I have already addressed the infamous “mana screw” concept in the Magic, which people are concerned may be seen with HEX. Recently, I have wrote an article about this topic on HEXRealms. There are some of the repeated information with a bit more specific talk including some quick analysis of actual game play from one of the official twitch video where some may though there was actual incidence of resource screw.
Original Article Published at HEX Realms on 9/19/2013: http://www.hexrealms.com/content.php?227-First-Aids-Resource-Screw-Game-s-design-flaw-vs-player-s-deck-s-design-flaw
If you are new to dTCG, and not sure what’s the hype of “mana screw” people are complaining of on the official forum, after reading this article you will at least understand what they refer to and perhaps even challenge some posters. Is mana screw in HEX a design flaw by Cryptozoic or is it player’s fault? In this article, I will define infamous mana screw, and briefly covers conceptual way to avoid them. This is essentially an set up article for the future articles.
What is resource screw?
First of all, mana is not a term used in the game of HEX, so it should be appropriately called “resource screw.” However, the concept is equivalent to that of mana screw in the Magic the Gathering.
According to “Managing Mana Screw” article from daily magic on 4/28/2007, there are three types of mana screws, and one is confusingly called “mana screw” itself.
- Proportional lack of resource (resource screw) i.e. you don’t have enough resource to cast any of card you have in your hand.
- Proportional lack of non-resource card (resource flood) i.e. you have enough resources out but you don’t have any non-resource card in your hand to cast.
- Not meeting a threshold (shard screw). i.e. you are not meeting the threshold criteria despite you have enough total resource values.
Why is a resource screw bad?
Here is 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.
What happens here is independent of which specific type of resource screw it is, it essentially put a player into the situation where he cannot play anything new because not enough resource (resource screw), no non-resource card to play (resource flood), or not meeting the threshold requirement (threshold screw).
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 in the HEX compared to its basis, MtG. The solution HEX placed here is the threshold system. With this system, perhaps this may be more appropriately called “threshold screw.” None of us had played the game so tough to say exactly how much threshold system 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 for.
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 something action i.e. use of the charge power every so often. So probably most of us would agree, Cryptozoic had indeed come up with partial solution here.
This is the situation where you have non-resource card in your hand, but you cannot cast them because you have not enough resource to cast them. The worst situation (and most refer to a resource screw) is the condition where turn after turn you keep drawing non-resource card, and cannot do anything.
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 Threshold screw from the resource screw as defined by Magic, this may not be the case at least by the game design.
How do resource flood or screw happen?
Now in the section above, I have talked about how Cryptozoic’s design i.e. HEX’s resource system tries to address the resource screw that are often targeted as one of the game’s design flaw.
But is it really an inevitable aspect of the game due to its fundamental design? i.e. flaw in the game design? Maybe. But ones who make such claim should first need to prove their deck design is not flawed.
Because if we haven’t really designed the deck with optimal resource curve, and resource to non-resource ratio, I think we are statistically setting ourselves up into the resource screw situation i.e. it is flaw in the deck design rather than the game’s fundamental design.
Let’s take a look at some examples here to see how resource screw can be created by a deck design.
Scenario 1: Wasted Resources
Let’s take an extreme example. One made a deck containing 56 resources with 4comet strike. I know nobody does this, but its a easy way to think. Obviously, you will never win with this deck, but as far as statistics goes, there is some validity in this deck design at least partially.
Here is my favorite statistics table of 60 cards deck.
On average, by turn 9 you will have 1 of 4 copies of the Comet Strike in your hand. Since it will take 10 turns to build 10 resources, this deck has a good statistical favor of guaranteeing the player to cast comet strike in majority of games at its earliest phase i.e. 10th turn.
However, here you are wasting a lot of resources. Basically from turn 1 to turn 9, you have resources that are unspent every turn, this is basically 45 resources wasted!! Remember the resource inefficiency because I will come back to this later.
Scenario 2: Intentional Resource Flood
Another extreme example. This time the same guy learned a lesson and made a deck with 56 resources with 4 Unmerciful tormentors. His intent here is comet strike was too expensive of a card, and waiting until 10th turn was too long. So instead he decided to include 1 cost troop, so it is ready to go as soon as turn 1.
The scenario here is now a resource flood created by a player himself when he designed the deck. There are way too many resource cards relative to the non-resource cards.
Again, statistically speaking, having 4 copies of a card in 60 cards deck, it takes on average 9th turn to draw one of the four copy. So this is not so different from the Scenario 1. In most games, he will still waste resources from turn 1 to 8 despite his card of choice is now only costing 1 rather than 10.
Here basically, the player’s hand will be flooded by entirely resource cards in majority of games (as expected by the deck design).
Scenario 3: Intentional Resource Screw
Finally, the player feels like he had really learned lessons, and this time he made a deck with 54 cost 1 cards and 4 resources.
This deck now has many cheap costs (in fact all are 1 cost), and indeed most are non-resource cards. But he had now only included 4 resource cards. So statistics are basically identical to the scenario 2. The only difference this time is that he will not have any resource card available to his hand on average until turn 9. This is now resource screw deck created by design.
So what are these examples reflect?
Undoubtedly, these are extreme examples that nobody would make. However, statistics are what’s behind this. One may not know his/her deck actually have the design flaw since it is not as obvious as above three cases. But keep in mind, in real life statistical flaw in the deck design will not be as obvious but if it is there, it can be a major cause of resource screws either flood or screw.
These are just the proof that you can make resource screw by deck design, and since most people’s deck are not as obviously flawed as this, you feel like you can occasionally get your deck work the way you expected but other times it doesn’t. Why? May be your deck is really following the statistics. That’s how is your deck is made. 1 in 10 game by statistics you get lucky enough you can do what you intended, but other 9 games you get screwed by the design.
What can we do to avoid resource screw by deck design?
I believe there are two components to deck design that influence the statistical risk of resource screw, and two are not independent.
- Resource Curve Optimization
These two should not be a surprise to anyone, but I wonder how many players actually really evaluate these when designing a deck. If one answers, oh I use 24 resources in all my decks because that’s a magic number. Then I am sorry but you are not really understanding the concept. Obviously, your deck is better than the examples I listed above, but that’s pretty much the furthest it goes.
Each of those are complex topic and indeed no magic number or formula. However, I will still try to talk about them individually in the future articles. But for now, here are brief conceptual explanations why two are important.
This is a ratio between how many resource cards you have in your deck relative to non-resource cards. Again, you don’t have to know a math to figure out the fact including only 4 resource cards in your 60 cards deck is not sufficient even if all non-resource cards are only costing 1. Because you just won’t draw 1 of the 4 copies until later in the game based on the statistics. This is the core of the concept. You have to have a right balance and the ratio changes depending on your deck content, more specifically a resource curve (below).
Resource Curve Optimization
Again, I plan to also have some future dedicated articles about this but for those of you who don’t understand resource/mana curve concept, it is essentially a distribution of your non-resource card by costs. Conceptually, it should make sense that if you have more expensive cards in your deck i.e. higher resource curve, you need to have more resource cards in your deck.
Twitch play video analysis
For those of you who have watched some of the play video of HEX on twitch, you may have thought HEX really has not fixed resource screw. In fact, may be there are some of you out there worrying it is pretty bad because even with those limited game plays, you are still seeing one.
So let’s take a brief look.
Here is a game play using one of GenCon’s Precontructed deck:http://www.twitch.tv/hextcg/b/443356012
The content of the deck are followings:
Feather Drifting Downriver
Followings are the first turn draws of Dan Clark’s deck including the first turn Mulligan in the first game.
Game 1: 1 resource card and 6 non-resource cards.
Game 1 (mulligan): 4 resource cards and 2 non-resource cards.
Game 2: 4 resource cards and 3 non-resource cards.
Game 3: 3 resource cards and 4 non-resource cards.
Game 4: 3 resource cards and 4 non-resource cards.
Again, going back to my favorite statistics cheat sheet.
Since this deck has 23 resources, based on the statistics he should expect on average 2.7 resource cards in the opening hand. How did he do? 1+4+3+3/4 = 2.75. What a coincidence!
Did he get a resource screw in the first game, first hand? Tough to say here. Because his deck has 14 cost 3 cards, which are the most dominant one. Statistically, speaking he should on average get 1.6 cards on the opening hand. In the first game, he had 5 of them instead, which are definitely statistically unfavored result. So yes. technically a bit of unexpected; however, it is also true that this deck only have 4 cost 1 cards. So by the deck design (somewhat), it is intended that turn 1 may well be skipped or alternatively 1 resource is not enough for this deck to optimally function. In any event, after the mulligan he got 4 resources almost over compensating the pre-mulligan. In the real game, this is a tough decision to make but it would have been interesting to see how his subsequent draw would have been if he had kept the original hand in the game 1. Especially, since he had Ancestor’s Chosen, which he can cast right away and potentially boost his draws.
In any event, the overall the result to me seems like what is expected by the deck design.
Why is resource screw good?
This is sort of an extra section, but since this is a resource screw article, I feel like I am obligated to cover this (as I did on my own blog).
If resource screw is really a bad thing, why did Cryptozoic decided to use a resource system which has potential of creating a resource screw? Why did Wizard of the Coast has not changed the design of Magic to eliminate this?
The followings are five sample positive points regarding to the “resource screw” made by Mark Rosewater, the head designer for MtG.
[LIST][*]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. Often times, 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.
In my opinion, the real values are two: game variance and skill to deck construction. With a good deck design, one should rarely have the real resource screw to the point where dramatic come back or the first time player to win against the pro. But these two could apply well to beginners who are not really optimizing their deck designs. Between those players, these may indeed create situation frequent enough and perhaps even a fun.
The variation is what I believe most of us play dTCG for. If we don’t need any variation in game play, we may just play other strategy games. The luck of draw is indeed the core of the dTCG that providing the variation.
Resource screw in my opinion is a more of a side product/effect of the design’s pro which are variation in the game play and placing the importance of deck design. The real resource screw in well designed deck may be much less than what most of us believes. How low the chance is? It is as low as the statistics says.
However, it is undeniable that the resource screw is not a fun for anyone so if you don’t like getting resource screwed, put a time into your deck design.