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It is hard to talk about the evolution card games, both online and paper, without mentioning the genre’s most fatal flaw: power-creep. Now, because card games have been around for such a long time, and because many of them have grown quite old, there are many examples of this phenomenon that have been discussed in detail elsewhere. Still, as someone who has spent years in multiple different communities, I want to share my perspective on the issue.
First, for those who aren’t familiar with cards games or gaming terminology in general, power creep describes the gradual increase in strength of cards, both to compete with the current best cards of any given meta as well continually generate interest from players in the game. Over a long period of time, this usually results in cards that are significantly stronger than anything that came out during the initial period of the game.
There are a lot of obvious negatives to this phenomenon. For one, power-creep makes it so that it is very hard for someone to leave a given game for any extended period of time and then return to the game, because it likely that by the time that person gets back a lot new game mechanics have been added that are necessary to learn in order to play the game at a high level.
Another is that those who enjoy a specific archetype/playstyle will likely not be able to play with that deck indefinitely. This is because power-creep will inevitably start favoring another archetype/playstyle depending on what kind of cards are made more powerful in an given format.
Then there are the less obvious negatives, like the fact that increasing the power of cards does not necessarily drive any outside interesting in the game, but rather only serves to keep the already existing player base interested. This because even with all of the advertising in the world, a potential new player only has their pre-existing knowledge to go off of which, by definition, is probably not a lot.
One of the few positives, though, is the increased interest for already existing players. As a former Yugioh player and current Hearthstone player, I can tell you that the prospect of a new extra deck mechanic in Yugioh, as well as the introduction new keywords in Hearthstone was and is always incredibly exciting. Constantly expanding games also make it so that there is a continued sense of community among any given player base.
Regardless of the positives and negatives, though, the reality is that it is very hard to deal with power-creep in any meaningful way. One non-direct solution that games like Magic the Gathering have adopted is simply introducing different formats with different rules. This makes it so that players only have a specific-meta game, and thus make it a little easier to understand. However, this does not inherently limit power-creep in any way, as it is like that new combinations of cards will be discovered depending on the format.
Card games could also introduce new cards less often, thus decreasing the amount of power-creep in a given time period, but this has the effect of causing existing player bases to be less interested in the game and potentially even quitting.
There is also the question of is power-creep even necessarily that bad. After all, part of the appeal of competitive card games is seeing just how successful people can be in different formats, whether that be aggressive metas, control, tempo, or even burn and combo decks.
Personally, while I don’t find it particularly fun to constantly learn new game mechanics and deal with whatever overpowered BS comes out during a given expansion, and I cannot deny the fun I have theory crafting and deck testing with other people about the game. Overall, I think the best solution to power-creep is design a game such as DC Deck Builders, one that can use expansions, but doesn’t need to, and that is versatile enough to have multiple winning strategies and also rewards people for skillful plays.
What’s your opinion on power-creep? Let me know in the comments below.
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