Dev Diary – Double Cards & The Art of Lane Conditions

Greetings, Outlander! I’m so excited to finally have players joining me here in Isle of Madness. You might be wondering how you got here, so I invite you to journey with me through tales behind the design of Madness.

The craziest part of the story is the beginning…or was it the end? While the team at Sparkypants Studios brought the vision to life, the initial design and creative groundwork for Isle of Madness was completed over eight months ago by Direwolf Digital.

TESL SparkyTeam in-body

The Isle of Madness design team, from left to right: Sam Pardee, Andrew Baeckstrom, Josh Utter-Leyton (that’s me!), Yuri Tolpin, Kevin Spak, Matthew Nass. Not pictured: Chuck Kallenbach. It appears that one of us has succumbed to the madness.

Double Cards

For our visit to the Shivering Isles, a theme we knew we wanted to capture was the duality of Mania and Dementia. How could we show that two cards were two sides of the same coin? Our answer was to show them both in one card and double cards were born. The story doesn’t just end there though. While we thought the concept of two cards in one was really cool, double cards did have some gameplay concerns we tried to address.

The first is a problem we call “hand glut” - double cards contribute to filling your hand with too many cards. Having close to ten cards in hand is an overwhelming number of options to process every turn, plus running into the maximum hand size and having newly drawn cards destroyed is not fun. To combat this, we made sure that at least one half of each double card (with the exception of the Unique Legendary Rayvat & Tavyar) was cheap.

Drawing multiple double cards greatly exacerbates the hand glut problem; we didn’t want players jamming decks full of double cards and having overflowing hands as a result, so we made the decision to do just one double card per attribute. That said, double cards are a mechanic we can do plenty more with and are likely to return to again before too long if they are received well.

Speaking of, double cards being well received was our second concern. Because they have built in card advantage, each component card - when fairly costed - should be significantly weaker than a regular card at the same cost. We worried that the comparison to similarly costed single cards would make these look weak and that they’d be unappreciated as a result.

It’s also way more exciting to play with cards that feel powerful, so even if the double card as a whole is playable, it can be unsatisfying actually playing the weaker component cards. Our solution here was, honestly, just to make them powerful. They aren’t all tournament-winning caliber, but I do expect several of the double cards to become staples in their attributes. While the individual components of a double may still seem underwhelming at first glance - they all fail the direct comparison to single cards of the same cost - the hope is that the power does shine through when you play with them.

Syl, Duchess of Dementia and Thadon, Duke of Mania

We’re always on the lookout for novelty in new game mechanics, and Legends is a rich vein to tap into for that. The two lanes are a unique feature of the game, and it’s surprising it’s taken us this long to consider adding special lane rules to versus gameplay. It’s something that has been experimented with and considered since the game’s conception - we were just waiting for the right time to introduce it.

As it turns out, it’s rather difficult to find lanes that have good versus gameplay. A good lane design has to:

  • Be meaningful. It should make the lane feel noticeably different.
  • Not encourage single lane play. (This kills most ideas.)
  • Feel different from a support. This mostly boils down to the opponent needing to be able to take advantage of the lane with any normal deck.
  • Since the effect is for both players, you need to be able to break the symmetry in some way to actually want to play with the card. Which means you want to be able to build around the lane in some way, which can conflict with the previous bullet point.
    Despite it all, we think that the Mania and Dementia lane conditions check off those boxes while still being fun. We’ll be back with another dev diary very soon to talk about some specific cards from Legends’ latest expansion – we hope to see you there!