Discovering the card lifecycle was a breakthrough moment for us. Let’s begin by examining the rulebook’s definition of Return, “Return: This means that a card goes back where it came from.” We thought coding Aliens would be easy; we have a glossary definition for crying out loud! Quickly, we found ourselves staring at Disintegrator. Minions do sort of come from the deck, so does placing a minion on the bottom of its owner’s deck count as a Return? “Let’s just keep going, we’ll come back to it,” we said.
Then came Terraforming. If a base in play swaps with a base in the base deck, that means a base went back to where it came from, so is that a Return? And if it is, do we want to lump returning bases in with returning non-bases? Oh! And what does this mean for Zombie cards like They Keep Coming? If a card came into play from the discard pile, it was likely sent there from play and should be a Return unless the card was discarded directly from hand in which case it wouldn’t be and…STOP!
Oof. Clearly, we weren’t going to make much progress if we let the Glossary dictate how to define a SUDS Effect. Moreover, the concept of where a card “comes from” plays a more important role than we originally expected. Our conversations and debates eventually led us to develop and rally around a SUDS concept we call the card Lifecycle.
Cards transition through a four-stage lifecycle sequence, each stage representing where a card can be at any one time: (1) in Deck; (2) in Hand; (3) in Play; (4) in Discard.
This section heavily leans on Lifecycle stages and the transitions between them. The Lifecycle also gives us a way to communicate patterns we found along the journey, like the concept of a player’s card pool, which is all the cards a player owns and/or controls in stages 1-3 of the Lifecycle. Armed with the Lifecycle model, let’s see if we did a good job coding some of the most varied and nuanced abilities in the game.
Abilities that transition cards from Deck to Hand.
Cards come into hand from a lot of different places. By anchoring hand size increases from Draw to being only cards from a deck, we can meaningfully differentiate abilities like Trade versus Favor of Hades. Therefore, Draw abilities increase the frequency of Lifecycle initiation. Factions with lots of Draw will diversify players’ card pools and increase their decks’ average card lifespan for the game, which is calculated as a player’s total number of stage transitions during the game divided by the total number of cards in that player’s card pool at the end of the game. Granted, counting stage transitions is impractical to capture right now, but we are keen to extract the metric from a fully scripted digital version of the game.
Abilities that transition cards from Play to Hand or Deck OR transition cards from Hand to Deck.
Return was one of those, “we’re going back to re-code, aren’t we?”, Effects. The Glossary definition of this game term (”a card goes back where it came from”) subtly acknowledges that cards “remember” where they came from AND that cards have discrete places to be. In a nutshell, the Lifecycle model collapses the “where” and “when” of a card into a sequence of stages. A card’s “where” being its stage; a card’s “when” being that stage’s position in the Lifecycle sequence.
Return is an Effect that transitions cards to an earlier stage in the Lifecycle - a regression. Recover also captures a regression, but Recover will always describe a transition out of stage 4. Return, on the other hand, describes all the other possible stage regressions. A card’s ability text usually specifies the stages involved, but not always. For example, new players could reasonably interpret “return” on cards like Beam Up to reference a minion in play OR a minion in discard. This ambiguity didn't get officially resolved until the “’a minion’ means any minion in play” clarification from the Pretty Pretty rulebook.
It was not difficult to define all the stages and all the possible transitions between them once we knew what to look for. And that is a big deal for analysis. Intuitively, we know that Zombies “return” cards differently than Aliens, and the Discard stage requirement on Recover abilities makes that easier to spot. But making all other Lifecycle regressions a Return Effect makes them easier to spot too. Here are some notable Return abilities and insights into coding cards for the Effect.
(1) Psychologist returns Madness cards to the Madness deck. Even though Madness cards start their Lifecycle in a special deck, we treat the Madness deck as we would any other. Psychologist can return Madness cards to the Madness deck from Hand or Discard which means the ability is a Return and a Recover since it has the option to do either. We often tested new Effect definitions against extra-mechanical cards to see how well they handled curve balls (e.g. Madness, Treasure, Monsters, Titans).
(2) Dancing Penguin produces a Return without using the word “return” and puts the Lifecycle model to the test. Dancing Penguin triggers while another minion is transitioning into Play; this ability interrupts the other minion’s transition into Play and transitions it back into Deck instead. Smash Up does not allow a card to exist in limbo between Stages and does not allow a card to exist in more than one stage at a time. Rare abilities like Dancing Penguin’s reveal that Smash Up treats a card’s transition vector to be Stage it occupies, regardless of whether the transition was allowed to fully resolve. In other words, if a card is transitioning into Play, Smash Up recognizes the card as being in Play. The other minion did not get to fully resolve its transition to Play, but it still receives a credit for transition AND receives a credit for the transition initiated by Dancing Penguin’s Return Effect.
(3) Viking Funeral has been coded to treat the game box as if it were a deck - like how we code for the Madness deck or Treasure deck. Up through Goblins, Viking Funeral is the only card in the game to have an interaction with the box, but we acknowledge that doesn’t mean it is the last. If more abilities show up with “remove from game” effects, we’ll revisit this card and potentially recode this to something like an “Exile.”
Abilities that allow extra cards to enter Play.
Play is another one of the most common Effects in the game. Abilities that generate extra plays absolutely qualify, no question. However, we were surprised to discover that burying and dueling do not warrant new Effect categories (similar to how specials, ongoings and talents are mechanics, not Effects). It is absolutely important to track which factions interact with burying and dueling, but mechanics should be tracked separately. Besides, burying and dueling are a means to the same end - playing more cards.
In SUDS terminology, the burying mechanic delays the resolution of cards’ transition to Play. Uncovering a buried card allows us to play the card as an extra minion or extra action, whichever one it happens to be. BUT a buried card’s transition to the Play stage occurs when the card is buried, NOT when the buried card is uncovered. With a transition vector to Play, the game resolves buried cards as if they were in the Play stage of their Lifecycle.
The Play stage in the Lifecycle is different from the rulebook definition of “in play”. The rulebook defines “in play” somewhat indirectly: ”Cards in the hand, deck, or discard pile are not in play.” Conversely, the SUDS Lifecycle model describes a separate, more direct, conceptualization of “in play.” According to SUDS, the act of playing a card is the act of transitioning that card to the Play stage of its Lifecycle. This prevents cards from entering analysis limbo or escaping into some rule paradox. For example, the rules state that standard actions are never considered to be “in play” even when you play them (lulz). To SUDS, cards in Play are those inhabiting or those that are transitioning to stage 3 of the card Lifecycle.
A quick note on Titans in the Lifecycle model. We still describe Titans transitioning into Play as entering Stage 3 even though Titans never transition to Stage 2 (Hand). This is a feature of the Titan mechanic. Another feature is that Titans never transition to Stage 4 (Discard). This means we do not credit Titans with two transitions when leaving Play, because Titans only transition between Deck and Play. The other two extra-mechanical manipulations of the Lifecycle are from Monsters and Bases. Monsters and Bases never transition to Stage 2 but are allowed to transition to Stage 4.
Abilities that transition non-base cards to Discard from Play, Hand, or Deck.
The Pretty Pretty rulebook did us a great disservice by changing the target of discard abilities to mean only those that are not “in play”. Igor directly challenges this rewording. Cards “in play” cannot be “discarded” but Ongoing abilities are “active for as long as they’re in play,” so I guess we are supposed to ignore the word “discard” on Igor?…not on our watch.
We scrapped the “not in play” clause, deployed the Lifecycle model, and viola! Problem solved. Igor suddenly makes perfect sense. Quick note, the non-base cards clause in our definition is consistent with the general rules, but it is also there to differentiate Discard from Tailor, the latter being our home for base manipulation abilities.
Abilities that transition cards out of Play using the “Destroy” keyword.
Good ol’ Destroy. This Effect requires the “destroy” keyword to be present in the text. However, like the America Chavez example from earlier, the presence of “destroy” does not necessarily mean the ability genuinely destroys something. Stranger still, some abilities self-destruct in a way that meets our definition but also in a way that really shouldn’t.
Specifically, we’re looking at cards like Tooth and Claw… and Guns or Smoke Bomb. These cards can transition themselves out of Play using the “Destroy” keyword, but again, what are these abilities actually doing? Destroying themselves?! Of course not. If we wanted to play a faction that destroys cards well, we don’t want the data to mislead us and end up playing a faction whose only destruction is self-destruction, and whose self-destruction we have no control over.
So when coding these kinds of self-destruction cards, we emphasized player agency and card purpose to determine whether the card qualified for the Destroy effect. Absorbing Man self-destructs, but it also destroys another Absorbing Man to Earn a victory point. The card destroys something else, it happens to be something with the same name, but hey, Copycat would still combo. Absorbing Man’s ability is also a Talent, which gives the controller agency over the self-destruction. Ultimately, the only self-destruction cards that end up qualifying are ones that also destroy something else.
Abilities that transition cards from Discard to Play, Hand, or Deck.
The last of our Lifecycle manipulation Effects, Recover transitions cards out of Discard and into any other Stage. If a card Recovers all the way back to Deck, we only credit the card for one transition despite it having regressed three stages. The degree of Lifecycle extension will be captured when the Recovered card transitions normally through the Lifecycle once more.
A lot of insights from Return are applicable to Recover, especially the notion of transition vector. Discard and Destroy initiate transitions to Discard, but other game mechanics can initiate transitions to Discard too (namely, step 7 and step 8 of scoring bases). We must pay close attention to these transitions into Discard when coding for Recover, an effect that transitions cards out of Discard.
*sinister voice* Let’s play a game (mwahahahaha)…
Question #1: Which Effect should we code for Escape Hatch? Is it Recover or a Return?
This is a Recover Effect because Destroy initiates transition to Discard. The minion’s Discard vector acts as the trigger for Escape Hatch, which in turn applies a Hand vector to the minion. Thus, the minion transitions twice; Play -> Discard -> Hand.
Question #2: Which Effect should we code for I Will Survive? Is it Recover or a Return?
Recover! But with a slight twist. Strictly speaking, “After scoring” abilities resolve before cards on the scored based go to the discard pile. Nevertheless, I Will Survive acknowledges that placing the target minion into its owner’s hand means NOT placing the target minion into the discard pile. Clearly, the game has applied a Discard vector to the target minion.
I got another one for ya...
Question #3: How should we code First Mate? Is this a Recover ability? Yes or no.
Our logic up to this point would say, “yes, it is.” But even we feel like that’s a stretch, because what we observe in the game is a card remaining in play. First Mate keeps any +1 power counters on it, so it is weird to think of First Mate as Recovering itself from Discard. Cards that move minions after a base scores aren’t regressing the card Lifecycle so much as they are preventing the Lifecycle's advancement.
We should not, therefore, give First Mate credit for two Lifecycle transitions (Play -> Discard -> Play). Instead, SUDS treats the Discard vector as having never been applied. Fortunately, we have the Secure Effect to capture prevention and protection, so we coded First Mate as a Secure ability and other cards like Flying Monkey fell naturally into place there as well.
Eventually we’d like to give First Mate the credit it deserves with metrics designed to analyze board presence and card efficiency like, cards in Play per turn, total power in Play per turn, and average total power as a percent of base breakpoint per turn (or ATPPBBPT for short, lol). Unfortunately, we won’t get to these metrics until we can get a fully scripted game.
So, there we have it - the card Lifecycle and the family of Effects that manipulate it. Draw, Destroy, and Discard progress the card Lifecycle. Return and Recover regress the card Lifecycle. Play can do both. Next stop... Power!!!!