One of the main hobbies that has occupied my time for more than 20 years is Magic the Gathering. And I’ve played a ton of it, I think it was 1995 when I started playing but who even knows at this point. I’ve come and gone, bought and sold my collection a couple of times, but I always come back to it. Some of my fondest memories of the game were playing crappy home-brew decks in a basement that were essentially original Ravnica block-constructed. As I’ve played over the years, I’ve drifted my way through formats, dabbling in Standard, Extended (RIP), Modern and Limited – but I ultimately ended up in a long term relationship with EDH (or Commander as we now know it). I’m sitting on 13 or 14 Decks at this point and its basically the only format I play aside from Draft and the occasional Sealed at a prerelease (I just got my first taste of Dominaria last weekend and I feel pretty comfortable saying its the best set that Wizards has created since original Ravnica). Dominaria is something I’ll probably devote an entire post to at a later date but it’s not the subject of discussion today. Today’s topic is a little game called “Gwent: The Witcher Card Game”, a game that just got hit with a ice-blast of legendary proportions.
I like many people, came into Gwent fresh off of Witcher 3 hype. After finally sitting down to experience Geralt’s last adventure and falling in love with the story as well as the simple little mini-game within the larger scope of the game, I found myself itching for some card game action. Add to this that I and many of my friends had been buried under schoolwork at university and unable to successfully arrange our weekly Commander games for some time, and there was a fierce need to stretch those card-game-muscles. So, like the self-respecting(?) fiending card-game addict I am, I downloaded Gwent and procrastinated on my school work like a maniac. And at first, I loved the game. I still do in a lot of ways. But about 3 weeks after I had started playing, decided I loved the game, and thrown $70 dollars CD Project Red’s way in support of it and to jump start my collection before going free-to-play from that point onwards (I felt like it deserved the money of a full release game, I still do), the developers updated with some complex news. The game was going on ice for 6 months. And this very well may be the right call, in fact I lean heavily towards the side that it is. But I can tell you that it sucks to leap into a game, seeing its recent updates and progress, buy in and immediately have the meta-game be placed into stasis for half a year. And as I quickly moved up the ladder as someone with a lot of experience playing card games, I noticed the same 3 decks in 85% of my games and a lot of weird design choices. I don’t want my money back, I’m not mad at CDPR, it comes with the territory. But I think its a mistake to COMPLETELY forsake the live server for likely more than half a year. And while there is a balance patch coming in May, it looks like that’s it for the remainder of the duration to “Homecoming” – their Gwent 2.0 Relaunch. And that sucks. A lot. Especially since the game is based on points score. There are lots of kinks they need to work out before relaunch, but I would really like to see a little bit more lever-pulling on the card numbers in the mean time. Plenty of cards go unplayed because they can’t measure up to a few over-tuned competitors or are under-tuned themselves, and I think a large root of this is that the developers don’t seem to have ironed out the design philosophies completely within the game.
Let’s look at an example. For those unfamiliar, the goal is to put the most points on the board for 2 out of 3 rounds with a limited hand. Each player starts with 10 cards and draws 2 after the first round and one after the second round. There’s some mulligan stuff in there but that’s a whole other can of worms and not important to this point. Each deck must be at least 25 cards with a limit of what are essentially 4 “Rare” cards, 6 “Uncommon” cards and an unlimited amount of “Common” cards – again, not the titles used for the game but suitable for our purpose. The biggest issue right now, is that the main value of a card is how many points it can provide – and we have a situation in which a card like Half-Elf Hunter (a common Scoia’tel card) can output 12 unconditional points split as two 6 power units, while other cards like Fiend put out 11 on one body. Overall it is more common for the extra body to be a benefit in the game than a liability simply due to the options available for dealing with / benefiting swarm strategies. This is where the disconnect is to me. There doesn’t seem to be a concrete baseline for what a common’s value should be. I think different values are incredibly important to the game, but it’s not handled well and it could easily be on the live server with simple numbers tuning. A card’s value should be tied to its conditions. There needs to be a baseline. Lets say Fiend is 10 points – because for the sake of argument we decide that the baseline for an unconditional common is 10 power. Half-Elf Hunter should be two 5 power bodies. They are both unconditional cards. This leaves room for other commons to have a more flexible range of power, say from 7-13 points based on the difficulty of their conditions. A 12 point common needs to have risk attached to it – if it can reach above a set parity, there needs to be a equal possibility for it to land below that parity. The biggest struggle with Gwent right now to me is that it feels like the developers have not ironed out what a bronze, silver and gold are worth as a baseline and balanced around that. And that’s a numbers game. I can’t imagine the resources required to tweak those numbers on the cards are particularly taxing. So that’s my ask. Not for more cards, not for content, not for my money back, but to figure out your base numbers and assign at least someone to push and pull some levers part time for the next six months. Trust me, you have a great game, and you’re right, it needs some tweaks, but there’s no reason to leave Gwent 1.0 out in the cold to die for the rest of the year when you could just feed it here and there and let it grow up in preparation for its new outfit.
And for the love of god add a fifth card to the packs in draft mode, the system is awesome but deck diversity is limited to good-stuff because archetype-builds are completely bricked by bad luck far too often.