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The color pie and the color salad bowl

While staying overnight in the office helps productivity in the sense that you could just sleep on the desk with your fingers still on the keyboard, nothing could compare to the satisfaction of stretching out your arms and legs on a nice, proper bed.

Sleeping at home makes me remember my dreams better too; just yesterday I had quite an interesting dream of traveling with my mum on this helicopter-like contraption, where you could just point to a place on a Google Earth-like 3D map and you’d be there instantly. The other day I dreamt that I was back in my junior college uniform and going to school on hoverboard. It actually felt pretty real; I just had to tilt my body slightly to control its direction and speed.

Seems like I’m thinking too much into the setting.

Futurustic dreams aside and still on a personal note, Planar Chaos, the latest expansion to the popular trading card game Magic: the Gathering will be released in a couple of weeks’ time, and I’ll be attending the prerelease event (as I have always did for the past six years) this coming weekend.

While being a long-time fan of the game, I can’t help but to wonder what the guys at Magic R&D smoking when they designed the set. While a lot of fans might find the upcoming set a brilliant set, there are some players (including me) who feel slightly put down by the execution of the set.

You see, they messed up with the color pie.

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(Credits to billythefridge from the MTGSalvation forums for the picture)

To most people out there who don’t play Magic: the Gathering and were wondering what’s up with the title, the color pie is a term used in the design of the game. Basically, there are five factions, or ‘colors’ in the card game. Each color has its own characteristics which were defined as the game evolved. Using these definitions, technically any card made for the game could belong to one or more of these colors, and technically some cards cannot be of a certain color(s). Some cards, however, could fall into a grey area of can-ness and cannot-ness.

Planar Chaos is full of these. I mean, the name of the set itself tells you that it will be breaking a lot of rules. I suppose one of the disadvantages of having a ‘color pie’ – where all the flavors of cards belong to either a slice or another – is that your game is limited by the pie crust, the ‘outer layer’ that players perceive the game. Having damaging spells in white, a color traditionally associated with protection, healing and upholding of the law, feels like mayonnaise on apple pie – no matter how good you try to justify it, it just tastes weird. (I guess it would be different if there are people who are actually brought up on apple pie with mayonnaise… not that I want to know)

Encephalon tries to use a different approach on classifying cards. With reference to the color pie, I call it the ‘color salad bowl’. I could call it a ‘color soda fountain’ too, but I’m not sure if that many people actually like to mix their soft drinks likeme. Anyway, the pie has its ingredients all baked inside, while a salad bowl holds salad taken from a salad bar. The salad bar could hold every single card we can think of, and if we want to add more stuff, we just mix it with some other vegetable.

I guess the above comparison is very vague, and some people preferred baked pastries over raw vegetables, so I’ll just write down some points here.

(1) Encephalon allows expansion of factions. Each faction would just have one or two things that they’re good at, and slightly different things could belong in the same or another faction. In this sense…

(2) Factions actually don’t matter that much. A big portion of the cards are generic, while factioned cards are more of a rarity and are really good at what they’re suposed to do. Even if you have a lot of generic cards, they’re ‘spiced up’ by…

(3) Customization allow cards to be the same but still unique. Customization is one of the biggest selling opints of Encephalon, in the sense that you can actually ‘slot in’ and ‘take out’ stats and abilities from a card and put it in another. It’s like how you don’t pick out and eat the corn bits first. (Excuse me if you do)

In short, we’re not trying to make how deep a faction can go, but rather how far can we expand this game. I wouldn’t say the salad bowl is flawless (In fact I could point out a couple of flaws right now, but I’ll leave the homework to our competitors), but we just want to try out something new. We’re aiming for seven factions now, but of course, we could always get a bigger salad bar.

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January 17, 2007 - Posted by | Encephalon, Game Design, Trading Card Game

5 Comments »

  1. Hell Yeah!

    Comment by Slade | January 17, 2007 | Reply

  2. Hey, I remember that man in the picture! He gave a company tour, no?

    Comment by Iris | January 17, 2007 | Reply

  3. He is the Lead Game Designer of Magic: the Gathering.

    Comment by Slade | January 17, 2007 | Reply

  4. For those who are interested in Mark Rosewater (M:tG lead designer), here‘s a podcast interview with him that was done last month.

    Comment by nowing | January 17, 2007 | Reply

  5. […] start with a general article, but it seems like I’ve written it already. Check out “The color pie and the color salad bowl“. I’ll go into slightly more specific subjects, in the mean time touching on some […]

    Pingback by The evolution of Igna, or how Quasr isn’t Magic « Hatchlings Games | June 26, 2007 | Reply


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