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First Codex Games - Impressions


#1

On Saturday, I solo replayed through two of the games on the forums, to familiarize myself with the rules. I’m glad I did, because there were many things that I didn’t understand when I saw them played out, and I would have to go digging through the rules to figure out what happened. I really think this was very important, if I had just gone by the rules my first game trying to teach other people, I would have messed up a lot of stuff.

On Sunday, I got together with 3 experienced gamers-- all of them have played tournament Magic, one is a former WotC and current PopCap employee, the other two currently work for Paizo. I did my best to explain the rules, then we played two separate one-hero games. We made several mistakes, but as learning games, they went fine.

Next we played two separate 3-hero games – Black vs. White and Red vs. Green. We needed to frequently look stuff up in the rules, and I needed to consult the “Rulings” document probably a dozen times, but it went relatively smoothly.

Finally, we played a game of two headed monster, White and Red vs. Black and Green.

Overall Impressions, in no particular order:

The rulebook is surprisingly bad. I defy anyone to correctly learn how to play flyers without making use of some resource other than the rulebook. The sheer volume of rules and card clarifications is an indictment of how incomplete they are.

The token cards are needlessly parsimonious. For example, are tokens units? They are, but why isn’t that printed on the token, like it is on other units? Are Skeleton tokens skeletons, in the sense that other units that have the keyword “skeleton” printed on them are? The answer is (apparently) yes, but why isn’t the keyword printed on the token card?

The playmats have teching listed as the last action on your turn, while the rulebook has it listed as the first action of your turn. The rulebook further clarifies that you should tech at the end of your turn, set the cards aside, and then can change them in response to what your opponent does. It would have been very helpful to have consistency on the playmats.

The most persistent problem we encountered was teching: remembering to tech, and understanding when to tech. I played a few games of a beta version two years ago at FSX, and my most distinct memory from that time was forgetting to tech, or mistakenly thinking that I had failed to tech and then wrongly trying to fix it, etc. It turns out all 4 of us had that problem through all of our games.

I don’t like how the draw pile and the discard pile are right next to each other on the playmat, because the discard pile is face down. I think on at least one occasion I got confused and shuffled them together before I had actually cycled, and I may have done it more than once. I’m going to experiment with putting the 20-sided die I use to keep track of health on top of one of the piles as a reminder (the dials on the life tracker that comes with the game are too loose and spin to easily to work well).

It became apparent pretty quickly that in order to play at all well, you need to understand what your opponent’s deck is capable of. My opponent as Black kept spending resources to build more skeleton tokens when he already had a bunch, because why not, and then out comes Jefferson DeGrey. This isn’t a bad thing, and none of us felt that it was bad; it’s just an observation.

All four of us enjoyed ourselves and want to play again. We all liked the Tech tree mechanism. I think one of the highlights for the MtG players (I’m not) was how much decision making and how many options you had on your turn; deck construction is important, but it’s not “fire and forget”, where your turns sort of play themselves.

I didn’t expect to like Two Headed Monster, but it turned out that we all had the most fun with that mode. I wouldn’t be surprised if we wound up playing that exclusively next time we get together as a group.


#2

I agree on flyers rulings and the order of actions on the playmat. The Tech part of a turn should be listed first, not last, and just have a note not to do it on the first turn. All the flyer situations should be listed in the rulebook for clarification, but alas, these things aren’t going to be reprinted (at least any time soon).

I have had the same problems with teching in my games locally.

My base tracker was not at all loose and works pretty well.

I also like Two-Headed Dragon the most for my in person games, though 5 player FFA is also pretty awesome.

One of the suggestions I make to my group is to turn the discard pile sideways to prevent thinking it is the deck.


Little tricks to keep track of everything in Codex
#3

I agree with most of what you have to say about the rules above. I don’t know, but I think the reason that new players are told to make tech decisions at the end of their turns is so that there isn’t incredible amounts of time wasted at the beginning of each turn deciding which cards to tech. If they do it during the other player’s turn things go smoother.


#4

Playing in person, I think the rules thing I botch the most is the “did I tech or not?” That said, I’ve played a fair amount online.

But the adjacent discard/draw piles on the playmat are also often a source of confusion. I have several times teched to my draw pile, discarded to my draw pile, drawn from my discard pile, or just in general had to double check. In practice, I’ve just started keeping one of those piles separate, or sliding the a little off-center so I can see the text under them.

Anecdotally, the game doesn’t play well on round tables. You have to push your mat forward away from you so it fits on the table, and your opponent’s is often too far away to read cards easily. Rectangular tables recommended!


#5

Here is my pro-tip to help remember whether you’ve teched or not: place the cards you tech in sideways on your discard pile.


Little tricks to keep track of everything in Codex
#6

I agree with all of this. As someone with an MTG background, it took me a while to develop an intuitive understanding of how flying is supposed to work in this game. It makes a lot more sense if you think of flying units as flying units from Starcraft that all attack from long range, except that units with long range still can’t hit back, and… well, it helps anyway.

The rules and rulebook could really use some “tightening up” and general clarifying. At least the online resources are pretty good; hopefully new players will find their way to the card rulings database and so forth.

I also found the discard and draw piles to be an issue - would have been nice if the cards didn’t cover up the “draw” and “discard” text. I appreciate the suggestions from others about turning cards sideways.


#7

Skeletons say SKELETON in huge letters, so yes they are “Skeletons”.

The rulebook and playmats both correctly show that you should tech at the end of your turn, though that is not actually locked in until the beginning of the next turn. It’s vitally important people tech at the end of their turn, because the game can be like twice as long to play if you have people letting the opponent finish their turn then START to even think about teching. This isn’t some theoretical thing, it’s apparent from real games that all players must be instructed to start teching at the end of the turn, as both the rulebook and playmats advise.

“The sheer volume of rules and card clarifications is an indictment of how incomplete they are.” We have a fundamental disagreement on the entire concept of how to handle rules clarifications then. Even if some hypothetical rule were completely clear, it’s still fine to list a bunch of facts about how it works in the rulings section. So for that reason alone, it’s no “indictment” to simply have a lot of rulings (in that having a lot of them says nothing about whether there is some problem or not). It goes deeper though. The MtG way is to write long convoluted lawyerly text on cards such that it can be hard to even understand the gist of what a card does. My games are philosophically, intentionally not like that. A card is written in a way for a human to easily “grok”. Occasionally an obscure edge case needs to be looked up, but that’s by design rather than cluttering up the card.

Flying says the following on helptext on the card itself as well as the glossary:

Flying (Can fly over ground patrollers. Ground forces without anti-air can’t attack this or deal combat damage to it when attacked.)

By the philosophy mentioned above, I think it’s a good thing that we stuck to only 3 lines of help text there. That’s already pretty long, but at least it tells you what flying does for real. It lets you fly over ground patrollers; it lets you attack ground stuff “for free” (without getting hit back) unless that stuff has anti-air; ground stuff can’t even attack it unless that ground stuff has anti-air. That’s pretty much it, and it’s already in the help text. Other questions might be about how you attack flying stuff in a patrol zone. The help text could have been like 6 or 8 lines long and talked about that too, but the the general rules for attacking already cover that, and the specific case of attacking flying stuff is already spelled out in the rulebook.

The rulebook’s general rules on attacking say:

If your attacker CAN’T attack a certain patroller, that attacker can just ignore that particular patroller. For example, a ground unit without the anti-air keyword can’t attack a flying unit, so if there’s a flying patroller, your ground unit doesn’t have to attack the flier; it still has to attack any other patrollers that it can though, if it chooses to attack at all.

All of that covers attacking with a flier and attacking against a flier.

Next, discard piles. We of course tested many configurations. The one on the playmat generally works the best. Your draw pile is right next to your right hand so when you unconsciously reach to draw, you reach to the right place. You have actually reach PAST it to draw from the wrong pile. While the discard pile could be even farther away, such as on the other side of the playmat, it doesn’t really fit there. I mean just look at the layout. For people who actually have a problem with this (not many!) they can put their discard pile sideways to make it even more clear. If we had to do this over again though…the playmats would be exactly the same. There just isn’t room on the left side for draw or discard when it needs to have tech buildings and heroes and testing showed the current layout worked well for most people. You are of course welcome to put your draw pile and discard pile anywhere you want though. The playmat is merely a suggestion of a layout that worked the best so far.


Rules Questions thread
Rules Questions thread
#8

[quote=“Sirlin, post:7, topic:716”]Your draw pile is right next to your right hand so when you unconsciously reach to draw, you reach to the right place.[/quote]I’ve always drawn with my left hand and discarded with my right in games like Codex, and until reading this, I had never thought about whether or not that was unusual. Today I learned!

[quote=“Fry, post:5, topic:716, full:true”]Here is my pro-tip to help remember whether you’ve teched or not: place the cards you tech in sideways on your discard pile.[/quote]This is a great suggestion, thanks!


#10

Caphriel: yes that was the other most common way people did it. Draw with left hand, discard with right, as you said. It makes sense in that the “left to right” action of draw then discard kind of matches the “left to right” order of reading English words. Some early playmats used that and it felt fine too. It’s just there’s no room to really do that once we put workers/tech builds/heroes on the mat. You could just do it anyway and ignore the playmat zones for draw/discard.


#11

After playing a half dozen times, I never have an issue confusing deck / discard.

I still forget to tech, but I also forget to worker when I can’t write “Worker (6)” right away and then decide which card to use later.


#12

I like that the rule book (I have the deluxe set) has a sort of pretty straightforward explanation of the all of the basics, but I kind of wish there was a much more comprehensive appendix with more in-depth details. For example, I would have found it useful if the glossary was much larger. For example, after reading the manual, I still don’t understand what an “upgrade” is. I also would find it useful to have a glossary that reiterates for reference certain terms even if they are already mentioned in the main part of the manual, such as “target”, “flying”, etc.

Regarding flying and patrolling, one thing I don’t like about it that it doesn’t feel thematically consistent, which makes it less intuitive. The rule is (assuming my understanding is correct), as an attacker, you can ignore patrollers that you couldn’t possibly attack. However, if it was thematically consistent, I would intuitively expect it to be more like “You can ignore patrollers that couldn’t possibly attack you”. Flyers can generally see and attack ground units (am I right about that?), so it would make sense if a flying patroller could defend against both air and ground units. I’m assuming the rules are the way they are for gameplay, but I think this could be a point of confusion for new players.


#13

Just like in Starcraft or Warcraft, a flier cannot physically block / stand in the way of a ground unit. So if there is a flier like a Mutalisk in Starcraft, a Zealot can simply run under it. Same as in Codex. Other things that are the same as in Codex: a Zealot cannot attack a Mutalisk and when a Mutalisk attacks a Zealot, the Muta deals it’s damage “for free” (and doesn’t get hit back).

All that stuff is so that is thematically consistent. If you want to think about it purely as an abstract system, you could keep in mind the concept that if a thing were NOT attackable, yet the patrol zone rules said you HAD to attack it, then the game is just immediately broken. Such a situation means you become practically invulnerable by placing just one “unattackable” thing in the patrol zone. So that’s why it must be that if an attacker can’t attack a certain thing, it must be able to ignore that thing and attack something else.


#14

The Starcraft analogy always worked great for me to explain 90% of codex’s flying rule. The only thing inconsistent with it is that the Muta hits the zealot that runs under it “for free” too, though I know that would have made flying hugely problematic from a balance perspective, so I get why it isn’t the case.

@andrewgr I also forget to tech in real life all the time, your new player experience sounds very similar to mine!

The game has SO MANY awesome mechanics, and has clearly had rounds and rounds of refinement to keep both the rulings as simple as possible in language AND as well balanced as it is. But it definitely isn’t without its difficulties learning specific interactions, and as you correctly identified your first few games against a deck you haven’t played against wielded by a cunning opponent will almost certainly be met with a “really? your deck can do that?” moment, where you learn the HARD way that yes, White can wipe out all your skeletons with just one tech 2 unit, or yes, Prynn can take your invincible looking Rook with two lives and gently nudge him back to command zone, or yes Free Speech can really stop you from playing that Drakk spell or hasting in that Firebird you thought you’d dominate the tech 2 with.

Once you do learn what all of the “problem” cards in your opponent’s deck are though, it is a very fun cat and mouse game trying to keep each other off their strengths :slight_smile:


#15

Actually fyi, the reason fliers don’t hit ground attackers that run under them is NOT balance. They did exactly that for years. Then there was The Great Simplification. In one stroke, I revised all text on all cards. In this grand game-wide pass, every clause that didn’t do much was just deleted. Many things were rewritten to a slightly simpler thing. So it changed the function of many things, often things like “this card now works 5% differently, but it takes half the words”. There were a ton of cards that had about half the words they did before this pass. Font size on all cards, even cards with like 3 words on them, increased across the board at this time too.

As part of this massive simplification, flying worked differently. Running under a flier no longer dealt damage to you and flying over an anti-air thing (as opposed to attacking that anti-air thing directly) no longer damaged the flier. Before this time, flying and anti-air help text couldn’t really even be written on a card in a reasonable way. There was just too much to it. After, it was much shorter and possible to even become help text.

After more testing, people complained this made anti-air too weak. So we added back in the part where flying past an anti-air thing damages the flier. But not the other part, but only for the sake of simplifying the written statement of what flying does.


#16

Oh interesting history note!

I do still feel like flying would be too good if squad lead flyers were just raining damage on stuff though :wink: stuff like nullcraft and birds nest are already super strong as it is, a bird token in SQL would just be like a cheap tower!


#17

While that wasn’t the reason, you certainly have a point! Flying was mega strong when it worked that way. And it was nerfed to be “still really really strong”. So we should probably be happy that a rules simplification made flying weaker (because it’s still so good).


#18

I also was stuck on flying for a long time. I didn’t realize at first that flyers could hit each other (in Starcraft, they don’t always - figured you needed the anti-air keyword) , I didn’t realize they blocked each other (in Starcraft, they don’t), and I didn’t realize flying patrollers didn’t damage units running under them (why wouldn’t they?). I think all the rules are there if you carefully study the language and make some shrewd observations and deductions, but I agree you aren’t likely to learn it right if you don’t find the forums. A paragraph covering half a dozen examples would go a long way.

The other thing that’s nearly impossible to learn from the rule book is how towers work! There is some inherent complexity to it, but I’ll be darned if I didn’t go through half a dozen theories and multiple explanations on the forum before getting it right. Again, I think a couple example turns would go a long way.

The teching thing seriously tripped me up, too! It eventually became clear to me that I could do it as late as the start of my next turn and that I generally would want to as there were timelines that relied on me reacting to what he showed. But if I skipped it at the end of the turn, I generally forgot it at the start of the next, as there was no trigger in any of the checklists. It got so bad at one point that I put my binder on my head when ending a turn to remind myself! What I might do is put a “provisional tech” step at the end of your turn and a “lock in tech” at the start.

A random thing that tripped me up as well were boost effects. Some card said, “pay four gold to get the boost effect” which sent me on a long trawl through rulebooks looking for a ‘boost’ keyword. I know, I know, if I’m not even gonna read the whole card, there’s no way you can help me. :smiley: Just the same - separating the trigger from the effect is very clean when you understand how it works, but it is a little convoluted at first.

You definitely need to know what your opponent’s deck is capable of to play - that is very exciting to me! The possibility of bluffs, gambits, all ins, overcommitment, high level mental play in general - this is very attractive about this game, and my first game against someone who knew what my deck did was everything I hoped for, and I rated the game “totally rad” :smiley: Masterfully designed and clearly worth learning, and I don’t say that often.

It does have the effect that I feel I can’t offer a good game until I’ve played my opponent’s deck a few times myself - knowing my own is not enough. But I think this isn’t too bad. Six colors is not so much to learn if you’re into this sort of thing, and in the mean time, you can have lots of fun with just two.

So that I am not purely critical, I do want to say that the one hero game is a phenomenal introduction for a new player. I found it a perfect level of complexity to introduce all the new concepts without involving an overwhelming number of cards. I played a half dozen games like that against myself until I felt I got it, at which point the three hero game was interesting rather than paralyzing. Perfect!


#19

I guess that makes sense, but yeah, I would have expected at least that patrolling flyers could damage ground units that “ran underneath”, but as it is, it won’t too hard to remember


#20

Hello,
I’m left-handed.
Thanks


#21

I really appreciated the explanation for how flying worked the way it does.

So I got to play my first game a few weeks ago, and I got to play two more yesterday. I’ve had the deck/discard pile confusion every game, and damn near every turn. Something that is exacerbating it:
I’m still playing 1 vs. 1 until I get a feel for all the specs I own. Rather than use the full playmat, which wastes space for 3 heroes when I only have 1, I’ve been using the Starter “playmat” (with just the mini tech board and the patrol zone board). This means I don’t have the written bordered spaces for discard/draw piles. I put my cards in the same place they would be on the bigger mat (to get used to it), but maybe having the actual borders will help.

But the biggest problem happens when I cycle or when my discard pile is empty. (In both cases, I don’t have to reach past one to get to the other.)
When I cycle, I apparently have a 50% chance of accidentally putting my new deck (right after drawing) down into the discard slot; then I start discarding dead units or teched cards onto that deck.
When my discard pile is empty I apparently have roughly a 15% chance of accidentally teching or discarding onto my draw pile anyway.

I think I’m going to have to try keeping my discard pile sideways or putting a die on it, as others have suggested, but had the final playmat been printed with the discard pile sideways, this would help prevent this from happening with a lot of new players.
I also have big sympathies for Bomber and other left-handed players.

Sirlin, your statement of “(not many!)” suggests that you don’t do a lot of formal usability testing for your games.
Unlike focus groups or playtesting, usability testing involves watching completely uninformed, new players try to muddle through on their own without saying anything or trying to teach or explain in any way. (For videogames, you just hand them the controller or keyboard. For board/card games, you would hand them the cards and the rules document.) You remind them periodically to think out loud or ask them what’s going through their minds, but never comment. Then, you simply take notes on areas where they seem confused or stuck (in a card game, taking more than 2 minutes to find a rule/ruling), or (again, board/card game-specific) when they make illegal moves.

In practice, it’s good to have a dedicated note-taker who is not the designer, because designers are notorious for not being able to keep themselves from defending/explaining.

Say you test 20 brand-spanking-new-to-the-game players this way. Anytime you see illegal moves or moments of confusion, you ask what they’re thinking to drill down on where the problem area is. That problem represents some disconnect between the intended design and the player. Very rarely, you can chalk something up to user error (in Codex, perhaps not reading the rules clearly enough). But almost always, the fault is on the designer for not making things clear enough. This shows up most in UI and story in videogames (“How does this work?” or “Where do I go next?”). In Codex, this shows up in the rulebook and the playmat. (E.g., Upgrade is explained once in the rulebook, and should be repeated in the glossary, where most people look for it, but it’s not there. Many players have problems with the deck/discard.)

The general rule of thumb is that if 1 out of your 20 testers has a problem, then roughly 500 out of your 10,000 eventual players (sometimes much more for a hit video game) will have that same problem. So “not many!” in testing becomes “Why am I being harassed on this by so many players!?” when the game hits (assuming it doesn’t flop).

Sometimes you want players to get stuck intentionally; this is mostly true in adventure/rpg videogames. Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow are famous for including purposefully obscure mechanics or progressions because they want the players to take a lot of time to figure things out, then feel smart. Usability testing makes sure this is always a design choice
rather than occasionally an accident, and that’s the real point: to make sure the designer is making informed choices based on actual players, not based on their own assumptions or the success of playtesters or demo subjects.

It’s easy for the designer to assume that the players are somehow being stupid, or that their errors are a general reflection of the stupidity of humanity, but that assumption makes all design pointless.
I know that you’re a thoughtful and careful designer who takes usability (and even more, accessability–something ignored by most) as evidenced by Fantasy Strike, Yomi, and the simpler inputs available in SFHDRemix. But I think you’re still making a lot of assumptions in your games based primarily on play-testing (demoing the game and asking for feedback from experienced gamers and other designers, taking notes on balance) and not usability testing that are hurting otherwise fantastic games in significant but easily remedied ways.

I think some usability testing would have helped with the deck/discard thing, and gone a long way towards addressing the original poster’s complaints about the rulebook.

Maybe you would have chosen to do some of these things the same way anyway because you thought all other options had downsides that were genuinely worse. But then you also wouldn’t have been surprised by complaints in threads like this by players (including me) who otherwise love the game.