Hey all! Corey Burkhart back with another History of a HEX card update. This time, we’ll be addressing one of the metacycle legendaries—a cycle that takes more than one set to complete—Ryaalinth the Soulcursed (the five-threshold female “Matriarchs” are another example of this).
Ryaalinth the Soulcursed, like many of the cards we cover in this series, went through several iterations. We knew the card would be a Blood Sapphire Dragon, but we also wanted its design to play into what Mylaanth the Lifebinder was doing from Herofall. The two were meant to be a mirrored pair, playing off the themes of life, death, and war in our 5th and 6th sets. Our first version of Ryaalinth the Soulcursed was a bit convoluted, but it had the base idea of what we were going for:
Soulcursed here means:
Soulcursed cards can’t attack, block, use payment powers, or be played. The controller may sacrifice or discard a card to remove Soulcursed from it.
In this iteration, Soulcursed was meant to be a keyword applied like Mylaanth’s Lifebound which would have a lasting impact while you controlled a troop with that keyword. Our first version of Soulcursed, however, was a bit much.
Essentially, we intended it to mean that each of your cards was nullified until you used an activated power to free it. The problem with this design was that it just didn’t function within the game engine rules. Once we templated it into the client, it gave a payment power to the Soulcursed card that said:
“Discard a card or Sacrifice a card → this loses Soulcursed.”
However, the rules of Soulcursed don’t allow you to use payment powers on a card with Soulcursed…. You can see where I am going with this. You couldn’t free your own cards! This version of Soulcursed locked the board down entirely, so it was back to the drawing board.
Next we tried the same textbox, but a slightly different wording on Soulcursed. Our second version read:
Soulcursed cards can’t attack, block, use activated powers, or be played. The controller may sacrifice or discard a card to remove Soulcursed.
The difference between a payment power and an activated power is mostly a rules wrinkle. A payment power is any power with an input cost, i.e. a resource cost, discard a card, exhausting another troop, etc. Payment powers are denoted on a card with a cost and then → after it. An activated power, on the other hand, is a special kind of payment power that requires exhausting the card in question as part of that cost. For example, Howling Brave has a power that is both a payment power and an activated power where it exhausts for 1 resource point. Since activated powers and payment powers are treated differently in our client, our new wording no longer locked down our Soulcursed payment powers.
While this version of Ryaalinth functioned within the rules, it was fairly cumbersome. There were many decisions to be made by players, but it wasn’t that much fun to choose which of your cards to incinerate (either sacrificing or discarding) to free the others. Furthermore, we found more often than not, it was correct to only free your cards when you wanted to use them. This had the effect of adding a fair number extra clicks to the user experience before you could actually play or attack with the card you wanted to. Thus, this version of Ryaalinth wasn’t the most fun to play against, as it primarily made the game longer. You either spent 20 seconds after Ryaalinth resolved discarding/sacrificing your weakest cards to free your best cards, or each turn took many more moments trying to figure out when and how to free the cards you needed at that moment. In all, it wasn’t the most elegant design for play experience, but it did score high marks on theme. Soulcursed V2 felt like the opposite of Mylaanth’s board-wide boon.
We spent a few more designs going down this route before we killed this execution of Soulcursed. We were fine with the deploy trigger lining up with Mylaanth the Lifebinder, but the exact implementation needed some cleaning up. We tried a version that gave two activated powers later in the process. In that version, Soulcursed meant:
[BASIC], While this is in your hand or in play: Discard a card → Revert this.
[BASIC], While this is in your hand or in play: Sacrifice a troop → Revert this.
This was the last version of the card we had before we began actually running these through engineering and could see how it looked and played in client. The reason this was shot down is that we’re making a conscious effort to streamline our textboxes. This power would add at least two lines to each opposing card in play and in their hand, making everything harder to read. Plus, the costs were different—one asked you to discard any card while the other asked you to sacrifice only troops. They weren’t symmetrical and were more confusing than they needed to be. In the end, there were just enough things wrong with this to kill it before it made it from brain to pixels.
Ryaalinth also had several makeovers on his way to print. We decided to forgo using this piece of art seen here because it looked oddly similar to the art of Zeedu from Shattered Destiny and we wanted Ryaalinth to feel more distinct. That said, keep your eyes peeled for another Dragon in the future with this piece of art. I personally really like it and would love to have more Dragons flying around!
At this point, we brainstormed more ideas that had various problems, either rules-wise, client-wise, or both. One of the pitches was that Ryaalinth would let you target an opposing troop and curse it. Then, that targeted troop would curse the troops on each side of it at the end of each of its controller’s turns, effectively spreading a plague amongst all your troops. This plague would be scary because when one of your troops with Soulcursed died, you would be forced to sacrifice all other troops with Soulcursed.
This design was interesting, but it struggled with the fact that we don’t let you play your troops on the board where you want to. The position in play is not something the rules engine has knowledge of—therefore, the idea of “next to this troop” didn’t make sense to the rules engine either. This is not design space we wanted to move into as there’s already so much going on in HEX, we don’t also need to care about where on the board you play troops.
Theoretically, it could be done. We could care about the order in which you play troops to determine their position, but that’s not the most desirable gameplay either. Plus, it interferes with existing functionality.
From the client’s perspective, your troops group for two reasons:
Basically, we clump troops together with the same names to reduce the space on the board they take up (I’m looking at you Dreadling). Messing with our existing grouping algorithms would cause massive issues rules-wise as well as UI-wise, so Soulcursed V4 was doomed to never see the pixels inside the client. But, it was a cool enough idea that we listed it in a set for a short period.
At this point, we started experimenting more vigorously with what Soulcursed did. There was a very short period of time that it would give all opposing troops Soulcursed. Then, at the start of each turn, a champion who controlled a Soulcursed troop would have to sacrifice one. This design was similar to the fourth version of Ryaalinth, where you cared about your troops being Soulcursed, but it didn’t quite hit the mark for us. We wanted Soulcursed to do more than just mark troops. We wanted you to care about which troops were Soulcursed and feel like you were protecting their soul from the darkness inside of Ryaalinth. Still, the seeds were there. We just needed to combine the feeling of Soulcursed V4 with the mechanical simplicity of this version.
Finally, we arrived at a dragon which we’re quite proud of:
While the textbox and numbers have remained almost entirely the same, Soulcursed has slimmed down considerably from its first iteration. Our final version gives each opposing troop Soulcursed, and Soulcursed does the following:
“When a troop you control with Soulcursed dies, sacrifice each other Soulcursed troop you control.”
Ryaalinth the Soulcursed was certainly one of the bigger challenges we faced as we designed Scars of War. Instead of just cursing troops, there was a time we felt like he was cursing R&D as well. We even considered dropping him from the set. But Ryaalinth came through and we are very happy we stuck with him. The dragon we made has a strong mechanical and thematic connection to Mylaanth the Lifebinder, and stands as a worthy adversary on the battlefield. Ryaalinth brings a large amount of tension into gameplay, and we can’t wait to see what it’ll do in your hands!