Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Project Pokemon: The Gathering - Establishing the basics

I am at least 99.9% sure that this has been done before, but that didn't stop me from busting out my MTG set editor and asking a few people if they wanted to give this a go with me. In the wake of Pokemon Go, this game has exploded all over again as it did in the late '90s, and that means it has been on my mind a lot. I have always enjoyed the Gameboy games, I used to collect the cards (though not avidly), and I of course have enjoyed this newest addition to the Poke universe. But the card game never really did it for me. I enjoyed the individual cards, but felt the game itself lacked a little. Of all the strategic card games out there, Magic: The Gathering is my favorite. It's gone through some changes and is incredibly difficult to get good at, but it's always been a game I've enjoyed playing and designing my own cards for. So, naturally, this is where my mind has taken me, and I've been lucky enough to have a couple people as interested in working on this as me (my brother Patrick and our good friend Jon), so there are some ideas we've been able to bring out that I find interesting.

PART 1 - 5 colors, 18 types

I cannot take any credit for this, as it was all Jon's contribution.

- Normal
- Fairy

- Poison
- Ghost
- Dark

- Fire
- Fighting
- Ground
- Steel

- Water
- Ice

- Grass
- Bug
- Rock

- Dragon (all colors)
- Electric (white/red)
- Psychic (blue/black)
- Flying ("Flying" ability)

Considering the fact that the main goal here is in recreating the original 151 Pokemon in MTG form (Generation II will just have to wait), having a fairly even spread between the colors was necessary. Each color came with a fairly simple type to attach, and the rest just seemed to fall into place, and I am fairly convinced this is the best combination that could be made. Excellent work, Jon.

PART 2 - Evolution rules

Now for one of the trickiest parts: how do you make evolving one Pokemon into another work in a game like Magic?

This one has taken a lot of thinking, but I think we've got it. What might very well be the biggest flaw with this effect is in the simple fact that "Evolve" is already an ability in MTG. In order to find a practical way of implementing evolution in the game (giving players the ability to sift through their decks for cards that can evolve), making some kind of evolution ability granted to each card seemed like the right way to do it. So the decision had to be made to either rename the ability to something else, or ignore previous cards that possess the Evolve effect. But to me, that was not the right approach, so giving the cards a differently named ability would just have to do. I have decided to tentatively title this ability "Pokevolve".

Now, since there are Pokemon introduced past the original 151 that evolve into/from several of the first generation (Kingdra evolves from Seadra, Igglybuff evolves into Jigglypuff, etc.), there really isn't any consistent way of utilizing any evolve effect without first introducing Pokemon outside of this first 151, so I've decided to say screw you to Pokemon that evolve from any of the first 151, and just deal with them after I get these ones out of the way. I don't want to give Onix an Evolve ability and then not give it Steelix to evolve into, so I'm just gonna find a new way to put Steelix (and other monsters like him) into the game later on with different requirements to evolve, but I digress.

Though there is actually much more to this ability than what you see here, the actual card text with Pokevolve would look like this, for the sake of spacial restraints:

This is what it will look like on the card, and here are a few of the rules and how they're really going to work:

- Pokevolve cards will be put on the Pokemon that evolves, not the one it evolves into (unless it's a 3-step creature). This will allow future baby Pokemon like Pichu the ability to evolve into Pikachu, for example.

- Pokevolve cards will be assigned a numeric value, which will determine just how much of a bonus will be given to the creature once it's evolved. Pokevolve 1 grants the evolved creature a +1/+1 bonus, Pokevolve 2 gives the creature +2/+2, and so on. It only seemed fair to allow an extra reward to players who choose to evolve them instead of just playing the evolved form first, seeing as how big of an aspect evolution plays in Pokemon. The plan is also to make Pokevolve slightly less expensive to play than the evolved creature itself, for the same reason.

- For obvious reasons, a card cannot be evolved into another if it's not already in play. For example, you can't activate Caterpie's Pokevolve ability until the creature is already on the battlefield.

And now to the parts that aren't explicitly made clear in the card text itself:

- When you activate the Pokevolve ability, the creature you are evolving it into absorbs all enchantments, equipment, counters, or any other effects targeting it. If you evolve your Caterpie into Metapod, it will be given a +1/+1 bonus. Therefore, if you evolve this Metapod into Butterfree, the +1/+1 bonus from the previous evolution will remain, and any additional bonuses gained by evolving it into Butterfree will stack onto them. This is to entice people to start the evolution process from the very beginning -- kind of like how your Pokemon will be stronger in the games if you raise them from a low level.

- To make it very clear, activating the Pokevolve ability does NOT count as casting a new spell. Because of this, an evolution cannot be affected by a counter spell nor activate any "enter the battlefield" effects. For all intents and purposes, when evolving a creature you're just replacing the physical card itself, meaning it still functions as if it were the same creature and never went anywhere.

- A creature cannot be evolved on its first turn in play unless specified otherwise. The idea is to introduce cards later, like "candy" spells, that could speed up the process if you want, but otherwise, Pokemon cannot evolve instantly here. This will slow down the process somewhat for later in the game when players have a surplus of mana, but that is because evolution should be a patient process.

- Following up on the previous statement, a Pokemon cannot be evolved more than once per turn. I felt this was an important thing to make clear, seeing as how I specified earlier that evolving a creature is not considered "casting" a new one. This is just a fine print rule, but one I needed to clarify.

- A Pokemon that has just evolved does not need haste to attack on its first turn in play. Remember, it's still technically the same creature.

- Pokevolve can only be used as a sorcery. This is one I am still not 100% sure on, but it's intended to make it so you can't spring huge surprises on your opponent in the middle of battle (a Pokemon in the original games couldn't evolve in the middle of fighting, so why should they in this game?), and also to prevent players from getting around the previous rules preventing you from evolving more than once per turn. If you could evolve your Pokemon on an opponent's turn, it would mess with the mechanics of the game and spoil the whole idea of forcing players to be patient in order to gain their evolution bonuses.

- The card you're evolving into must be in your hand in order to play it, unless specified otherwise. There will be plenty of artifacts and spells that will help players get around this issue and to help them sift through their decks to find the Pokemon they need for evolution, but it would hurt the mechanics of the game if you could do this without needing the cards in hand.

- Evolving a creature gives it a +X/+X bonus, they are NOT counters nor enchantments. The evolution simply adds X to the power and toughness of the creature, changing it's base stats. Any effect that destroys enchantments, equipment, or removes counters will have no affect on an evolution bonus.

Those are what I have so far, so moving on.

PART 3 - Strengths and weaknesses

So far, I have very little on this. Without making a million unspecified rules that will require players to memorize tons of notes that are never shown on the cards themselves, the only way to implement strengths and weaknesses would be to include all of that text on each individual creature card. And that is not really an option, unless you want every single card to have a wall of text that would take forever to get through. I don't like that. So, I have decided - at least until I can come up with a more concise way of going about doing this - that the only way to make it work within the game itself is to mostly ignore strengths and weaknesses among types.

It's a sad truth, but there aren't many ways I can think to make this work. The best idea I have here is by making elemental/type strengths into enchantment cards that could be included in your deck, giving your creatures +1/+1 and and abilities like first strike against the types that they would normally be strong against.

As an additional possibility, creatures with complete resistance to other types (like Ghost vs. Fighting) will be given extra bonuses and/or protection against that specific type. For example, Fighting-type attacks cannot harm Gengar at all in the original games, so I would give Gengar protection against Fighting creatures.

So far, this is the best that I have, but I think it would be easy enough to do this way, and would keep things relatively well-balanced.

PART 4 - Creature types

This is a really simple one. All Pokemon will be given an automatic "Pokemon" creature type. This will help players use colorless spells/artifacts to search their decks for, or grant bonuses to any of their Pokemon. This is designed to keep players playing tribal Pokemon, but not necessarily needing to stick strictly to a more specific type, like Water or Fire -- although those types will be given greater bonuses to help get players more committed to playing a more concise tribal deck.

As an example of what I mean here, there may be an artifact you can play that would cost, say, 3 mana and give all Pokemon creatures you control +1/+1. But there could be an artifact with the same cost that would give all Fire-types you control +2/+1, making you want to commit more to that specific type instead.

So that means all Pokemon will be specified as both Pokemon and whatever other types it may be. For a more visual example, let's take another look at Caterpie:

This makes Caterpie both a Bug and a Pokemon. This was the best way I could think to allow players the chance to have multi-tiered tribal bonuses. It's nothing too complex, but there it is.

PART 5 - All together now

So we've established which Pokemon types translate to which colors, gone into how the evolution mechanic works in the game, gotten a little bit into how strengths, weaknesses, and resistance will apply, and specified how each Pokemon type will translate to their own unique creature type.

That being said, the basics have now been established, but there is still more to do before going too in-depth in character design. Still, because I've already shown you small examples from the text of Caterpie, here is the entirety of what I have designed for the little guy. His second ability is based on one of Caterpie's signature movies, String Shot, which is something you'll see being implemented in many of the cards later on.

So there you go. More to come later.

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