Resources – Mana Screwed
While I love Magic: the Gathering to an unreasonable extent – like a borderline addiction if I’m honest – I’m not under any illusions that the game is not without a rather glaring flaw, and it’s the erratic progression of the resources you have to spend. For those not aware, mana is spawned from land by tapping (turning) the land cards, to spend on the cost of a card, for example to play this card:
Would require the player to tap one each of white, blue, black, red, and green mana. Presumably if a player has built a deck with this card as a central figure they would have a wide variety of ways to either find the pertinent cards from the deck or to otherwise generate the mana through other means. Even so that’s no easy feat, and a lot of your deck has to be devoted to creating a wide variety of mana types. Now most people will build decks around one or two colours to make this job a lot easier but it’s still a possibility to find yourself stuck without enough mana of the right type, no matter how well you proportion your deck.
In short it’s a flawed system, essentially functional, but often as cruel and fickle as dice.
Which brings me neatly onto a game I sampled at UKGE as I was wandering the floor exchanging business cards and quietly gathering freebies. I was handed a carrier bag which I found later had two cards in the bottom for Dragoborne: Rise to Supremacy, they were very simple, immediately understandable, and featuring some truly epic artwork, enough to draw me in and drive me to find the stall again and try it out.
Dragoborne manages its resources far more effectively at the cost of some of the otherwise useful cards. Once you’ve drawn your first card in a turn you then draw a second which you commit to your resource pool. It means possibly losing a good card to resources, but it leaves you with a considerably better increment of resources throughout the game. You won’t be caught with an expensive card sat in your hand while your life slips away, just waiting for the resources to arrive. You always begin the fight with enough of your various resources to play any card you might possess, so long as you can wait a mere handful of turns.
Mojang’s CCG, Scrolls, has a similar incrementation method, where every turn you may choose to sacrifice a card of your choice in favour of either more resources, or more cards in hand, giving you an effective way of managing both key components of your game, and if my experience is anything to go by, leaving you screwed one way or the other.
Resource management is one of the hardest things in any given game to balance and still keep creative. With Magic: the Gathering, it’s something of a contract between players and designers, so long as they can produce cards that help manage your mana supply and we have the presence of mind to build our decks with due care and attention, we have a game. A resource management system gives us limited progression allowing for a game that grows organically and fairly. Making them balance well is a task that can bore you beyond tears, and I respect any game that approaches it with a different method.
I’m back to working on an old game design, spurred on by the many enthusiastic playtesters at UKGE, every one of whom had a full table and a captive audience. Management of resource in my game is going to be easy for the players… once I’ve gotten them balanced across several imbalanced factions. Wish me luck, see you next year.