The new player experience is an opportunity to come face-to-face with a card game’s personality. This introduction takes many forms, but can also leave singular first-impressions that any seasoned CCG player can sympathize with. In Hearthstone’s current cycle, this can be your board of low-cost minions getting Spreading Plague‘ed for the first time by a Druid opponent. In Magic: The Gathering’s Guild of Ravnica, this can be a field of small creatures getting obliterated by the Green/Black (Golgari) spell Find/Finality. Both are examples of a straight-forward strategy receiving a one-card, powerful response. Such a response can leave a new player with their first budget aggro deck bewildered or excited by a game’s possibilities.
This was the case at PAX West last month when I first came across Payday.
Entering the convention hall, I had a very basic understanding of how Artifact worked. In fact, I didn’t anticipate even getting to play the game that weekend with how packed the crowd was around the booth. This changed when I found myself in the right place at the right time, and was pushed into the most valuable line that weekend. There was excitement and disbelief on my part, enough so that of the two hours I waited in line, I was talking with other similarly-excited fans of the game, while making many attempts to load the announcement on twitter; I was going to experience Artifact first-hand!
And I had no idea how to play.
That other hour was dedicated towards learning as much about the game as I could. Without a stable internet connection from that corner of the convention floor, this was reduced to watching the broadcasted games from the overheard screens, which doesn’t translate much to a new player aside from an appreciation for the sheer number of moving pieces that go into Artifact strategy. Once I was in, after a game against an AI, I had the opportunity to play against my first real opponent. If I won, I could continue playing in the booth. This was more than enough incentive to play my best.
My opponent played the Economy/Ramp oriented Green Black deck while I was given the more straight-forward Armor/Cleave Red Green deck. At the time, I only knew them by their colors.
In the early stages of developing and trading Heroes and creeps, I was spending whatever gold I had for the best items I could find at the time (reduced at times to basic items), never waiting more than two turns for a better one from the shop. I was aggressive, taking whatever kills I could with whatever Heroes and creeps I had available. It was only after these early stages did I realize my opponent was not being nearly as aggressive with their gold spending as I was. Not because I was mindful of their gold in our exchanges. But from the sudden surge of gold they gained with a three-mana spell cast from their mid-lane.
When Payday was played, I could only think to myself, “What happened?”
I was bewildered, and frightened. I saw enough of the stream to know what bigger items could, well, be in store. This drew me to commit whatever Heroes I was deploying the next turn to finishing off a Tower on a weaker lane before my opponent could maximize the potential value of their shop items. I applied pressure, looking for any advantage I could muster from the turns my opponent was more conservative with their gold. In taking that first Tower of the game, I ignored a minor detail; You can’t play spells, creeps, or improvements of a color unless you have a same-colored Hero occupying that lane.
This left me defenseless, and my damage output from that committed lane was not enough to threaten a kill on their Ancient before losing my other two less-defended Towers. In hindsight, it was an expected follow-through to an economic superiority they gained, and a Hero superiority I allowed to happen. Defaulting to habits from other card games under pressure, I got to witness first-hand the differences Artifact is establishing.
I lost thoroughly, and was left excited for the game’s possibilities. It was a valuable first lesson.