Designer Diary Part 2: Spells and Systems

  Empyreal    (formerly  Fantasy Rails ) has been in development for several years, and what a wild and crazy journey it has been!

Empyreal (formerly Fantasy Rails) has been in development for several years, and what a wild and crazy journey it has been!

Magical, you might say.

The core design has held through the many redesigns though. What are the core gameplay elements? Action selection, Pick-Up-and-Deliver, variable player powers, varying terrain costs, different schools of magic tied to terrain and goods, and magic spells you can use to enhance your engine or interact with other players.

These are all present in the final design, and were present in the first as well. What was that first design like? In the first designer diary I showed off some of the very first player boards. You'll notice that each company had three research schools that corresponded to the terrains in which it was best at building.

Players would stack their tracks in these research fields. When all of the track on a given research field was built, it would unlock a new player ability.

 An original prototype player board, with some familiar placeholder icons ;)

An original prototype player board, with some familiar placeholder icons ;)

It was kind of a neat and unique system. However, it had an obvious problem: if the track was on top of the power, you couldn't read what the power did, so players were constantly picking up their track to read through their powers when they forgot which research they wanted to head towards.

(Not to mention such a system would be even more difficult with the train minis we're now using in Empyreal. At the time, I just used cardboard chits for track. My how far we've come!)

What I did like about this old system is that each player had a passive ability and six other abilities they could unlock. But in this early design, your player board never changed—it was actually far less choice than what you can now do in Empyreal with the myriad of different specialists in the game. Your research paths would always be the same, and the only thing that changed from game to game is the order you unlocked these powers.

The old spell system was also very different. If you read the available actions from the old player boards you see that you used to draw spell cards as one of the actions you could choose to do on your turn. Then when you cast spells, you would pay the cost for the spell by discarding other spells from you hand. It was actually a pretty neat system, but incredibly random, too much so for a game that requires a lot of planning.

 Original prototype spell cards

Original prototype spell cards

We ended up going in a much cooler direction when Level 99 took over development and we added in Specialists. Now each company can go in wildly different directions in each game!

Next diary we'll look at the evolution to the player boards—which weren't entirely different from the current company portfolios—and you'll really get a sense of how we ended up where we are today!

-Trey Chambers, Lead Designer