My latest post ended with the conclusion that the Gear Grid and the way we had been building castles was not viable for the game that we were trying to create. But what was the game we were trying to create? I wanted something that would capture the feel of castlevania-style exploration and backtracking, giant boss combat, and narrative story progress.
After 30 versions of development, I finally arrived at the conclusion that there could be no universal way to handle all these things within one system. Building a stat-check system was an option, but it wasn't adding anything new to the genre of "four guys explore and fight monsters" games like Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, Descent, and Gloomhaven.
In the end, it was by giving up on a unifying system that we found the way forward.
The idea for stages began when we looked at the sprawling castle game board for Seventh Cross, and the way that hunters were moving through it. Traversal across the board was always a pain, even with things like teleporters to help you out. And once an area was completed, there was rarely more to do there. The idea came to us to make each wing of the castle a single "stage"– a little mini-encounter that could be cleared by the whole party at once.
With this system, the party would separate and act independently in battle, but work together as a team outside of combat. It kept everyone involved at each point in the adventure.
At first, the game was just a series encounters where hunters would have to clear a dungeon with traps and small mobs. After a few iterations, we found that these stages were pretty boring. The only interesting combat stages were big boss fights. So we decided to cut all the mobs and traps, and keep combat purely relegated to boss fights. This marked the return of the epic big boss fights we had been sorry to cut out earlier in development, and I was glad to see them finally come back.