As many of you are aware, I signed to have my first game, Strife: Legacy of the Eternals published by V3G via Kickstarter this fall. This is the fulfillment of a life-long dream, and I would be lying if I said that I am not excited! What many of you may not know is the history behind the creation of Strife: Legacy of the Eternals. It has been a long journey just to get to this point, which in truth is only halfway to the finish line, but I thought I would tell the story so far. Much of this story has already been told in previous posts in the, Last Week in Games series, but these diary entries will allow me to bring newcomers up to speed and gather all of the info in on place. I hope you enjoy the tale!
In The Beginning
I have been wanting to design games for as long as I can remember. I recall making a very bad Oregon Trail board game when I was still in grade school, waaaay back in the 80’s. When I got into role-playing games in junior high and high school, I was almost always the DM, as I really enjoyed building the game and world for the other players to experience. When Magic: The Gathering hit the gaming scene like an atomic bomb in the 90’s, I was hooked from the very start, playing as early as Alpha. While I loved the competition of the game, or any game for that matter, it was the deck-building aspect of the game that truly intrigued me! Deck-building, is essentially a form of game design itself, and the countless hours spent exploring combinations of mechanics and efficiency is perfect training for aspiring game designers. You prepared your creation and literally took it in to direct competition with the those of other players. What could be a more intense form of feedback on your ideas than the glory of victory or the agony of defeat? However, after more than a decade, I finally burned out on Magic and discovered the wonder of modern board games. It was a return to my first love and did not require nearly the time commitment to stay competitive as Magic. Well, it did not take long playing these brilliantly crafted games by legends like: Knizia, Teuber, Feld, Moon, Rosenberg, and Wallace before I started thinking about designing some of my own!
After filling countless notebooks with ideas, some good and other not so good, and making a couple of prototypes, Usurper and The Realm, I started to really get serious about trying to get published. I joined a local game design group and developed a strategy that I hoped would improve my odds of getting someone to take a chance on an unknown designer. While Usurper and The Realm were games that took place on a massive scale, they both had/have issues that I have been unable to resolve to my satisfaction. I decided to focus on a smaller game, with fewer moving parts so it would be easier to hone. This would also hopefully be more attractive to publishers as it would be very cheap to produce. I started to vaguely ponder a notion of I what I wanted in early September of 2013, but things did not really start to take shape until the end of the month and start of October.
I took my inspiration from a couple of places. One was from classic Knizia card games like Battle Line, Modern Art, and Lost Cities. Another was my lingering frustration with Magic: The Gathering. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the game, will always love it to some degree, but I have long felt that the possibility of getting “mana-screwed” was a fatal flaw. All I knew for sure was that I wanted to make a game where you could not be screwed by chance and ran on a very simple internal engine while providing deep game play.
I started by addressing the luck of the draw aspect, and decided the best way to avoid this issue was to simply have your entire deck in your hand, and thus never draw at all. This led me to consider the maximum number of cards a player would be comfortable holding in their hand at one time. I’m not going to lie, my first thought was 30, but I knew that was my inner crazy talking and that the majority of players would never be up for that. The problem I kept coming back to was how could I have fewer cards, but still make the game strategic and skill based. My solution was quite simple really, give each card two special abilities! This would let me cut the card count in half at least, and after a little more thought I decided to go with just 10 champions, all having two abilities. Even with the addition of two abilities per card, I felt like there might not be enough variation in play with only 10 plays per round. I answered this problem by creating the concept of Legacy Abilities. This would create abilities that were only used when on top of your “discard” pile. Thus, each card would in effect be played twice, and it would be the synergy between the champion you played and the one on top of your Legacy Pile that determined the winner. As I was still somewhat concerned with variability of play, I decided to use simultaneous champion selection to force players in to reading, not just their best move, but also that of their opponent. It is easy to figure out your best play after observing what your opponent has done, but having to figure out what he might do and make what you believe to be the best decision would be infinitely more challenging.
The last step in the concept phase was to add the Fatestone as tie breaking method. As players might become so skilled that they could figure out the optimal play in each battle, I needed a way to prevent them from playing identical moves. By making the holder of the Fatestone lose the battle, but have the option to pass it for the win while raising its VP value, I was able to ensure that players would not be able to follow exactly the same path!
All of these ideas sprung from my desire to avoid the luck of the draw and how to best make a card game that did so. It just makes me happy that something positive finally came from all of those years of mana-screw!
As I said before another source of inspiration was the classic light card games of Reiner Knizia. I have always had great admiration for his ability to create low component, strategically deep, and highly re-playable games such as the aforementioned: Battle Line, Modern Art, and Lost Cities. Given that none of these games have very many components at all, they seemed like great role models for making one myself. I know that some people absolutely love 2-player games and other despise them, but given the long-term success of Lost Cities and Battle Line, I figured there was more than a sufficient audience for another one.
To keep the number of components low, I decided to give both players the exact same 10 champions and give each champion a location that was their homeland. In effect, this meant that the first version could be made with only thirty cards, one dice for a Fatestone, and a rulebook. It is hard to imagine too many games that require fewer parts than that! Another great feature of these games that inspired me, as well as their prolonged success, is their tremendous re-playability. I decided to have the locations come off the top of a deck at random, but have three of them in play at once. The random order in which the locations enter play increases re-playability, but by having three of them face-up at once allows players to plan in advance. The order in which the locations come off greatly affects a player’s strategy and thus makes each game unique. Always a good thing to accomplish when striving for re-playability, but particularly challenging when trying to limit the number of components!
At this point, I had accomplished both of the goals I set for myself. I had come up with an idea for a game that had very few pieces (30 cards and a dice) and one that had completely eliminated the “luck of the draw” element from a card game! It was very exciting because I believed I was on to something and now it was time to design the rest of the game! I had my framework, but I was a long way from having anything playable I as needed to theme the 10 champions and invent 20 abilities! Still, things were off to a great start!
I will cover the process of designing the champions, their abilities, and my early playtest experiences in Part Two. Stay tuned if you want to learn more about the creation of: Strife: Legacy of the Eternals!
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