In this story, one thing leads to another.
At the Game Developer's Conference, I let some of the conference associates play Codex. Link Hughes (designer on Guild Wars 2) was among them. He didn't have much time to get into it and he had to leave early, but he gave several comments about what he called the "NPE." The New Player Experience. I thought it was so stupid to have a jargony acronym for this that I have remembered it ever since. (Sorry Link, I'm not saying the concept is stupid!)
He was talking about various reasons that it's bad if a game is hard to learn. Yeah sure. There's a lot to games like Magic: the Gathering or Codex and it's kind of inherent to games of that complexity that they take some effort to learn. Codex in particular is trying to do something very different than other games of its type, too: it's trying to be a strategically interesting after years of play, even without *having* to endlessly refresh the card pool. (Sort of like how you can play Starcraft or chess for years without needing new pieces for the game to be interesting.) It's been so much effort to make the game really work how it needs to that I've been much more concerned with that than how we end up teaching it when it's done. That's not something you can even directly work on until you have it all hammered out.
Plus, every time we make any decision about the game, we're indirectly considering the new player. It's often easy to solve some design problem by adding more stuff: more rules, more words, more pieces. But that's not elegant and I always push back. At every step, I try to fight off the feature creep of more more more to keep things as elegant as they can be, given what we're working with. So the beginner benefits from all that.
Link just really went on about this NPE thing though, it was clearly very important to him. I told him how the "NPE" in Codex is that we suggest you start by playing just one hero instead of three. That this simplifies the game quite a bit. It's not just those hero cards themselves, but all the spells and units that are associated with those heroes that you don't have to worry about for your first game. It's cutting 2/3rds of the cards right off the bat, basically.
Link thought that was a good idea. He was looking for more ways to make it easier for a beginner though, or ways for them to care more about trying the simplified version rather than skipping it.
Designing The NPE
Later on, I thought about what Link said. I thought about how I've had to spend all my effort on making the game work correctly, so that's why I hadn't put that much thought into New Player Experiences other than the "only one hero" thing, which is a pretty good way to start. But...what if I really cared about this? What if we said this is super important, and we maximized for the NPE? What would it even look like? I like to do that when things like this come up, and it's basically what we did for asynchronous play a year ago. If we had to change everything around to support this new idea, what would we even do?
The good news is that