Development Diary #9
The Cost of Business in Immacus
The economy in Kingdoms of Immacus has always been a point of contention for me. Everything feels expensive, and that's why I have made the previous change of moving buildings to a threshold system. Things felt smoother, but then it seemed that the spells were getting in the way. I decided to make some pretty drastic changes and add a wild-card resource that you can convert to the other resources in the game that are used to play spells and followers. I really liked it as it moved the game along quickly and allowed you to build more things during your turn. However, it became apparent that the fact that you need to be swimming in resources to play some things is the real issue. I may keep the wild-card resource in a limited fashion, but here are the winners and losers from the last play test session.
Winner: The Mage Academy
I wanted to welcome a new building to the bunch: the Mage Academy. Basically, the Mage Academy replaces the Magic Well, but instead of producing Magic, it unlocks your spells and the enlightenment of those spells. With the Mage Academy, gone are the enlightenment costs and magic is now produced from the Domains. This worked well for a few reasons. It tied all the resources in the game to the resource cards (sometimes players would forget to generate magic from their Magic Well). Secondly, it nixed the enlightenment cost, which made the already expensive spells even more expensive (the cost for spells was also capped). Finally, much like the Village, it made players play a building that had an effect on the cards they could play from their hand, which is an important theme in the game. The Mage Academy is definitely here to stay.
Loser: The Magic Well
Unfortunately, the one building I thought would stand the test of time (so much so I already started the art on it) will exit the game in its current form. Producing resources outside the resource cards was a stretch, and only producing resource for enlightenment made it not as useful as it could have been. Spells were expensive, and the Magic Well wasn't doing anything to alleviate that.
Winner: Upgrading Realms from Principalities
Boy howdy was the game board a mess before this change, and with another play test in, the realms have proven they need to stay in the game. It makes things easier to manage with less on the board and being able to produce more resources in general. Each player having 9 domains out at the end of the game was a literal flipping and turning nightmare. The cap is 5ish (this may change to 6), which is super nice. It also offers a disloyalty wipe if a player can manage to kick a fomenter off the domain in time. I still have some concerns about fomenter barrages, but more playtesting is needed.
Loser: The Cost Curve
The more I look at the cost curve in the game, the more it seems excessively overcosted. To be fair to it, it was one of the first things I did in the development process, and I think I may have oversimplified the mathematical formula to get it where it is today. So the curve definitely needs to be revamped for followers. Luckily for the spells, I did a gut-check costing curve with minor math that didn't follow the follower formula, so not much has to be done there. What will the new cost curve look like? Well it'll take into account rarity as a bonus to give rarer cards a boost for a few reasons: 1) rarer cards are limited more than common cards and are less likely to come up because of the rarity caps. 2) Rare followers take an immense amount of resources to ascend if a player tries to repay their casting cost. 3) They tend to have nastier abilities that intrinsically cost more. Of course, there will be more than this, but this is definitely something I want to look at, and perhaps there will be a later blog post about this once I finish the changes.
Loser: Hero Spells
It takes a lot of resources to level a hero, and their abilities should feel threatening when they obtain them. Xenic's Primordial Bloom is a solid level II spell with 0 cost. Currently, Chef Buu's level II spell is a heavy utility spell, which isn't bad, but it's not as intuitive to new players why you would want to draw and then discard a card. That is an idea that has more merit for higher tier players, and the reason I say this is because it has never been used in play testing since its implementation. So, the goal is to tweak the hero spells so they are deathly easy in the beginning and then ramp up in mechanistic utility as they get stronger. Xenic's level III and IV spells are very mechanically niche, requiring a player to play into their particular strategies early on e.g. build Xetzes and sludge, which is the point of choosing your hero spec, but these things can be hard to gauge in general play testing that isn't directed towards a specific strategy. These spells will get another once over probably with minor tweaks.
Winner: Gold, the Wild-card Resource
With the implementation of gold as a generic wild-card resource, the game moved quicker, more things were going on, and players got to explore some great choices the game has to offer. By the end of the game, players have so much gold, that a 10 gold coin dump for a Prosperity Token was a no-brainer. I really liked the zippy/conversion element it added to the game.
Loser: Gold, the Wild-card Resource
With the implementation of gold as a generic wild-card resource, it showed the problem with the cost curve. You shouldn't need a pile of gold so high it lures dragons to make interesting choices. The way I had the gold created, the game engine produced a lot of it, which is an easy tweak, but it added another element in an already loaded game. There actually isn't anything wrong with gold in and of itself, and it may even stay in the game in some form, but first I will make the changes with the economic portions of the game before going back to the gold model. I don't want players drowning in a resource and trying to manage that as well.
I am leaving the last play test session with some valuable insight on where to go next with the game. The Mage Academy is great and needs to stay. That decision alone dramatically changes the game. The enlightenment cost on the cards needs to be removed, all the casting costs need to be redone, and the domains need to reflect the new implementation of Magic being generated from them. Also, the costing curve needs its tweak. That's enough for one iteration, and that is what I will work on next. It'll keep me busy for a bit.