• Design Analysis: In Search of a Good "Search"


    Dice Masters is a relatively young game when it comes to exploring its design space. Very few of itís mechanics have been iterated on in enough depth to establish the best or worst way to do a thing. Take the new Crossover dice as an example. We have less than 20 crossover dice in the game at current and with 9 different combinations of energy types (including the yet unused 3 energy cost combinations) that isnít much of a mechanic at yet. With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at a few game mechanics and explore their design spaces a bit. Today, we talk about Searching your bag.

    Now, for those of you who listen to The Prep Area podcast, you probably already know I think search is a terrible mechanic in Dice Masters. It really isnít Searchís fault though, it COULD be good, but there are some design elements holding it back. First off, letís talk about timing. Search is usually a mechanic that is performed on your turn, during your main phase, and has you searching your bag. I argue that this is too late. Why? Because by then youíve already drawn one third of the contents of your bag.

    I say one third because in the 5-6 turns a team usually takes to bring their win condition online, youíre likely to only buy 6 dice, and hopefully field several of them by then. This leaves you in the ballpark of 10-12 dice being added to your bag, assuming you didnít ramp anything. As such, if you were to draw your 4 dice for next turn, then search for a die from the remainder, youíre talking searching your bag of 6-8 dice. This may seem like a solid move, but you have to look at the opportunity cost versus gain. Any card that currently searches, likely does that in exclusion of other mechanics (besides rolling or fielding the searched die), and that means you are looking to take up one of your 10 team slots simply for a card that gives you a minute bit of reliability for retrieving another die. It is, at its core, this loss of opportunity cost that makes cards with search less desirable in the current state of the game. However, it isnít just the highly tuned meta mindset that is holding search back.



    If we look at other deck building games, my favorite being Star Realms, and compare them to Dice Masters, we find that there are in fact very few ďsearch your deckĒ mechanics in those games. Looking at collectable card games, that build large decks and uses the randomness of those decks to vary outcomes, there we find ďsearch your deckĒ cards to be godlike in power. The difference is the amount of variance mitigated. In deck builders your deck rarely gets beyond 30 cards, having started at 8 or 10. In CCGs, your decks are 40-60 cards. That is a difference of 2-4 times as much! Additionally, in deck builders you are cycling through your cards(or dice) ideally, every 3-4 turns, where in CCGs, there are cards you just might never get to. So, how can search be good in DM?



    Well, the best step Iíve seen in improving search, was taken in Worldís Finest. Clark Kent - Daily Planet Photographer allows us to search our bag AND used pile. If we drew 4 of our 14 dice this turn, we could reasonably be searching the entirety of our other 10 dice. Additionally, we can buy a Superman and guarantee the success of our search by putting that Superman into our used right away. Of course, getting Clark KOed by Combat damage isnít the easiest of tasks, so perhaps not the best implementation of Search, but the concept is improving.



    I also want to take a look at Cerebro - Mutant Hunter as a great example of the right timing for a search mechanic. Mutant Hunter gets placed on a character card in an earlier turn, and then at the beginning of your turn (before you draw!) you grab the one die you know you want from the bag and roll it. Now, this card is of an older design style, so it is unclear if this die should be added to your roll and thus be eligible for a reroll, but the timing is just right. It might be possible that your bag is nearly empty at the beginning of your turn though, and that could be just as problematic. Again, searching used and bag would mitigate this, but so does Mutant Hunterís ability to trigger on demand, instead of being a when fielded or when KOed effect.



    Lastly, I want to talk about a change that was added to the game that actually had a pretty hefty impact on searching, in a way Iím not sure the designers foresaw. The Out of Play or transition zone rules affect Searching on a very subtle level. Before the rules were added, dice could either be in the bag/used, active for the turn in some way (energy, actions, characters) or prepped. With the addition of the transition zone, you could also have ďusedĒ dice. With on demand bag refill effects like the Pyro Global or the resurrection global, the separation of bag and used pile was much less a detriment to searching. However, when dice could be in a state of both being in the used, and not able to cycle into the bag, the strength of searching took a hit. Looking at Star Realms as an example, there are turns where I can be forced to discard cards as a cost, but with an efficient enough deck, I could possibly play all of my cards and draw my discard pile into my hand. Dice Masters doesnít really have any discard mechanics (besides sacrifice), but this is something to keep in mind for future design space.

    Hopefully, this has given you some insight into my thoughts on design elements of Dice Masters, and why I am unlikely to be running any search elements in my foreseeable future. Give me a character that lets me search my bag and used pile at the beginning of my turn, so long as they are still active, and Iíll likely find a space for them on my team. Till then though, Iíd rather take my chances drawing a random die and prepping it with resurrection.

    Thatís it for this Design Analysis article, if you liked the content and want to see more like this, please comment below and tell me what design elements youíve always wondered about, whether it be Harvey Bullockís Ďscryí mechanic, regeneration, life gain or some other corner of DM that you think could be really good, if it only got a bit more design attention.
    Comments 9 Comments
    1. memmek2k's Avatar
      memmek2k -
      We want life gain to be viable so badly. My partner is a big fan of green-white decks in magic - she likes to get way ahead on life while she sets up for some 20 attack monstrosity in a very Timmy-like fashion.

      Locally, the only way we ever conceived of life gain becoming viable (besides removing the 20 health cap, which would clearly do it too) was a solution to the perceived issue of intentional draws. Instead of 5 additional turns once a game goes to time, we considered a "fatigue"-like mechanic where each player takes N*X damage, where N is the number of turns each player has had since the match went to time, and X is the damage increment (usually, 1, 2, or 3 depending on how many average turns you want after time). That would make a life gain-stall team viable, but then we'd need a way to enforce not stalling during turns. Turns out it's hard to design balanced games lol.
    1. Shadowmeld's Avatar
      Shadowmeld -
      Perhaps I will cover life gain in the next episode. Being a fan of Star Realms, I like the idea of no life cap, but I think the ballance of the game is skewed against that being viable. An entire rotation of cards would need to be planned around the rule change.

      I love the Fatigue option you describe, just wonder if it's too complex for a non-digital game.
    1. memmek2k's Avatar
      memmek2k -
      Yeah, the paper-and-pen score keepers (as opposed to markers on the mats, or spin-down dice) definitely are at an advantage there.
    1. Jwannabe's Avatar
      Jwannabe -
      I'm looking for an BAC that let's you play an action on your opponents turn and open a timing window. A reference would be :twop1: [IMG]uploads/2015/05/Pandoras-Box-Trinity-War.png[/IMG] . So I guess my suggestion would be action timing windows (because some create their own unique ones) and counter timing windows.

      I also would like some multi-player specific cards and flesh out a good official format. There are some good unofficial ones.
    1. Dave's Avatar
      Dave -
      Quote Originally Posted by memmek2k View Post
      We want life gain to be viable so badly. My partner is a big fan of green-white decks in magic - she likes to get way ahead on life while she sets up for some 20 attack monstrosity in a very Timmy-like fashion.

      Locally, the only way we ever conceived of life gain becoming viable (besides removing the 20 health cap, which would clearly do it too) was a solution to the perceived issue of intentional draws. Instead of 5 additional turns once a game goes to time, we considered a "fatigue"-like mechanic where each player takes N*X damage, where N is the number of turns each player has had since the match went to time, and X is the damage increment (usually, 1, 2, or 3 depending on how many average turns you want after time). That would make a life gain-stall team viable, but then we'd need a way to enforce not stalling during turns. Turns out it's hard to design balanced games lol.
      Fatigue would be super interesting in this game.
    1. memmek2k's Avatar
      memmek2k -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dave View Post
      Fatigue would be super interesting in this game.
      Yeah! I'd also love to see cards with fatigue as a keyword. Like a 7 cost Galactus with Fatigue 3 or something.
    1. Jwannabe's Avatar
      Jwannabe -
      Quote Originally Posted by memmek2k View Post
      Yeah! I'd also love to see cards with fatigue as a keyword. Like a 7 cost Galactus with Fatigue 3 or something.
      Go big! 10 cost with discount for each Herald fielded.
    1. Lordfajubi's Avatar
      Lordfajubi -
      Fatigue would be a great idea and further gives advantage to the winning player at time if you get a staller that is just trying to survive till the draw.
    1. Yort's Avatar
      Yort -
      Quote Originally Posted by memmek2k View Post
      We want life gain to be viable so badly.
      We are running a "reverse life" tournament in a couple of weeks, where we start at 0 health and the first one to 20 wins. Should be fun!