Unlike version 22, which was a minor patch to the Tower of Ascension created in v21, our next version of Seventh Cross was more of a full revamp. This version featured heavy changes to the encounter system, as well as new options for players to activate their Gear Grids and clear the encounters. Bosses now roam the castle, providing an ongoing threat to the players.
I created a new scenario for this version as well, in order to experiment with a less linear narrative. In the tiny village of Norbett's Claw, an eternal winter has fallen. The hunters are summoned to the castle when the disappearances of young women from local villages coincide with the strange weather, prompting rumors of an evil ritual. Within the castle, they secure the unlikely help of allied Church Hunters, and the optional aid of a fire devil bound in service to the castle's master.
For this castle, the major change was to the Wing Tiles that made up the place. We opted for larger wing tiles, which had the encounters that players would face printed on them. The castle was set up at the start of the game, and players would traverse through it, seeking out Story Events and Checkpoints. Checkpoints provided easier traversal around the castle, while Story Events would trigger narrative segments from the adventure book and advance the plot.
This ended up being a great style of play. Interspersing the narrative segments with more mechanical turns about once every 2 or 3 rounds broke up the gameplay just enough that players were always looking forward to the next boss fight or the next story advancement.
Players overcame the challenges (which were now printed directly onto the board) by activating Gear Grids, placing Stamina Markers onto grids which were filled in by various pieces of equipment (shown on the right). Each character had a Special Power, which was useable by placing a Red Stamina Marker onto the board (the player had a much more limited supply of these 'Advanced Stamina Markers' than they had of normal ones).
Level cards provided a way for players to level up and customize their skill sets, and could be used for the Life or Stamina boost on the reverse (far left), or for the actual skill on their face (right). (I got the idea for this from Terrene Encounters, for those following along with that blog :D)
When a player made an evil plot decision or was defeated in combat and revived, they would acquire a Dark Level which provided better upgrades than normal, but carried some nebulous story-related baggage if you got too many of them.
Bosses and Combat
Bosses in this version were spawned by story events, and would patrol the castle in search of the players, attacking when they closed in. Combat could be carried out by means of attacking a boss with a Weapon (right) which converted certain stat symbols into damage.
These battles were fine, but the boss's specific path tendencies were inflexible, often leading to the player knowing they were safe from certain enemies. We tried a few variants with more pro-active monsters that could chase players, and those worked much better.
Getting the right balance of memorability and mechanical uniqueness in the bosses has been pretty tough. V23's bosses were good, but many had abilities which activated at inopportune moments and had to be constantly remembered, such as the Knight above.
Conclusions from v23
We felt fairly good about the gameplay in version 23 of the game. We had a lot of fun, and players enjoyed the pacing and content of the story segments, and the choices the game asked them to make. In general, we felt that v23 was heading in the right direction, and resolved to add and adjust from this version, rather than cutting back or moving in any radical new directions.
The biggest hurdles were that boss balance was still a bit weak, and the pacing of moving around the castle needed some improvement. The individual names for the challenges, and skills that helped you best specific kinds of challenges, weren't worth the complication (much like the encounter tags in v22).
We didn't get to explore the characters' monstrous powers much in v23, but we delved much deeper into this area in v24, and began thinking about the larger scale of the castle as one adventure in a campaign. We began working on v24, resolving to preserve the best elements of v23 as well as to improve on the pacing of play and the relevance of the bosses.
I'll share more about the development of v24 next week! :)