Crossroads of Eternal Doom
Good game design is iterative in nature. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a design that was conceived in one moment. Instead, the end product is typically the result of months of improving an original idea through constant changes. Goblins: Alternate Realities is no exception. More than anything, GAR has become a sum of all the ideas for the game we tried that didn’t work. Today I’ll explore some of that history and shed light on where the game has come from.
When Richard and I sat down to start designing a game for Goblins we knew we wanted a few core ideas. More than anything the concept that stood out to us was that of a “Party” of characters. The comic is driven not by individuals, but by groups of characters who have come together accomplish something. This wasn’t going to be a game where you played one character and you min-max your character to be the strongest of all the other characters. The game had to have a different feel than that, one that matched the spirit of the comic.
Poorly Locked Treasure Chest
Early in the process we were designing a deck builder. Where players assembled their party as the game went on. Players could add new characters to their side through the course of the game, building up a deck of characters that could be used in different situations. The objective of the game was set by “quest cards” that were dealt to each player at the start of the game. So each player was on a quest and had to build a party to complete it.
This had some interesting ideas, but in the end it didn’t feel right. It didn’t tell a story. Characters would pop in and out of the game without really ever progressing or telling their story. So characters like Kore just didn’t feel “Kore-like.” The characters didn’t tell a story and they weren’t the forefront of the design. We really wanted GAR to capture the wonderful characters of the comic, and put them front and center in the game.
In addition, I didn’t think a character drafting deck builder was good enough. Deck building is fun, but it almost always devolves into obvious strategies and gimmicky deck builds that make repeated plays less fun over time. We needed something more emergent, and something different.
There are always risks with scrapping an idea and starting over. But I think Richard and I both knew we hadn’t nailed it yet. It didn’t feel like Goblins. It didn’t capture the characters in the comic with all of their depth and nuance and evolution. That’s when we had the idea to scrap the deck builder and move to a fixed deck. The core of the idea was simple: Instead of players building a party and putting characters in the deck, give each player a party at the start of the game and put their characters on the table.
This might not seem like a crazy idea, but I can’t think of another game that starts players with a random team of characters and sets them loose on each other. The characters in this design now sit in front of the players at all times. They are the focal point of all the action. It no longer was a question of “who do I use” but “how do I use them.”
Whereas in the old design the quests were player based, now each character has their own quest. Kore is trying to kill everything he deems evil (hint: that’s basically everyone), Dies-Horribly is trying to overcome his destiny, Minmax is trying to get as much glory as possible. It’s subtle, but giving each character their own goals really brings them to life in ways we couldn’t do any other way.
Settling on this framework for the characters has guided the design more than any other mechanic. Once we put the characters in front of players, everything changed. Characters could now carry and use treasure cards (hello Oblivious wielding Klik). The deck became action cards that characters can used for temporary bonuses and tricks. Characters can level up and grow as the game progresses. This list could go on for some time.
In addition to all the in-game changes, now, each game feels new every time you play. When you sit down for a new game, you’ll have a new set of characters to form your party. And their combined quests and abilities change how you play the game. The encounters and treasure they find makes everything unique and emergent.
In the next diary I’ll discuss how these parties of characters can help (or hurt) one another and all the craziness that ensures. For now, please look for more updates on our Facebook page and soon to be Kickstarter. If you have any questions you can always ask us here (or there).