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The Great Experiment

by Matt Kirk, Project Excelsior Lead

12th June 2017

Second Edition has admittedly been going through a rough patch lately. There's been a lot of internal upheaval in the game's management, and tournament attendance has declined. Every 2E department has been working hard to design solutions to keeping Second Edition fresh for tournament play. Today, I am pleased to present a brief history of what we've accomplished so far, and to share one of the concepts we've been developing for the future of 2E recruitment, player retention, and community involvement.

Soltok IV

About a year ago, Project Awaken, led by Tyler Fultz, was completed with the input of several playgroups; it addressed the challenges of maintaining Second Edition's viability and accessibility. The project's findings gave the 2E development team a clear set of goals for the immediate future:

•Raise the playability and competitiveness of newly designed cards

•Make the cardpool and rules more manageable

•Reduce the length of tournament games

•Enable new player recruitment

•Streamline communication and feedback within the community and the CC

At the time, the 2E Brand Manager position was still vacant, and a few different proposals were being considered as how best to achieve these goals. Once Ross took over, our first priority was to address these findings. At our first staff meeting, I pitched the idea of a smaller rotating card pool that could form the basis of a new tournament format (the Objectives proposal that was tested towards the end of last year was also considered at this time). And although Objectives didn't pan out, the core concept of what we would come to know as Excelsior met enough of Awaken's criteria to continue its development.

The overarching idea of a limited card pool that would rotate periodically is something I admittedly partially borrowed from other card games' Organized Play, where it has enjoyed great popularity. Before its current incarnation, Legend of the Five Rings CCG Organized Play by AEG offered players the chance to play in "storyline tournaments". The results of these events would change the environment in the next storyline tournament; certain clans could be disadvantaged or even eliminated from the card pool for the next event if their storyline enemies performed well.

While the core concept of storyline events in 2E would take a major commitment from Design to be able to implement in the Standard environment, it would be relatively simple to do for a rotating card pool, where each rotation could potentially reward players of a particular affiliation for doing well. At the same time, it would address the fifth goal of the Awaken findings by allowing players to directly have an influence on the evolution of the card pool (likewise, a subforum dedicated to the format would allow targeted discussion of what was working well in the format, and what could use improvement).

I asked Richard New (The Guardian) to team up with me on this project, and his work was instrumental in creating the initial card pool for playtesting. Getting the right balance of cards that would be interesting to use while also trying to keep the complexity level on the lower end was a major hurdle, but Richard's concept for a streamlined card pool that focused on 2E's core gameplay met with the initial approval of playtesters for the most part. We had identified several mechanics that could seem unfair to newer players, and we did our best to limit the inclusion of cards that used those mechanics, while we also looked for ways to speed up a normal game. We also weighted the inclusion of virtual cards as a way to address the first goal of Awaken.

Finally, to help address the goals of rules manageability and shorter tournament games, we set to work in developing the framework for a new Organized Play format. Considering the card pool's contents, we quickly identified many corner-case rulings that could be disregarded if their respective cards were not permitted in the format. We made an allowance that the new format's rules could support the limited addition of certain mechanical rules, but that they would only be included so long as the cards with those mechanics were still in the card pool. It results in a bit more maintenance on our end, but the effort is worthwhile in simplifying what a new player would need to absorb in mastering Excelsior's rules.

And that brings us to today, or rather, to July 16th, and a chance for you to get involved as we further playtest this format. On the last day of North American Continentals in the Twin Cities, a public playtest of the Project Excelsior format will be held. We are currently on version 0.2 of the card pool and format rules, and the feedback gathered from the playtest will help further improve the materials for their final public playtest at World Championships this October in Orlando. Following that event, Excelsior will launch as an option for 2017-2018 WCT League events, and communities that try out the format will be rewarded for their participation with exclusive prizes!

If you can't make it to either of the public playtest events, but you're still interested in helping us develop the format, fear not! The current v0.2 Excelsior playtest materials are available here; you can submit any playtest data to me via PM, or post on the Excelsior thread in the WCT League sub-forum of the Organized Play. Keep in mind that this is still in testing and may not reflect the final version of the format or card pool. If you are planning to attend, we will have sample decks on hand, but feel free to build your own deck and bring a copy! We'd love to see what you can devise.

Thanks for your help in charting a new course for Second Edition!


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