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#4 – The Board State of RotG

Designer’s Den is a game design blog by Derek Conrad covering a wide spectrum of gaming including mechanics, art and graphic design, world building, and more!

A rule of thumb for good game design that I’ve adopted is to limit the amount of information a player has to remember at any given time. 

A simple example of this rule is to curtail the length of time of card-altering effects. To see it in practice, look at this prototype for the Sudden! Hydro ritual, Faze:

Faze says a follower of your choice can’t attack or defend this turn. This effect can be used defensively to halt a big beater in its tracks as it swings at your god, or offensively to declaw an enemy follower as one of yours attacks it without fear. However, the effect is only temporary. Starting the next turn, the target will be back to normal, free to attack and defend without hindrance.

Because Faze doesn’t sit on the board, by restricting the length of time it’s in effect, the chance of the effect being forgotten if the board state becomes congested is reduced. 

That’s a key challenge I’ve faced when designing Rise of the Gods. Due to its large play area and many moving parts (relatively speaking), I’m always evaluating the balance between permanent and temporary effects. In this post I’ll talk about the decisions I made to keep the board state manageable and how I hope to future-proof the game against complications further in its lifespan.

If you’ve played a game of RotG or read the rules or seen any games mid-progress, you know that within the field there are 16 individual spaces (organized into four rows by four columns). However, that doesn’t mean that only 16 cards can occupy the field at any given time. No, in fact, if every space were filled to its capacity, the field has the potential to hold 48 cards total.

So how did I get 48? Well, each space can house one follower, one domain, and one equipment. Multiply three by 16 and you get your answer. 

Now, 48 cards in play is nearly impossible to achieve unless both players are willfully ignoring each other. A more reasonable amount of cards on the field at any given time in an average game is closer to five. That’s a much more manageable count, and yet sometimes things are still missed.

From my observations, people forget to read cards that are concealed by other cards. For instance, domains are constantly covered up by followers that travel or are deployed onto them.

Allow the edges of domains to show behind followers so they’re not lost.

Generally, my response to these scenarios is for players to keep their cards staggered like in the image above and to reread any cards that get covered/uncovered no matter how long they’ve been on the field. However, this layering of cards is still a design “flaw” in the sense that it has the potential to create problems. 

But in all the hours of demoing at games stores and conventions I’ve done thus far, it’s never put a damper on a game to the point where somebody felt it was deal-breaker. It has yet to lose anyone the game (that I’m aware of) and it hasn’t even manifested itself (critically or otherwise) on the feedback forms turned in to me after the demos. Regardless, it’s a restriction to the overall design space that I must continually monitor.

The catalog of digital card games is ever growing, and it’s no wonder why. They’re generally easy to pick up, can be played at any time of the day with or without another human, and don’t require players to manually track their life totals or fuss with any status condition markers and damage counters. Working in the paper card game sector offers no such luxuries, so it’s important for those designers to be mindful of the amount of separate pieces they introduce into their games, as too many extraneous components can bog down the board state.

In an effort to reduce clutter, RotG really only requires a player to manage two components other than the cards and board: a Favor tracker and dice. 

In the most recent prototype update, I introduced the plastic card stand component that supports the player’s god card in a vertical position. Not only does this make the gods more prominent, it also serves as a way for the player to track his or her Favor by sliding the stand along a tracker that goes from 1 to 20. 

The visual presentation of the god card is now directly tied to your Favor total.

Being able to track your score easily and integrating the gods into the game more were common requests I received during demos, so this new component solved two problems in one.

Similarly, dice also serve more than one function. That’s because they’re used as damage counters on individual follower cards and as a level counter to see how many times you’ve activated your godsend (which some cards care about). 

Players familiar with Magic will note that in that game, counters are used to signify a +1/+1 increase (or sometimes -1/-1 decrease) to a creature’s power and toughness. However, the creature equivalent in my game, followers, have three stats: Health, Mobility, and Power. A counter that gives +1/+1/+1 to all three isn’t necessary, as followers really don’t need to have more than 2 Mobility in most games, and a counter that gives +1/+0/+1 isn’t elegant in the slightest.

When it comes to damage, Magic is able to avoid damage counters altogether because creatures heal at the end of every turn. But in RotG, I wanted the damage to be persistent, mainly because you’re choosing the targets when you attack, as opposed to the defender choosing his blockers. 

So, by opting to make counters represent damage rather than stat boosts on followers, I couldn’t create effects that boosted stats for longer than a single turn unless the card doing the boosting remained on the board. That just means any one-shot effects such as Faze mentioned at the top of this post or the Parry below must subside by the end of the turn. Future expansions of RotG will have to abide by this rule for consistency sake, and so players aren’t forced to remember these changes for longer than a turn length.

Note the underline.

As I press forward in the refinement stages of RotG‘s card design, I’m always looking out for those effects that want to endure from turn to turn and making sure they’re on the right card. I like to refer to these as active effects because they’re always “turned on” so long as the card is on the field. By virtue of their temporary status, a ritual can’t have an active effect.

However, powerful actions with an immediate impact on the game state tend to occur as triggered or “on-play” effects. By virtue of their temporary status, rituals all have on-play effects (though they’re not always that powerful). The follower skills Rally and Last Rites also count here, as they only resolve once a trigger occurs. Some domains also contain on-play effects.

Deciding whether to make an effect active or triggered ultimately depends on a few factors: the overall change to the field, the card’s faction identity, and its cost are the main ones. But the complexity of the effect usually trumps everything else. More complex cards are harder to remember and keep track of, thus should only happen as one-time events. They also get to be more exciting and/or random for the same reasons.

All said, I try not to think of this design philosophy about limiting information a player has to remember as a constraint on creativity. Striving to maintain an uncluttered board state has its rewards, namely smooth game play and a lower barrier to entry for new players. Plus, when a wild effect does appear on a card that suddenly creates an influx of chaos, it tends to electrify the rest of the game as players await the next big thing around the corner. And those are the types of memorable experiences I’m all for creating.

Thank you for reading, and until next time!

–Derek

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