(Having Fun is a reoccurring series about the importance of fun in game design. To check out the other articles in the series, click here.)

How much fun a single design within a game is can be hard to figure out. A major obstacle is that often when you are winning something feels fun, but when you are losing that same thing can feel unfun. How do you come to a conclusion one way or another?

Let me use the Magic card I said was a design mistake in my Great Designer Search 2 essay as a good example.

The card I chose to talk about was Iona, Shield of Emeria.

What is the issue with Iona? To figure that out, we need to look at makes a big creature fun or unfun.

Inherently, if you’re on the other side of a big creature, you’re going to feel a little down. You have to deal with their card fast or face a losing fate. In many cases, a big creatures’ strength is partially mitigated by the fact that they’re just as vulnerable to removal as most other creatures. You at least have the hope you can draw your removal spell.

Occasionally there are creatures that don’t die to removal, like Kalonian Behemoth.  Even then, hope is kept alive by chump blocking or racing it. Though the defending player it not in a good position, they still feel like they have a chance.

Iona, on the other hand, is completely unfun. It doesn’t allow your opponent to do anything. I’m just going to copy and paste what I said in my GDS essay, as there’s no real need to paraphrase.

I do not think Iona, Shield of Emeria should have been printed.

Normally, I’m fine with creatures that cost nine being powerful. If you hit nine mana, you should be allowed to cast a strong creature. Furthermore, it’s okay to have rares that are so strong that they need to be killed, such as Baneslayer Angel. However, Iona has several issues.

First of all, it’s incredibly unfun and uninteractive. If your opponent is playing one color and you cast Iona, they can’t cast any spells – an awful gameplay experience. Even if you’re losing it’s important that you can feel like you can come back. Iona just seals all of that hope away: if your opponent is monocolored, they are going to lose.

Even if they’re two colors, you can still lock out the color that has the highest chance of dealing with Iona. If you shut down half of the spells in one player’s deck, you’re still pretty likely to win. Part of the reason big creatures can exist without breaking anything is because they can be answered by removal. Iona skirts that restriction. It’s not even like you have time to find an answer in your other color: she’s a 7/7 with flying!

Now, what makes Iona worse than something like Vengeful Archon? Their abilities are very different, but the Archon costs two less and similarly makes the game incredibly unfun for your opponent. Your opponent can’t efficiently attack – that’s a terrible gameplay experience too! However, what pushes Iona over the top of Archon is that Iona tends to not get played fairly.

If Iona had an anti-reanimation shuffle clause, that would help her case. However, the fact that a deck can just put her into play in the first four or five turns via reanimation and lock each other player from casting spells game after game is incredibly frustrating. Not being able to cast any of the spells in your hand despite having them right in front of you is an annoyance that should not occur as often as Iona makes it happen.

The important takeaway here is that big creatures don’t inherently make the other player feel bad. Maybe this isn’t true for the spikes out there, but for many players, if the game was close battle and ended with a big creature finally breaking through to narrowly defeat them, they’re okay with that. It’s much different than the stagnant and hopeless, “I can’t do anything” feeling Iona or Archon provide.

Losing can be fun, but only if you feel like you have a real chance. Take away that chance and the game becomes uninteresting. You have to keep playing on the slim chance you’ll find an out or they will make a mistake – but it’s extraordinarily unlikely.

Imagine you’re fighting a video game boss. You sit there and struggle back and forth, and fight a close game. His health bar dwindles, but eventually you end up just short of winning. It’s a frustrating loss, but you’re going to go back and try it again because you know you have a shot of winning. You came so close, after all.

Now imagine you go to fight the same boss. You struggle and put up a fight, but it doesn’t look like you’re making any progress. His health bar barely budges and everything you do seems for naught. You quickly lose. Why would you want to go fight that boss again? It was unfun and felt like a waste of time.

Magic is a game set up to allow any player feel as though they have the chance of victory. When a card sucks that chance away, you feel bad. Big creatures are great to have around – but ones that shut off your opponent aren’t.

How do you feel about the design cards like these? Let me know below.

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