Richard Garfield, best known for creating the popular trading card game Magic: The Gathering, has designed some of the most fun and unique games over 35 years, and the legendary game designer was recently interviewed by Dicebreaker to talk about his game design experience, and newer games like Half Truth and Keyforge.
The 56-year-old game designer explained why he prefers working on paper games more than digital games: “In general I like working on paper games much more than digital games because of the number of people involved and time it takes,” Garfield told Dicebreaker. “Digital design allows some radically more complicated mechanics, but often the simpler mechanics work better and it is easy to use the computer as a crutch."
“I am excited by the relationship between paper and digital. The digital world opens up a lot of cool design space - and the popularity of games is ensuring we have a sophisticated enough audience to enjoy it," Garfield added. "I don't think paper games are threatened by this, however, because one of the reasons tabletop games are so popular is that face-to-face play has become even more special in this day when so much of our interaction is mediated by screens.”
Garfield also expressed concerns about how some games such as MTG's 'meta' - an evolving list of card combinations, deck types, and play styles determined by the community - can only use a relatively small number of the game's cards, leaving little room for brewing new decks since they are forced to learn how to acquire valuable cards needed to build the top-tier decks to remain evenly-matched in competitions.
“I have no problem with randomised boosters or deck construction provided the cards people feel they must get to compete are not too hard to get, which is generally a simple matter of making common cards powerful and not letting too many rarer cards into the 'must-have' category,” Garfield said about the format “[However,] I don't like being told how to play. These days the community of a trading card game will often determine what decks are viable. They may or may not be right - but it is hard to experiment when everyone is getting good at a few strong decks.”
“One of my current concerns in board game culture is how fast players draw conclusions about games,” he said. “My favourite thing about games has always been that the best ones get better with time and go to unexpected places."
That concern led Garfield to design Keyforge. Published by Fantasy Flight Games, Keyforge is the world’s first “unique deck game”, insisting that no two players would ever have the exact same list of cards.
“With Keyforge I wanted the immense variety in a TCG without the deck-building, which I was tired of,” Garfield said. “A game like Keyforge makes it tough for a ‘one size fits all’ strategy guide to emerge - every deck has its strengths, weaknesses and peculiarities. Weirdly, there is noticeably more variety in decks even though in a TCG technically a larger variety of decks could be played - because in practice they aren't played.”
That's always been an issue with Magic. There are tons of fun cards but many of them never get a chance to see play in various formts because they don't fit the metagames.
In the interview, Garfield didn't talk much about Artifact, Valve's digital card game based on the highly popular multiplayer PC game Dota 2. The game was criticized for its "pay to win" reliance on purchasing cards and packs, leading to a huge decline of players shortly after it was released.
Garfield said that he will continue to create the games he wants to play whether they will become published or not.
“I like building on ideas I see and tweaking games for new experiences. Many of my interests never end up being published or are even intended for publication,” Garfield says.
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