Rapid Reaction: The User Experience Update Overview Video
May 30, 2019 by lordgort
Patch 2.2 for Gwent, as announced in the overview video, is simultaneously minor and major. Minor, because most of the changes for established players are small tweaks and quality-of-life improvements; major, because big changes are coming to the new player experience and a change to deckbuilding rules is set to shake up the competitive metagame.
If you haven't seen the overview video, check it out below.
The New Player Experience Overhaul
The new player experience has never been one of the great strengths of Gwent. Now that has a chance to change. Among the major points of the overhaul:
- Improved tutorials. Out: spending several minutes to teach one tiny step of the game. In: quicker simulations of a full game against an AI opponent.
- Transformed faction starter decks. The old decks were made mostly of neutral cards with a few faction-specific cards thrown in. The new decks, developed in conjunction with faction ambassadors such as Team Aretuza's own shinmiri2, are heavy on faction-specific cards with great lore resonance, such as Wild Hunt Hound in the Monsters deck.
While the new player experience isn't something most readers of this article will encounter, having a poor new player experience is a great way to make sure potential customers stop playing your game before they really start. Improvements here are great for Gwent, and ultimately for the community. After all, you were a new player once, as was I.
The 13-Unit Requirement
Now for the change that will affect everyone who plays Gwent: a deckbuilding requirement that at least 13 cards must be units. Once the patch hits, the so-called "No-Unit" decks will be literally unplayable.
This is easily the single biggest change of the patch, and sure to be the most controversial. The people who like the No-unit control playstyle will of course be upset, and while the choice of 13 as the minimum number of units was the product of much deliberation (it allows an Ardal aep Dahy deck to run 12 Tactics cards in a 25-card deck, for example), it's one more thing to think about and cuts off a style of play…
...a style of play that, despite its partisans, was broadly unpopular and complained about loudly. Of course, if Gwent changed every time someone complained on Twitter or Reddit, it would be a miserable mess. So why did No-Unit get cracked down on so hard that it became literally impossible to play?
As Game Director Jason Slama noted, "unitless decks are a staple in other card games." That said, Gwent is not like other card games in its genre. Its win condition is not rooted in attacking a player's or hero's life total, but in generating more points than the opponent in two out of three rounds. Further, the game's intended feel is not that of a "mages' duel" in the vein of Magic: The Gathering, but rather a "battle of armies."
Speaking of Magic: The Gathering, its Head Designer, Mark Rosewater, is also one of the most prolific writers on game design principles in the world. In 2016, he gave a talk, later turned into a three-part article series, titled "Twenty Years, Twenty Lessons." His Lesson #13 was "Make the fun part the correct strategy to win" and reads, in part:
"When the players sit down to play a game, there's an implied promise from the game designer that if they do what the game tells them to do, it will be fun. So most players will do whatever the game tells them to do to achieve the desired goal (usually win), even if that thing isn't fun. When the game is done, if the players didn't enjoy themselves, they will blame the game—and rightfully so!"
In the end, No-Unit decks broke the rules of fun for Gwent. A play style built on taking away the opponent's fun had the potential to take over the game. And when un-fun cards or strategies take over a game or game mode, players exit, taking their spending with them.
A threat to fun is a threat to profit. That's why No-Unit had to go, now and forever.
The Smaller Things
Aside from the new rule banning No-Unit decks, overall balance is poised to be little-changed, as CDPR is keeping things smooth and stable ahead of the next expansion. Among other changes, Eredin Bréacc Glas grants an additional point of power on boosting, Morvran Voorhis gets one more provision to work with, and Mahakam Marauders is no longer restricted in its Deploy ability.
The most interesting change is to Cleaver costing one more provision, up to 10 from 9. Cleaver has been one of the most commonly played cards in Gwent since Homecoming, and this move makes it slightly more difficult for decks to play Cleaver while maintaining their overall power levels. While the "Nerf Cleaver Now!" camp likely remains unappeased, this is the sort of stopgap measure the provision system was designed to implement. That said, Cleaver's effect is so strong, and its presence so ubiquitous, that the change may lead to a slight depowering of decks overall rather than affecting Cleaver's place within them. Time will tell.
A few user interface changes will provide small quality-of-life boosts. The change to show how many provisions a deck has left, rather than numbers scaling up to a cap, cuts down on a bit of mental fatigue while building decks. While the ability to show one's name, avatar, and border (or turn it off with a toggle) is a boon, I'm more skeptical of the choice to hide the power for each row as a default, especially with Geralt: Igni around.
Last, cosmetics! The much-requested tavern gameboard gives a hint of that old-school Gwent feel that had been missing since Homecoming, though not as strong of a hint as I would've liked. And the elegantly eerie card backs for the upcoming Season of Magic seem destined to become fan favorites.