When choices are offered to a player, but one of them is clearly better than the rest, this is called a dominant strategy. Once a dominant strategy is discovered, the game is no longer fun, because the puzzle of the game has been solved — there are no more choices to make. When you discover that a game you are working on has a dominant strategy, you must change the rules (balance things) so that this strategy no longer dominates, and meaningful choice can be restored to the game.
-The Art of Game Design, A Book of Lenses (2008)
I decided to start this article with this fragment of The Art of Game Design, A Book of Lenses just to sound a bit smart. However, if you keep reading, you will realize that most of the things I will address about “Broken Cards” will fall under the “I already knew” category. The reason why I think this is true is very simple: in order to find where those Broken Cards are and why are they so fantastic, I asked around fifty LCG players – so, I am not inventing anything new here.
Since the term “Broken Card” is commonly used in our everyday card discussion, I used this super innovative method (asking people) to try to explore and map the different meanings and situations that are intended when we say that a card is possibly broken. I hope you are hooked and interested by now, but, before I start to bring you the results, I need you to know a handful of things that are very important:
● The idea of the article came to me while talking to other L5R players after the Disciple of the Void pack release. Cleary, many Broken Cards were released at once. I did not have the idea to write this article after the release of Sands of Dorne deluxe box. Hashtag Promise .#PROMISE
● The sample of players to whom the question was asked was completely biased. I only asked my contacts and people that I wanted to. So, before criticizing the sample, be aware your criticism is very solid and valid. Hashtag Guilty
● One thing that I found out very early is that LCG players, are extremely lucid when asked about how they would define a broken card. Maybe people act differently in forums than when addressed personally… Just maybe… Hashtag Maybe.
● During the read, expect some personal input and feel free to disagree. If anything here makes sense, it is because I consulted very sensible and smart people. If something doesn’t make quite as much sense, that is totally my fault. I mean that from my heart and I am very thankful for all the players that have contributed. Hashtag Thanks
● There will not be a final definition by the end of the article. Instead of answers, I emerged with more questions than I had when I began. I guess it is like that when we try to dig a little deeper in any subject, isn’t? Hashtag Sorry
Now, after the brief intro, let’s dive down and dissect the aspects of these “broken” cards…
In order to map the different types of broken cards, I tried to organize these distinctions into five categories that are very much related. Be aware that the players would often use them interchangeably. I only decided to segregate and possibly twist the definitions to make the quest of finding those broken cards a bit easier for me… You will see it!
1) Defining a broken cards by its relative raw power
Often, players would point out that a broken card has extremely high power for its cost and conditions to play. It was said that broken cards are poorly costed and the limitations (restrictions) to use the card are insignificant for its extremely high impact on the game. In that type of definition, a broken card was designed with such a disparity in its power level that any player could easily point it out as being the best card in the game. As the card pool becomes bigger and the complexity of the cards increases, this type of evaluation becomes even more useful while trying to identify broken cards.
Why is that? If an agreement of what is the best card in a LCG can be found in a game with a vast card pool, the raw power of that single card can be a very good indicator that the card is broken. For that matter, it can be irrelevant if a card is present in all the tournament winning decks. By this approach a card can be broken almost on its own. If a given broken card by this lens is from a clan or faction that overall is underperforming, it is fairly possible that the meta impact of the card isn’t a good indicator.
A good example of that situation would be a release of an extremely efficient Unicorn Clan character. Even people that aren’t card players know by now that it requires more than a Core Set Tywin Lannister to put the clan on the top of the pops…
While collecting the data, players would often mix this type of perspective with the next one that I will present, but a few players that relied mainly on this approach helped me find the very first doubtful conclusion of the article:
A broken card sometimes isn’t problematic or bad for the game!
You will find this broken card everywhere, but its broken aspect possibly will change with the evolution of the game.
To deal with a card like that you simply do nothing or wait. It will either be leverage or it will move to a more problematic category that perhaps would require an action. Oh…But please, don’t get it wrong, we for sure can complain while we wait!2) Defining a broken card by its impact on the match.
I love this way of defining a broken card, because it is the most passionate of the approaches. A broken card can be considered broken due to its ability to determine the duel result.
(By now you are either thinking of Crown of Gold or Kanjo District, right? No…? Well, at least now, you are.)
What I like about this type of definition is that the players that used this kind of view have been, in my humble positive eyes, people concerned with the health of the match and the match experience itself. Sometimes, we can truly justify a match result by the appearance of single broken card that our foe saw earlier than us. For sure, that can happen and those broken cards have a poetic right to get to be called broken. Those broken cards aren’t less broken than any other category, however, the passion (mine included) present in this type definition helped to lead me to the second doubtful conclusion of the article:
A broken card isn’t just too efficient and even knowing that it can’t win you tournaments, it can, on its own; define the result of the match!
You will find this broken card likely in your opponent’s deck and very possibly in the factions and clans that you like to play the least. Look for them in those places and with little effort you will identify them. I do!
To deal with a card like that the only suggestion is to cry. A tear is the only silver bullet that is capable of dealing with this type broken card.3) Defining a broken card by its “counterabilty”
If you can’t counter a card or if the available counter will make your deck bizarre that card is very likely a broken card. To make justice, a broken card at this glance isn’t just a card that is hard to counter. It is a very special card that requires, demands, and desperately needs a counter play. Such card, when played, can shift the goal of game: Instead of trying to win the game, the player MUST deal with this broken card!
I honestly love that definition, because it truly defines a demonic spirit incarnated in a card. Let’s pack crosses, stakes and lots of garlic (bread) to deal with them. Those cards exist, I promise you. I have not only heard of it plenty of times, but I have seen them myself with my very own eyes! I saw how terrifying they are.
My fellow L5R players will likely associate Isawa Tadaka in this category. Seriously, if you are not prepared, you are doomed. Sometimes, even if you are prepared, you still doomed, my friend.
This type of broken card is for me the most evil of the cards. Aren’t you scared? You should be. It is the apocalypse! The end is coming….
A broken card is not only super-efficient and can win games…It is almost impossible to counter.
You will find this broken card possibly in the next chapter pack. Look for them in the recently released cards… But be quick! If you aren’t fast enough a tournament will appear and the card might use its superpower to vanish. You will also find this broken card in undeveloped metas where people have not yet put those demons to a proper test. It will be very hard to find them in the old cards. If they are there, they might be a different type of beast.
To deal with them, my suggestion is to enjoy. Dealing with this type broken card it is always a pleasure for us gamers, because we just need play with it or play against it. We either challenge ourselves or we use the card to win our games… We like winning and we also like to experiment new stuff, don’t we?4) Defining a card by its impact of the meta and tournaments.
If a card warps the meta and all the competitive decks around it, this card is also a broken card. If you are thinking about going to a tournament with an actual chance of winning, you are either playing this card in your deck or you have built the only viable deck to counter it.
It relates a lot to all other categories, but, by this approach, a card only becomes broken by its impact on the meta and competitive decks. I could risk saying that a purist by this definition would almost never call a card broken before any empirical evidence. However, we are all free to forecast and point to them early before the season.
It is important to highlight that the meta warping aspect of the card can be shady. I say this because at a glance (and let’s be fair, for all others also) the interactions of the cards present in the dominant strategy take more credit than any single card alone.
After all, our decks are our weapons. Not our cards. And some decks abuse some interactions in such a way that compromises the metagame by killing, smashing, and incinerating ALL THE DECK DIVERSITY IN THE UNIVERSE!
But, but… This sounds so sad… Well, if we are only concerned about winning competitions, is only fair that we use the best deck with the best kill spell. It is not our fault. It is life. But it still sad, right? No, it isn’t sad… At least not for many high level competitors. Anyways… After all this said we have room for the fourth doubtful conclusion:
A broken card isn’t just evil. They create a broken meta by reducing to the extreme the diversity of what is competitive viable on tournaments.
You will find this broken card in the sadland, where play style, theme, splashy stuff, representing your beloved clan, or being cheeky has no room to exist. I have been in that place and certainly found those broken cards and interactions there. I am not sure that I am proud of that or that I want to be visiting there very often…
To deal with this type of broken card we need more than time and tears. It may be necessary to scream for intervention from official tournament organizers. In this super rare case of broken card, making noise is important. If we get no help, we might fall in the temptation and help to kill the diversity in the environment. This is serious business, especially for more win-driven players. Here, an artificial push in order to help restore the diversity can indeed be welcome. They shouldn’t make us choose between victory and fun…That is unfair!5) Defining a card by its power to disrupt fundamental elements of the game
I like to think I have left the best one for the last. This last type of broken card is the one that promotes situations that are not part of the nature of the game. Our LCGs are constantly in development. However, most players can identify when a card is going nuts. Sometimes, we can even point it out before the break actually happens. This type of broken card pushes the boundaries of the game to levels far beyond the intentions of the designer.
Looping, unlimited interaction, turning a cost into a benefit, limiting future design space are all possible signs of this type of broken card. This broken card emerges when the most creative players abuse them by creating something that should not be happening. Or maybe should…
These beasts change the dynamic of the game too easily. Those cards challenge the reward system within the game mechanics rewarding players by playing almost a different game than the opponent. In those rewards systems, doing nothing can be better than interacting and losing a card can be one thousand times better than keeping it. Some might risk it and say that these cards are bad for the game or are a bad design… Others say that the existence of this type of broken card is inevitable. Since I strongly dislike saying something is bad I will be stuck-in-the-middle. I do think this broken card can be bad for the game, but my fifth and last doubtful conclusion came out to be very romantic!
A broken card creates a vortex in the space time continuum and it shines so bright that it obfuscates what the game was meant to be! We should be able to see this bright broken card at least once and have the chance to hunt for them in the most obscure parts of our binders!
You will find this broken card not in the worst, but in the best games. In this place, designers and testers allow themselves to eventually make very few mistakes pushing us to surf on the edge of chaos! In these card games, there is enough complexity, enough innovation, and plenty of spice. Most of the time, these waves are just big enough to give us thrill, but sometimes the tide becomes harsh, stopping all the surfing.
While I like to surf the edge of chaos to an extent, dealing with this type of broken card is an absolute must at some point. In order to deal with this type of broken card, game organizers should artificially intervene. They should do it as gently as possible and they should learn from past mistakes. But more importantly than that, they should never act in order to make impossible for broken cards like this to appear. My guess is: if they get too scared and never let us surf on high tide oceans, they might send us to a boring swimming pool.Well, I know it was a bit too long but I hope you have enjoyed the quest to find these Fantastic Broken Cards with me. When I got my first answer, I could never imagine that the project would become this odd safari. Now, I say goodbye with the feeling that there are indeed several types of broken cards and all of them are broken in their very special way. They are so special that it is almost a privilege to be able to play with those beasts in our decks.
Sleeve up and let’s play cards!
Luiz Gustavo Bretas