Design & Development Updates – January 2021

By Chris Kelly, Design Advocate

“Dude, this is a Wendy’s Restaurant”

“Well, I’ll send someone to pick it up, just have it ready.”
“It’s ready now.”
“Well, put it aside.”

Hi everyone! As we settle in from the Worlds meta (and congratulate 2020 World Champion Joe Olson! – viewtopic.php?f=1206&t=76867), digesting game replay videos, deck performance and card data, and read the community discussion, I wanted to update you on what else D&D has been up to, including some upcoming changes to the design process.

The First Order was just the beginning…
First, Set 14. As mentioned by our EuroEmperor on Holotheatre, our behind the scenes volunteers undertook an enormous operation of attempting to produce multiple sets at once in order to pull off what was one of the greatest marketing ventures in our game’s history. It was something in the works behind the scenes that we did our best to keep under wraps (which explains many of the set production volunteers wondering “Why the heck is this set SO BIG?!?!”) to hopefully deliver those surprise booster packs (viewtopic.php?f=2&t=76924) many of us are all receiving. I can’t thank Chris, Kevin, and all of those on Graphics, Proofing, GEMP Slicers, and play testing enough to make those things a possibility. It was an amazing way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our game (wow – we are old!).

What that means for Set 14 is that the base of its design (and much of the production issues) have been accomplished. What D&D is doing now is determining if some of the cards need tweaking now or if some of the meta cards either no longer make sense OR are needed to be released along with the now-spoiled Set 14 cards (see above about our review of those items). So the TL;DR of it all is that Set 14 is not that far away and will focus on some Episode IX themes (and help the First Order decks that have fallen out of the meta) as well as preview a bit of our upcoming Mandalorian theme.

When the Data is Analyzed…
Additionally, as mentioned in the Competitive Balance Thread (viewtopic.php?p=1326242#p1326242) we are looking at some of the “auto set up” decks. A common criticism of the modern meta is that many decks have the same exact turn 1. This eliminates a lot of variance, which ultimately leads to stale gameplay once players “solve” the deck and just repeat the same game plan. We are trying to eliminate that auto set up, while also ensuring we are not making decks entirely at the whim of opening hand luck (which is not necessarily an easy balance to strike at all times) to help ensure each game plays out a little differently, regardless of match up. Some of these changes will likely require playtesting and some others may not, so there is no per se “projected release date,” for these tweaks, but I wanted to let everyone know they are being worked on. We are excited about keeping things fresh, while also keeping the themes we have been accustomed to remain familiar.

The Imperial Senate is Not Sitting Still
The unique part about this announcement is that we are not confining our review to simply “is this card waaaaay too strong,” as we have in the past. Rather, we are also asking “does this make the game more fun?” From the beginning, I’ve said my only agenda was to make things as fun as possible for as many people as possible. Sometimes, that means we change how things operate, even if they are not way too strong. For example, HITCO was given several helpers in Set 13. According to the worlds results, HITCO was a 50/50 deck, which is exactly where we want every deck to be. HOWEVER, despite being at the appropriate power-level, we found that the deck (1) took up about 1/3 of the LS meta share (which while in the past was not too oppressive, it is something we want to keep an eye on to help vary the meta) and (2) it was very guilty of the auto-set up we want to avoid. So, if I was a betting man, I would suspect to see changes to Hunt Down (v) (impacting it’s auto-turn one AND bringing that deck down a bit in power) and HITCO (impacting how the deck is played) and a few other “auto set up” cards. I cannot give a firm date on these, but know that D&D is cognizant of the substantive changes as the new cards are released.

Membership of the Jedi Council…
On the topic of the Competitive Balance Team, I’m also very excited to announce that starting with the next set, the composition of the CBT is going to be changed in order to be more responsive to the needs of the meta. Currently our CBT is made up of all of the Advocates and members of D&D. Recognizing that various members on the CBT’s strengths and contributions to the community, while very important, are not in the area of game or meta balance, we wanted the seats on the Jedi Council CBT to be occupied by those who have demonstrated certain skill sets more conducive to ensuring a more efficient CBT. The hope is that by adjusting the team composition, we get a wider range of more informed (and active) opinions. As the longest-serving member of D&D, Jarad Konsker will serve as chair of the CBT (although don’t let his head get too big about this, as an arm of D&D, he will still be serving under the Design Advocate – so sure, he’s on the council, but he’s not getting the rank of master…).

[Bottom line: CBT used to be 1) all advocates and 2) all D&D. Going forward, it will be 1) active-playing advocates, 2) all D&D and 3) additional members from the community – specifically those who have demonstrated certain skill sets conducive to ensuring a more efficient CBT.]

Be With Me…. Be With Me… Be With Me….
And finally, the big announcement that I hinted at in my last Holotheatre appearance (can you all tell I’m plugging that show? It is the go to place for a lot of behind the scenes information!)…. In response to the community and meta’s changing needs in the current state of the game, starting with Set 15, we are going to be making some changes to the staffing on D&D.

The fact that the game is going more and more digital, we are experiencing both the exciting and unfortunate side-effect of more games getting played and the meta becoming stale quicker than we are used to. Accordingly, D&D is going to adopt a system of releasing smaller sets, but more frequently. In order to facilitate this accelerated release schedule, I am a announcing a “Design Intern Program.” With a little more “fine print,” the Design Intern Program essentially means that various members of the community (not already on D&D) will be invited to become Design Interns. These Design Interns will hold temporary positions, working alongside other Design Interns and members of D&D to design cards related to the specific theme of their Design Pod. These Design Pods will be working separately and simultaneously to create a a subtheme related their pod assignment (so think of one pod as working on a Clone Trooper theme, while another pod is working separately on a First Order theme, and a third pod refining its mechanics on a Communing theme). So as a pod ships off its individual theme, it will be added to the design production queue (e.g. shipped off to proofing, play testing, etc.), and then ultimately it will be ready for release whenever its called upon (which explains the whole Wendy’s restaurant thing from The Office at the beginning of this article – “I want it to be ready.” “It’s ready now.”). Once the Design Pod’s work is at an end, I will dissolve the council the Design Intern’s D&D work will be finished (of course there won’t be any limit to the number of times anyone can serve as a design intern).

We hope that this has a few different positive impacts on our card production process, such as inviting more creativity and diversity in our designs, having the design process be more inclusive of all members of the community, and to help us meet the high expectations the community has of our D&D team by creating more product as needed with less lag time. With the collective D&D teams always working to turn out more material, we can release things more frequently as something should always be available for release as needed. Additionally, by having a limited number of individuals focusing their time and attention on one particular theme, it should produce a much more refined, well-thought out product as it relates to that theme. Of course, the main D&D Team will continue its role in also designing cards outside of the Design Pod system, keeping a bird’s eye view of all of the pods and the meta, addressing any issues that may come up across the pods.

In order to ensure the new program runs smoothly as we all (especially me!) try to navigate a new system, the first two Design Interns will be individuals who are already familiar with the D&D system and can hit the ground running. I’m very excited and happy to announce that Jarad Konsker and Tom Haid will each be moving from their standard roles on D&D and serve as the first Design Interns, each leading a Design Pod. They have both discussed some preliminary ideas with me about the themes of their pods, and I am already excited about how this process will bring about more creativity and freshness! A few other Design Pods will also be launched as well, with the Design Intern positions being opened up to the members of our playtesting team first. However, as we navigate the program, the Design Intern position will eventually be opened up to the community at large.

And I am all of the Jedi…
I know this post was long, but in closing, I did want to sincerely thank EVERY single volunteer for this game. From proofers, to playtesters, to gemp slicers, to the tournament and marketing committees, to graphics – everyone. You all serve this community by keeping this game great. I know we don’t always agree (nor should we), but we are all family at this point and I’m very grateful for everyone’s role in our family. This new system we’re putting into place is going to be A LOT more work for the volunteer teams and especially the team leads. But we all do it out of a labor of love for our game and I’m so appreciative of their time, efforts and work to keep our family running.

Thank you all and I’m excited about what’s ahead for our game. MTFBWY,