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Make it So Challenge #2: Equippable

by Charlie Plaine, Make it So Host

22nd November 2013

Of all the card types in First Edition, equipment is one of the least well defined and thus one of the most difficult to design. Conceptually, a piece of equipment makes sense - it’s an item, a tool, a thing that personnel can pick up and carry around. But throughout the game’s development, it has often strayed from that idea and ventured into strange territory. In this week’s challenge, the contestants will be tasked with creating their own piece of equipment; but first, here are some guidelines and suggestions for making equipment cards:

Medical PADD

1. Equipment should be at the personnel scale.
We've talked before about meeting the expectations of players, and using them to help support your designs. The same thing is true of card types. Things like ships and personnel are fairly easy for new players to understand, and things like dilemmas, missions and events can be picked up fairly quickly. Equipment is a card type that also has a natural expectation, and it needs to be embraced.

Equipment has been defined by the CC design team as being a thing that personnel use. If it can’t be carried or worn by an average personnel, then it should not be an equipment card. This means that things like Ablative Armor or Assimilation Table would be represented on other card types and not as equipment cards. Capturing the right feel helps make the game more grokkable for new players and thus reduces the barrier to entry. This is a vital component of card design.

A corollary of this rule is that equipment should affect personnel. Think about it intuitively: why would I carry something that isn't going to help me or my team in some way? If your personnel aren't using the equipment, why is it an equipment? Kits, PADDs and Tricorders are great examples of equipment; cards like Anti-Matter Pod and Transport Inhibitor would be better represented as other card types.

Side note: This is an example of where precedent can be abused. Without a doubt, there are equipment cards that violate this rule (and many of the other rules below) that have been made. One could then argue that a precedent has been set. However, over time, we have created or changed rules to make the game more stable and more enjoyable. If you find yourself with a single card (or small number) that does one thing and a significant number that do another, you have to examine the source and history of those cards. Long story short, don’t find one card to justify what you’re doing - do your research!

2. Power and scope should be inversely proportional.
One of the greatest strengths of the equipment card type is the wide range of abilities it can carry. Granted, there are limitations, but outside of those they can have wide ranging effects at a wide range of power levels. Making things more complex for equipment design is the wide range of scope that can be applied to equipment. For example, you can design equipment to grant a single attribute bonus, or to give you your choice of multiple skills. Your equipment can affect an entire away team, or just one species. It's all over the map; fortunately, there's a good rule of thumb: the more powerful the equipment's effect, the more limited should be it's scope.

As an example, take a look at Medical PADD. This equipment grants any personnel with an ENGINEER-classification the skill of MEDICAL, and can be used by all one hundred seventeen (117) such personnel. On the other hand, take a look at the Classic Tricorder. This equipment only affects a total of seventeen (17) personnel, many of which are personas; however, it has a more powerful effect. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but it is a good one: the more powerful the effect, the more limited the scope. (And of course, the reverse is also true.)

3. Equipment is non-unique and cumulative by default.
One key component of the identity of the equipment card is that its default behavior is cumulative, and universal. At a basic level, this means that if you make an equipment that boosts attributes or grants skills, players will be able to use them in multiple to do so - keep this in mind! You need to plan for your equipment to be used in multiple or it will be abused in multiple. A side effect of this relates to what was mentioned before about player expectation: players are going to expect equipment to be non-unique and cumulative. Designers need to take great care when creating an equipment against this expectation. If you have to choose, you're almost always better off with making a unique equipment versus a non-duplicatable one.

Ablative Armor

4. Equipment is easily accessible.
Finally, every designer needs to be aware of just how easy it is to get equipment into play. Equipment Replicator, while most common in TNG decks, can download a lot of different equipment in a lot of different decks. There are two (2) personnel that can download any equipment card, almost a dozen more that download smaller sub-sets of equipment, and various specific equipment downloads on quite a lot of personnel. Equipment tends to have been valued as "not worth a card play" in the past and thus often appears as a special download or with text allowing it to report "for free." Be careful with this, because power level isn't fixed and is usually a moving target. It is a fine line to walk. But make sure you know that just about any deck can get any equipment it wants, and account for that in your designs.

There's a lot of freedom in equipment design, but one must be careful not to "hang themselves" with the rope that freedom provides. Finding a way to balance scope and power level as well as evoke the correct feel and flavor isn't an easy challenge, but it is the challenge being set to our Make it So contestants today!

Challenge #2: Equippable
Your challenge this week is to design an equipment. The judges will be looking for an equipment that embraces both the philosophies of overall First Edition design and the guidelines for equipment cards. Design currently goes out of our way to avoid breaking the template (3-lines of lore, 3-lines of text), but will do so if the equipment card is interesting enough and there are no other options.

The judges will be rating your cards on their demonstration of the purpose and function of equipment. In addition, we will be looking for elegance of implementation, respect of precedent, creativity and understanding of the state of the game. Hopefully the community will use this challenge's discussion thread to let you know what they're looking for too, but beware: it's impossible to please everyone!

Your entries are due by 11:59 PM server time (Eastern Standard) on Wednesday, November 27, 2013. Entries must be sent via PM to MidnightLich on the forums and not posted anywhere else. Please note that this is the day before Thanksgiving in the United States, so those of you that will be travelling will want to work ahead. Voting and judging will be done anonymously so you may not talk about your equipment during the judging period. You will have the opportunity to discuss them after voting is complete. Late entries may be accepted, at a penalty, at the discretion of the judges.

Good luck, and may all your equipment be worth lugging around.

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