It has been two weeks, and I’m now putting together version 9 for Seventh Cross.
Version 8 was to be a fusion of the old narrative heavy game and some boss combat, but I realized as I was putting together the game that I had too much happening on the boss’s side of the table, and not enough going on for the players. Also, I realized that this version, which had the players exploring one area and fighting one boss, would not give the players sufficient time to learn how to fight and learn if their tactics were working.
The most important thing of all though was a unifying mechanic. There was no unifying mechanic that brought together both the narrative story portions of the game and the combat portions. Without this mechanic, I knew that things would feel disjointed and broken. So instead, I decided to scrap v8 during the development stage and move on to v9.
Sometimes a version gets scrapped during development like this even before hitting the table. However, since I wrote a full rulebook for it, and it had new ideas that might be useful later on, it's a good idea keep it organized as a version in my backlogs the same way.
v9 - Back to the Source Material
In v9, I went back to my source material, watched and played some action adventure video games, and thought about how I was going to translate this feeling to the game.
- First, I decided to nix the action and response system that I had been envisioning. In old versions, the boss would do some sort of wind up, and the players would have a chance to respond, which might counter the boss’s attacks. However, there was no great way to do this in past versions, and players savvy enough to stun lock boss made an encounter feel more like butchery than a fight. In a real action adventure game, the boss throws out various threats, and it’s up to the player to knock off as much of its health bar as possible while dodging these threats.
- Second, I realized that the old game did not give a feeling of urgency or skill. In an AA game, you have to time your combos well while watching the enemy and moving to avoid taking damage. You want to maintain your style combo (at least in Devil May Cry and Bayonetta) but you can’t just mash buttons. Also, if you get too deep into the combo without resetting, you can leave yourself open to an enemy’s retaliation with no way out. This kind of “Press Your Luck” element seemed like the perfect thing to translate the feeling into a board game.
- Finally, I looked at the weapons and upgrade systems in these games. The upgrades mostly end up being things like “your 4th hit in the combo does an extra bit of damage” or “Your combo can now include a 6th hit” or “you can diverge this combo at hit 3 into a more AoE focused combo”, and so on. When I started upgrading my individual weapons in Devil May Cry, it felt a lot like building a deck, and unloading those combos on my opponent felt a lot like playing a really good hand in Dominion, where your deck just clicks together perfectly. Furthermore, figuring out which upgrades to buy and which weapons to equip reminded me a lot of the deckbuilding exercise in Millennium Blades.
So I decided to introduce deckbuilding, some pressure elements, and bosses that are more disruptive and have to be played around rather than against. Here are a few of the new systems that I’m putting in the hands of the players in version 9:
- Deckbuilding. Your weapon gives you a list of action types, and you can take techniques from that type and put them in your deck. For example, Geoffrey’s magic sword supports Slashing, Holy, and Lightning attacks, so he has these 3 card pools to buy from when upgrading his deck.
- Combo System. Your attack combo unfolds over multiple turns as you dodge the boss and press the attack. Each successive hit in the combo (each turn you go without getting hit or resting) increases your bonuses even more. However, only when a player rests and resets their combo are they able to “cash in” on the damage it has built up.
- Board System. Players move around on a 5x3 board, while the boss is stationary and fixed to the front edge of the board. Spaces that are closer to the boss provide more of an attack bonus, while those far away provide defenses. Boss’s place ‘nodes’ in certain edges of the board, and these are what generate their attacks each turn.
- Simplified Encounters. Before and after each boss, you have a short encounter that determines either what you’re fighting (before), or what your rewards are (after). These are story choices about whether to trust NPCs, take the path to town or the path to the woods, and so forth.
With the new system, I’m most worried about how much the boss is able to restrict players’ actions. Restrict too much and you take away player agency. Give too much leeway, and you’re back to just hacking up a target rather than an aggressive enemy. As with Millennium Blades Metas and Cooperative Modes, the boss’s attacks need to be particular enough that the player can deal with them, but not so oppressive that managing the boss takes longer than managing one’s own turn.
I’ve put together a few simple rules for the boss that I’m going to try to follow as I design them.
- A boss does unique things during Setup and at the end of the turns, but not in the midst of his individual attacks. During this phase, his attacks are all the players need to be worried about.
- Avoid effects that are simply “Attacks do more damage” or “Boss ignores X damage type” since these are hard to track and are likely to be forgotten.
- Prioritize effects that give the players agency and force them to make difficult choices. For example, “You may discard any number of cards, then the boss recovers one life for each card in your hand” provides agency and decision, while “Discard your hand” or “The boss recovers one life for each card in your hand.” doesn’t.
- Don’t expect players to anticipate boss attacks, let them react as they are announced. As in the previous example, “Discard your hand” feels really bad if the player wasn’t watching out and just drew a bunch of cards. The play should be in the reaction of the players, not in their preparation for “gotcha” type traps.
I’m hoping to have this new version of Seventh Cross ready next Tuesday for my playtesting group, and I’ll let you know how it goes then! Wish me luck! :D