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Designer Insights: Volcanic Warrior

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 talked about the high level thoughts and ideas that informed our overall design for Varia.


Today, I am going to do something similar, but limit myself to discussing a single deck - the Volcanic Warrior.

Setting the Constraints


As I mentioned previously, constraints are important for designers because they identify the foundation upon which your design will be built. Each of our class decks are meant to evoke different aspects of fantasy combat for our players, and thus they each had their own unique foundations to build upon. The constraints we followed for the Volcanic Warrior were as follows:


  • The Class Must Be Fun

  • “Live the Fantasy” → In-Your-Face Melee Fighter

  • “Live the Fantasy” → Reckless And Powerful

  • “Under the Hood” → Highlight the Attribute

  • “Under the Hood” → Expand Or Explore A Mechanic Unique To Varia

  • “Under the Hood” → Balanced Against Other Classes


Let’s dive in!

The Class Must Be Fun


You would think this would be straightforward, but when you are designing anything, it can be so easy to get lost in the details and forget the game designer’s golden rule - Games Are Fun. We would regularly stop and take a step back to evaluate each deck and ask ourselves and our play-testers “was this fun?". Even if we built something that played exactly like a reckless warrior, if the player wasn't enjoying themselves we would label it a failed design.


We also needed to consider the person playing against the deck. We would ask the opponent of the deck “did you have fun?”. While we felt that it was more important for the player piloting the class to be having fun, we still made sure to account for the person playing against the class. If the experience was a nightmare for the opponent, where they felt like playing against the deck was actively getting in the way of their own fun, then we tended to scrap the design.


Games Are Fun. If the deck was not fun, we started over.

“Live the Fantasy” → In-Your-Face Melee Fighter


One thing Sean and I discussed both together and with our play-testers was this idea of “Living the Fantasy”. Varia’s Second Law is that the Story Narrative equals the Design Narrative. What that means is that we always worked toward having a deck whose mechanics followed a play-style that evoked the feelings we wanted you to experience while piloting the class deck. After each game we would ask ourselves and our testers “Did you feel like an in-your-face melee fighter?”.


We did this by rewarding the player for fighting in the style we felt best evoked the target fantasy. Explosive Charge, Fenrok’s Leash, and Molten Ravager are cards that were designed in this way. Each card forces players to engage in different ways, and the cards reward the Volcanic Warrior player for getting in the face of their opponent.


Explosive Charge rewards you for engaging if you are not engaged. This teaches the player that closing the distance between themselves and the opponent is a good thing, and is exactly what we (the designers) want you to be doing.


Fenrok’s Leash punishes the opponent for employing a “run away” strategy. This is meant to evoke a sense of fear in your enemy, and reinforce the idea that being up close and personal with this class is a bad idea. Spoilers - it is.


Molten Ravager is a neat little tool that ensures you always have some way of getting in the face of your opponent. It highlights how the items you chose to equip can complement your chosen strategy. Your deck wants you to engage or be engaged, and Molten Ravager always gives you that option.


The Volcanic Warrior rewards you for getting up close and personal.

“Live the Fantasy” → Reckless and Powerful


Before we were calling the class the “Volcanic Warrior”, we referred to this deck internally as the “Barbarian / Fighter”. The overall narrative we were looking to capture with this deck was that of a fighter who risked death in order to deal extra damage. We wanted to capture that classic fantasy of the fearless fighter with a kill or be killed mentality.


We did this by rewarding the player for acting in reckless ways. Enrage and Shield Spear were designed for this purpose. Both cards ask players to be reckless, and reward them for doing so.


If you are using physical attacks (which the Volcanic Warrior has plenty of), Enrage takes away your option to be out of melee range with your target. The trade-off is that you are rewarded with extra power in the form of dice. This creates a narrative experience where you are rushing into the fray, and will be rewarded with a random boost. You won’t know the value of your reward until the last second!.


Shield Spear presents another risk/reward design meant to create a sense of recklessness. The card lets you sacrifice defense and accuracy to improve your offensive power and range - a trade-off the Volcanic Warrior is more than willing to accept.


The Volcanic Warrior rewards you for being reckless.

“Under the Hood” → Highlight the Attribute


We’re car enthusiasts here at GhG, so we refer to the “underlying mechanics behind the narrative” as being “under the hood”. This is the stuff that you don’t see. The mechanical gears and pistons that are churning away, helping further define the deck and how it feels to drive it.


Varia is both a brand new TCG and is carving out a new space within the card game genre at large. This meant that each class deck we designed would be introducing each of our seven attributes for the first time. On top of needing to be fun and evoke a certain fantasy, the decks needed to teach the player about each attribute, and what those attributes were capable of.


We decided early on that the easiest way to do this was to create seven single-attribute classes, with the idea that each class highlighted what it meant to be a combatant who focused solely on that attribute. The Volcanic Warrior, for example, would be the epitome of an aggressive deck.


Spellbreaker punishes opponents who rely heavily on magical actions, hinting at the fact that aggression tends to favor physical confrontation over the magical variety.


Cranial Crash highlights the attribute itself, teaching you that the more aggressive you are, the harder your attacks will hit.


The Volcanic Warrior teaches you what Aggression offers.

“Under the Hood” → Expand Or Explore A Mechanic Unique To Varia


As I mentioned above, Varia is a new style of TCG that has some mechanics unlike any other game in the genre. We wanted to highlight that by having cards in each deck that explored design space that doesn't exist outside of our game.


Varia has this concept of “hit and miss” that is facilitated using four-sided dice. If your attack’s focus is lower than the opposing block’s focus, your attack will miss. Because of this, rolling the maximum value for focus always feels good as the attacker. What if we made rolling a four feel great instead? The concept of a “critical hit” is not a new one for games, but it is a new concept for the TCG genre.


Critical Strike, Thorium Crusher, and Decapitate make rolling a four exciting. Really exciting. So exciting that you are often looking for ways to gain extra focus dice and improve your odds of rolling a four. Decapitate goes one step further and reminds players that Aggression is the king of close quarters combat. Unless the Volcanic Warrior has already swung and missed with this ultimate attack, you should never feel completely safe getting in the face of this brutal fighter.


The Volcanic Warrior introduces critical hits to trading card games.

“Under the Hood” → Balanced Matchups With Other Classes


This is more of a development constraint than it is one for design, but since the people designing Varia were also the ones developing it, I’m going to lump the two together for now.


When designing Varia, we looked out across our competition in the card game space and noticed a single common thread - competitive decks are expensive. In our minds, too expensive.


We wanted to make sure that from day one, Varia offered a format that was both approachable and had a low barrier to entry. Our solution was to have a format that was “out-of-the-box”. The idea being if you want to play competitive Varia, all you need to do is pick your class, shuffle up its contents, and play! In order for this to work, we needed to play-test the decks against each other over and over and over again, and ensure there was some relative balance between most of the match-ups.


The Volcanic Warrior is balanced against the other six classes.

I hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes look into what went into the Volcanic Warrior class deck available to you today. We play a ton of unfun Varia here at Guildhouse Games so that our fans only experience the fun aspects. Looking over the class now, I think we succeeded in our goal in creating an aggressive, in-your-face melee fighter who is a force to be reckoned with. If you ever wanted to be a fearless fighter who defeats their enemies with brute force, this is the class for you.




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