Back in the day (late 2009, early 2010), there were just four factions thanks to the starters.  I had a Khan Queso or two, and two sets of the starters.  Custom deck building was minimal, but I still tried, mostly by replacing the Berserkers in Sneeks’ deck with more Slingers.

By the time I started testing, the Fallen Kingdom and Vanguards were basically done and sent off to the printer, and he had the new art for the first wave of reinforcements lined up.  Colby set up a VASSAL module, so I was able to play with him, spider_poison, and others in other states.  The only other testing I had done to that point was on Heroscape, but in my youth I played quite a bit of Magic: the Gathering as well.  I also walked into testing the first Reinforcements with my economic intuition about opportunity cost, cross elasticity (substitution and complement effects), and market behavior in the back of my mind.

To those who follow Heroscape, we did not want any Raelins.

Unlike Summoner Wars, a card like Raelin can go into any army because the different Generals (equivalent of our Factions) can intermingle freely.  At her price, the ability to just let anyone roll extra defense dice was seen in most competitive armies, and pretty much every time in the big GenCon tournament winner’s force.  She made every army better.  So we were very cautious of this when testing the first Mercenaries.

 Back in the draft stage, I think Magos had 3 AV, but it was already 2 when I started testing. Because his effect was passive like Raelin’s, and card drawing is good in other card games, we were careful. Much like how A Hero is Born isn’t as good as Time of Need, Magos isn’t as good as card drawing effects in M:TG because you have a ~28 card draw pile in Summoner Wars and can draw between 0-5 cards naturally every turn.  The concept of card advantage doesn’t translate directly at all.  At the same time, decks that want particular combos of cards in hand will still use him from time to time.

Initially, Spear Grounders were more of a niche unit than they are now. The only difference is that REACH didn’t grant +1 AV against adjacent targets.  I pushed pretty hard for this change because their choices seemed less interesting- they’d pretty much always take the diagonal attack with 1 die.  Also, the Spearman from the Guild Dwarves already put forward the idea of a spear user doing more damage up close than when using their range, so it was a fun twist on an earlier ability.  When it came to two-cost Units at the time, it still seemed less good to me than the CG Berserker or TO Smasher.  Unfortunately, it seemed better than the PE Guardian most of the time, but the Guardian is still better v. 1-life Units.

When it comes to the PE Guardian, we generally felt that he was the weakest of their commons.  Somebody has to be.  Meanwhile, Warriors were great and Archers were on par with most other ranged units.  What I really liked about the new Firebeast and Fencer is that they created new cost options for the PE and didn't directly eclipse existing units.  Aside from some wording tweaks, I don't think they changed at all during the test period.

Fire beasts are a nice segue into a somewhat controversial Unit among the obsessed fans over on the PHG forums: Holleas.

They all think she's horribly underpriced and should be as much as 6 Magic to summon.  During testing at 5 cost, she wasn't passively as good as Kaeseeall or the new Laleya who was kind of generic but solid.  Giving up an attack and spending 7 magic to put Holleas and 1 Firebeast onto the board wasn't as potent as good ol' Firedrake.  Or so we thought.  She seems pretty popular.  Perhaps we underestimated how nice it is to get so many life points onto the board for the PE, and how much people like Joe Rodenbeck would abuse her and the Firebeasts' ability to suicide via Hellfire.

 I like playing Laleya a lot, and Rahlee, well, her art is cool, right?

When it comes to the Tundra Orcs, Thwarters were originally 1/2 for 2 Magic, instead of the 1 cost they now have. 

Again, I pushed for that change because Shamans and Smashers are so good despite how some players initially perceive these two units.  Additionally, Thwarters are a meta-pick against Champion-heavy play, which is pretty popular in a game dominated by Catch-Up-Events.  In any case, I felt that the Thwarters filled a similar niche but were no better than Defenders.

Unforunately, they were probably better than Fighters.  Like Guardians though, they're probably the worst TO common in the starter set, and with their ability to Fury into multiple 1-life commons, Fighters potentially became more of an anti-common pick.

As far as the Champions go, Bragg is a lot like Magos, but he gives passive buffs to Grognack's event cards.  He's much more of a fan favorite than Magos.  Based on how we priced units like Laleya or Holleas, he hits his break-awesome point once you get 2 or 3 Freezes onto the board.  He's also the only ranged Champion the TO have in-house until Torgan comes out...

Rukar is sort of a side/upgrade to Blagog.  He costs 16% more magic while having 20% more Health and 20% more expected damage.  There are some corner cases where Blagog's ability isn't even a detriment, so it isn't always a clear upgrade.  If you want a lot of brute force, why not both?

Gruggar is a tricky one.  He started off as a common in Torgan's deck with 4 life points and a cost of 3 or 4.  It was really good, and perhaps even broken in Grognack, thanks to Reinforcements letting you cheat them into play for free.  Reinforcements continues to make us not want to make any TO, GD, or Mercenary units that cost more than two magic to summon. (I'll discuss this more in the Grungor's Charge article).

Now he looks like this:


We tried him as a Champion, and it seemed okay, but I do kind of wish he cost a little less or had 2 AV to start in hindsight.  With the latter, people would have more of an excuse to hit him, and with the former, he might be something like a Khan Queso that you throw in to make it easier to get some big Champions out later.  Even still, he can do fairly well if you damage him yourself when other Units aren't in range, or have him go toe-toe with commons until he's angry.

Rukar's Power and Grungor's Charge were my first forays into testing for Summoner Wars, and I think we laid some good groundwork for the future.  Custom deck construction and Reinforcements in general didn't seem to take off until it became super easy to do with the iOS platform, which is crazy-on-sale today.


Clarissimus commented:

It's great to get your insight on the development of these cards, as well as your regrets and hindsights. I think part of what makes Summoner Wars difficult to balance is the low integer costs that you have to work with. GD Defenders are a great value at 1 cost, but might be too expensive at 2. TO Fighters seem inferior at 1 cost but would probably be too good at 0.

I think that Thwarters are properly costed at 1. Although they may not seem it at first glance, they go right in hand with the TO theme of winning or losing by the dice. I usually summon quite a lot of them when I play as TO, and while in some games they take forever for my opponent to kill, in other games they die to every attack and just feed my opponent lots of magic.

Posted on 2013-01-18.

tortugatron commented:

This is great. I love being able to know some of the back story as to how units have changed during testing. I hope these types of articles keep on coming. Inspirations and Bistro's behind-the-scenes on the lore would be great too.

Posted on 2013-01-18.

sitnam90 commented:

Loved this article, it's nice getting a look into how the playtesters looked at everything. I like your reasoning behind Gruggar, as I myself don't think he is a awesome champ but he has his uses. He works real well with another champ on the board, since your opponent won't have the firepower to one turn KO him and somebody like Krung.

Posted on 2013-01-18.

tortugatron commented:

I would like to see a 6 life Gruggar than costs 6 magic. Either lowering his cost 1 or upping his AV 1 might make him ever so slightly OP. having a 6 life Gruggar makes him not die so quick and the possibility of 5 AV :)

Posted on 2013-01-18.

TheOne commented:

Loved it. It sounded like top-down statistics, wasn't too heavy but comprehensive enough to appreciate and understand.

Posted on 2013-01-18.

Jexik commented:

I hear you on the Thwarter-luck thing, Clarissimus. I had a game last night where I kept going 3/3 on Thwarters.

But somehow I couldn't do that against you with my Swamp Orcs...

Posted on 2013-01-18.

Caleb Wolfbrand commented:

Love this insight! Can't wait for more.

Posted on 2013-01-18.

lildrummahboi34 commented:

Doesn't Reinforcements have a cap at 2 Magic per Unit anyways?

Posted on 2013-01-18.

Jexik commented:

No. That's Into Shadows and Chant of Haste.

Reinforcements is the impetus behind clauses like that though, for sure.

Posted on 2013-01-18.

Adam commented:

Clauses like that are a bit odd at first. It is weird that Chant of Haste on Miti Mumway is acceptable but not on all commons. At first I thought, why doesn't this say "Up to three commons with cost 2 or less, or any one unit," but... yea, Lioneer double or triple move would be obscene.

Like everyone, really enjoyed the article and looking forward to more.

Posted on 2013-01-18.

Ranior commented:

Fun article. Glad to see some of what they regret or would like to change even...

I wonder what will be said on Rune Mages if they ever get to that one...

Posted on 2013-01-19.

jordierainrain commented:

Would you ever consider reprinting reinforcements with the "2 magic or less" clause? Similar to the way you did with Thorkur? It would be harder now because that's way more cards to replace. It would open up the option for higher cost GD, TO and merc commons.

Posted on 2013-01-20.

tortugatron commented:

I'd say it's a bit too late now on the TO/GD commons as they are currently being printed, so just the MR commons limitations would be resolved.

Posted on 2013-01-20.

Galdred commented:

If the new reinforcement errata cards (ie 2 magic or less) were included with the reinforcements or core sets that include higher price, it would solve the problem of distributing them. It is too late indeed, but we can still have hope for 2nd summoner reinforcement packs :)

Posted on 2013-01-21.

Jexik commented:

There are other ways to add a cost to summoning a Unit besides the official summoning cost. See Demon Hands and Stonecloaks for example.

Posted on 2013-01-21.

JanE commented:

Great article! Hopefully we'll see something like this every Friday. It very interesting to hear the process of development of the units.

And also interesting to hear about units that are generally considered as sub-par, like Guardians, Gruggar or Rahlee. Hear that how did they get through playtesting... =)

To me it is not so interesting to have units like Gruggar or Rahlee as REINFORCEMENTS because they rarely reinforce a deck. I mean it's a shame to have some units that will never (or very rarely) see play.

I have made my own modifications to those cards (Rahlee anf Gruggar)and slipped them to the card sleeves. And we already had some discussions about that in the forums.

@tortugatron Gruggar with 6 life could hit with 6 dice; 1 attack + 5 wounds.

My version of Gruggar is like that, has +1 more life (no other modifications). So maybe he is overpowered (comments?) but it is hard for him to hit the field otherwise when Rukar, Krung, Blagog and Bragg are around.

Posted on 2013-01-23.

Barliman commented:

Great article, James!

So, why not tell us what really did happen with Rahlee? :-)

Posted on 2013-01-26.

JanE commented:

Yes, a bit more info about Rahlee would be cool...

Posted on 2013-02-11.

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