How do you tell a story without words? How do you create a character without dialogue. How do you take what might be a limitation of a genre and turn it into a strength? When designing Yor I’ve been thinking a lot about how to approach these problems. Almost all games have worlds. Have a “Canon”. Have characters that we relate to or that inspire us. How can I build those things into a game where most people are only experiencing it through paper cards? Paper cards where every single pixel is valuable real estate. How do other games in the genre accomplish this?
Magic The Gathering is obviously the most successful game in this genre, and while I love the game, I find their execution here to be surprisingly… bad? I don’t play Magic for the story, I play it for the gameplay. I could only tell you the most basic facts about the story. Urza and Mishra are brothers that fight each other. The phyrexians are like cyborg zombie things. Different sets take place on different “planes” in a multiverse. But I don’t really know anything about Jace or Chandra or Lilliana except for how much trouble I am gonna be in if my opponent plays them and I don’t have removal for it. Magic tells its “Canon” story through various other materials - books, blog posts, podcasts, etc. They can build a world with the cards through artwork and flavor text, but its very hard to construct and actual narrative with a beginning, middle and end. To me, that’s the the core of what a story is - and as someone that doesn’t take the time to go consume those extra materials, Magic is lacking this.
This idea had been floating around for me for a while, but it became really apparent with the release of the “Lord of the Rings” set recently. I found a stark contrast between this set and others recently - when I played Frodo and Sam together, I FELT something. When I played Gandalf against Saruman, I FELT something. Because this was a story that I knew and loved. Because the interactions between those characters meant something. How does one design a card game where EVERY set feels like this, without completely relying on other established IP to create that feeling?
I think its worth looking at another game that is doing really well in its own genre - League of Legends comes to mind. I played League quite a bit from 2009 to 2014, and here and there just a bit since then. I haven’t played regularly in almost 10 years, and yet I still have a blitzcrank figure on my shelf, and a Jinx poster on my wall. I still bought the little Demacia Stone board game when it came out. I still watched Arcane excitedly when it came out. As an “esports” guy, my interest in the game usually feels like it’s more focused on the competitive aspects, and yet the story has kept me interested for longer. Why? Riot has built such an interesting and vibrant world - and without a narrative in the primary game medium. Riot has packed so much personality into every corner of their game, the character designs, the map, the game client itself, the spinoff mini games. These are all things that I’m going to see and experience without taking any extra effort or going out of my way. The world lives in these details. WotC does very little along these lines with Magic. When I go to the prerelease, there’s nothing that “happens” to draw my interest to any of the characters. When I open the Magic Arena client, there’s never a cinematic that plays showing a compelling cutscene.
I don’t know exactly how I’m going to solve this problem. Its too big to address at the stage I’m at now. But I have some ideas. And I hope to build a team that has many ideas of their own. The trick of building something from the ground up is that you have a hundred problems that can’t be fully “solved” by one person - and you have to figure out how to grab a smaller chunk of each one and do it yourself. People will compare Yor to many other games, and while its a daunting task, I hope to reach that same level of excellence, or even exceed it.