Luke’s Unmatched Designer Diaries: To Be or Not To Be

Welcome back to my Unmatched Designer Diaries series! Last time, we talked about choosing potential candidates for designing, why that probably shouldn’t have been my first step, and revealed that the first character I would be working on was Hamlet. And jeez, a lot can change in just 1 week, as any designer or developer can tell you.

The reason why I wanted to tinker with Hamlet was simple; I wanted to try and design a 1-health sidekick that didn’t leave play, instead reviving after a certain period of time. The logical candidate for this? A ghost. Enter King Hamlet, a particularly influential and well-known ghost, the catalyst for his son’s adventure and untimely death.

I set to work, as I usually do, by considering what Common cards I would include in his deck. While, in V0.1, I would include Feint, Exploit, and Dash, I later swapped out Dash for Skirmish, as Hamlet needed the extra strength behind his punches.

A large part of my design philosophy when delving into this was to give Hamlet the vibe of a fencer, a character that dances around their opponents, manipulating them into bad positions. While least prominent in V0.1, one of my favorite cards I designed, Parry, made its debut here. A Defense 3, Parry is set aside after use. When Hamlet starts his next turn, he then is forced to discard Parry and gain an additional action. It’s a powerful tool that gives Hamlet more flexibility and encourages the feeling of using his opponent’s actions against them.

Later builds would include cards like Riposte, Remise, and Lunge, all cards that would toy with the opponent while playing into the real-life actions:

  • Remise is a 2 Attack that rewards losing the combat with an extra action.
  • Lunge is a 3 Attack that moves the opponent up to 2 spaces afterward.
  • Riposte is a 4 Defense that, if you won the combat, deals 2 damage to the opponent.

In addition to this, Hamlet has some heavy-hitting options. Palpable Hit is a simple 5 Attack with a card draw. Murder Most Foul is a 3 Attack that, if it kills an opposing fighter, forces the opponent to discard a random card. But the card I find most exciting is Driven By Madness; a 4 Versatile, this card allows you to discard up to 3 cards off the top of your deck, adding +1 to the attack for each card discarded this way. This allows the player to be reckless and burn through their deck for big damage, or to defend and discard as needed to protect his health.

One other tool Hamlet has is Venomous Blade, a card that I have developed into something that I find to be a bit more palatable than it would have been originally. Previously, this 3 Attack will force the opponent to discard 1 card for each damage taken. Seeing as most people block regularly, I only foresee this card, on average, forcing 1 discard. Yet this does open up the opportunity of making the opponent discard up to 3, a no-no when it comes to this design. Making the card a 2 Attack, though, leaves this card feeling like it will so rarely trigger that it’s barely a card worth including at all. The solution? Make the discards come off the top of the opponent’s deck! While they lose cards, they aren’t losing any cards from their hand, acting similarly to Driven By Madness. Thus far, this has felt like a good compromise, but let me know your thoughts down below.

But what of the King’s Ghost, you may be asking? The very crux of this design, the element that made you so interested in designing Hamlet in the first place? Well… it didn’t work. At least, not how I had it.

In keeping a sidekick on the board extensively, you have to consider how you’ll designate where they return to play. The easiest solution is flipping the Sidekick token face-down and, at the end of Hamlet’s turn (to provide some sort of downside for the controlling player), flip is token face-up again.

But then how do you handle the space where the King’s Ghost is located? Opponents can’t move into or interact with that space if the King’s Ghost returns there, creating an impenetrable roadblock, obviously not ideal. And if the opponent can move into that space, then the King’s Ghost can be returned to the board through a handful of methods:

  • A space adjacent to where his token was, but that can easily be used to make another temporary roadblock between turns.
  • A space adjacent to Hamlet or in Hamlet’s zone, which again allows the player to block the opponent pretty easily.
  • A place of the opponent’s choosing, which could work but leads to a weird player interaction that, to my mind, would leave the King’s Ghost feeling less and less useful.

In short, having a sidekick be constantly reappearing on the board forces the opponent waste cards to get close to Hamlet, only to have him reappear in a frustrating, cyclical loop. Alternatively, Bruce Lee could eternally deal with the King’s Ghost for free, leading to weird, awkward, and unfun board states.

So I pivoted the design to something slightly different but similar; now, after the King’s Ghost loses its 7 HP, Hamlet gets +1 to each of his Attacks. This leads to a heavy encouragement to use the King’s Ghost as a shield while also giving his some spicy card options to make him a nuisance. Primarily, Phantom Blade is a 2 Versatile that, if used to Attack, ignores the opponent’s value, dishing 2 damage. If used to Block, then the King’s Ghost takes no damage, safe to fight another day. His other 2 cards are instants:

  • Vengeance Reaffirmed shunts the King’s Ghost to Hamlet’s side, healing his son for 2 HP.
  • Like Father, Like Son swaps the positions of Hamlet and the King’s Ghost, dealing 2 damage to each opponent adjacent to the King’s Ghost after the swap.

I think, overall, I enjoy the direction in which this design has gone, and I think he works well. My biggest concern is that, currently, he feels a little too “vanilla.” His style and movements make him feel different from the other characters I’ve played, certainly, but his ability is less exciting than I would like. I’ll have to think on this and consider whether this will be one of the 2 designs I ultimately enter.

One character I am incredibly psyched about, though, is my design for Captain Hook, which I’ll be leaping into head-first next week. Thanks again for tuning in, and I look forward to seeing you again soon!

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