Acts of Terrorism – Clean Design is Intuitive Design

Acts of Terrorism – Clean Design is Intuitive Design

Ladies, gentlemen, all those who identify in between those, welcome to another Acts of Terrorism. This week, I, me, the person who is typing this up, the great one and accolades that come with it—I shall be taking a break from watching the new (as of the writing of this article) Batman v Superman trailer and talk about intuitive design. What that entails and how it makes play experiences better shall be described, obviously. This is merely an introduction, you see. Well, this nonsense aside, let us plunge in.


On the surface this might seem like a random image, but in actuality it is a very random image that has nothing to do with this article. Just remember this is where we started.

Okay, as is customary in these, I will describe to you exactly what I mean by “intuitive design”, but rather than spoonfeed you a definition for the term, I’ll instead have you read through what exactly the two words that make the term mean.

  1. Design: The process of doing or planning something with a specific purpose or intention in mind.
  2. Intuitive: Perception through intuition. It’s a process your brain does that does not require rational thought.

The more important one there is “intuition,” but does that paltry definition do it justice? In truth, no. You see, intuition is a learned response and differs from person to person. Imagine you’ve lived a pretty normal-by-American-standards life, but you’re suddenly dropped into the African Savannah, which is filled with all kinds of hazards. Naturally, a native there would instinctively perceive threats you might be looking out for and missing. This is because that person has lived there and honed his/her instincts through repetition, observation and implementation.


I know: it’s a lot of stuff.

There I used the word “instinct” twice. It’s because your instinct is almost interchangeable with your intuition, but almost. You don’t learn your instincts, they’re by definition innate behaviors. How it relates to the learned response of intuition is it plays into your instincts. Just hear me out. As something is repeated, your brain takes less and less effort to engage in that thing. Is it all coming together for you now? As something becomes intuitive, it just means you’re using less brain power to compute it, and that makes it more akin to instinct. That’s the relation. Intuition is a facsimile of instinct, and that’s why it’s so imperative that you play into intuition.

Now how do intuition and design come together? Well it’s simple. “Intuitive design” just means that the design is, at least on some level, easily-grokked. Sounds obvious now, doesn’t it? Time for one of my patent-pending examples:


Looking at those two instantly tells you what they’re about. They’re big, dumb creatures that you want to be attacking with. Gene-Warped Warwolf’s pathetic defense and lack of effects means he’s only useful attacking, while Imperiosaur’s great stats for its measly 4 mana cost tells you you need to be attacking. Pretty straightforward stuff that doesn’t require much thought, right? At least, compared to more wordy cards.

Now what if I told you can still have intuitive design, even when you make more complicated cards? Allow me to give an example.


Annihilator triggers whenever you attack. This creature is a ridiculously massive 9/9. What is it telling you to do? ATTACK! That’s pretty much all there is to this card. You look at it once and you pretty much figure it out. If you didn’t, that second ability it has is screaming its purpose at you even louder, telling you this thing is at its best when attacking. This card is trying to save you as much brain activity as it can, and your first guess on what to do with the thing is most likely correct.

Moreover, the designers aren’t going to make a creature that costs 11 mana and expect you to not do anything with it. That’s just unrealistic given how much time and effort you sunk into getting it out, right? Well, yeah, and that’s the point. They designed it to play into that expectation, rather than fight against it.


If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am in love with the Eldrazi.

This is another Eldrazi, and one of my favorites from a design perspective. Why is that? Well in case Annihilator and being an 8/8 wasn’t telling enough for you, this thing has “Ulamog’s Crusher attacks each turn if able”. It’s literally telling you to attack with it instead of trying to use it as a wall. What’s more is it’s one of the two Common colorless Eldrazi from the set, meaning the Rise of the Eldrazi expansion was quite literally teaching you how to play with the big Eldrazi. If you pull Ulamog’s Crusher and use it, you experience how powerful a mechanic Annihilator is, and then you take that knowledge with you as you play the higher rarity and more powerful Eldrazi. That’s your intuition being trained to make play easier for you, and it’s good design that does that.

Now for the part where I talk about cards that go against intuition and expectations. As usual, the examples are Yu-Gi-Oh-based, but I won’t talk about its counterintuitive rules because I have somewhat of a life and don’t wish to waste it sitting here writing this article forever.


It’s right there on the card: “Cannot be Normal Set.” Well, generally, if I have to tribute 3 monsters to summon something with 4000 ATK, it won’t be to set it. You might argue that this is similar to Ulamog Crusher’s “You must attack” clause, but it really isn’t. If you do not attack with him (and this is supposing its clause didn’t exist), you’re just left with an 8/8 that’s essentially useless. With ol’ Obelisk here, if he didn’t have his clause, you could just tribute Set him, but considering he’s one of 3 very known cards that require 3 tributes, you’re telegraphing your play and going against the whole point of Setting cards: the mystery. Obelisk’s clause in no way helps you to play the game: it just gives you another restriction.


Now you know what intuitive design is, but how does it help the gamer? Well, I’m pretty sure I’ve let it slip multiple times in the above sections, but for the sake of brevity, it makes the game easier to be understood. When your game has hundreds or thousands of moving pieces (especially card games), you want your players to not have to waste brain power dealing with the counter-intuitive and instead use that brain power on decision-making whilst playing and deck crafting. That’s why intuitive design helps the player and the game, and why counterintuitive design is such a cardinal sin.

With that out of the way, come back next week. I make no guarantees I’ll survive the week though, because watching and rewatching that Batman v Superman trailer has made me miss a couple meals so far.


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