Development Diary #5
Send in the Fomenters!
Kingdoms of Immacus has gone into play test warp speed, and with every play test, comes new mechanics or the removal of others. Some of these are major changes, but they are major changes that improve on a working game. If I were to release Kingdoms today (if the card's art was all painted), what you would have is a fully functional meaty strategy game to play. However, it isn't where I want it to be. My current feelings on the game are summed up by this meme.
If Magic the Gathering is the God of card games, every day Kingdoms of Immacus strays further from it. Ultimately, this is a positive -- I wanted Kingdoms of Immacus to be its own rich unique experience, so I feel these mega changes to structure for the sake of refinement are great, especially if it pulls the game away from the shoulders of giants before it. I think what Richard Garfield did with Magic the Gathering is amazing, and the gaming industry is better for it. I truly believe it's a stretch to create a new card game without looking at some mechanic or concept Magic the Gathering used. Kingdoms of Immacus has units and spells and those things have costs associated with them. Not all the cards mind you, buildings are on a threshold mechanic, but casting cost, spells, and creatures are all things present in Magic that I have in my own game. Nevertheless, that's where the similarities end, and Kingdoms of Immacus becomes its own game.
I never set out to recreate a card game that is already out, and I think a lot of developers (mainly PC games and phone games) have thought this is a clever thing to do or maybe even an easy money maker. Oftentimes the "cards" in the game are artificial -- meaning there is no reason the unit or ability needs to be represented as a card, and in some cases the card is no longer a card when it is on the field of play. Perhaps this is trying to tap into a customer psychology that I am not aware of, but if the unit is not a card on the board, why does it need to be a card to begin with? Why not the 2D or 3D rendering that is on the board? Make it a miniature collecting game then. It is just odd to me. Anyway, I'm rambling. Kingdoms of Immacus started out as a battle board game -- not a card game, so the hard board game elements are just being transitioned into a card game format, which makes the game different in some key ways.
The differences in Kingdoms of Immacus has led to the constant tweaking, which makes sense. The first major tweak from the most recent play tests was to what I call the unit problem. The unit problem was the distraction units on the board brought to the other mechanics in the game. Players would focus on playing units, wiping the board, then experiment with the other game mechanics. This felt natural to players because that's what you do in any other card combat game. This play style was reduced a little bit by revamping the buildings and making them more important to the overall game. The Village set a hard unit cap, the Training Grounds gave players a reason to ascend via the building instead of using resources, the Masonry dampened the ability to smash an opponent's buildings easily, etc. The game became more focused on building your machine and your kingdom since Expandability was now only rewarded for reaching level 4 with a building. Constantly keeping an opponent unit-less didn't give a player any reward, but it still carried more influence than I wanted... so I added a farm building that limited what units can do through action points.
Boy howdy did I like this change. It made every decision much more meaningful, and put players that try to swarm and neglect the rest of the game in check.The only real problem to this is it slowed the game down to a point where it made it difficult to pursue much of an offensive strategy. I may come back to this idea because I really liked the farm, but as of now, I'm more interested in speeding up the game and giving it a nicer game flow. When the game was play tested again, without the farm, it seemed that the larger issue with the unit problem was not that players had too much to do and that should be restricted, it is that the units have no way to be dynamically used other than attacking. One of the biggest things that have bothered me about the play test sessions is that sovereignty isn't pursed because 1. It is difficult and 2. there is much more reward for pursuing directs attacks and collecting calamity and brutality tokens. After some reflection and discussion about the act of conquering kingdoms, I decided to add a subtype of follower known as the fomenter.
A fomenter is a unit that is skilled at manipulation, rabble rousing, or chaos. The end result of the fomenter's journey on the battlefield is causing a kingdom to defect and become a sovereign kingdom. The people that live in the kingdom revolt over the leadership's inability to remove the threat or are swayed to leave. The sovereignty mechanic remains the same, but now only fomenter units can conquer kingdom cards and engage with one another. How does this affect game play? Now players really need to think about how many fomenters and normal followers they should have in their decks. If you stack your deck with fomenters, your buildings and hero are defenseless, and the ability to collect calamity and brutality tokens are crippled. If you stack your deck with normal units, an opponent can conquer your kingdoms freely and crush your ability to have a functional economy (this reinforces the dynamic nature of the Kingdoms of Immacus resource economy -- it is not passive!) This solves the unit problem of strictly board clearing and ignoring sovereignty, while giving players more strategic choices with their decks. However, you can't change anything without causing some unforeseen issues.
The play test session made something very clear about fomenters -- they are way too skilled at causing chaos and work too well. It became apparent early on that if a player does not draw a fomenter and their opponent does, there is a nasty amount of runaway leader only because the economy is destroyed by losing so many kingdoms early on. Thus, fomenters are due to be nerfed. If the fomenter's purpose in the game is to get a kingdom to secede, and they are successful, mission accomplished, now return to your owner's hand. Part of me wants to remove them from the game when they conquer, but we'll see how it plays out in the next play test session. Also, once you collect 5 sovereignty tokens, congrats, no more conquering for you. I don't want players to beat on an already crippled opponent if they don't get a fomenter turn 1. It's punishment enough to lose a couple irreplaceable resource cards though game mechanics let alone individual cards that try to do the same thing. There are some changes to the kingdom cards as well to clean up the game board a little bit. Now there is just a hard kingdom card cap of 6 instead of 9 and you have to upgrade them to get more resources, but more on that in a later post.
Though the game has strayed in an unforeseen direction, I am happy that the fomenters have joined the Kingdoms of Immacus family. They are fun, add some more dimension to current mechanics, and speed up the game slightly as they make sovereignty more appealing. I have another play test session scheduled for this week with the fomenter and kingdom card changes and I will most likely blog about that as well.