Hello! I'm Tom. I'm a game designer, writer, and programmer on Gunpoint, Heat Signature, and Tactical Breach Wizards. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here are the videos I make on YouTube, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
Nowhere Prophet has a power where each turn you can choose 1 card from your hand to discard, and draw another to replace it.
Slay the Spire has a power where you draw 1 extra card per turn, then must discard 1 of your choice right after.
Slay’s power is straight up better: you get to see what the new card is before deciding what to discard, which both lets you factor it into synergy considerations, and allows you to discard the new card itself, if it’s worse than what you have.
But experientially, Nowhere Prophet’s feels more positive. You’re presented with a hand you can keep, or if you like you can get a do-over on the card you like least. Doing nothing is fine, but if you see a bad card you can chuck it for good odds of a better one. Yay!
Slay’s power deals you a hand of 6 cards instead of 5, then forces you to choose one to lose. You’ll still end up with 5, so this shouldn’t be a hardship, but it feels like one. You’re being shown a nice big hand you can’t have, and being forced to make a tough decision to cut it down to a worse hand you can keep.
Inaction is not an option, which adds pressure and friction to play, and your only action is a negative one – to lose something it looks like you have.
Slay’s power comes from a card called Tools of the Trade, and I never take it anymore. Every time I did, I’d have moments where I’m dealt those 6 cards, the game says “Choose one to discard”, and my instinctive reaction was a nonsensical whine of: “But I don’t want to!”
I feel like I’m having a worse time with it, even though it’s purely a benefit once it’s in play. The feel of an ability is not just cosmetic, in this case it’s actually driving my gameplay decisions.
I think you could make Slay’s power dramatically better purely with UX changes:
– You’re dealt your normal 5 cards
– The extra card is shown in the center of the screen
– “Choose a card to replace with this, or pass”
+ The benefit you’re getting is now visible and specific
+ There’s now an easy ‘default’ you can resort to if you don’t care – less pressure and friction
+ Player action is now positive – ‘replace’ rather than ‘lose’
Highlighting the ‘extra’ card also means that when it’s an especially good one, you’ll think “Oh shit, this power saved me.” With the existing UX that can never happen, since there’s no concept of which card is the ‘extra’ one. Mechanics and balance-wise, of course, it’s irrelevant which one is the ‘extra’ – your options are exactly the same. But just that cosmetic change can completely change your emotional response to the situation, and how you feel about your decision to invest in this power.