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The evolution of Igna, or how Quasr isn’t Magic

(Note: This article requires the knowledge of the game. To learn how to play Quasr, please visit the Quasr website to sign up. But I’ll try to make it as general as possible.)

Now that Quasr is online for some time already, I figure it’s about time to talk about the design and development of the game. I’d 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 history of the game, and how did it come about.

I can’t talk about Quasr without mentioning Magic: the Gathering – Indeed, if there’s one game that changed my life, it has to be Magic. Back in early 2000 I was studying high school in Singapore. I just checked in to my dorm after the year-end vacation, when I noticed my room-mate and few other friends playing ‘poker with pictures’ in the room. It didn’t take me long to get hooked to Magic. Now, studying abroad under scholarship and staying in a Presbyterian hostel isn’t the best time and place to start investing in a ‘Satanic’ (as my teacher puts it) game. I’ve gotten into a fair share of trouble which I don’t want to mention again.

Two years later and I was in junior college. That meant a new dorm as well as new room-mates. Among my five room-mates, one was, for a lack of better terms and I hereby ask you, Michael my ex-room-mate, for your forgiveness, a chess freak. While my other room-mates were quite accommodating of playing any game, Michael and I seemed to be at two ends of the gaming spectrum. I never understood chess for the lack of strategic thinking, and he never understood Magic for reasons that I don’t know. Oh, and there’s Edison, who doesn’t play anything other than Diablo 2, until I introduced Magic and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City to him.

Quasr, then titled ‘Battle Chess’ for a lack of imagination and product research, was born in search of the middle ground between Chess and Magic. The rules are a combination of both – defeat your opponent’s ‘King piece’ (the Aspect) using cards from a deck you build. There were numerous iterations between the first design and the current one (In fact, the current version that you see on the site is undergoing some changes as well). These changes happen when we learn new things that we never knew before. One thing we did not know was how strong direct damage can be.

Due to the expanding nature of the game, one of the aspects of Quasr design was conserving design space for future use. For each ‘faction’ (in quotes because of the lack of a better term;we wanted to change it but have not thought of a replacement yet), the idea was to pick a strategy and go all the way with it. This leads to several problems along the way, but right now I’ll just talk about ‘Igna’.

Igna was one of the three starting ‘factions’ of Quasr. Each of the three factions corresponded to a creature stat (Windia, whose details I shall leave unwritten for now, corresponded to the now-obsolete ‘Movement’ stat, or how many squares a creature can move per turn). Igna’s stat, as it turns out to be not too hard to deduce if you have played the game, is Attack (ATK). Igna’s creatures have been big-fisted and small-butted ever since the first card list, as the saying goes “Offense is the best defense” – When you’re busy attacking, there’s no need to hold back. The idea of ‘attacking’ extended from just creatures to Hacks, the ‘spell cards’ of Quasr. This is where the problems started, and the whole point of this article.

There was this one little card in Magic that I stole into Quasr:

Shock felt generic enough to be in any card game that had creatures and combat. It feels just like ‘extended combat’ – attacking with something else when your creatures can’t. Thus, a similar card found its way into Quasr’s set file.

THIS deals 2 damage to target creature or Aspect.

The ‘R’, which stands for ‘Range’, is the card’s cost, defined by either the number of rows or columns between the player’s Aspect and the target, whichever is greater. Soon enough its cost was increased to R+5. It might not even make it past the next iteration.

Balance is a tricky thing. Just because it’s a common that doesn’t get played in Tier 1 decks in one game doesn’t mean that the same card would not dominate in another game with slightly different rules. The difference – the board – turned out to be not so slight this time. Whack, in a land of one-grid-per-turn movers, was considered ‘cheating’. It was the gun in the fistfight, the Brazilian in the Malaysian football team. It could take out a creature from a distance, or a finishing blow to an Aspect being hurt by similar cards (Igna is full of these). While the Igna player gains no card advantage by scrapping a creature with Whack (what is known as a ‘one-for-one’ trade), it makes up by gaining the player tempo advantage – You save the amount of turns used to move towards your target and attack it. This advantage is even more significant when a creature can only move one grid per turn, a rule implemented to counter the imbalance of fast movers. (We’ll talk about this another time.)

Playtesting makes it so clear that the addition of the board into Quasr makes it so much more different from Magic. A more experienced game designer might spot that out immediately but hey, we’re all learning.

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June 26, 2007 Posted by | Game Design, Quasr | 4 Comments