Since we just recently launched the Kickstarter for Combat, I wanted to explain our design challenges in regards to the Monster Expansion that will be launching with the Combat Box at the end of the month.
Originally, our design concept was heavily influenced by the Resident Evil Deckbuilding game. There was a stack of monsters in this dungeon that you went through and killed for treasure. This way, you could have a co-operative game that was also competitive. Who killed the most? Each player would have one monster attacking them, though players could team up to take down one monster at a time.
There were a few problems with this approach. First of all, the monsters began to get monotonous. The “filler” monsters like goblins and orcs were boring to fight against, while boss style monsters were dramatic and exciting. The original design goal for this was to cause interesting choices as the team decided which monsters were the most dangerous at any certain time. Only the most dangerous foes were taken out, while everyone else basically had a “Take 2 damage per turn” effect on them.
Headspace was really the death of this system though. Like I’ve discussed before, Headspace is the amount of info a player can be expected to remember and keep track of at any given time. Combat is made to be an easy-to-understand game, but even so many classes like the Wizard have to keep track of Mana, Kindle, and Effect durations. This amount of info isn’t too much in itself, but add to that making the player run a monster, keep track of all the other player’s monsters, and of course the player’s treasure they’ve accrued and it can be daunting.
So we went back to the drawing board. The most successful monsters(in terms of enjoyment) were the boss monsters, so we decided to instead focus the Monster Expansion on fighting big monsters. And now instead of static moves that went off every turn like before, we were able to give the Bosses entire decks.
While I don’t usually bring it up, cost does guide design many times. We wanted the Boss decks to be unique, but also knew we couldn’t make/sell 450 card box for each of the 10 Bosses to have their own 45 card deck. So we instead went a tiered approach. There are 20 Standard Monster cards that all Bosses use. Then there are three sets of 10 based on “Type of Monster” which we set as Caster, Brute, and Mastermind. Then lastly, there are 15 cards unique to that monster. So a Troll Warrior deck would have the Standard Cards(20)+Brute(10)+Troll Warrior(15) cards. Doing the decks this way allows us to bring the total cards down to 200 while making sure we didn’t see tons of duplicate “Deal 1 damage to all players” cards.
One major feature of MMOs and other RPGs is the idea of a tank taking most of the hits. The Monster Expansion actually recreates this by having many of the cards deal damage to “the player with the highest HP.” This simple targeting mechanic has multiple benefits. First of all, it means the players most likely to be K.O.’d aren’t being targeted. Secondly, this means that the player with the most defense cards are usually hit, because once they are hit, they aren’t usually the highest HP anymore. And lastly, Specializations who emphasize defenses are usually high HP and receive a ton of play when fighting a Boss.
Scaling was one of the first feedback we got from playtesting. We had the monster’s HP scale based on number of players(30 per player), but the damage wasn’t scaling as well. Our “player with the highest HP” attacks were a set number, while our “all players” naturally scaled with multiple players. So we introduced a “+P” system. Basically, we manually reduced all single target damage by 2(our balancing point previously) and added plus the number of players(+P). So now instead of “Deal 4 damage to the player with the highest HP” we have “Deal 2+P damage to the player with the highest HP.” Now, the “+P” is mostly for our playtesting, and we’d like a more elegant way to show this on the card, so any suggestions would be welcome!
Another issue we had encountered with the “highest HP” mechanic was tied HP. If two players are both at 14 HP, who is hit? Originally, we made it so everyone at that same HP was hit. This created a lot of dramatic tension and made players make tough choices to avoid being at the same HP. The largest problem was the fact that some cards benefited wildly from this double hit. And with four players, there is likely to be multiple players at the same HP. We tried just flipping coins to decide, but it lost a lot of tension and excitement. So we are currently sitting at a middle ground. All the players are hit, but any defense card played effects everyone hit by this tied-hit. So your Wizard friend not only teleports himself out of the way now, he grabs your shirt and teleports you both. This not only worked thematically, but helps balance out the double-hits, since the players are twice as likely to have a defense card.
Another feature of the Boss Monsters is what we call Power. They are individual powers on a Boss that can go off periodically. Many cards in the Monster deck grant +1 Power, and once the monster reaches their Power threshold, it activates. This design works well for things like Troll’s regeneration, Psychic Horror’s mind flaying(discarding cards), or other abilities that you expect the monster to be able to do regularly. Some Power thresholds are small, like the troll’s, so they go off often. While others have high Power thresholds and take a while to go off.
Last major design hurdle we had was actually with player decks. Many of the cards are designed around a human opponent who drew cards, had hands, and played attacks, swifts and defenses. The Boss does none of these things. Each turn, a new card is flipped. So what do we do with these cards? Just make them useless? We came up with the concept of Control on the Boss monsters. Basically, the Troll Warrior has on it’s card “Control: The Troll deals 1 less damage on their next attack.” So if you play a card that wouldn’t normally effect a Boss (like Bash for the Warrior, that makes it so the opponent can’t play attacks) you instead gain the Control benefit, in this case the Boss deals 1 less damage on their next attack. This design isn’t super clean right now, so we’re working on how best to show this, but overall really enjoy how it works.
The Monster Expansion has taken a lot of design work to get to where it is at, and we are still iterating on it. The four main classes have received tons of playtesting over the last two years, so our goal this month is to lock down the Monster Expansion to be able to bring it to you with as much polish as our core game.