Designer Insights: Rolling the Dice
Hello, and welcome back to another installment of Designer Insights. For those that don’t know, my name is Anthony Tessitore, and I am one of the co-designers of Varia. Last time, I got into the details and discussed how we went about designing the Volcanic Warrior deck, and what we did in order to ensure player’s got to live the fantasy of a powerhouse fighter.
Today, I am going to pull it back, and talk about Varia’s use of dice as a core aspect of the game and attempt to answer the three most common questions I get:
- Why Include Dice At All?
- Why Use a d6 and a d4, Specifically?
- What Design Space Exists for Dice in Card Games?
Let's jump right in!
Why Include Dice? Aren’t Card Games Already Random?
This is the big question I get asked time and time again. Why introduce more RNG to an already randomized game? The answer is that Varia is far less random than you would think at first glance, and that the dice play an important part of keeping the game feeling fresh over multiple sessions.
Here’s an example - Let’s assume that you are looking to draw a specific card.
Each time you draw a card your deck size decreases and your odds of drawing Decapitate go up. This is where Varia runs into a unique problem. Unlike other trading card games, in Varia you draw two cards per turn instead of one, and you draw cards on every turn, not just on your turn.
This, combined with the fact that in our constructed formats we allow you to include up to three copies of a single card in your thirty card deck (called a 3-of rule) means that the odds of you drawing one of your cards is much higher than other trading card games. As a former engineer, I prefer to visualize my data whenever I can. Let’s do that now by first looking at a player’s odds of drawing a single card each time they draw a card from their deck.
In the above graph, the yellow line represents Varia’s odds, being a 30 card deck with a 3-of rule, as compared to a 60 card deck with a 4-of rule and a 30 card deck with a 2-of rule. In Varia, the odds of you drawing Decapitate as your first draw of the game is 10%, and by your fifteenth draw, your odds to draw Decapitate have increased to almost 19%, which is higher than average for most card games.
Those are the odds per draw, lets see what the data looks like when we analyze the odds per turn.
In the above graph, the yellow line again represents Varia. In Varia, you start with a hand of six cards, and you draw two cards on your turn and two cards on your opponent's turn. Therefore, in an effort to compare with other games, we can assume that in Varia, you are drawing roughly four cards per each of your turns. As you can see, the odds of you drawing Decapitate reach 100% by your seventh turn!
This means that in a given game of Varia, the odds of you seeing every card in your deck at least once is extremely high compared to most other games in the genre.
Left unchecked, a reduction in randomness on this scale would lead to stale gameplay, as you will play the same cards again and again, game after game. You won't be getting the chance to Decapitate once in every two to three games, you’ll get the chance to Decapitate two or three times in every game.
This is where dice come in. The dice add randomness to the card itself, so that each Decapitate is different than the one before. One play its an 11|6, the next play its a 12|8, the play after that, you roll a 4 for focus and deal infinite damage. The card you play is the same time and again, but the card’s story is always a bit different. No two Decapitates are ever the same. Sort of like snowflakes! Bloody, headless snowflakes.
This randomness keeps each card feeling fresh every time you play it. Each play feels unique, because each Decapitate is unique.
Why Use a d6 and d4 specifically?
First and foremost - because they are different. This simple but genius approach was my co-designer Sean's brainchild. By making power a d6 and focus a d4, players can make both rolls at the same time, without any risk of confusing what dice are power dice and what dice are focus dice. This simplifies and streamlines gameplay, cutting the number of rolls necessary to facilitate gamelplay in half.
Second - because they keep the probability swing low. What is probability swing? Because of the dice, a 3|3 in Varia is actually anywhere between a 4|4 and a 9|7. There are 24 different possible power and focus combinations that can come out of a d4 and a d6. The larger the dice get, the greater the number of possible variants of any given card become. We refer to this as a card's “probability swing”. When the number of possibilities is too great, cards start to feel a bit too random, and strategy starts goes out the window.
What Design Space Exists?
Image of the fabled alot, first seen gracing the hyperboleandahalf blog.
There is so much you can do with dice that make the game feel fresh and interesting when compared to other card games, and we have only scratched the surface of what exists to be discovered.
Part of the joy of working on a Varia comes from the fact that nothing like it has ever existed before, so designing cards is like exploring a new place. There is something interesting around every corner, and you are constantly left wondering what else is out there.
Two of my favorite dice mechanics that we introduced in the first set of classes for Varia are dice manipulation and varied effects.
Dice manipulation is really any mechanic that alters the odds in some way. Whether it is by using Guided Strike to increase your odds of success, a Skulduggery to increasing the probability swing of an action, or using Center the Soul to circumvent the dice entirely, there are many ways in which you can manipulate the dice to get a desired result.
Varied effects are effects that change depending on the dice rolled.
Critical Strike is an example of how we can design additional effects that occur when certain numbers are rolled for power and focus. The idea of a “critical hit” is nothing new in games, but it is a new concept for card games. I am looking forward to further expanding on this idea as we introduce more actions to Varia.
Healing Hammers is an example of how we can design totally separate effects that both generate their own dice and have results driven by those rolls. Healing Hammers in particular combines two different varied effects, giving us both a randomized healing value and a bonus effect when we “crit heal” by rolling a four.
In conclusion, dice serve an important purpose in Varia, so important that the game's name is derived from “variant” or “variation”. By introducing localized randomness on a card by card basis, outcomes in Varia fluctuate, creating diverse gameplay that keeps you on your toes, ensuring every game is as exciting as the one that came before.