Welcome to Aaron and Aislyn's first ever episode of Design & Conquer!
In D&C, we talk about card games, the design thereof, and whatever else may come to mind. Aaron and I are first time Kickstarter creators of the modestly successful Ivion, a competitive card game with an ECG (expandable card game) model.
The plan is to turn it into a podcast as time goes on and our skills improve, but here's our first shot at making things interesting!
In this episode, we talk about Richard Garfield's creation of Magic: The Gathering, his thoughts on what it would be, what it actually became, his legacy in Keyforge, and how it affects the card game industry going forward.
Aaron's thoughts are bolded and Aislyn's thoughts are italicized.
Do you know when Keyforge was...
Uh, maybe... I think it was in July or August.
You don't sound that confident. *Laughs*
No, I'm pretty sure it was around then. I just don't know exactly when.
Anyways, earlier this summer, Fantasy Flight announced a game called Keyforge.
It is a competitive card game that seems similar to Magic: The Gathering, but there is no deck building. That's its thing. When you buy Keyforge, you buy a 45 card deck which has a deck list card. That deck can only ever be played with that specific list. It isn't like Magic or Hearthstone—it has completely removed deck building. This is a game that was designed by Richard Garfield.
Maybe we're getting a little ahead of ourselves. Perhaps we should talk about what we're planning on doing with this podcast slash transcript project?
It's not a podcast. At least, I don't think so.
No, it's not a podcast. It's talking turned into a written transcript.
Sure. Ah, let's cross the road here.
Okay. I probably won't keep this part.
(I kept it anyways.)
Let's go now.
So, this project is lovingly titled 'Design & Conquest', because we love, I guess, conquering things.
Yeah. So, what we're going to be doing every month is going out, talking about game design, writing down our thoughts, and turning that into something that's at least somewhat interesting to read. We've only designed one game that has been released, so we may not know what we're talking about, but we're going to try our best.
Yeah, and sometimes its going to be about semi-random things. We may go off on tangents sometimes, but it's mostly going to be associated with the design of games, gravitating towards card games that we know about.
Hopefully it doesn't get too ramble-y, but, you know, we'll see.
That's what the transcript is for. *Laughs*
*Laughs* Yeah. Anyways, this week we were thinking about what we wanted to talk about, and what we landed on was deck building and customization in card games—
—since that's the area we have the most experience with, and we felt like a good way to start this was talking about the newest addition to deck building, uh—
Keyforge was announced, and everyone is thinking that it's so interesting, so different, so innovative and so cool, and we haven't had a chance to play it ourselves yet, but it's getting launched—
—I think it's in a week or two.
Yeah. So, Keyforge is pretty interesting in that it's taken away deck building. Now, at first glance, this doesn't necessarily seem like a great idea.
One of the great strengths of a card game is that you can express yourself with the decks you make.
So, it's a little questionable.
It is a little questionable, and I think there are a lot of people that would argue that it's really bad, because one of their favorite parts about playing a competitive card game is building their own deck. But it's interesting, because there's some pretty solid counterpoints to that argument. For every person that's into building their own deck, there's probably two or three people that look at that and think to themselves, 'there's no way I'm touching that.'
Yeah. I think that there are a few things that make deck building different than when Magic was first released and it was a huge craze.
There's a squirrel!
Yep, there's a squirrel.
*Laughs* That's going in.
Okay. So, I'm trying to think exactly where to start with Keyforge. There's a few points here. I think one of the important things to look at with Keyforge is the creator, Richard Garfield, who is also the creator of Magic: The Gathering.
One of the most famous game designers in the world.
Yeah. I think something that's important to understanding the context of Keyforge and its creation is to look into the history of the games Richard Garfield has designed. Specifically the history of Magic. For those of you that don't know, Aislyn and I are avid Magic players—
—And that love for card games is what inspired us to make our own game.
Back in 1993, Garfield made this game. Magic: The Gathering. And what's important to note is that Garfield made Magic: The Gathering for 1993.
Right. It was a different time.
It was a completely different time. The Internet functionally didn't exist. In Garfield's vision of Magic, he had a few assumptions that turned out to be false. Assumption number one was that it was a fun game that people were going to buy ten or so packs of, and that was going to be their collection.
Yeah, and I'm actually so happy that you—it's so interesting that you can recite this history off the top of your head, because it is really interesting if you're looking deep into the context of card games and what has led us to the point we're at now, and especially in the context of Keyforge.
Yeah, precisely. The first assumption Garfield made—I honestly can't blame him. It would be presumptuous to assume that people were going to be as avidly into Magic and this sort of game as ending up being the case.
Yeah, and let's remember that in 1993 when Richard Garfield made Magic, people didn't—there was Monopoly. Twister! Well, maybe not Twister. But these were the kinds of games people were playing. They weren't playing lifestyle games at that point. That was hardly a thing.
At the very least, that's definitely the case for America. I believe that there was an advanced board game craze—
—But there was nothing like this, and when Magic was shown off at Gen Con it was *the talk* of the town.
Everybody had an opinion. Good, bad, doesn't matter. Everybody wanted to talk about it. It was something that was immediately seen as 'this is something that is going to be huge.'
Yeah, and wasn't there an article that a specific reviewer or reporter—
Yeah, this is where I'm getting a lot of this information from, because this is 1993. I'm not alive.
Yeah. *Laughs* So, as the article put it, people discussed Magic in the same hushed tones that you would discuss politics or religion in. Everyone had a thought on it. It was huge. And then the article went on to predict—
That it was going to change the face of gaming, right?
—That it was going to completely reinvent how people saw gaming.
Yeah. Which turned out to be true, which is pretty crazy.
Yeah, so that was Garfield's first assumption. That people were only going to buy a few packs, and that was going to be it.
Yeah. So what's the context of that? What's the relevance of that pertaining to how Richard Garfield designed Magic?
So, that's what I was going to go into. Let's bring it back to deck building. That's a really good point. The second assumption that Garfield had was that, well, he didn't see the Internet coming.
His vision of Magic was that everybody bought some number of packs, and then they would trade. One of the biggest things that Magic was designed for was that there were always going to be cards you hadn't seen. There was no Internet where you could simply look up full lists of sets. Somebody from out of town would walk in and have a completely new card that you'd never seen before and you think, 'what the heck is going on?'
And that's crazy, and in that way, he was totally right. And that's amazing, because every time someone comes in with a new deck, you're probably going to see a card you've never seen before.
Mhm. And that was the thought. Deck building was going to be limited by the smaller card pools, and the people in your community. Richard Garfield did not conceive of a world where if you wanted a specific card, you could just go buy it.
So, one of the big things—
(Loud car noises in background)
Oh, this is going to be loud. Do you want to turn around?
Yeah, let's turn around. This is pretty noisy. We're walking down a—
We almost died! It was awful!
This is inaccurate. This is not true.
He pushed me into the highway!
Oh god, okay.
Anyways. Aw, man, I totally lost my train of thought.
Ah, that's okay. So something that Richard Garfield planned for was that he could balance cards through rarity. If a card was rare, there would be less of those cards in any given playgroup.
Yeah, there would be less in your pool of Magic. Your comprehension of Magic, your world of Magic.
Basically. And if you wanted to summarize it, you could say that Richard Garfield's plan did not involve Magic becoming a huge hit, and it was designed for that. And because it was a hit, a lot of the fundamental ideas behind Magic turned out to not work. This is not to say Magic is a bad game.