When we sat down to design Moons of Elsweyr - before it was even called that, in fact - we knew we wanted our newest expansion to include a special connection to the moons of Nirn. Ultimately, we found that connection in our new Wax and Wane mechanic.
From a theme perspective, we set course for the Khajiiti homeland. One of the most distinguishing aspects of their history and culture is their relationship to the Lunar Lattice, which manifests in more than just how they practice religion.
Back to the set design, our team discussed several ways we could capture a lunar feeling in our game. Should we be literal and represent a moon on the playing surface somehow? Should we give each lane its own moon? Should we perhaps turn a lane into the surface of a moon? We tried each of these things at one point.
Here are three examples of moon mechanics that made it to the playtesting phase but ultimately fell short of what we wanted:
Lunar was a mechanic found on creatures. When you summoned one, a moon became visible in their lane. That moon then progressed through four phases, one by one. When a specific phase met your Lunar creature’s requirements, you’d get a pretty good output like drawing a card. It also meant that some abilities could align together at interesting times. However, finding a good way for the phases to progress from one to the next got complicated. This led to frustration and lacked player agency.
Mooncall was like Lunar, but simpler. The lanes got a moon, but you didn’t control the phases. They ticked down by themselves like a timer. Creatures with Mooncall would come into play, then that lane would get a moon for this turn and your next turn. During those turns those variable Mooncall abilities would be active. The idea was that those abilities would remain active for about the average life cycle of most creatures (~1.5 turns). For example, one card we had would shackle an enemy creature while the moon was visible in the shackler’s lane. The interesting part was if the player summoned another Mooncall card on the turn the countdown would have expired, the moon timer got extended by a turn. The bad part was it created a lot of situations where you would avoid contesting Mooncall lanes entirely, hoping to just wait it out or scared it would suddenly turn back on. It created a lot of racing scenarios, the design space wasn’t as wide as we wanted, and it didn’t feel interactive enough.
Moonphase was a mechanic based on cheap creatures that needed to be played three times. The first two times you played a Moonphase creature would advance one notch on the moon’s phases return the creature to your hand; the third time you played a Moonphase creature in that lane, it stayed in play. The more expensive ones had neat Summon abilities that would justify playing them even if they didn’t stick. The trick was you could mix and match different Moonphase cards since it only cared about the third Moonphase trigger in the lane, not the third instance of those creatures. You could play a 1-cost Moonphase card only two times, bouncing it back to your hand each time, and then play your 3-cost and have it stay in play. The gameplay was cool, but it was pretty redundant and a bit fiddly. You ended up making a lot of clicks for an otherwise simple return. We converted that concept and feel into the Moons of Elsweyr card, Lunar Sway.
Lastly, we found the set’s new Khajiit Mechanic:
Wax and Wane: When cards with Wax and Wane are played, a bonus effect is triggered. At the end of your turn, which bonus effect switches between Wax and Wane.
From a flavor standpoint it showed the passing of time associated with moon phases changing. The dual nature of the mechanic also highlighted the two moons and the variable relationship they have with the Khajiit. From a gameplay perspective, it played well from the start. Once we had the visual reminders in place to make it clear which ability would be active on which turn, things started to shape up.
One of the final pieces we ironed out were the theories we’d apply for why some abilities went off on Wane and some on Wax. We tended to place effects that affect your opponent’s stuff on the Wane turns to give opponents a safe window where their cards wouldn’t be messed with.
Lastly, the mechanic paired well with Consume. Consume let you get a more powerful version of a card when you leverage your other resources. Wax and Wane focus on flexibility, letting you find more uses internally with planning and patience.
We think it hit all the right notes for us, and we hope you love it!
- Jason Hager