Shadowfist Foundation Character Design
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[posted 10 September 2002]
The obvious statement for today: you need foundation characters in your decklots of them. But for most of the original Daedalus foundations, you only wanted to see them on the first turn or two, and then you considered them hand-clogging chaff for the rest of the game. Hacker was prominently excepted from this rule, and maybe a few others under special conditions (Plasma Trooper, Bloody Horde, Righteous Fist, etc.). Since we were including some new foundation characters in Year of the Dragon and Throne War, we had an opportunity to make some cards that didn't have the chaff problem; you're the best judge of whether or not we succeeded. Anyway, we ended up with a pair of simple groundrules:
1. A foundation should have a use even when you draw it late in the game. I'm not saying they should be huge game-winners, but you shouldn't curse your deck because it coughed forth a foundation when you wanted "something, anything, more useful than this!"
2. A foundation should not be so useful that it is put into decks without any other cards of that faction. In other words, it shouldn't be Hacker :) (ok, the Limited Ed. Queen of the Ice Pagoda is technically a foundation too, so it shouldn't be her, either)
Take a more detailed look at three case studies: Palace Guards from Throne War, CDCA Scientist from Year of the Dragon, and Monkey Wench from nowhere (yet).
Palace Guards started life as an idea in an old Daedalus file scraped from an old Daedalus computer. I don't know for sure who wrote the file, but Rob Heinsoo would be a reasonable guess. The art description said it all: "What we're presently lacking in Shadowfist: waves of wickerhatted men in blue guard uniforms. They're charging to the left or right waving an amazing variety of barbed and bladed weapons." It immediately made me think of that scene in every kung fu movie: the hero(es) are surrounded by dozens of guards or mooks, then a few seconds later all the mooks are down and the hero(es) aren't even sweating. But bringing that concept alive as a balanced, playable card was a bit of a challenge.
The Daedalus file had the Guards as 1-cost, 1 Fighting characters, with no limit to the number in your deck, and the restriction that you couldn't play States on them. I couldn't see why you'd bother to play with these guys, since there was no real reason to choose them over Sinister Priest or Vassals of the Lotus (unless you're playing a 200 card deck :) I also had no idea why you couldn't play States on them; must have been some killer weenie-horde-boosting State that the Daedalus team had in mind but never printed. We didn't bother to test this version.
I was really taken by the idea of "waves of wickerhatted men," so we brainstormed a few ideas that might get the "wave" effect. All of those ideas involved playing these guys at reduced cost somehow, like getting a discount on the next one you played, or searching your deck for another copy after you played the first. In the end, the return to play idea seemed to fit best, since in the movies it didn't matter how many times these guys got whacked, there were always plenty more around the next corner.
The first version of Palace Guards that went to playtest was intentionally strong, and we expected most testers to yell when they saw it. And they did :) But dang, it was fun. We kept the "no limit in your deck" that Daedalus started with, but then added the (now familiar) text that they return to play when an attack is declared against a card you control. The Guards became the basis for a deck; a strong deck (especially in combo with Feast of Souls), but probably not dominant overall since Toughness:1 or Final Brawl would wipe them out. But for decks that didn't have any weenie stoppage, playing against an unlimited Guards deck would have been extremely frustrating.
We tried several incarnations after that, trying to tone down the return ability but still keep the "no limit in your deck" wording. One version returned only if a Unique card was attacked, and another triggered on Unique or Limited cards. Neither of those was particulary satisfying, since opponents could easily avoid triggering them. Palace Guards that sat in your smoked pile the whole game just didn't feel right.
(Incidentally, Palace Guards is the reason the No Max restriction was created. We were having a hard time fitting all that text onto the card and wanted a way to shorten it. We ended up not needing the new restriction, so it got shelved until Thunder Knights were reprinted in Netherworld 2)
In the final playtest version, we returned to the original wording but deleted the "no limit in your deck." The Guards are playable this way and return fairly often (when you remember to pull them out :) but are not a huge force to be reckoned with. They also meet both rule #1 (it's better to have more in your smoked pile, so you get more Fighting back) and rule #2 (you're not going to use these guys unless you're playing a lot of other cards).
But I still miss the "no limit" version ;)
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The Architects deck in Year of the Dragon needed a 2-cost foundation character to provide the same breakdown as the other decks. The Architects didn't have a 2-cost, 2-resource providing character yet, so we decided to do something new rather than reprinting Alpha Beast.
In a faction where he's competing against DNA Mage and Test Subjects, the Scientist couldn't just be a plain provider (equivalent to the Noodle Lady from the Guiding Hand). That certainly wouldn't be played in any but the largest Architects decks. In fact, with competition like the Mage, he needed a reasonably spiffy ability, but we didn't want another Hacker so we started playtest on the safe side with something simple: draw a card when smoked. It sounded a bit weak, and that proved to be true during playtest. It certainly didn't meet rule #1, since you weren't very happy to see these guys late in the game. (actually, rules #1 and #2 didn't exist at this point; they evolved out of this playtest process, but it's easier to discuss this way :)
The second incarnation of the Scientist introduced his "X" wording as it was printed, except that you were only permitted to draw cards (no discard). That went a long way toward meeting rule #1, since he became more useful later in the game (presumably after you've played a couple early in the game), and also met rule #2, since he would be most useful when you played 5 in a deck, which probably meant you were playing Architects to begin with. But playtesting still didn't go very well with this version; a few people liked it but many still thought it would not be played much.
The final incarnation of the Scientist introduced the "X" draw and discard mechanic as-printed, which vastly improved his flexibility and pushed him farther into the realm of playability. The Scientist now met both rules; he wasn't so stellar that he'd go into every Architect deck, but he would make an appearance in a lot of them.
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While working on Throne War, we talked a lot about what the Jammers needed to become competitive, and we ended up concentrating on three things: alternate power generation, some higher-end Events, and a 1-cost foundation. In Throne War, we printed two out of three, and decided not to go further until we could see what effect cards like Scrounging had on the metagame. Since one deck at the GenCon 2002 finals was pure Jammer, and another was Arch/Jammer, it sounds like they're doing ok these days without the foundation. But it still comes up a lot whenever Jammer players talk about not being able to get quick to play their big hitters at the same pace as other factions.
So where did Monkey Wench come from? When I started this website, I asked Zev if he would allow me to post the Demo Monkey, a 1-cost foundation that I made as a joke for the booth workers at GenCon 2000, and he agreed. It could be a sort of wide open playtest, if players decided they wanted to download it and try it in decks. But I didn't have permission to post the photo I used for the Demo Monkey paste-up, so I needed to find different art. In July I happened to be trading cards with Lissanne Lake, and (half-jokingly) suggested that she could offer a sketch of a Jammer monkey as part of her trade. I was very surprised when she offered to make a painting! So many thanks to Lissanne for providing the art, and she came up with the name, too.
For the ability, I wanted to do something odd, something that fit with the theme of screwing with your opponents. (why else would you throw a Monkey Wench into the works?) A 1-cost foundation doesn't really need an ability, and in fact might need to have a slight drawback if it speeds up the Jammers too much, but I decided to start out strong and tone down later. So here's a rather wordy first cut at an ability for the Wench:
X= the number of Monkey Wench cards in your smoked pile. If X>1, you may discard this card during any Main Shot to inflict X damage, divided any way you choose, on Sites controlled by opponents. Or if X>2, you may play this card in response to an Event to cancel that Event.
So basically your 3rd-5th Wench can act as a restricted sort of mini-Mark of Fire, or your 4th-5th Wench can be a cross between Confucian Stability and Hacker, but only if you aren't busy discarding the Wenches to ding Sites. This gives you some benefit for pulling a late-game foundation, but you need to put a lot of them into your deck to get any benefit beyond the resource provisions. Is it too strong this way? Yeah. But it looks fun, and it's definitely odd :) If you decide to try it out, please email me with your test results, or you can post to the discussion group on Yahoo and I'll find it there.
Download the high resolution 5-Wenches-on-a-page file [859 kb PDF] to make your deck-building easier. Ook ook!
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