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Designer Diary: Cyberion, or How I Created a Rewarding Game

by Shadi Torbey

The Dangers of Addiction

Ever since I bought my first iPad in the early 2010s, I have often found myself addicted to a whole bunch of digital/online games like SolForge, Kard Combat, Samurai Bloodshow, Kingdom Rush, Hearthstone, and the list goes on…

To avoid getting sucked into a game for too long, I ended up developing a “containment discipline”: When I discover a new game like this, I play it fairly intensively but for a very limited time — then I never open it again.

The last game to get this “treatment” was Marvel Snap: I played for a week, had a great time, then erased it entirely, losing all the nice cards I had already gathered.

Over the years I couldn’t help wondering: What made all these games so addictive? Yes, they were undoubtedly well designed and fun to play, but no more so than good “real-life” solo games.

Where did their addictiveness truly lie?

An Explanation

One day an answer dawned on me: These games are addictive because they are rewarding.

And I don’t mean intellectually rewarding (although they also often are). I mean, plain and simple, literally rewarding:

• Opened the app for the first time today? Get some crystals.

• Won your first three games? Here’s some gold.

• Played a specific class or type of card? Move a couple of steps up some ladder.

The gold, the crystals, the ladder will often open up more cards or abilities, giving you the impression of increasing power.

Two Paths, One Destination

It got me thinking: Could I transpose this rewarding feeling into a board game? And — more challengingly still — could I do this within the framework of an Oniverse game, which has a relatively short playing time and no legacy or campaign system?

Throughout all of the Oniverse games so far, there has never been a reward mechanism of this kind: the Doors in Onirim, the Ships in Aerion, the Ordeals in Castellion are all goals in and of themselves.

They don’t bring you anything game-wise except, obviously, getting you closer to victory. (Some expansions mechanisms like the Mages in Nautilion or the Factory cards in Aerion could be considered minor exceptions.)

At about the same time, I was thinking about designing a “suits game on steroids” in which pretty much all the cards could have powers (like the keys from Onirim), while also being needed to complete game-winning goals.

The combination of these two ideas became Cyberion.

In Cyberion, you have to repair 25 Machines to win the game, and each Machine needs you to discard 2-5 specific Robot cards from your hands. (Yes, hands, plural. More on that later.)

But since each card also has a potential power, you’re faced with the following dilemma: Is it best to use a given Robot for its ability or as part of a repair crew?

And the Reward?

A repaired Machine brings you closer to winning the game, but it’s also currency to buy upgrades. Each Robot card does indeed have a power, but this ability is not active at the beginning of the game. Only by spending a certain amount of already repaired Machine cards will you switch on (and later upgrade) an ability — and since there are not enough Machines to buy all the upgrades, in each game you have to decide which powers you want to invest in (and whether you want a greater number of different abilities to be available but at lower levels, or fewer but stronger abilities instead).

These abilities open up extra options to stock up cards for later, have more cards available until the end of the turn (the hands of cards I mentioned above), manipulate cards from the deck, retrieve discarded Robots, or make a Machine easier to repair.

And since the Machines get harder to repair as the game unfolds, you really need these upgrades. Each repaired Machine is thus a promise of getting something better for the rest of the game — a much needed reward!


And this is how I created a rewarding game — at least in the plain and simple literal sense. Is it intellectually rewarding? That’s for you to say!

Shadi Torbey

Cyberion should be available soon in your FLGS and will debut in Essen at SPIEL ’23 in October. (Visit us at booth 5-K121.)


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