14 Over 3: A Meditation on the Rounds
Guest author Kabyk brings us a piece exploring the cadence of Gwent’s 3-round system over the course of the Beta.
Compared to some other popular CCG’s, Gwent uses a unique 3-Round format. Gwent is also limited, by default, to 14 turns of card plays (13 cards in hand plus Leader). When we play a Round of Gwent, we have to decide not only how many of our points we want to dedicate to a particular Round, but also how many turns we invest in each – for example, “do I play my big point cards for an early lead and risk having something ‘bricked’ on Round 3?” This means CDPR must consider balance not only for individual cards, but their implication in how they affect Round Equilibrium, and what kind of card usage distribution they want. Are they okay with long Round 1’s every match? Would they prefer people to pass quickly and have long Round 3’s instead? What should Round 2’s main purpose be? How does the power scale of cards affect Round 1’s importance and, subsequently, the ease of abandoning it?
Let’s explore the history of Rounds a bit throughout Gwent’s one year life as an official stand-alone game. Although it was often done out of necessity, during Closed Beta players would prefer not to have short Round 3’s. They were very “topdeck” reliant and created anticlimactic and underwhelming finishes to a match. This was mostly due to the fact that few decks were able to “invest” points into a later Round (e.g. Dragoons boosting cards in the hand to create massive final swings) as well as there being no Mulligan on the Round 3 card draw. So short Round 3’s often ended in a very “heart-of-the-cards” game that recalls what Rafal Jaki spoke of when he revealed Gwent’s most fundamental origins: a basic card conflict of simple War (“Queen vs. 4, I win”) that made much of the prior Rounds’ activities irrelevant.
On the flip side, we had the first iteration of Open Beta. If you were even half-interested in winning Round 1 (and everybody was), expect a loooooong Round 1; the deepest Round 1’s we have seen to date (on average). There were a few factors that caused this. First – Tempo. Here CDPR ramped up “tempo” point plays significantly - with 30 point Calveit and Brouver Hoog combos available, there was rarely a point lead you could create that would give you a “safe pass” option on any given turn. This led to deep Round 1’s as no one felt confident in their ability to pass. Second – Additional Mulligans. A “Quality of Life” improvement to the game was adding the ability to Mulligan a card at the beginning of each Round instead of just the first. This meant that short Round 3’s felt less “RNG” (as you had two chances to get a card you want instead of one). Thus, people were much more confident, or simply less scared, of having short Round 3’s. To compound on this we have Reason #3 – The “Nuke.” Open Beta introduced a lot of cards that had the ability to boost the power of cards in hand and deck (Closed Beta, for the most part, had abilities that only affected the current board and Round). This meant you can spend time during Rounds 1 and 2 investing points into Round 3; like using Dandelion to power up the Witcher Trio. This meant your single-turn muster of the three Witchers was 26 points – essentially a “single-card nuke”. All these factors made Round 1 rather nebulous and Round 3 a ticking time bomb.
Round 2 is the odd man out, as it is heavily abused, in various ways, in almost every patch. Currently it is commonly used to gain that sweet, free 1.5 Card Advantage by “drypassing” and simply not playing any cards, essentially reducing the game to a 2-Round match. Of course, now there are people drypassing Round 1 and forcing an awkward Round 2, but this is a problem with second-turn advantage and the Round format is simply the vehicle being exploited to alleviate it in the players’ eyes. That said, Round 2 has become relatively interesting in some situations during relatively balanced metas as the winner of Round 1 attempts to bleed out the opponent’s hand while retaining enough to power to claim victory in Round 3 – or even trick the opponent into making investment choices that allow him to get 2-0’d. As we see, every patch sees not only card changes, but card investment changes.
Going forward, what does this say about Gwent’s future? Well, there are people who argue there needs to be some fundamental rule changes, others argue it’s fine. I can’t say for certain. What I can say is that, as of the Weather changes in Open Beta and the Gold adjustments that hit after the long summer, the basic rules of the Rounds format are some of the only remaining aspects of standalone Gwent that remain relatively close to the original minigame. Perhaps the playerbase has matured (in experience), in addition to card abilities having evolved in complexity in such a way that they’ve outgrown the format, and exploitation of the format is inevitable.
So, where do we go from here? How do we address the ever-evolving abilities of cards rubbing up against a simple and, in many ways, restrictive Round structure? Do we add an extra draw on Round 3? Remove drypassing? Change the Mulligan algorithm? Bring back Faction Abilities related specifically to Round circumstances? I truly believe there is more depth to be found in the Round format than just Card Advantage, but we still have to dig a bit deeper. Nothing should remain sacred, especially during a “beta”, and we should encourage CDPR to experiment. In the meantime, go play a few (or more than a few) rounds of Gwent, and appreciate the resources you have at your disposal – your own personal 14-over-3.
You can reach Kabyk on Discord @Kabyk#5932.