Scrolls, like most collectible card games, can be overwhelming for newcomers. But where the game is lacking in explanation, its community is filling in with a bevy of helpful resources — and developer Mojang is gratefully encouraging that community.
Scrolls' current tutorial is bare-bones, offering a perfunctory explanation of the game's basic mechanics. We managed to win the tutorial match, but got the sense that the CPU was taking it easy. Our suspicions were confirmed once we hopped into a standard game against the "Easy" AI, and essentially got steamrolled.
"We have gotten some requests that we should make a slightly even easier AI, and we are actually looking into that," said Jakob Porser, lead designer of Scrolls and a co-founder of Mojang, in an interview with Polygon last week. He added that the studio is also considering reducing the steepness of the game's difficulty curve.
That kind of on-the-fly experimentation exists, and is possible and welcome, because Scrolls is currently in beta. Mojang is developing Scrolls with the Minecraft model: Interested parties can get in early at a discount — the beta, which launched in June, costs $20.95 — for the added benefits of free lifetime updates thereafter and the opportunity to directly contribute to the development of the game.
"The thing that really attracted me to having this model [...] is that you get [the] community's involvement from day one," said Porser. "Or rather, not from day one, but you get it way earlier than if you complete the entire game [first]."
And that passionate community is the lifeblood of Scrolls. Some players have been part of it since Mojang launched an alpha version of the game just over a year ago; many more joined upon the availability of the beta last month. Just like Minecraft took on a life of its own as its user base skyrocketed, Scrolls is already benefiting greatly from its avid community of players.
The community's impact is felt in two main ways: Existing players are making it easier for newcomers to get into the game and keep up, and they're also giving Mojang actionable feedback — like the aforementioned difficulty comments — with which it can improve the game.
The current work-in-progress version of Scrolls features little single-player content. Players can take on Easy, Medium and Hard AI in Quick Matches, or partake in a group of custom matches known as Trials. For now, the focus is on head-to-head multiplayer matches; Porser pointed out that the heritage of collectible card games is physical games like Magic: The Gathering, where there's no such thing as a single-player match. But Mojang will eventually expand Scrolls with a full campaign in which players travel the world defeating bosses with their customized scroll decks, and according to Porser, the studio is building it to be replayable and plans to keep it fresh with content updates.
"To not add a single-player mode, just in general, is not a good idea because you're ignoring a lot of the players who would enjoy the game if they actually had a way of playing it single-player," said Porser. "Because it is kind of a step to actually start playing competitively. It is something that a lot of people don't really enjoy."
According to Porser, Scrolls' campaign will be worthwhile enough to satisfy players who never go online. "If you're someone who don't enjoy multiplayer at all, you're definitely going to be able to have a lot of fun with this game," he said. "In the end, this is just my guess, but I think we will see more single-player play than multiplayer."
Porser added that Mojang wants to expand the Scrolls tutorial into one that teaches players some basic strategy, in the form of "do's and don'ts," and the studio will likely do that when it introduces the single-player mode.
The titular scrolls are the digital cards of this collectible card game. But the scrolls don't just represent characters and effects that are personified on-screen during a battle; they also turn into units that players must place and control on their half of a six-by-five hexagonal grid. The units live on each combatant's three-by-five grid, with each of the five rows sitting in front of a totem. In order to win, a player must destroy three of their opponent's five totems.
While Penny Arcade's Jerry Holkins penned a story for Scrolls, Porser told Polygon in March that Mojang wasn't planning to incorporate it into the game, and it's not present in the beta. Three different resource types of scrolls are currently available: Growth, Energy and Order; a fourth, Decay, will be re-added to the game later. Players can mix and match resources in their decks, a path that's much more challenging than sticking to one type but that opens things up — each resource offers a unique play style.
We chose Growth and headed into battle with our starter deck of 50 scrolls. There are four different kinds of scrolls: creatures, structures, spells and enchantments. The first two are units that players place on the grid, and the latter two are effects added to those units. You may sacrifice one scroll per turn, either to increase your resource availability (because each scroll has a resource cost associated with playing it) or to draw two more cards.
Each scroll also deals a certain amount of damage and has a particular amount of health. Creatures and structures usually have a countdown associated with them, meaning you'll have to wait a few turns for their action to occur. Units can move one space at a time to any open hexagon, which is crucial for keeping one's totems defended. And of course, casting enchantments and spells can have significant effects on typical scroll behavior.
Confused yet? We were, too, and floundered for a few turns before getting our bearings, and by then we were too far behind to catch up. But here's where the community comes in.
"I think we will see more single-player play than multiplayer"
Scrolls players have started dozens of websites related to the game, ranging from all-encompassing wikis to single-use sites, like ones that track the fluctuations of the in-game economy's scroll prices. Mojang lists numerous community resources, including active YouTube and Twitch users, in the community section of the official Scrolls website. And Porser told us that in his experience, players in the in-game chat are friendly, willing to provide help to those who ask. That level of community engagement is something that Mojang appreciates and tries to foster, said Porser.
"It's such a gift that we have at Mojang, that we have some people who are interested in our products and help us out, basically — with testing, with development, with feedback," said Porser. "It's so great that it happens, it's very fun and we're happy about it, but it's not something we can ever take for granted."
He continued, "It's up to you to not ignore that and to not neglect that. Like for instance, if people want to make sites about this game and they ask us if they can use the graphics from the scrolls and show it on the site, obviously, we want to do as much as possible to help them."
Mojang is fine with most non-commercial projects atop Scrolls
The Scrolls website includes a stern page with brand guidelines, but Mojang says it's fine with most uses of the game's content as long as they're for non-commercial purposes. Porser added that the studio has created some APIs, and will build more, to allow players and their supplemental creations to interface with the game.
"If you're interested and want to try to do more with this game on your own, you should," said Porser. "We've always been very happy about people who want to develop with us, and [about] sort of [crowdsourcing] in what direction to take our games."