prototype 2 cards
VB: For our second attempt, we decided to examine everything from the beginning. The basic goals were still there but the approach could be anything we wanted – we wouldn’t be tied to the previous version. The brainstorming started with what was creating the most problems last time: the resources. They had to be thematic and fit with the dungeon-crawling theme and they had to allow for different strategies. A fighter and a wizard for example would focus on different ones but they should both be able to defeat enemies and win the game somehow.
AG: When something doesn’t work you go back to basics. The goal now was that each player would chose a different class (basic archetypes: fighter, wizard, cleric, rogue) and all together would fight the big bad boss at the end of the game. We agreed on Combat, Dexterity, Magic, Holy, and Cunning as the resources that would be used based on what the characters could produce and what they would need to defeat the monsters. Those 5 attributes could create various combos and thus different sets of actions for each class allowing each player to interact in different ways with the monsters.
VB: For the monsters, we decided to go with a very different approach. Enemy cards would be drawn each round and they would have 3 options on them: Evade, Push, Defeat. Evade (which would require very few resources) would just allow the players to prevent the damage the monster would deal. Push (costing slightly more) would be a temporary solution to the problem – you would scare the monster off but you would have to deal with it later on. Finally, Defeat would be a permanent solution – it would get rid of the monster forever but would require the most resources to do it. The concept behind this approach was that each monster would ask for different “resources” on each level which in turn would allow each character to deal with them differently. Some of the monsters for example would require a lot of Combat in order to be defeated, which the fighter would be able to easily provide. The wizard however would have a hard time defeating them through combat, but would be able to drive them away via magic or just evade them. On the other hand, against monsters like ghosts the combat would be useless but magic or holy would be very useful. Depending on how you dealt with each monster, you would draw cards that would be the upgrades going on the players’ characters.
When the final boss would appear, it would be accompanied by all the monsters the players pushed. It would have to be dealt with differently compared to the monsters but the players would still be provided with some options (so that each class would have a chance against it).
AG: This implementation was closer to what we wanted and the feeling was much better. Now the players were focusing on how to advance their characters and how to interact with the monsters which was closer to the basic concept of Dice Crafting: Roll the Dice, Do something (in our case: Fight the Monsters), Upgrade your character.
VB: We did various tests with this build but once again, the actual game turned out differently compared to what sounded cool in theory. If you made the monsters easy to defeat for one class, the others would struggle too much. If we made monsters meant to be defeated by all classes (containing different combinations of all the resources) then every class would struggle since they wouldn’t be able to produce everything. Therefore there would be enemies that could not be defeated and would have to either be evaded constantly or driven away, only to make it harder at the end.
AG: Welcome to asymmetric balancing! In RPGs, every player usually has a different role that works in different ways from the others. Players should feel important during the game no matter the role they play and characters must be balanced and most importantly, feel balanced even when they do totally different things. RPGs usually are played in groups of 4-5 players plus a narrator and in my groups when someone is missing we play a board game or do something else because the absence of that player will have a significant impact in our game.
Board games of 2-4 players on the other hand must give the same gaming experience whether you play it with 2 or 4 players. That means that with 2 players you are lacking 2 characters and what they bring to the party. Usually this is not a problem but when a game wants to be theme-driven and has different roles, then you have issues that need to be addressed.
Another issue was the resources that our characters were producing. Although closer to our goal, the economy of the game was again not solid. Removing a class was weakening a resource. The classes that were played were trying to match up the lack of other classes but not very effectively and that lead to weaker characters overall, characters that could not interact in a proper way with the game.
VB: Essentially what we had was not necessarily resources but different types of attacks. It still was a bit weird to say “I get 5 Holy” but if everything else played alright we would have worked with it. Unfortunately, everything else didn’t play like we wanted. Players weren’t as excited as we’d like and it gave the impression that it was lacking something.
Back to the drawing board…
VB: Once again, we started from scratch and again the brainstorming focused on the resources. We knew that it was the most crucial part of the game and if we could fix that, the rest would easily follow from the theme. We needed resources that you could gather. Resources that made sense having a lot of them, that it was intuitive to say “I have 3 of X”. Up to now, the only one that came close to that description was mana. With that as a basis we decided to explore the option of having different types of mana. We could go the “elemental warrior” path which would mean 4 different types of mana (earth, fire, water, air). The players’ abilities would then all be spells, each requiring different mana and focusing on different aspects. This also meant a change in the theme. Instead of “sword-and-sorcery” fantasy we would go to eastern fantasy with focus on the elements and different types of magic. That was not necessarily a bad thing since sword-and-sorcery has been overused in gaming and something different would look more appealing.
As far as the mechanics were concerned we also tried another approach. Dice City had a system with 3 resources and it worked. You would spend those resources to get new cards on your board (which in turn did not require resources to use them). You could also use those resources to get closer to winning (Trade Ships). The abilities you got on the other hand would grant you other things (like Army strength or VP) which would also lead you to win through other means. Was there a way this approach could be applied to this game? Why try to re-invent the wheel when you have something that works well?
We started with the abilities. Each would cost an amount of mana to “build” on your character just like in Dice City. Some of these abilities would generate damage which would be used against minions, a similar approach to the army strength and the minions of Dice City. This covered one way to win but there needed to be more. An interesting thought we had was that of large spells that in order to be cast you had to spend a big amount of mana and they would provide a big effect. This was something similar to the way Trade Ships in Dice City made use of resources. In the end we changed it a bit and instead of them being spells, we had the cards represent Magical Seals that granted abilities to the boss, making it uber-powerful. You would be able to break these Seals before reaching the boss, thus weaking it enough to kill it more easily. That added another strategy. Could we do one more?
Dice City also has the cultural strategy. Building locations that don’t do something when you land on them, they just grant you many victory points. Since we wanted to have a rogue-like character, we combined the two and ended up with another strategy: What if you were able to search the dungeon you were in and come up with magical artifacts? You would add them to your character and they would grant passive abilities (like deal 1 damage for free wherever you want, get free mana etc). It made sense thematically and it if you were to focus on it you would become powerful enough to overcome even the boss.
So, the basis of the game was this:
- Players explore a dungeon and each round they are in a different area/room.
- They are attacked by minions which they need to destroy.
- They can search the rooms they are in to find artifacts.
- They can break magical seals that make the boss very powerful.
- After a finite amount of time, they come upon the boss and they must destroy it.
AG: Abandoning the classic path of fantasy RPGs was the right call and it was not the only one. Keeping basic mechanics from Dice City actually solved most of our problems. This affected a lot the way we designed the game. If we wanted to have different roles, equally important in the game, we needed to create different ways to interact with it.
In the end, we had 4 different types of resources and 3 key characteristics that players advanced in to interact with the game: Damage, Insight and Health. Based on that we instantly knew that we had created four distinctive roles in the game:
- The character that would focus on damage. They would deal with the minions and apply a lot of pressure to the final boss, despite it being very powerful.
- The character that would focus on gathering mana. They would break the boss’ seals and make it much weaker.
- The character that would focus on items. They would search each room, getting a lot of magical artifacts that would “work on their own”. Effectively he would become “Robocop” (as Vangelis used to joke) before getting to the boss, dealing damage and generating mana without even needing to roll the dice.
- The character that would focus on the Group’s Health. They wpuld ensure that the party would reach the boss in a good enough shape to have a chance defeating it.
Although this is almost the classic archetype of fantasy RPG (wizard, fighter, rogue and cleric) our characters were using different types of mana that they needed to produce and spend in different ways to activate their cool powers.
VB: After some tests it was clear we were on the right path. Going with mana solved all the problems we had with resources and the different paths to explore made each character unique and interesting to play with. That was obviously the way to go.
But there were still many things ahead of us…
AG: The theme was ready and now more issues needed to be addressed:
- Could we play without a class (a game of 2 for example)?
- Were all the classes fun to play with after several sessions or compared to each other?
- Were we going to dictate a certain setup of heroes based on the number of players or were we going to allow players to choose any characters regardless of the number of players?
- How were we going to address the character build up? Would it be totally random, totally balanced or thematically driven?
to be continued…
Check back next week for the final installment in this Designer Focus!
The Masters’ Trials: The Wrath of Magmaroth is a co-operative dice placement game for 1 to 4 players. On sale in November with Pre-release at Spiel Essen in October!View the full article