Last time in this development blog, I talked about the episodic mechanics that were added to the game. In this post, I'll share a little bit more of the combat system and game flow, as well as a few images from our development!
Settling in on Mechanics
The hardest part of this whole endeavor has been in determining the content of the game. From a procedurally generated game with faceless characters to a highly thematic and characterized castle-raiding experience with fixed goals, the game has gone through a lot of changes before deciding exactly what we wanted. Some mechanics were scrapped because they were unreasonable, some because they were unnecessary, and still others because they were either too esoteric or too common.
Now that we have an idea of what the final game is going to look like, the bulk of the "work" can begin, which is designing content and filling out the world and events.
Episodic Castles and Legacy Mechanics
In a game of Seventh Cross, the players choose one of many different castles (the base game is planned to contain about 12) and move through a high-level map of the castle. During this trek, they will pause at different stages along the way. Each stage blocks the hunters' progress until they can clear it. As you can see in the castle above, there are many different ways to reach the castle's master (T) and break the curse on this place.
Stages have many different types, and a castle about this size will require 4-6 hours to finish, depending on how quickly you overcome the monsters. All in all, I anticipate that the 12-castle final game will have about 60-100 hours of content, depending on how deep hunters want to explore the bonus castles. Hunters can pause and put away the game easily after any stage, resuming later. Hunters can also join and leave between stages, and players can switch which hunters they are using and adapt their loadouts to adapt to upcoming challenges.
The adventure starts with a Missive, a large sealed envelope about the size of a book mailer. Breaking the seal on the missive, hunters will find a letter that tells the story of the castle they are exploring. Some of these letters are from authorities of the Church, from concerned associates, and maybe even from hunters in your own party (there are no silent protagonists in this game). After reading the missive letter, you will discover the castle's map board (pictured above) and set out on the adventure.
Each time you encounter a stage, you will turn to a page in the castle's scenario book, and it will describe what you find there. Sometimes it will be a monster to fight. Other times, a lock to break, a puzzle to solve, a choice to make, or a new ally to join you. After completing the stage, you will place a cleared sticker onto the board, opening up new routes and allowing you to progress through the castle. Make your way to the castle's master and defeat them in battle to break the curse and complete the adventure.
After each adventure, you'll discover a sealed envelope containing new gear and–more importantly–new clues. These clues are the tools you will use to unlock new Missives, unravel the secret history of the world, and continue the campaign!
2D Vertical Combat
It was really important to me that Seventh Cross have a different table presence than other games in its category. I wanted it to be clear from across the room that this was more than just another "guys fight monsters" game.
While we weren't able to keep the sprawling castle map from earlier versions that I loved so much (it just didn't make practical sense), the vertical combat board accomplishes the same goal in a way that supports all the objectives of the game.
Behind the platforms a paper depicts the arena where the hunters will fight, as well as the starting placement of traps, obstacles, power ups, and enemies. The Hunters and Monsters themselves move along these platforms. Gravity is a real mechanic, and space is tight. Just about every attack in the game moves a hunter or the boss, making combat dynamic and adaptive.
Monsters are wholly game-controlled, though a human operator (called the Controller) is responsible for carrying out their moves. The role of the controller rotates among the players, so that players have two opportunities to participate in the action each round of play–one as themselves and one as the Monster.
The Monster's cards are highly disruptive, and it's the controller's responsibility to interrupt the hunter turn with a strike when they step into range, or to dodge when the hunter strikes at them from certain angles. Every action a hunter takes has a possibility of being countered and punished by the boss. The boss's limited deck is recycled rapidly, so hunters will quickly learn the boss's ranges and be able to adapt. On repeat fights (which can be attempted at higher difficulties for better loot), the boss's deck is randomized. Hunters will need to fight adaptively during each encounter, rather than re-using memorized steps from a previous engagement.
Monsters also have multiple stages. After taking a certain amount of damage, the boss will regroup, learn new attack patterns, ditch some of their old attack patterns, and often alter the setup of the stage. Just when you have the rhythm down to defeat an enemy, Seventh Cross will force you to adapt your play style to a new challenge.
Hunters have plenty of tricks at their disposal as well. A large pool of weapons are unique to each hunter, and can be upgrade with major upgrades (new attacks or abilities) and minor upgrades (improved damage and bonus effects) over the course of many adventures. Weapons use a series of icons to describe their effects, with very few lines of text on the cards themselves.
Stage effects like poison gas, switch-operated traps, fires, and walls of ice can be used by the hunters and the boss against one another. Hunters are able to hide behind crates and other objects in order to avoid the incoming attacks of the boss. They can place traps that will trigger and deal damage as the boss moves around.
Each boss has its own unique skills and mechanics as well. Some will change weapons mid-fight. Others transform the stage, summon minions, or require the hunters to pursue a secondary objective instead of fighting the boss head on. Hunters will need to consider each boss's strengths and weaknesses when forming a strategy and selecting their loadout.
Just about every weapon in the game can be used against the boss as a reaction, allowing hunters to fight just as dynamically and unpredictably as their foes. Resource management is key, as Hunters must stop to rest or drink potions in order to recover their life and spent weapons. Bosses will test your valuation of every card in your small and highly customizable deck, and hunters are encouraged to customize and adapt to the challenges ahead, implementing vastly different tactics and team strategies. Weapons have passive powers as well, giving every card in your hand both a reason to play and a reason to hold back.
Death is quick and brutal. Bosses are capable of executing an unprepared hunter in one or two attacks. After a hunter is eliminated, they become the permanent controller of the boss. When two hunters are eliminated, the party becomes routed. When the boss changes forms after losing half of its life, the hunters also get an opportunity to regroup, and defeated hunters can rejoin the fight. All this means that even if you have to make a noble sacrifice or are caught off-guard, you're never out for long in an engagement.
Sanctuary & Associates
Between fights, hunters can make use of Sanctuary, their home base. Associates you meet will gather there and provide services, such as weapon upgrades, health increases, achievements, hints for solving puzzles, and leads on new castles. Hunters can also freely adjust their loadouts to prepare for upcoming challenges, or examine their clues to discover new paths forward.
As you explore, you'll discover trinkets, which can be given to these associates to increase their affinity. Raising an associate's affinity provides better prices on their services, and may provide additional clues that will unlock bonus castles or new skills.
Now all that remains is to build out the content that populates these systems. Our content creation strategies have been a large part of the 'background development' that I haven't talked about much in these posts. As you can probably imagine though, a game of this scope requires significant planning to make sure that every lock has its key placed correctly and every hidden weapon and clue can be reached by the hunters.
There's also a significant amount of art to produce–castles, weapons, associates, villains, monsters, clues, and more. There's also the graphic design of the all these different components. However, we've charted out a path and a timeline for getting these assets produced.
We are planning to have a reviewer copy of Seventh Cross fully illustrated and prepared in March 2018. Aside from going out to well-known reviewers, this copy will also be available to all of you via Tabletop Simulator to try out! We want to have the large majority of the art done before the project begins, so the game itself should be coming to Kickstarter in the late summer of 2018.
In the meantime, I'll be using this blog to show off the individual mechanics and components as they come together! Look out for more soon!