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Author Topic: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?  (Read 11010 times)

iNano78

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NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« on: August 25, 2015, 11:41:35 AM »
A rant on the topic of NPE...

I'm a play tester for another popular tabletop game.  One of the things we're aware of when designing/testing/revising new game effects is whether or not that effect, on its own or in combination with other effects, might be "unfun" for one player and lead to NPE.

One effect type that can cause NPE in a game like Mage Wars is preventing a player's pieces (creatures or conjurations or whatever) from doing anything useful for one or many rounds.  For example, my spouse willingly played Mage Wars (Arena) with me for a few matches and overall enjoyed it... until one time I cast [mwcard=FWI05]Mass Sleep[/mwcard] on her swarm of 4 or 5 animal creatures, essentially wasting all the actions and mana she'd put into amassing her army, and then I went on to beat down her defenseless and toothless Beastmaster with my Forcemaster.  After that match, she swore never to play Mage Wars again.

She has since commented that, now knowing such a thing is possible, she might build her deck differently and/or play around that situation... but that assumes she's willing to play again at all, which she isn't sure about.  I've seen new players have similar reactions to many other games, where the player experiences an NPE situation in a first or second play and decides the likelihood of unenjoyable games isn't worth the investment (time and effort).  These players would rather play a different game where all the players have an enjoyable experience far more often than not.  Why waste your life playing games that might result in a completely unenjoyable experience?

Another related effect type that can cause NPE is resource denial.  In MtG for example, "land destruction" has been mostly removed from the game (or heavily limited) since it was introduced long ago.  The reason land destruction isn't really a thing anymore is that, by destroying all your opponents lands (especially early in a match), it is possible to prevent them from ever having enough resources to play any meaningful cards, reducing them to simply drawing a card they can't play (or that won't have much effect) each turn while you slowly beat them down with your 2/2 morphed creature or whatever.  Using land destruction strategies might also cause them to flip the table...

(And don't get me started about the now-banned Erayo/Arcane Laboratory hard-lock Commander deck... the most frustrating one-on-one MtG experienceS I've ever encountered, as my regular tournament opponent would prevent me from ever casting a spell, then had to draw through ~40 more cards, on average, to find his one win condition... partly because I refused to concede as I figured he might "mill" himself if he didn't actually have a win condition in his deck.  Btw, his win-con was a single morphed 2/2 creature...)

Mage Wars avoids complete resource denial by having a built-in Channeling for each mage.  However, there are still several effects that reduce your opponent's resources, and we've noticed that even in Academy, resource denial is both present and, at least for Wizards, an encouraged strategy.  It was a strong theme of the Arcane school in the first edition of Mage Wars (Arena) (see [mwcard=MW1J14]Mana Siphon[/mwcard], [mwcard=MW1C24]Mana Leech[/mwcard], [mwcard=MW1E15]Essence Drain[/mwcard], [mwcard=MW1J16]Mordok's Obelisk[/mwcard], [mwcard=MW1Q32]Suppression Cloak[/mwcard], [mwcard=MW1Q31]Staff of the Arcanum[/mwcard]) and to our surprise, there are several cards in the first Academy set (aimed at new players to get them hooked on Mage Wars) that involve "Mana Drain" or "Mana Transfer" effects (although they spell it out in words rather than using these keywords); e.g. Mana Worm = baby Mana Leech, the Wizard's weapon has a Mana Drain effect when attacking non-mage creatures, Wizard's armor turns 1 point of Mana Drain into Mana Transfer each round, and there's a Minor Essence Drain that is a cheaper/weaker Essence Drain that can only target Minor creatures.  These effects have the potential to give a new player (e.g. whoever is playing the more straightforward Beastmaster) a sour taste in her mouth right from the start.  In my opinion, the last thing you want is for a first-time player to have a NPE during her first play of an introductory game...

On top of this, Academy has a few effects that prevent creatures from doing anything.  While there isn't any Sleep in Academy (yet), there is the new effect Stagger, which effectively Incapacitates Minor creatures until the end of their next activation.  If this effect showed up on one or two cards in the Academy starter box, it might not be a problem... but MANY spells (e.g. MOST attack spells, nearly HALF the creatures) deal out the Stagger condition.  While it goes away at the end of the creature's next activation, this can be critical considering that most matches only last 5-7 rounds.  In my last match, I was able to Stagger every one of my Beastmaster opponent's Minor creatures so they were never able to attack or Guard, then swing in with my Wizard's (much more powerful) creatures.  I took a total of 5 damage in the match (from a lucky attack by the opposing mage); it wasn't even remotely close.  Sure, there's often a die roll needed to Stagger a creature, but there are so many effects that can do it (creatures, attack spells and Enchantments) that it's bound to happen eventually, and can happen routinely.  Guarding seems really important in Academy, but given that the Wizard can use his Quick Cast to Shrink any un-Stagger'ed creature (and cause that creature to become a Pest), it's very easy for the Wizard to waste any creature's Guard token on demand.  And if that isn't enough, it's also possible to "banish" any Minor creature using the extremely efficient Exile Enchantment... which can waste several of the Beastmaster's actions and mana spent buffing up his Minor creature "buddy" (if going that route rather than a swarm).  I Exiled my opponent's [Weasel] a Thousand Bites who had 2 or 3 Enchantments on him... and if he wasn't a very calm fellow, I think he might have flipped the table right then and there.  And that's playing the "introductory" game of Mage Wars Academy using the recommended spell books.

Why doesn't the Beastmaster avoid Minor Essence Drain, Exile, etc, by casting Major creatures?  Because he only channels 7 by default, meaning all Major creatures are going to require saving mana for 2+ turns.  And that's assuming he actually channels 7... i.e. assuming the Wizard isn't effectively bringing his Channeling down to 6 or 5 via Mana Drain effects.  With a few Mana Worms out, the Beastmaster feels obligated to spend all his mana every turn... which means he's going to be limited to creatures that cost 6 or under (since he probably needs to spend 1 mana on his built-in [mwcard=MW1I23]Rouse the Beast[/mwcard] ability).  If that isn't bad enough, most of his creatures cost 4 or 8 to cast, so he has to work hard to spend all his mana in one turn (probably on a cheap creature plus maybe an Enchantment or cheap equipment), and can't summon a larger creature without saving mana - and thus losing mana to Mana Drain effects. 

In summary, from the few matches I've played so far, I've found that the Wizard is often channeling 8 or 9 (from his Amulet plus the Mana Transfer ability of his armor) while the Beastmaster is effectively channeling 6 - or spending all his mana to avoid losing mana to Mana Drain (which is harder than it sounds due to spell costs, especially creatures).  This means the Beastmaster is limited to mostly level 1 creatures, while the Wizard is often able to get out one or two much more powerful creatures.  In fact, in all my matches, the Wizard ends up with more creatures in play than the Beastmaster, and almost all of those creature have more powerful attacks and abilities.  And each player I've introduced Academy to has complained about NPE due to mana denial or inability to use the creatures they've summoned (thanks to Stagger or Exile) - strong enough NPE that they're unlikely to play Academy again and/or can assure me that their gaming and/or life partners would not be interested in playing Academy (which was one of the reasons they were interested in Academy in the first place) because there are too many "unfun" things going on.

I realize there are things I could do to avoid NPE when teaching Academy to new players - e.g. don't use spells or strategies with NPE-inducing effects like resource denial and Stagger.  In fact, I could always play the (relatively vanilla) Beastmaster and encourage my opponent to use the best Wizard strategies (e.g. use Mana Drain/Transfer and Stagger/Shrink all my Minor creatures/Guards) so they aren't the victims of NPE.  But this shouldn't be an issue, because in my opinion, good game design should avoid putting NPE-inducing effects in a core set for an introductory game designed to hook people on the grander Mage Wars universe.

Note to Arcane Wonders design team: If you want people to like Academy enough to play it again, don't include resource denial as a primary strategy of one of the only two mages available upon release - especially not in the recommended starter spell book - and don't include a condition (let alone invent a new condition specifically for this set) that prevents creatures from functioning when one of the two mages is supposed to be all about summoning creatures.  Hopefully this isn't "too little too late."
« Last Edit: August 25, 2015, 01:32:53 PM by iNano78 »
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Zuberi

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Re: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« Reply #1 on: August 25, 2015, 01:05:36 PM »
Great article. T'was a very interesting read. The most interesting thing to me is that in most of the games I've played and demo'd, the Beastmaster has seemed to have had the advantage. These have mostly been either pitting two new players against each other or two experienced players against each other though. I wonder if this might be an issue of a more experienced player overwhelming a new player?

I definitely agree with the Beastmaster often feeling pressured to use all of their mana each round, but they seem able to handle it. Mana Denial is something we specifically focused on in playtesting to make sure it wasn't too powerful, although that doesn't necessarily mean everyone will enjoy playing against it.

The only flaw in your article that I could find though, is that you never define NPE. I have no clue what that is supposed to mean. From context I'm gathering it means something like not-pleasant-experience?

Laddinfance

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Re: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« Reply #2 on: August 25, 2015, 01:16:49 PM »
Negative Player Experience - iNano78's response is much more complete  than mine.
« Last Edit: August 25, 2015, 01:21:46 PM by Laddinfance »

iNano78

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Re: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« Reply #3 on: August 25, 2015, 01:20:18 PM »
The only flaw in your article that I could find though, is that you never define NPE. I have no clue what that is supposed to mean. From context I'm gathering it means something like not-pleasant-experience?

There's a link in the first sentence: Negative Play Experience.  Basically, something "unfun" that ruins the gaming experience, possibly causing a player to not want to play anymore - or, in extreme circumstances, flip the table, etc.  It's not that the player is necessarily a "sore loser" but rather that a game mechanism is directly responsible for a negative feeling, often due to game effects or conditions being beyond the player's control (e.g. unable to act with their creatures, or unable to generate sufficient resources to optimally use some of their spells, or prolonging a game for an arbitrarily long time in such a way that neither player can achieve a win condition, etc).
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Re: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« Reply #4 on: August 25, 2015, 01:47:43 PM »
@iNano78 what I have learned when creating links on this forums, is to change the color of the link to Red, as the default color is very easy to skip over. So NPE is now much more visually prominent. It is one of those BBCode things....
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Re: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« Reply #5 on: August 26, 2015, 08:06:01 AM »
Interesting article definitely.
I find that Beastmaster in this set can't bring enough beasts to synergize his strategy anyhow...  :P

iNano78

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Re: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« Reply #6 on: August 26, 2015, 08:51:34 AM »
Regarding the Beastmaster's struggle, note that we've only played with the recommended spell books so far.  And there might be some "beginner playing the Beastmaster vs. a more experienced Wizard" issue to some degree - but I think the Beastmaster's issues go beyond that, especially using the starter spell books.

With some significant tweaking of the Beastmaster's book, perhaps including a Bear strategy or even going with Mana Worms (!), I could see him working against the Wizard's starting book.  But even Bears are awkwardly priced for a Beastmaster, who starts with 0 mana and Channels 7.  Mama Bear costs 11 and Cubs cost 4, so you come up 1 mana short of being able to cast both by turn 2.  Instead you might go with an FD Enchantment on yourself on turn 1, then Mama on turn 2, then drop a "Roused" Cub and maybe another Enchantment on turn 3 before swinging in with both the Cub and Mama (getting Melee +1 on Mama), adding a new Cub on each of the next 2 rounds - and more Enchantments or Equipment whenever you can afford it (but note that you can't cast Crumble or Disperse in a round that you summon a Bear).  Meanwhile, the Wizard can easily deal with your Cubs (e.g. Stagger or even Exile if you put any effort into buffing one of them) but the only thing he can do to Mama is Shrink (and perhaps Tangleroot if he adds that to his book)... which is still pretty annoying, but will be offset somewhat as you add more Bears and/or put some bonuses on Mama (like Wolf Fury).

I don't think any of the other animals priced higher than 8 mana are worth playing, except maybe Slavorg as a post-swarm finisher (although he tends to be too-little-too-late if you've already lost a swarm).  The Legendary Leopard feels out of place in this set, but might see play as a cheaper alternative to Cervere in Arena.  Razortusk packs a punch and is reasonably hard to kill (although not as tough as Bears), but still costs 8.  I guess you could go with your Faerie on turn 1 then Razortusk on turn 2, then try to pump out a Wychwood Hound swarm or something... A Skunk guard looks like a fun opening except, as said before, Minor creature guards are really easy for the Wizard to deal with.  For instance, Forked Lightning has a 25% chance to Stagger 2 creatures, and 75% to Stagger at least 1, which can be followed up with Shrink on whatever didn't get Staggered.  A Shrink'ed Skunk (or Porcupine, for that matter) is pretty much useless.

As for the Wizard, he wins the war of attrition by playing as many Crumbles and Disperses as possible, since they each cost 2 less than whatever the Beastmaster spent on the Equipment/Enchantment.  Similarly, Shrink and Tangleroot will nullify most of the Beastmaster's creatures, and lightning spells with high chance to Stagger (especially Forked Lightning) are the only attack spells he needs.  Cut about half his creatures to afford the max number of copies of those spells, keeping your trusty Mana Worms, plus some creatures that deal Stagger to counter whatever Minor creatures the Beastmaster brings, plus your choice of big finisher (e.g. Sailfin Hydra).  Oh, and definitely keep the Genie, as he works wonders to enhance your Mana Worm attacks (ensuring they hit) - or to hand out guaranteed Staggers (!).  Add in the Suppression Cloak Lite, along with your Armor and Amulet (you can skip the Rod since you won't be attacking with your Wizard anyway) as your Beastmaster won't be able to afford to attack.  If you can afford the sbp on multiple copies of those equipment, go for it because the Beastmaster surely won't have enough copies of Crumble.  I can't see how an Academy Beastmaster could ever win against a well-played, optimized "Stagger/Denial" Academy Wizard.
« Last Edit: August 26, 2015, 09:33:32 AM by iNano78 »
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exid

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Re: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« Reply #7 on: August 26, 2015, 10:13:14 AM »
I didn't play academy yet... but about NPE:

I agree that a game with to many NPE is bad.
I agree that a game for beginners should avoid NPE.
But a well strategically brought NPE in a well balanced game is a GGM (Good Game Moment)! I lived (or more exactely died) a long game in a poison gas cloud, brillant! I had to play (and win) a Togorah-druid with legendary-Togorah played by my opponent, exciting! It's part of a good game to be NPEed sometimes.

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Re: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« Reply #8 on: August 26, 2015, 11:07:54 AM »
With the Basic Beastmaster I would fight mana denial with Elusive creatures that kill the Mana Worms, cast the Faerie in the first round, use your disperse on the one Minor Essence Drain that gets put on the Faerie and save your Crumble for the cloak.  The wizard's Genie only has 3 charges of Wish.  You have a lot of very dodge heavy creatures that you can buff with health so that they survive the counterstrikes of guards even if their dodge doesn't work.

I think that the Beastmaster has to change tactics when fighting a mana denial Wizard.  He's got to survive the short game because in the long game shrink, giant size, exile and genie will be gone whereas he has enough creatures that he will gain a creature advantage in the long game.  This is counter-intuitive to his "rouse the beast lite" ability, but saving that mana is important.  You have a knife and a regen belt and some leather pants so you can man up and guard your creatures from the stagger condition.  If the wizard is spending his mana for the turn on a big creature then he's not casting an enchantment that will affect you this turn--punish him for it.


When I was teaching academy during GenCon that Ferret and the Asp were MVPs for the Beastmaster players.  If Slavorg did hit the field it was GG for the Wizard.
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Re: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« Reply #9 on: August 26, 2015, 11:51:49 AM »
The Ferret and the Asp are pretty ridiculous! With only 40 spellbook points it's hard to have enough attack spells to effectively kill all the dodgy creatures. The asp if not dealt with (even if you try to deal with him, he's so dodgy) is extremely effective.
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iNano78

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Re: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« Reply #10 on: August 26, 2015, 11:54:40 AM »
With the Basic Beastmaster I would fight mana denial with Elusive creatures that kill the Mana Worms, cast the Faerie in the first round, use your disperse on the one Minor Essence Drain that gets put on the Faerie and save your Crumble for the cloak.  The wizard's Genie only has 3 charges of Wish.  You have a lot of very dodge heavy creatures that you can buff with health so that they survive the counterstrikes of guards even if their dodge doesn't work.

I think that the Beastmaster has to change tactics when fighting a mana denial Wizard.  He's got to survive the short game because in the long game shrink, giant size, exile and genie will be gone whereas he has enough creatures that he will gain a creature advantage in the long game.  This is counter-intuitive to his "rouse the beast lite" ability, but saving that mana is important.  You have a knife and a regen belt and some leather pants so you can man up and guard your creatures from the stagger condition.  If the wizard is spending his mana for the turn on a big creature then he's not casting an enchantment that will affect you this turn--punish him for it.


When I was teaching academy during GenCon that Ferret and the Asp were MVPs for the Beastmaster players.  If Slavorg did hit the field it was GG for the Wizard.

Some good points.  I find the Genie runs out of wishes on the second last turn, then joins the attack (3 attack dice is better than most of the Beastmaster's animals).  Wizard's Dissipate bonus is usually enough to keep most "temporary" Enchantments around for the whole game.  Occasionally a Giant Size will run out before the last turn, but you can always cast another (and probably don't need it by then anyway).  The Regen Belt (Wychwood Ironvine) always gets Crumble'd immediately.  I've had as much as 20 mana on hand with the Wizard in the mid/late game (e.g. rounds 4-6).  He effectively channels 8 or 9 (via Amulet + Armor) and most of his spells are cheap (aside from his biggest creatures), so he has the mana for a turn 4 or 5 Sailfin Hydra + extra for Enchantment reveals. 

In the most recent match, I think it went something like this:
10: Amulet (3) + Mana Worm (5).
10: Genie (8) + FD Giant Size on the Worm (2); Worm guards.
8: Crumble (Ironvine) (3); reveal Giant Size + extra Dissipate (2?); gain a mana from Transfer (-1)
12: Sailfin Hydra (11); gain a mana from Transfer (-1)
10: Forked Lightning (6) and Lightning Jolt (4) (to Stagger all three Wychwood Hounds that were Guarding); gain a mana from Transfer (-1); win via attacks from Worm + Genie + Hydra doublestrike against Beastmaster with 3 Staggered Hounds.

Genie's Wishes generally spent to Stagger a Hound (until they were gone).  My opponent's Faerie attacked to draw the Worm's guard token in round 3, failed her defense roll against the counterstrike and died.  "Luckily" the Beastmaster was out of mana or he would have lost 2 mana that round (from the Faerie taking damage during the Worm's counterstrike, plus from the Worm's attack).  The round 5 guarding Hounds were due to the Beastmaster being down to 2 health at that point and would almost certainly die to a single attack.

*edit* In one of my other matches, the Ferret was the MVP for my opponent.  I put out my armor and he ignored it by rolling 4 critical damage twice in a row.  Then my opponent pumped him up with Wolf Fury and Badger Frenzy... so I Exile'd him.  "No more Ferret."
« Last Edit: August 26, 2015, 12:46:25 PM by iNano78 »
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Re: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« Reply #11 on: August 26, 2015, 03:50:58 PM »
Well written articles.  I haven't played Academy, but it's pretty clear from this that a Wizard control strategy would be pretty frustrating to play against for the Beastmaster.

My attempts to get new players into Mage Wars have generally failed because of:
1) NPE, such as Mass Sleep-like moments followed by walking away from the table
2) Too many spell choices/decisions for beginner players
3) Making their own deck in their own time being too time consuming for casual players, or requiring them to buy multiple boxed sets for serious players

Sounds like getting them into Academy isn't likely to be any more successful. Bummer! 
I have had more success gaining players with deck building games that draft the deck as you play, such as the DC Heroes Deck Building game.  Any thought of making a version of Mage Wars like that, keeping the board, rules and game play but drafting the cards as you go? 
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Zuberi

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Re: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« Reply #12 on: August 26, 2015, 08:23:21 PM »
Quote from: coyotecloudchaser
My attempts to get new players into Mage Wars have generally failed because of:
1) NPE, such as Mass Sleep-like moments followed by walking away from the table
2) Too many spell choices/decisions for beginner players
3) Making their own deck in their own time being too time consuming for casual players, or requiring them to buy multiple boxed sets for serious players

Sounds like getting them into Academy isn't likely to be any more successful. Bummer! 

Don't get discouraged from just one post. Everyone else I've heard from, and my own personal experiences with Academy, have had it as a huge success on all of your issues.

1) In my experience, the Beastmaster usually comes out ahead of the Wizard. The Beastmaster is much more straight forward and aggressive, able to apply pressure early and consistently. The Wizard has to slow the Beastmaster down, and has to play pretty smart to manage a win. I've never seen the Wizard completely lock down a Beastmaster like these articles make it sound. The books seem balanced from what I've seen, but the Beastmaster is a lot easier to pick up.

2) Academy books have even fewer spells than Apprentice mode, totalling only one third the number of a full spellbook. While I admit that players still tend to be a little overwhelmed at first, they're able to adapt and manage it much easier.

3) Making their own spellbook should be a lot easier now, both because it only involves one third the number of cards, as previously mentioned, and because Arcane Wonders has gotten a lot wiser about card distributions and they will only need one Academy set to make any Academy book they wish. You will still need multiple copies if you want a good distribution for Arena, since it was designed around Academy books which have the card copy limit halved.

Quote from: coyotecloudchasr
I have had more success gaining players with deck building games that draft the deck as you play, such as the DC Heroes Deck Building game.  Any thought of making a version of Mage Wars like that, keeping the board, rules and game play but drafting the cards as you go?

That is a fascinating idea and I would be very curious to see if someone could make it work. I'm not sure that it's possible to make a deck builder without a deck though, and the fact that Mage Wars lacks a deck and lacks random card draw is what I like most about it. If you just allowed players to buy any card they want and then play any card they want though, then you're essentially just expanding their spellbook to include the entire card collection which makes the problem of being overwhelmed 100x worse. But if you limit their choices in some way, then you remove what I love best about the game. Seems like a big hurdle to overcome, but there are a lot of people more creative than I out there, so maybe someone can figure it out.

exid

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Re: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« Reply #13 on: August 27, 2015, 12:00:01 AM »
but drafting a deck (or spellbook) is a lot more complicate than construct one (you have to think fast, to know what cards could come,...)!
Well, it's more "fun" on the moment, but do you want to catch players that have fun drafting a book and will never enjoy to really play MW?

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Re: NPE - Could it defeat the purpose of Academy?
« Reply #14 on: August 27, 2015, 02:45:14 AM »
Excellent post(s)! Avoiding NPE should indeed be a major design goal in any game that is aimed at 'new' players.

Note, that e.g. Hearthstone was designed with that #1 goal in mind and it's the main reason for its overwhelming success. While many experienced CCG/LCG players dismiss it as an inferior game because it's lacking several 'screw you' mechanics available in other games and the high degree of randomness in many of the card effects, it's plain and simple fun and very satisfying for inexperienced players.