves. Sheep eat the grass, wolves eat the sheep, wolves feed the grass. It’s a cycle, and true balance requires all three interacting in a way that means no one part of the ecosystem eats too much.
When we’re designing we try to operate based on what the metagame needs, and to give gods both strengths and weaknesses. Decks having good and bad matchups is good, but when the win odds are at 80/20, that’s when there’s a problem. The god powers and sanctum are supposed to help with balancing these odds. Ultimately, card games are about innovation – we have to be sure not to stomp on players’ cool new decks with balance changes, while also making sure we don’t let one archetype get loose and stomp everything else.
K: Are there any specific frameworks for card balance that you have as guidelines? What does a perfectly balanced game look like?
J: We have a bunch of little rules, but a lot of them aren’t iron clad – they’re more aims for a healthy game. An example of this would be that aggro decks shouldn’t win before turn 4 consistently, and combo before turn 5. We like to work around the guideline of 6 mana being the turning point for a game. We always like to challenge our assumption on this though – we may believe something one day, and challenge it on another. Our motto is strong opinions, loosely held.
In terms of a perfectly balanced game, and what that looks like – there’s two aspects to this. For the bulk of players, perfect balance looks like being able to play whatever they like without feeling too punished for it. For the top of play, a balanced game means aggro, combo, and control all have viable decks, and the matchups aren’t too one-sided.
Hearing feedback and making changes
K: What is the team’s approach to community feedback in general? How does it get taken into consideration?
J: Community feedback is obviously critical to every game, but there’s a balance (oh no…) between listening to vocal players who may not necessarily see the big picture, and implementing things that keep the game in a healthy state. This is something that we take really seriously, and we’re not always going to get right, but I think our approach to it is pretty sound. We like to come from the position that everyone’s viewpoint and emotions on the game are 100% true and must be respected as such, but that solutions from players often don’t include all the context that the team has.
You can see these different perspectives come into play with some of the recent patches we’ve released. As a team, we had our own view of how a card was functioning within a broader meta, but the community made it clear to us that its current state was simply not a fun experience for them. In our playtesting, we had worked out how to get around this combo, but this wasn’t reflected out in the wild. So, we tweaked it.
This will generally be our approach to things – when issues arise, we want to address them, but not too quickly so as to not allow for the meta to solve problems. Otherwise we’d just be getting ourselves into an unsustainable nerf-buff cycle that nobody wants.
It’s also why we want to keep Divine Order in the wild for a little longer so it can interact with this new expansion – we’ve already announced that we’re holding off on locking it off until sometime in the future, and the same goes for being able to purchase the set. The more data we have from gameplay interactions, the better.
K: What are the team’s thoughts on combo decks?
J: There are two types of players in card games that really clash when it comes to combo. One player wants to be able to set up an elaborate combo and let it all play out, and the other one wants to scoop with cards and play again at turn 3. Both are valid, and that’s something we need to contend with. That being said, sitting there watching animations play out can be boring, and we want to improve on that experience for players.
Philosophically, we will always look to have combo decks in the meta. We want to allow for lots of different gameplay styles to exist, both to attract lots of different kinds of players, and also to have variety in the way that the game is played. Wolves are jerks, but if we don’t have them, then sheep eat all the grass.
K: Let’s talk about the ‘going first advantage’, and what your thoughts are there.
J: We’ve seen the discourse about it, and it’s something that we are monitoring actively. To make a long story short, we also don’t love it, and we are working on improvements for it. To a certain extent, this is a problem for CCGs in general, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t one of our primary focuses outside of content releases. The unfortunate answer is that this is likely always going to be a problem at some level. Most decks have different objectives, so they would all want different bonuses for going second – if you’ve been playing for the whole life of Gods Unchained then you might remember the first bag of tricks, which tried to solve this.
With that being said, we’re very open to player feedback here. If you think you’ve got a solution for this, we’d love to hear suggestions. Especially ones that have the big picture in mind!
New keyword mechanics
K: Let’s get to the good stuff. What’s next on the horizon?
J: So much that we probably don’t have enough space to put it all in this article, but the thing I am most excited to see players interact with is our new mechanics. We’ve teased them for a little while now, and I for one can’t wait to see it out in the wild.
First up we’ve got Echo. This keyword allows you to summon a new creature to your card that’s an ‘echo’ of the card you just played.I’m pretty excited for it because it facilitates combo play in a way that is really interesting, and leaves it open for lots of different play styles. As a team, we’re quite keen to see how it gets pulled into players’ decks.
Then there’s Empower: this keyword gives you the option to play your card as it appears, or as a stronger ‘empowered’ version. Empowered cards require more mana in order to play, but if you time them right and have enough mana then they can be really tough. This one in particular gives an extra layer of versatility of play to decks.
Last, but far from least, there’s Tempt Fate. This keyword is for the risk-takers out there. It can provide a comfortable buff, or a chance at more. The only problem? If fate isn’t on your side, then you’re left with nothing. The balance intention of Tempt Fate is to not have it see play in the top percentile decks – this one really is for the average player, and the amount of times that this mechanic has brought both chaos and joy to our playtesting sessions is high. When your opponent plays Tempt Fate we want both sides to be able to see that experience, so it really does feel like you’re in on it – even if you’re the opponent. It’s not going to be as common as some of the other mechanics, but we are fairly certain that this mechanic is going to inspire some strong reactions!