The Importance of Being Organized

Humans like to categorize and organize things. Our brains are wired to be really good at it. We experience a ton of information every day, and our brains process and organize a lot of it passively and instantaneously. At a basic level, there are categories of “don’t care about this right now” to “this is something I want to pay attention to.” This allows us to focus on the things we want or need to do without feeling overwhelmed by all the noise. For example, if we drive to work, we see thousands of objects but we automatically put some things into the “pay attention” category -- things like traffic signals, pedestrians, and other cars.

Perhaps as a natural extension of our desire and aptitude for organizing things, humans seem to like to rate and rank things within categories. For example, a cinephile might not just have a list of her top 10 movies of all time, she might use categorization to come up with numerous lists. “Here’s my top 5 cerebral Scandinavian tearjerkers!” One does wonder how much the internet and modern data collections have contributed to this inclination.

But hey, wait. How the heck does this relate to the Elder Scrolls: Legends? Actually, in a number of ways. Let’s walk through a few ways in which organization is a core part of the design of Elder Scrolls: Legends, and why that’s a good thing.

Organization allows for mechanical distribution, leading to asymmetric gameplay and player agency.

Distributing themes and mechanics across five attributes is perhaps the most critical form of organization in Legends. This method of categorizing cards coupled with the primary deck building rule spreads the game’s mechanics across the game so that no one deck can have access to all the mechanics. Thus, as a player, you have a really important decision to make in terms of which attributes to dip into when building a deck. What do you want to utilize and what can you live without?

Asymmetric collections also present fun ranking opportunities, and Legends is rich enough to present fun thought experiments even when you’re not playing. While your cinephile friend is listing her top 5 cerebral Scandinavian tearjerkers, you might be considering how you’d rank your top 5 Intelligence actions.

Organization helps players remember concepts and mechanics and leads to skillful play.

Once a game begins, the benefits of the mechanical organization mentioned above aren’t done. One of the first things you might do is look at your opponent’s attributes. Once you’ve played a fair number of Legends games, this visual cue can be quickly processed by your brain into some possible deck archetypes (another useful form of organization!) that your opponent might be playing, and you might even begin to form a plan to play well against those decks. Some players talk about “playing around” certain cards, meaning their decisions are sometimes driven based on the risk of the opponent having a particular card. This type of planning and reacting can begin immediately, with your mulligan decision!

Something to stress is here is that the card file itself must be organized well in order for players to feel these benefits. If designers throw mechanics around too liberally, these benefits can dissipate. Imagine if all attributes had some Charge creatures, or if all attributes had efficient support removal. While some amount of unpredictability is important for card games, that’s a world where games would feel too chaotic and unpredictable.

Organization of themes and mechanics can support lore and world-building, while also helping players remember concepts.

When Legends launched, the design team decided to allocate the ten playable Elder Scrolls races across the five attributes, each race to an attribute pair. For example, Nords were assigned to the Strength-Willpower pair, so each Nord was either Strength or Willpower (or in Tyr’s case, both). We knew this organization wouldn’t last forever, because we felt certain famous characters wouldn’t feel right in the initial pairing. But we knew that, as a new game, Legends was going to throw a lot of complexity at players, so we wanted to take advantage of organization to present some information in a clean and memorable way. As mentioned, humans are capable of processing a lot of information; but one of our jobs was to present game information so that players were spending less brainpower decoding information about the game, allowing them to focus on the more fun, strategic decisions.

Organization allows exceptions to create memorable cards and/or interesting flavor.

While organization creates standard rules to go by, designers are not always slavish to those rules. Breaking an organizational rule can be a powerful tool to call attention to something, especially as it relates to the story of a card. If all previous Orcs hadn’t been assigned to the Strength and Endurance attributes, Arcanaeum Librarian’s arrival in Clockwork City wouldn’t have been particularly interesting. The fact that he represents the first Orc card to veer outside of the normal Orc attributes is part of his charm. It also clearly is a call-out to Urag gro-Shub from Skyrim, who was  quite at home amidst a library full of books. Neither Strength nor Endurance felt right for a card representing that character.

Another example of breaking the rules for a purpose can be found in Heroes of Skyrim. Because this set was based on the home of the Nords, the designers chose to allow Nords to bust out of their standard attributes in a big way, as a nod to the diversity of the Nord people as experienced in TES V: Skyrim. So, Nords were purposefully placed into all five attributes.

Organization of card sets leads to mastery and delight.

This one is a bit harder to talk about concretely, but when Legends designers create card sets, some of their discussions relate to how much of a particular mechanic to include and how to spread those mechanics across cards. It’s almost like making a soup or a sauce, where simple building blocks are the base and fancier cards are spice. If a soup doesn’t have enough spice, it might taste bland and boring; the same goes for a card set. But too much spice can be a turn-off, as well. Finding the sweet spot and figuring out a way of organizing the set’s information across cards so that players experience mastery and delight while playing with the cards is a mix of art and science.


Spicy Skeevers!

Here are some examples of organizational decisions that we had to make when designing various Legends card sets:

  • How many Slay creatures should be in the Dark Brotherhood set, and what attributes should get Slay? What do the other attributes get?
  • Would naming a cycle of dual-attribute actions for Heroes of Skyrim help players remember the names of classes? We had observed a fair number of new players struggle to remember class names, so this naming convention was an attempt to introduce a mnemonic device.
  • How many neutral cards should a set have? In the case of Clockwork City, we cranked up the number to reflect the nature of the setting. This presented us with discussions about how to design neutral cards and mechanics in a synergistic way so that they wouldn’t appear in too many decks.

Thanks for reading along on our journey through how design thinks about organization and its impact on the Legends play experience. By the way, we’ve got another organizational lens in store for our next expansion. Stay tuned… we think you’ll be excited!

Tags: The Elder Scrolls: Legends Dire Wolf Digital