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March 12, 2017 1:31 AM   Subscribe

Magic: the Gathering: Twenty Years, Twenty Lessons Learned – Magic: the Gathering head designer Mark Rosewater shares twenty lessons learned over twenty years of designing one of the world's most popular collectible card games.

Also in article form: part 1, part 2, part 3

Magic: the Gathering: Twenty Years, Twenty Lessons Learned

1 - Don't fight human nature
2 - Aesthetics matter
3 - Resonance is important
4 - Make use of piggybacking
5 - Don't confuse "interesting" with "fun"
6 - Understand what emotion your game is trying to evoke
7 - Allow the ability to make the game personal
8 - The details are where the players falls in love with your game
9 - Allow the players to have a sense of ownership
10 - Leave room for the player to explore
11 - If everyone likes your game but no one loves it, it will fail
12 - Don't design to prove you can do something
13 - Make the fun part also the correct strategy to win
14 - Don't be afraid to be blunt
15 - Design the component for the audience it's indented for
16 - Be more afraid of boring your players than challenging them
17 - You don't have to change much to change everything
18 - Restrictions breed creativity
19 - Your audience is good at recognizing problems and bad at solving them
20 - All of the lessons connect
posted by timshel (16 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Oh man, MtG really takes me back to middle school. I didn't really play for very long (Ice Age was the last expansion I played) but I was very proud that I had a couple of Force of Nature cards. Later on, I discovered that mana burn was a thing, and suddenly my Force of Nature cards were a lot less useful because they cost a lot of green mana to cast.

Incidentally, I kind of fell out of CCGs for a long time, but Codex: Card-Time Strategy has really got me (and my wife, and her coworker) hooked of late, partially because it isn't technically a CCG but simply designed to play like one (inasmuch as it has a fixed pool of cards that is not intended to be expanded in the future, and you get a set, discrete set when you buy it). It fixes a lot of the mechanical issues I don't like about CCGs (not fond of how certain decks just cleanly beat others, nor the fact that a single tournament-ready MtG deck routinely costs hundreds of dollars, nor how you can draw a late-game card early on and be stuck with it wasting a hand card all game, nor how instants make the game convoluted and time-consuming because every single action gets checked for "gonna do something in response?" etc. etc.). Basically, I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who likes MtG-style gameplay, because "MtG but with everything annoying fixed" is about the best elevator pitch I can think of.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:19 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, and it goes without saying that these essays are outstanding (and I assume likewise for the video). Really interesting game design stuff here!
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:25 AM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think about these a lot when I think about the games I play. They're good, nonobvious lessons.

The one about designing for Fun over Interest is a key one that a lot of designers miss, I find; I can see how/why some mechanics get into games, because there's a natural tension they evoke, but the problem is that it's often
posted by Fraxas at 4:10 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh man, yeah, on my few aborted forays into game design I've found that it's a lot easier to design "interesting" than "fun." Hell, that disparity is how I recently summed up Sonic CD. Of course, it's also a sliding scale — the Looney Pyramids game Zendo can fall on either side of that divide depending on the crowd.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:19 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Later on, I discovered that mana burn was a thing, and suddenly my Force of Nature cards were a lot less useful because they cost a lot of green mana to cast.

I guess I will be that guy and point out that I don't think you are remembering correctly what mana burn does - though one of the reasons Force of Nature is not a good card is that it damages you if you fail to pay a bunch of green mana each turn - but I will also tell you the first time I encountered the game (same era) my friend and I drew hands out of the same single deck an older friend had given him, like they were playing cards so, you know.
posted by atoxyl at 4:59 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Or actually I started around Ice Age, and was done around Mirrodin, or just after whenever they changed the card faces.
posted by atoxyl at 5:01 AM on March 12, 2017

Over all the years, the one thing that always boggles me is MaRo's career arc, jumping from being a script writer on Rosanne to working for Wizards of the Coast and becoming head designer of one of their flagship games in the space of a few years.
posted by radwolf76 at 5:02 AM on March 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

21 - Don't make broken cards and sets - oh wait, he hasn't learned that one yet. :)
posted by Sand at 6:01 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Small nitpick: Magic separates its R&D into "design" (making cards) and "development" (balancing them for gameplay). MaRo works in design, broken cards getting out isn't his fault.
posted by explosion at 6:26 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Well, the way I'd played Force of Nature was by accumulating green mana over the course of several turns… yeah, my friends and I missed that part of the rather thick rulebook at the time.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:36 AM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Well, the way I'd played Force of Nature was by accumulating green mana over the course of several turns…

I was about to say that now that mana burn is gone from the game, (the designers decided it was un-fun,) your understanding was on the same page, but, yeah, you probably should check the rules again.
posted by fifthrider at 6:58 AM on March 12, 2017

Broken design concepts getting out is entirely his fault, though.

The idea that's its possible to design a nontrivial set of magic cards and not accidentally introduce a broken card or concept is laughable, however. Skullclamp originally gave the equipped creature +1/+1 before development decided that that was too powerful, and "nerfed" it down to +1/-1.
posted by Bobicus at 9:27 AM on March 12, 2017

For all their faults, even missing the latest infinite combo in standard, Wizards still puts out a great game. Hazbro, however, I have no time for.
posted by BentFranklin at 3:49 PM on March 12, 2017

5 - Don't confuse "interesting" with "fun"

On the other hand, don't confuse "fun" with "protect players from ever having negative consequences to their plays" or "eliminate all edge cases from the rules".

Almost every single trigger now says "you may", so there is never any chance of anything backfiring. Removing interesting plays like forcing your opponent to hurt themselves or abusing the old wording on cards with entering/exiting triggers has sure sucked a lot of the fun out of it for me.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 7:18 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Fun ? Who needs fun ? At least it isn't a robot/building/transformer
posted by k5.user at 9:04 AM on March 13, 2017

I started playing Magic when "Revised" was the current edition, The Dark was becoming hard to find in stores, and Fallen Empires was about to hit. I stopped[1] before 6th edition, probably right after Anthologies was released.

And, yet, I instantly knew and could picture the card referenced in the post title. Hooray?

[1] Stopped with actual cards, at least. The various versions of Duels of the Planeswalkers that have been released over recent years have attracted my attention
posted by hanov3r at 11:41 AM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

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