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Customs Creation - July 2018

Posted July 22nd, 2018 at 10:42 AM by HS Codex

Customs Creation
The Epitome of Play
Author: Scytale

This article completes a series begun with an overview of the four pillars of customs creation, which was followed up by individual articles that focused in on balance, theme, and creativity. This article will tackle the final aspect: playability.

Playability is both the culmination of all the other aspects and an aspect of its own. Different people will define ďplayabilityĒ differently, but all of the personal definitions are really the same at their cores. The exact details may differ, but ultimately they all ask the same question: ďHow well does the unit play in an actual game?Ē This isnít merely a question of value for the cost, or effectiveness in different armies and against various opponents, or its ďcoolĒ factor. Itís all of these things, and more. The most important addition not related to balance, theme, or creativity is simply how fun the unit is to play with and against.

My initial article stressed the value of a unitís intended role. A unitís role is the function it is intended for. Front-line damage dealers, opportunistic assassins, passive cheerleaders, ranged harassers, etc. There are many things a unit could be, and it may be a mix of multiple roles. This concept reappeared in the later articles, as a unitís role guides all aspects of a design. This is all the more true for playability. Playability encompasses everything from the best way to play a unit to the worst way, not just one way, and certainly not just the one way it was designed for. If the best way to play passive cheerleader is to charge the front lines with it, you probably donít have a passive cheerleader. It may play well in that changed role, but its balance and theme are likely out of whack.

Playability is closely tied to balance. A major aspect of playability is a unitís valueówhile running numbers, comparing with similar units, and other forms of theoryscape are very useful for determining a unitís cost, ultimately its value on the battlefield is what matters. The value of an aura, for example, is dependent on how easy or difficult it is to keep figures within the aura. A defenderís value drops the more order markers are required to maintain positioning. Even devastating abilities can end up being useless if timing them optimally is too difficult to achieve. Itís practical value, not theoretical value, that determines how much people are willing to pay to draft a unit.

The tie to theme is more abstract but also important. Theme is more than just names and stats; units have a certain feel to how they play. A nimble assassin isnít actually nimble if it doesnít move around, nor is it an assassin if it isnít drawn to take out key figures. If an otherwise thematically sound custom does not feel the same on the battlefield as it does on the card, it fails playability. Similarly, if you have to play a unit suboptimally to ďforceĒ it to feel thematic in play, it fails playability. This encompasses both the overall design and specific stats. Is it really ďrelentlessĒ if it rarely takes a turn?

Playability is the ultimate judge of creativity. Designing new, exciting powers is something custom creators take great enjoyment and pride in, deservedly so. But even the most thematic, well thought-out, balanced power can fail to perform. Similarly, such powers can end up having no greater effect on playability than a simple a stat bump. On the other hand, the reuse of an existing power can feel fresh and new if the unit plays differently than others do. Creativity isnít in the text, itís in the play. The best customs are those whose powers are all intrinsic and necessary to how it plays on the battlefield.

Along with the other pillars of design, to really succeed in the realm of playability a custom needs something else: fun. As I noted in a prior article, ďfunĒ is vague concept, yet is absolutely essential for a custom unit. Even the most creative, thematic, well-balanced unit is a failure if it just isnít any fun to play with or against. The most important thing to keep in mind here is decision-making. If gameplay decisions donít matter for the unit (for either the player or the opponents), all you are really doing is rolling dice to see who wins. Even if the unit is highly dependent on random rolls, it can be a lot of fun to decide when and where to take gambles. Try to make is so that there are right ways and wrong ways to play a unit, and right ways and wrong ways to play against it.

How a custom plays when it reaches the table is the ultimate test of its value. All aspects of custom creation are tied into playability in some way. An unbalanced unit will feel overpowered or underpowered, or will outshine existing units or be outshined by them. Dissonance can arise when a unit does not play as the theme on the card suggests. Excitingly creative abilities can end up being useless, while common, simple powers can feel fresh and new. Beyond these important aspects, a unit absolutely needs to provide something interesting to the players. If it isnít fun to play with or against, it wonít see time on the field. When creating a custom unit, above and beyond everything else, always try to think through how the unit will play on the battlefield. After all, thatís why we make them!
Total Comments 3


flameslayer93's Avatar
Another excellent article @Scytale .
Posted July 22nd, 2018 at 12:40 PM by flameslayer93 flameslayer93 is offline
TheAverageFan's Avatar
Really enjoyed these articles. Nothing is more rewarding than to see a custom that looks well enough on paper actually play well. It's like seeing a family member graduate

Posted July 22nd, 2018 at 06:58 PM by TheAverageFan TheAverageFan is offline
Scytale's Avatar
Thanks for the feedback, guys. To those of us that take the time to write for the Codex, any and all feedback makes it worthwhile.

This article completes my series on the different key aspects of design. Which, for the moment, leaves me out of ideas for articles. If there's anything about custom design people would like to see me write an article about, let me know.
Posted July 23rd, 2018 at 04:58 PM by Scytale Scytale is offline
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