048 – Legends of Runeterra – 10 Exceptional Design Choices and what we can learn from them

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Hello fellow adventurers and welcome to the Nerdlab – Where we transform our gaming passion into incredible game designs and learn how to nerd like a boss. 

My name is Marvin and I am an ambitious game designer on my quest to develop a co-operative fantasy card game.

For this podcast, my vision is to take you with me on this exciting journey. Together we will explore the secrets of different game mechanics and reach the next level as a game designer.

If this isn’t the first episode you hear from the Nerdlab Podcast, you probably know by now that I’m not only interested in board and card games, but also in digital card games of all kind. I look at most of the games and think about why the designers made which design decisions. And I also try to figure out if the game concepts, keywords, and mechanisms could work in the non-digital world as well. Today I’ll take a closer look at Legends of Runeterra, the new strategy card game from the League of Legends universe. 

I remember when I first heard about Runeterra in October. It was in the Strategy Card Games Facebook group. And I must admit, my first impression after watching the initial trailer was not very good. 

Here is my comment, which I wrote in the group: 

“I am definitely curious to check this out. But to be honest the video on the website really turned me down. I cannot see any kind of innovation that speaks to me. The most interesting part is maybe the fact that it alternates between attack and defense phase. The reactions for me just sounded like the stack of magic. Maybe the video just wasn’t very good, but I am kind of disappointed. However, the lvl up mechanic of the heroes in Runterra looks nice though.”

Boy have I been wrong. The game does so many things better than its competitors, that I wouldn’t be surprised if the game becomes the next big player in the digital card market. But let’s look at it step by step. 

Here comes my game design review of Legends of Runeterra.

Legends of Runetera – Rules and Core Gameplay

Before I go into more detail about how Runeterra does these things and whether Riot was successful, I’ll briefly explain the rough rules of the game without evaluating them too much. 

If you’ve played Magic, Hearthstone or Artifact, you’ll immediately get most of the Runeterra rules as well. The goal is to use your mana each turn to cast heroes, allies and spells to deal damage to your opponent’s nexus. Each player’s nexus starts with 20 health points and when that’s reduced to zero, they lose.

At the beginning of the match, each player draws four cards with the option to mulligan any number of them. At the beginning of each round, each player draws a new card. To play cards you have to spend mana which increases automatically by one each turn, allowing players to use more powerful cards or cast multiple cards in a turn.

Allies are also very similar to Hearthstone and Magic. They have attack and health values and can be used to attack or defend. However, attacking and defending works a bit differently than in Magic. Spells come with different effects such as buffing allies, dealing damage to enemy allies, or using special keywords like stun. Spells are either fast or slow. Fast spells work like instants in Magic as you can use them to respond to enemy actions while slow spells are more like sorceries in Magic that you cannot use as a reaction. 

If you hear that, you might understand why I wasn’t super hyped after I watched the initial trailer. It doesn’t really sound like there’s much innovation in the game compared to the big players in the market. 

So what’s different about Legends of Runeterra you might ask? 

Don’t worry, there is more.

10 exceptional design choices of Legends of Runeterra (LoR) 

Here are my top 10 exceptional design choices and what we can learn from them. Or in other words: What makes Runeterra special.

  1. Spellmana to reduce variance (Resources)
  2. Action Reaction system
  3. Reducing Combat Decision Complexity (Attack and Defence System)
  4. Heroes and their influence on the tactic
  5. Support / Battle Line
  6. Gameplay State as Trigger on Cards
  7. Reduced Time for Tutor Cards
  8. RNG
  9. Meta Game Patching
  10. “Color” depending Drafting

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