This is probably the life time question in the golden standard of TCG, Magic the Gathering (MtG). Cryptozoic decided to use the resource system that is just like Magic rather than its World of Warcraft style system where mana screw was nearly completely eliminated. According to one of the interview, Cryptozoic spent 8 months to carefully decide what resource system should be used on the HEX. So why? Why did they make a decision that almost appears to be counter intuitive? I.e. They have fixed mana screw but now going back to reintroduce mana screw. Before reading this article, I will tell you my conclusion here (so you won’t waste your time). There is no right answer.
What is mana screw?
First of all, in the game of HEX we don’t call them mana so technically it should be called resource screw.
According to “Managing Mana Screw” article from daily magic on 4/28/2007, there are three types of resource screws.
- Proportional lack of resource (resource screw)
- Proportional flood of resource (resource flood)
- Absence of a main shard (shard screw).
What is the HEX resource system like?
We cannot proceed further without understanding how HEX handles its resource. So below is the copy and paste from the official site.
The Resource System
In HEX, we have streamlined the resource system so you don’t have to mess with resource cards at all after you play them from your hand. There’s no turning resources sideways, figuring out WHICH resources to turn sideways, any of that nonsense. Playing cards in HEX is fast, intuitive, and simple.
We built it that way because we know you’re not here for “the resource system,” you’re here to kill people with dragons, create ultimate combos, and use Blood Magic to murder every last troop on your opponent’s side of the table. That said, I’m going to go into the details of how resources work, because I know some of you will be curious.
You can play one resource card a turn. When you play a resource card, three things happen:
- You charge your champion. You’ll expend these charges to trigger your champion’s charge power throughout the game.
- You gain one of five different Thresholds: Wild, Blood, Ruby, Diamond, or Sapphire.
- You gain a resource point.
Then, your resource card disappears. So what do Thresholds and Resource Points do for you? They let you play all your other cards.
How To Play A Card
There are two parts to playing a card:
- The first part is checking to see if you meet the threshold requirement. If you don’t, you won’t be able to play the card, period. If you do meet it, you can move on to part 2. Fortunately, it’s usually not too tough—most cards only need one or two threshold symbols out of you. Once you gain a threshold, you have that threshold forever. It never gets “spent.”
- If you successfully meet the threshold requirement, you can spend resource points to pay the card’s cost. Your maximum number of resource points goes up by one every time you play a resource, and then you can spend those points to play the cards in your hand (as long as you meet the card’s threshold requirement). If a card in your hand costs 5, you have to spend 5 of your resource points to play that card. Once spent, your resource points aren’t gone forever—your resource points all recharge at the start of each of your turns.
If the last several paragraphs didn’t make a lick of sense to you, don’t worry–the computer takes care of all of it for you. If you meet a card’s threshold requirement, and you have enough resource points to play it, the card will light up in your hand. If you don’t meet the requirements, it won’t light up. Just click the card, and the computer automatically spends your resource points for you.
What has HEX done to (attempt to) fix resource screws?
This is color screw in Magic. Basically, you may have enough total resource, and even a card that you want to cast in your hand except the shard of the resource does not match.
This may be the one type that HEX had done really well, and perhaps most player may end up agreeing the true evolution of the mana system HEX compared to its basis MtG. The solution HEX placed is the threshold.
None of us had played the game so tough to say exactly how much this will help but in theory this should alleviate color screw significantly.
This is a situation where you hand is filled with resource cards but no troops, actions, artifact, or constant i.e. nothing to use the resource.
Cryptozoic claims Champion’s charge power is the answer here. It is certainly true that with existence of Champion in every deck, if for nothing else continued resource build up will at least charge your champion and let you do at least some thing every so often by using its ability. So probably most of us would agree this is indeed partial but somewhat a solution and evolution to the MtG’s resource system.
This is the situation where you have non-resource card in your hand, but you cannot cast them because you have not enough resource. The worst situation (and most refer to resource screw) is the condition where turn after turn you keep drawing non-resource card, and cannot do anything; hence, your board is empty.
Now this is the hardest one to fix. Because so far based on what I have listened and seen, Cryptozoic seem to make a point that threshold is what partially helps resource screw. If we separate Shard Screw from the resource screw as defined by Magic, this may not be the case. But most of us probably did not know such distinction existed. So the rest of this article really focuses on this.
Even with perfect design, by pure luck you may still end up getting resource screw or flood. However, such incidence will become much more common if your deck design has a flaw i.e. you ended up including too many resource or too little resource during the time of deck making.
Because HEX will have automated deck helper as known as AIDA to take care of resource curve, adding appropriate resource cards etc., the existence of such AI should help major deck design flaw especially for TCG beginners.
Why is resource screw bad?
I have intentionally did not put this topic at the top because there are controversy whether resource screw is really bad for the game or perhaps good for the game. So let’s first start out with the reason why it is bad. Rather than myself making some lengthy argument, let’s take a look at a quote from Jeff Cunningham’s daily magic article “Managing Mana Screw”.
Many times, no matter if you play perfectly, you’ll still lose in these positions [mana screw]. You may never draw into the right lands or spells, or even if you do, you might not be able to overcome the initial disadvantage.
I don’t think anyone who had really played Magic would ever argue about the validity of the above statement. However, the interpretation of the statement may be different. Personally, I see TCG as strategy game like Chess or Go. We use our brain to win the game. The others see TCG more as luck based game like Poker. The reality probably lies somewhere in between. But depending on which side you believe or want the TCG to become, you may interpret above statement as negative or positive.
Why is resource screw good?
Now let’s take a look at counter argument, and essentially reason why Cryptozoic made its current decision. The followings are five sample positive points regarding to the “resource screw” made by Mark Rosewater, the head designer for MtG.
- It allows anyone the chance to win – I’ve never really gotten into chess. Why? Because I suck. And I know that if I play anyone better than me, I’m going to get crushed. Every time. Now, many people work past this point, but lots of others like me never do. One of the good things about Magic is that anyone can walk into a game with a least a little optimism. Even if you’re up against a hybrid clone of Jon Finkel and Kai Budde, there’s at least a chance that the game will handicap in your favor. A little hope goes a long way.
- It allows anyone the chance to lose – Poor little egos, so fragile. (That’s why I have my ego do weights.) One of the problems of playing games is that someone has to lose. Oftentimes, the loss hurts. This is where mana screw comes to save the day. It’s a great scapegoat. If you don’t feel like owning up to the loss, mana screw will gladly take the hit. Mana screw doesn’t mind. It’s glad it could be of service. Seriously, in a game where ego investment is so high (because you spend so much time building your deck, the win and/or loss feels more personal), having a built-in relief valve is actually very important. Perhaps you’ve heard a player or two do this?
- Gameplay variance – One of Magic’s biggest selling points is that no two games play the same. Mana screw plays a key role in this. Games where you consistently get your mana (or whatever resource the game uses) have much less variance because you can rely on how the resource management will play out. But the inconsistency of the mana creates a much wider swing.
- Allows For More Dramatic Comebacks – I’ve talked in my column before about how having your back to the wall makes games more exciting. While it’s fun to trounce someone, the highest highs in the game tend to come from constantly skating on the jaws of defeat into victory. I can tell you twenty stories about games I won where I was at 1 and my opponent was at 20. The reverse, not so much. This is how mana screw works. The losses blend together into a vague fuzziness, but the games where mana screw almost cost you the game become legendary.
- Adds Skill To Deck Construction – Good players understand that there are ways to minimize the threat of mana screw. As such, they take these steps when building their decks. One need only look at the deck of a beginner to see how valuable this knowledge is.
So here clearly I noticed the designer’s perspective of TCG was different from mine. He does not like chess! In fact, while I was on the official HEX forum, #1 was the most commonly brought up point by players who are fond of the current HEX resource system. But this alone would not have convinced me.
#3: Even though I like game like chess, one of the main reason I love TCG is its variability. Nothing is more enjoyable than the one game I played feeling completely different from the second. In addition to difference in deck types, change in card availability in game to game make every game different even with a same deck.
#4 is very interesting point. I had not thought about it. Yes. it would make me feel really good if I can make a dramatic come back. It is important to understand that resource screw is a net result of variability in your card draw. So the worst form i.e. no resource turn after turn degrades the game experience, and which is where most of us complaining about the its existence. However, majority of the time resource screw is only for couple turns and that does indeed can link to moment of legend or excitement. E.g. you are just waiting for an resource and first turn, you don’t get it. Next turn you don’t either and may be you may even feel you gonna lose from these two turn. But then the third turn if you draw a resource card, that’s the moment you feel like “YES!!” This joyful moment would not be in existence if we had automatic resource build up system.
#5 is definitely true. It does add a skill to deck building. You cannot include too many or too little resource cards in your deck and complain that you got resource screwed or flooded. Because it is just a flaw in the deck design. The major issue with this in the other TCG like Magic was that beginners did not know what is the optimal number of resource for a given deck. It is not a clear cut with some X number that you can use for every deck. So perhaps this may have been one aspect of deck designing, it might have been a extra hurdle for beginners. Now HEX does address this issue though. As mentioned above, HEX will have AI guide for deck building to calculate resource curve and add (near) optimal number of resources for you automatically. For experienced players, you can fine tune but beginners you got your back covered and have one less to worry about. Deck building is indeed an important part of TCG, and makes the game itself so anything that add to the element should be technically looked as positive in overall game design.
Now adding to those five points by Rosewater, Cory Jones mentioned even with WOW TCG resource system, you are still “bound/limited” [by other factors].
In game like WoW TCG (which I have not played), the game tends to end at turn 8 because of the relatively constant resource build up the system provides. So with such system, you are now bounded by the draw of non-resource card i.e. I know I will have 5 resources by turn 5 but do I get 5 costing troop or action card by turn 5 to cast?
If you don’t, that may be a game breaker as your opponent might have drawn the card in his turn 5. So yes. you are not resource bounded and definitely won’t get mana screwed; however, you have actually just got non-resource card screwed. Given the relatively fixed/expected resource build up system, essentially each turn you need more specific card to be effective because both you and your opponent build decks in such way. This results in more fixed/less variability in plays.
At this point, it is Cryptozoic will not change the resource system. Because such fundamental change will result will require change in pretty much everything.
However, one potential relatively easy, partial fix may exist. Couple players on the official forum suggested this. But what about “Free Mulligant?” This means basically during your first turn when you don’t have a ideal starting hand, you can redraw (called Mulligan) but typically you lose 1 card everytime you do this. But instead, how about allowing at least the first Mulligan free of risk i.e. you still get full 7 cards. In theory, this should give statistically significant difference in player’s beginning hand.
Resource screw is a side effect
HEX will use a resource system that is very similar to Magic the Gathering. Its resource system will likely to alleviate Shard screw significantly, and resource flood partially. However, we expect to see the resource screw in the game, and it is the intentional decision made by Cryptozoic.
Basically, if you are a player who get resource screwed, it is basically a negative experience. However, game as a whole, this negative experience may turn into a positive environment. You may be able to win a game because of occasional resource screw on the opponent. You may end up playing vastly different game even with a same deck because of difference in your resource availability from a game to game. The skill of deck building becomes even more important to minimize such event.
One analogy here. I now see Mana/resource screw as a side effect of a medication. The medication provides more variable play, time of joy/excitement, adding a challenge to deck building skill etc. But as a result, you may occasionally see the side effect.
What do you think?