Jan 24

Design Diary: Strife Shadows and Steam






As readers of this blog know, I fulfilled my lifelong dream of becoming a published game designer in late 2014 when Strife: Legacy of the Eternals successfully funded on Kickstarter.  That story was told in two posts which can be read by following these links: Part 1 and Part 2.

This is the continuation of that story, as Strife: Shadows and Steam will be launching on Kickstarter 1/26/16.  Strife: SaS  is both an expansion and a sequel to Strife LotE, as it uses the same core mechanics and is fully integrable, while also being a standalone game in its own right.  Here is how it came into being.

Long before Strife: LotE existed it was called Legacy Wars.  After all, an aspiring designer must name his creation something, right?  While the game was taking shape I began to envision multiple sets of champions that could be used stand alone or for deckbuilding.  I do come from a heavy Magic the Gathering background, so it would be natural for me to think in this fashion.  Besides, Magic without mana-screw was one of my main inspirations!

Being the fantasy geek that I am, I stuck to that genre as I created additional champions, because it is what I know best.  As I worked on playtesting the main set of champions, I was always coming up with new abilities and thus potentially new champions for future sets and made sure to write down all of my ideas.  It was about this time that I met Jake from V3G and things began to change!

When Jake and I started to seriously discuss publishing, I told him that I had other abilities and champions in the works and he was interested.  Our first goal would be to make the base game as tight as possible and try to publish via Kickstarter.  If successful we would consider what to do with the other champions.  Jake, not being from a Magic the Gathering background thought the idea of sequels as opposed to traditional expansions would be a unique way to go.  This caused me to suggest having the game take place in a persistent world.  After all, the players were supposed to represent immortal beings, so it made sense that time would pass, the world would change, but the shadow war of the Eternals would continue.  We agreed that if we were lucky enough to ever make a second set, that would be the basic path.  Given the traditional fantasy theme of the first set, we felt that a fantasy world’s next logical step would be a form of steampunk technology.

Illusionist from Shadows and Steam with the Necromancer from Legacy of the Eternals.

Illusionist from Shadows and Steam with the Necromancer from Legacy of the Eternals.


As the finishing touches were being done to Strife: Legacy of the Eternals, I was already hard at work with my trusty lead playtester Nick Garwood, of Garwood’s Peak fame, working on Strife Shadows and Steam.  Despite having several champions waiting in the wings, I did not want to just slap a steampunk theme on them and pass it off as the plan all along.  I wanted the set to play differently and for the champions to have abilities representative of the theme.  This lead to many of the existing champions being completely redesigned or cannibalized for some abilities while others were discarded.

I wanted to add more cards using the “set aside” mechanic because it gave the feeling of powering these abilities much the way the new technology would have to be.  This idea of having powerful abilities, but at a cost was explored in the first set with the Wizard and seemed perfectly in line with how technology works.  The champions of Aerim have gained access to this new type of power, but at what cost?

I also knew I wanted to introduce tokens into the game.  The Clockwork Minion tokens and the Steam Traps help to capture the theme by being products of the technology.  The destruction tokens help to demonstrate the dangerous potential of these new developments.  However, from a mechanical standpoint, the goal was to give players an ability to reach even further into the future with their planning by seeding other face-up locations with tokens and provide them with both strategic and tactical opportunities.  If you use the Rifle Mage’s Legacy ability to place a Steam Trap on the location closest to the draw pile, it is almost like having two legacy abilities by the time it goes off.  You have your current legacy champion’s ability plus a trap.  Like all of the token related abilities, it allowed me to make even greater use of the location display to offer players more interesting decisions.

The Alchemist's home location in Shadows and Steam and the Wizard's home location in Legacy of the Eternals.

The Alchemist’s home location in Shadows and Steam and the Wizard’s home location in Legacy of the Eternals.

We turned to local writer, game designer, and author of Aerim’s lore Ryan Schoon, for advice on how to really achieve that steampunk feel.  Given that he is the head writer for the roleplaying game, Edara: A Steampunk Renaissance, we felt like he could really aid us with the theme.  He was very helpful fleshing out the steampunk element and for that I am grateful!

After tons of testing, the set had really come together in its own right. However, as the plan was for it to be playable against Strife: LotE or even for players to be able to combine cards from both sets into one deck, the real challenge was cross-set balance and making sure all possible interactions functioned properly.  Both of these factors led to yet another iteration of champion abilities as it was the most difficult phase of development.  This is largely because of the near infinite potential interactions in cross-set play.  We were essentially taking a system that was strictly symmetrical and allowing for asymmetrical play, while attempting to maintain balance and unique play styles.

It was during this phase that I started getting to see some of the illustrations from our immensely talented artist, Claudio Pilia!  Jonathan Powell blew our minds with his art for Strife: LotE and I was anxious to see what Claudio could do.  It was a conscious decision to go with a cleaner style this time as the imagery was from a more modern era.  Fictional yes, but more modern in its fictional style.  When I saw the first completed pieces, my jaw simply dropped at the quality of work!  Art holds a special place in my heart, because I have absolutely no talent of any sort in that area.  It may as well be some form a witchcraft as far as I am concerned.  I am always nervous until I see the pictures, because I can make the game work but I am completely powerless to make it beautiful.  So, when the art is as wonderful as Claudio’s, I not only experience awe but massive relief at the same time!

Finally…nearly all of the work is complete and we are preparing to launch the Kickstarter campaign for Strife: Shadows and Steam on 1/26/16!  I have done my part, Claudio his, the entire V3G team theirs and there is nothing left to do but brace for a crazy month.  Wish us luck!

*Special thanks to my wife Heather for supporting me in these crazy adventures.  I could not do it without you baby!












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