Scott Van Essen Talks About Transformers Battle Cards: Crash Landing and Energized Field

Scott Van Essen is giving us some insight into two of the battle cards that arrived into players’ hands with Rise of the Combiners! The cards are Crash Landing & Energized Field and you can read all about them below the break!

When we design a card, sometimes we start with with a specific character (or equipment, or event) in mind, and we work to figure out how to best represent our concept with game mechanics. We call that “Top Down” design. Other times we think up mechanics that are exciting to read and fun to play, but aren’t specifically tied to any character or concept. Then our concepting team (led by the brilliant Matt Smith) needs to figure out what the card could be. We call this “Bottom Up” design.
The first card I’d like to take a closer look at today is the top-downiest of top down designs: Crash Landing.
One of the great things about top down cards is that when the concept is strong and the mechanics are clean, you can look at the card and instantly understand. We call this “grokking” the card (from Stranger in a Strange Land).
You’ll notice that this card has no battle icons on it, that’s because it’s quite strong. Deceptively powerful, in fact. Without even working too hard this can become a delayed Bolt of Lightning, and with some setup, this could do 5+ points of damage.
You also may notice that Crash Landing only works on your opponent’s turn. Initially it worked all the time, but it turns out that we have already printed several cards that make it easy to KO a character at the point of your choosing, and we’re bound to print more. Just one easy example, imagine that you have a Skywarp – Sneaky Prankster in alt mode with 6 damage on it. You play a Primary Laser and Reckless Charge. All of a sudden, you’re attacking with 10 attack, and at the end of the turn, the Reckless Charge damage KO’s your plane and you get to deal another 10 direct damage. This was, in the highly technical and sophisticated language of R&D, “Broken”. “BAH-roken”. “Completely Busted”.
It’s worth an aside to say that we do in fact love big, open-ended, ridiculous effects. We want players to be able to dream big and tell stories of epic moments. But, if those epic moments aren’t earned, and if they occur too frequently, then they are no longer special enough to be celebrated and they become frustrating to play against. I have a design rule that has served me well over the years: when I feel like I have to apologize to my opponent, some cards are going to see some changes coming their way.
The correct solution was to limit the effect of Crash Landing to your opponent’s turn, which eliminated most of the action-based attack bonuses and gave your opponent a window to use upgrade removal or otherwise play around the card. This brought the damage numbers down to a reasonable range and more importantly, gave your opponent agency.
The second card I’d like to look at is one of our last cards with two battle icons. Take a gander at Energized Field:
This card does two things that we stayed away from in Wave 1. First, this is the only armor (so far) that also has two blue battle icons. We want defense to be important, but if it’s too powerful, the you can have matchups where nobody can deal any damage and the game turns into an interminable wet noodle fight. That’s one of the things we love about having star costs for battle cards. We can make really swingy cards without worrying about players filling up their decks with them.
You might wonder why I’m talking about these two cards together. That turns out to be the second thing we’ve been extra careful about — cards that punish your opponent for attacking you.
In the earliest versions of the game, nearly every designer made a variant of “spiky armor” that dealt damage to the attacker. This is fertile and flavorful design space, but there’s a catch. There will inevitably be situations where a player knows that attacking will get their own character KO’d but they have no choice because the game forces them to attack. This can be very frustrating, especially if it happens with any frequency. Therefore, in Wave 1 we had a rule that we could never make attacking bad.
Now that we’re in Wave 2, we’re pushing the boundaries a bit but we’re still being careful. In the case of Energized Field, we felt that having a star cost was a big enough cost to justify the effect and to ensure that it wouldn’t show up in every deck. In the case of Crash Landing, it’s a one-shot effect that only goes off when you KO your opponent, so there’s always a consolation prize and you don’t need to worry about it every turn. Plus, the flavor is such a home run that it really sells the card.