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Strategy Tips: Avenger

Nov 16 2017

This is part one in a series of articles meant to provide tips and advice to players trying The Masters’ Trials: Wrath of Magmaroth.

The Avenger is the most straightforward class to play. She is good at dealing damage and with new minions appearing every round, she has lots and lots of targets.

  • When playing with an Avenger, you should focus on abilities that deal damage. The party relies on you to deal with the bigger threats, so you need to make sure you can deliver on that. Everything else is low priority.
  • You don’t need to invest too much on mana producing abilities. You usually get enough mana out of the minions that you destroy so it is more effective to focus on mastering other abilities.
  • Unless your dice land on multiple Insight-producing abilities on the first round, you can safely ignore Relics.
  • Being able to deal a lot of damage allows you to control what mana you and the other players will be getting out of the minions. It is important to discuss with the other players, see if any of them is able to deal even a single point of damage, and ask them what type of mana they could use. Then, deal your damage so that the rest of the threats are taken care of and these minions are left for the other players.
  • Make often use of the elemental actions. Since you generate a lot of mana when you destroy minions, using the elemental actions properly allows you to do even more things than what you initially thought possible and provide additional assistance (beyond damage output) to the party. A stunned minion is better than a non stunned one!
  • Sometimes, you may end up producing so much mana out of destroyed minions that you will be able to break Seals on your own. Keep it in mind since it may be very helpful for the party.
  • By the time you reach Magmaroth, you should be able to consistently generate at least 6-8 damage per turn. Depending on the abilities and the die rolls, it is not uncommon for Avengers to deal even 12+ damage.

Cool Combinations

  • The most obvious combination out of the cards the Avenger has in her disposal is Ignite the Flame with Rain of Fire. These 2 abilities allow you to quickly take care of multiple minions at once, especially the smaller ones. Not only does the fire mana you already have, translate into damage on multiple minions, as soon as they die you get more fire mana which allows you to finish off those that were left standing.

  

  • If there is a Warden in the party, Consuming Rage is very powerful and should be highly prioritized, especially when combined with Restoration.

  

  • The Order of the Glowing Embers is the optimal Order for the Avenger due to Imbue the Body and the 3 copies of Crushing Blow. The Order of the Burning Sands also contains 3 copies of Crushing Blow as well as many Fire Mana abilities on the board, which makes it another good option. The Order of the Celestial Tide has Tame the Tide which you can make great use of, but be aware that the board does not contain many Fire Mana It will provide you with multiple Ripple abilities though which are also great with almost all of your cards.

  

  

  • The Sword of Fury is probably the most easy to use but since all of the Weapons have damage-dealing abilities, they are all good candidates for your character.

  

The Masters’ Trials: The Wrath of Magmaroth is a co-operative dice placement game for 1 to 4 players. On sale in December!

The Masters’ Trials: As I Walk through the Valley…

Oct 20 2017

Outside the lost valley, three Masters approach the ancient Volcano; an Avenger from the Order of the Glowing Ambers swinging her Sword of Fury, a Warden from the Order οf the Celestial Tides spinning his Chain of Balance and a Loremaster from the order of the Scorching Winds, holding his Staff of Enlightenment. Together they will try to deal with this new threat…

They walk inside the entrance of Magmaroth’s Lair when its minions unleash a surprise attack.  The Avenger strikes a crushing blow at a fire Salamander and the Loremaster finishes it off. The rest of them go away for now and the Warden, with help from the little light that comes from the entrance, spots a small ring on the floor that looks like a Ring of Wrath; proof that other heroes tried to defeat Magmaroth before but failed.

They decide to approach quietly so they follow a Dark Tunnel. While doing so they bring in mind their teachings so that they can be better prepared to deal with their enemies. The Loremaster focuses on the rooms and senses another relic near them, belonging to a fallen hero. It is a Bracelet of Protection which he hopes will bring better luck to them than its previous owner.

Unfortunately, Magmaroth is aware of their presence and sends again its minions to crush them. They take some damage from these foul creatures but the Warden takes a deep breath and with the power of air and water, blows a rejuvenating gust that heals her companions. The Avenger, eager to strike back the minions, ignites the flame inside of her and kills 2 enemies at once. The rest of the minions however manage to inflict damage to the Masters before fleeing once again out of their sight. The Loremaster takes this chance to focus on his mastery of water technique, since it will definitely come in handy.

As the party approaches the end of Dark tunnels a dim light illuminates the entrance of the next area, a Rift Cave, tall enough to fit the worst fears of humanity and full of small holes. On the walls there are magical seals, symbols of power that reflect the presence of Magmaroth. Unfortunately before our heroes manage to decipher and destroy those marks, two Lava Efreets materialize in front of them and Fire Salamanders attack them rushing out from the holes. The Avenger swings her sword and attacks an Efreet hitting it twice and shattering it to dust, the Loremaster helps the Avenger and also takes care temporarily of the other Efreet, making it trip using just a bit of air mana. The minions however are still too many and they inflict massive damage to our heroes  but the Warden once more rejuvenates the party and makes sure they are up to the fight. Unable to kill our heroes, the minions go back to their lairs.

Following another Dark Tunnel, the three masters move as fast as possible, hoping no minions follow them. Unfortunately this is not the case and soon they found themselves surrounded by all kinds of enemies. Small Rock Elementals block their exit while Salamanders and Efreets spray lava and fire on them. Everything seems lost when the Warden takes the initiative to guide his friends while healing their wounds. She also recalls her teachings on how to tame the tide and remain focused even amidst chaos. The Avenger on the other hand, concentrates for a few seconds and then starts a series of blazing strikes on their enemies. In just a couple of seconds she is done, and her whole body is glowing with fire as two of their enemies lay on the ground. In the meanwhile the Loremaster manages to concentrate just enough to discover another relic full of magical energy: another Ring of Wrath.  He uses its power to help with their situations and urges the rest of the party to move further down the volcano. Although they continue to see magical Seals everywhere around them, they have no time to lose as the minions are still on their backs and hunt them down with menace.

The tunnels soon lead to a Lava Lake. As they try to move across it, stepping on the few stones that are spread across the lava, they realize it’s a trap. More minions appear, surrounding them and ready to devour them. The Masters however feel no fear. The Warden uses her Tame the Tide technique to focus and once again rejuvenates the whole party to prepare them for the fight. The Avenger then, invigorated by the Warden’s spell, holds her hands in front of her and they start glowing. She then lashes her burning fists at the minions with everything she’s got. Crushing blow after crushing blow she strikes salamanders, rock elementals and efreets, leaving piles of dust in their place. The Loremaster, using another Ring of Wrath that he found, strikes the remaining minions. With no enemy in sight they take a moment to decipher the magical Seals around them and soon they realize the sheer power of Magmaroth.

One of them is a Seal of Courage that helps the minions stay active and fearless in the presence of Magmaroth. After studying it for a few minutes the Loremaster finally realizes the magic that was used to put it in place and with the help of the rest of the Masters, they all get to break it once and for all. Unfortunately, there are still many more Seals spread through this wretched place, but they’ve gained enough confidence to know they can defeat the evil Magmaroth and clean this land from its presence.

Will they succeed?

The Masters’ Trials: The Wrath of Magmaroth is a co-operative dice placement game for 1 to 4 players. On sale in November with Pre-release at Spiel Essen in October!

The Masters’ Trials: Here I go again, on my own!

Oct 12 2017

In the past few years, more and more games have started to include ways to play them solo. This is usually easier in cooperative games where a single player can play the “role” of different players at once.

The Masters’ Trials is a cooperative game and right from the start we knew it had to be solo-playable. And not just “play with 2 characters as if you were playing with 2 players” solo. We wanted players to be able to take a single character and play on their own.

However, there was an additional challenge to consider. Each of the characters plays differently, having their own strengths and weaknesses. The game on the other hand has some specific threats that it throws at the players. How do you make it so that the challenge remains the same when each character deals with each threat differently? Something that may be too easy for one of the characters, may end up being way too hard for another  to deal with.

On top of that, in a multiplayer game, each character fills a different role, performing different tasks. The Avenger for example, will deal with most of the minions while the Mystic will focus on generating more and more mana to take down the Seals. If you take the Avenger out of the equation though, you are left with a Mystic who has to fight minions. To do that, he will have to focus on damage dealing spells which will result on him not being able to gather the mana he needs.

That problem bothered us quite a bit during the game’s design. We had asymmetric characters and each of them played differently in a multi-player game. They couldn’t all play the same in the solo game!

The solution to this problem turned out to be much simpler than we thought.

Instead of having a solo variant, why not have 4 solo variants?

In other words, since each character plays differently, why not make the solo experience different for each of the characters?

Indeed, this is what you will be getting when the game is released. 4 different ways to play the game solo. Each character has their own setup, their own special rules and a different win condition.

Do you want to do a ton of damage and kill minions?

Play with the Avenger. You will be facing more minions than normal and a tougher Magmaroth at the end but play well and you will be able to handle it.

Do you want to focus on mana?

Play with the Mystic. You will have fewer minions to care about but lots and lots of Magical Seals to break in order to defeat Magmaroth!

Do you like to collect artifacts?

Play with the Loremaster. The more Artifacts you ‘ll get, the easier it will be to defeat the evil elemental!

Can you survive for many rounds an onslaught of attacks?

Play with the Warden. You will have a companion that you will need to protect and you will have to survive inside Magmaroth’s lair for many rounds in order to win.

Each character offers a very different solo playing experience. On top of that, each solo mode has 2 difficulty levels for players to master.

If you like playing solo, make sure to check The Masters’ Trials. You won’t just be getting a game that plays solo. You will be getting 4 different single player experiences, all in the same box!

Vangelis Bagiartakis & Tassos Grigoriadis

The Masters’ Trials: The Wrath of Magmaroth is a co-operative dice placement game for 1 to 4 players. On sale in November with Pre-release at Spiel Essen in October!

The Masters’ Trials: Play it Again, Sam!

Oct 4 2017

One of the key characteristics that The Masters’ Trials has, is the ability to customize your characters. Here is a brief description of how exactly this works:

In the game, each player has a board in front of them that represents their character. These boards consist of 3 parts:

The first part is the character’s class. There are 4 classes currently in the game:

  • Avenger: Emphasizes on dealing damage
  • Mystic: Adept at generating and converting mana
  • Loremaster: Good at searching rooms for artifacts
  • Warden: Focuses on healing and protecting the group

The second part is the Order in which the character was trained:

  • Order of the Glowing Embers
  • Order of the Everlasting Waterfall
  • Order of the Celestial Tide
  • Order of the Scorching Winds

Finally, the third part is the character’s weapon of choice:

  • Sword of Fury
  • Orb of the Elements
  • Staff of Enlightenment
  • Chain of Balance

The combination of these boards create a character. The one shown above for example is an Avenger of the Order of the Glowing Embers that carries the Sword of Fury.

Each board contains a different combination of starting abilities. Most of them are mana-generating abilities, with the rest focusing on dealing damage or gathering Insight.

However, each board also comes with its own deck of cards. When you create your character, you take the cards that correspond to your 3 boards and you shuffle them together. These cards will now be the deck from which you will be mastering new abilities during the game.

Matching a class with a different Order and a different Weapon allows for different combinations and a different playing experience. One Order for example may have more copy effects while with another one it may be easier to generate mana. One of the weapons may make it easy for you to hit multiple targets while with another one you will be able to push more damage through to a single target.

This gives you the chance to explore each character’s strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to try different things each time you play and discover new combos!

In the end, you can create characters based on your personal playing style, making each game much more memorable!

Vangelis Bagiartakis & Tassos Grigoriadis

The Masters’ Trials: The Wrath of Magmaroth is a co-operative dice placement game for 1 to 4 players. On sale in November with Pre-release at Spiel Essen in October!

The Masters’ Trials: Design Diary Part 2 – Achieving Mastery

Sep 27 2017

This is a continuation from last week’s article.

Vangelis Bagiartakis (VB): With the game’s “basics” in place, it was now time to deal with the difficult part: the details. The first thing to do was “define” our setting and the exact way the resources would work. Having played a lot of Magic: The Gathering I was aware of the importance of a “color wheel”. Each type of mana should have its own identity. It would be associated with certain things and the various classes would have different access to it.

For example, fire mana would be used mainly for abilities that caused damage. On the other hand, water would be used mainly for healing. The earth mana would be associated with mana generation/conversion while air would be used to stun/disorient the opponent along with searching the rooms.

Since we had shifted to elemental warriors, we spent quite some time examining what the races should be. At some point we realized that in the theme we had chosen, it made more sense to go with monastic Orders instead of races.

Anastasios Grigoriadis (AG): Every resource should be used differently inside the game but at the same time they should all have equal value (Fire=Air=Water=Earth). In the color wheel no resource is above any other. All are equal but at the same have a different impact on the “world”. Also, based on the wheel we could safely say that:

  • Fire is the opposite of Water
  • Earth is the opposite of Air.

VB: What we needed to settle on pretty early, was how the “mix-and-match” of the boards was going to work. In other words, what was each part of your board (class/order/weapon) bringing to the table? What abilities would they have?

This was very important because we wanted every combination to be viable. However, that was harder than it sounded. We had assigned some characteristics to each type of mana and as a result, each class was focused on one of them (based on the same characteristics). But what about the Orders? If we also focused the Orders on the types of mana, then there would be certain combinations that would be way more advantageous. The other important aspect that we needed to nail down, was what exactly their abilities would be. The abilities between all 3 separate boards needed to be distinct – to have their own identity. If we were going to focus the damage-related abilities on the fire-class, then what would go on an Order ability? And how would we make them feel different?

After a lot of brainstorming and many playtests we settled on this: What would define each character would be the class. That’s where most of the abilities that would determine each strategy would be. Then, the Orders would all have the same abilities but in different quantities. Each Order would be focused on 2 of the mana types and it would offer higher quantities of the abilities that required them. It would still have the rest of the abilities though (in small quantities), to give access to everyone if they so wanted.

This solution offered some important advantages:

  • The Orders had focus but were not limiting the class you could match them with.
  • Having the same abilities in all of the Orders made learning the game easier. Less information to overwhelm you with when trying a different combination.
  • It gave us more flexibility with the design of the classes’ abilities. We didn’t have to worry about putting a new ability on an order.
  • When combining a class with an order that focused on other types of mana, it allowed you to play the same character differently and do new things. That was exactly what we wanted in the first place!

AG: In the RPGs the races are actually templates that can be used to alter the way classes are played, for example Elf Warrior and Half Orc Warrior. This was exactly what we wanted to achieve with the Orders. In our game our heroes are trained differently in each Monastery Order. They all share a basic training but focus on a different path and obtain a different mastery. In game terms we needed to create a pool of abilities that would be bound to a certain color and then distributed to each order based on their focus. It was again harder than we thought because we needed to create 4 universal (for our game) thematically driven powers. If I remember correctly, all but one changed – some of them more than once!

We also did another cool thing with the Orders. We added a static (“ongoing”) ability to each of them, which we called “Masteries”. Each Order’s mastery is unique and they give a special ability that actually changes the way a player interacts with the game.

VB: The next problem that we had to solve was that of scaling. Changing the numbers of minions drawn each round or the seals that the players would have to break was the easy part. The biggest problem was elsewhere and it was rooted in the game’s design.

The “threat” in the game consisted of mainly 2 parts: The minions drawn each round and the boss at the end. The minions would have to take damage in order to be defeated which meant having the fighter-class (which we ended up naming “Avenger”) crucial. The boss on the other hand was made powerful through the seals that needed mana in order to be broken – that also made the mana generating-class (a.k.a. the “Mystic”) very important. But what about the other two? What were they adding to the game? Moreover, if the first 2 classes were that crucial, was there a point into playing the other two races in a 2-player game?

We considered various solutions to this problem. One thought we had was to dictate the exact classes that the players would get at each player count. Unfortunately, that was a very bad solution – it meant that certain classes would never be played in a 2-player game and it made them feel like lower-class citizens.

What we needed was for the classes to be equal. Each of them should be able to hold its own and be fully playable, offering a different experience/playing style. They should all have equal chances of beating the game, regardless of the players’ combinations.

AG: One of the most important things that we try to keep in mind when developing a game is that “The number of players must not affect the experience you get from a game”. In RPGs the narrator reveals the challenge of the party following certain rules (how many are playing and what is their current level) thus keeping the session challenging. In board games we have plenty of examples where the number of turns, the number of VP that you need to score or the number of foes and obstacles are changing based on the number of players. In our case this was more complex since classes have equal roles in the game but are totally different at the same time:

  • All classes can do damage but none can be as good as the Avenger
  • All classes can generate mana but none can be as good as the Mystic
  • All classes can heal themselves but none can sustain an entire party as the Warden
  • All classes can try to search rooms and improve their characters with artifacts but none is as good as the Loremaster

We decided that since the class affects the way our players interact with the game then the challenge rating would be created by 2 things:

  • The minions (in quality and numbers) are generated by the classes that participate in a game
  • The seals (in quality and numbers) are generated by the number of players that are playing

VB: The main problem in scaling was the minions drawn. If the Avenger was in play, things were easy – he would deal with them and everyone else would be able to advance their character as needed, to achieve their own goals (the Mystic would add mana-generating abilities to their board, the Loremaster would generate Insight to search rooms and the Warden – the healer of the group – would work on those crucial healing spells). However, when the Avenger was not in play, the rest of the classes would have to compensate. The threat however was that big that everyone needed to focus on dealing damage, neglecting their previous focus. Even when they weren’t losing horribly, the experience was not fun.

Since the problem was in the minions, the solution that we settled on was based on them. The minion deck would change its contents depending on the classes present in the game. If the Avenger was present, it would include more difficult to beat monsters. If the Mystic and the Warden were the only ones playing, it would contain mostly small monsters, easier for the players to handle. They would still pose a threat, however not one that would distract them from their main goal.

Although we were a bit skeptical to try this solution, it worked like a charm. It achieved exactly what we needed and helped the different classes to stand out. We were no longer worried about the class combinations. Each and every one of them could stand its own.

While the Avenger and the Mystic were quite straightforward, the Loremaster – the character that searched the rooms – was trickier to design. We had settled on having another resource in the game, called Insight. Players would gather Insight and that would be used to search the rooms. It would work similarly to damage in that, if unused, it would reset at the end of the round. If a character was to match the room’s Insight difficulty, then they would draw Artifact cards that would grant them powerful ongoing abilities.

Even though the Loremaster would have no trouble gathering Insight and using it to get more artifacts, the other players would completely ignore it. That wasn’t necessarily a problem but it would get worse due to another factor: After a point, experienced players would become quite powerful and near the final rounds they would generate a lot of Insight, but they would no longer need it as much.

It was clear that we needed to find other uses for Insight as well.

Around the same time, we had another problem to deal with. They way the Seals worked, one player had to generate enough mana to break them. More often than not, that player was the Mystic. However, inexperienced players would have a hard time generating enough mana for the more expensive Seals. Since they were the more powerful ones, not dealing with them usually spelled their doom.

During development, we examined a solution that solved both of these problems. What if you could spend Insight in order to “unlock” the Seals and allow everyone to spend mana on them? That provided another use for Insight (which all of the classes could use on the small seals) it provided interesting options to the Loremaster (do I go for another artifact or do I help the group by unlocking a seal?) and made it less demanding for the Mystic who now didn’t have to generate all that mana on his own.

AG: Although this is a dice rolling game we love the idea of “tough” decisions. During your play you will always have to decide “Do I spend the resources I gathered to remove an obstacle or do I improve my character?” Insight was straight forward since the beginning and needed no alternative. You were generating insight to search the current room and there was nothing else to do apart from improving your character. We were also experiencing an issue with the Seals – players had problems dealing with 2nd and 3rd level Seals. The solutions to both problems combined and Insight became the party tool to deal with high level seals.  Insight was now an equal answer to threats and was helping the party to interact with the seals more efficiently.

 

VB: Near the end, most of the issues had been solved and we were very happy with how the game was playing. Although it was already quite challenging, we thought of some additional hurdles to throw to the players who wanted more.

There was now only one thing remaining: The solo game.

With the game being cooperative, we knew that it was suitable for solo play. The problem was that it would be difficult for a single character to deal with everything that was happening in the game. Not only that, but, since each class focused on different things, the experience would be different with each of them. If we were to make the game easier for example, one of the classes would still struggle while another one would find it way too easy. On top of that, we wanted the players to play differently with every class. If only one was present in the game, they would all have to play the same way to defeat the game.

That’s when it hit me. Why not change the requirements? For each character, the goal would be different. The Avenger (who could easily generate a lot of mana) would focus on killing minions and would have to kill the powerful boss. The Mystic (who could easily generate a lot of mana but had trouble with dealing damage) would not have to worry about killing the minions or the boss, but would have to break numerous Seals in order to win. The Loremaster on the other hand would need to gather as many artifacts as possible while the Warden, would bring a companion along but would have to make sure they stayed alive.

This way, not only would each character play the way they would in multiplayer, the game offered 4 different solo experiences. It felt very different with each class and we knew the solo gamers would absolutely love it!

AG: Regarding the solo version of the game I wanted 3 things:

  • to be fun and challenging for all classes
  • to be an excellent tutorial for new players that wanted to explore the game before playing with their friends
  • to give players the opportunity to explore all aspects of a class

I strongly feel that we addressed all the above.

AG-VB: All in all, we are very excited with how the game turned out. It went through a lot of rough periods, with many changes and complete overhauls, but in the end we created something that we are really proud of. The work we put into this game is probably more than what we’ve put in any other game we’ve worked on, but it was totally worth it.

As soon as you open the box, we are sure you will agree!

The Masters’ Trials: The Wrath of Magmaroth is a co-operative dice placement game for 1 to 4 players. On sale in November with Pre-release at Spiel Essen in October!

The Masters’ Trials: Design Diary Part 1 – The Designers’ Trials

Sep 20 2017

Read the introduction of this article series.

Vangelis Bagiartakis (VB): With the goals set in place, I started exploring how the dungeon-crawling aspect of the game would work. Around that time, my friend Tassos (full name is Anastasios but we call him Tassos) got the chance to see the rough prototype in action and loved the idea. He has a vast (and when I say vast I mean vaaaaaaast) experience in role playing games so, when he expressed interest in helping with the game, I immediately agreed to bring him on board. His experience would prove to be very important while designing the game.

Anastasios Grigoriadis (AG): I’ve loved the idea of dice crafting since the beginning. I’m a huge fun of Dice city and I’ve worked successfully in the past in many projects with Vangelis. So, when I actually put into the basket the words – Dice Crafting – RPG – Bagiartakis – I knew that this would be an awesome journey.

prototype 1 enemy card

prototype 1 player board

VB: For our first attempt, we took the rough version I had initially made and tried to adapt it. Since we were working with cards, the “dungeon” became more abstract. The enemies would be cards they would be placed on rows, simulating enemies coming to you in a dungeon corridor.

The player boards represented the characters and the first problem we had to deal with was what the players’ “resources” were going to be. In the first rough prototype I had gone with Strength, Dexterity, Mana, Cunning and Movement. For this version, some changes needed to be made (like the removal of the movement – it no longer made any sense) and we ended up with Melee Damage, Ranged Damage, Mana and Defense. The goal was to have each player be able to specialize in one and pursue a different strategy.

Regarding the enemies, each monster would give you XP after being killed and you would spend those to upgrade your character with new cards (abilities).

AG: Basically we needed to create a board game that would simulate an RPG session in an hour. You live your adventure, you gather experience and you upgrade your character. Sounds simple but it is not.

 

VB: We did some playtests with this version and while there was some potential in it, there were many things bugging us. The most important one was the resources.

AG: We knew from the beginning that Melee Damage, Ranged Damage, Magic & Defense were not working as resources but we had to start out of something to reach our goal. The basic problems were:

  • Melee Damage and Ranged Damage were almost the same thing.
  • Magic essentially was the only attribute that you could call a resource as it was producing mana but again, only to do damage.
  • Defense had the same problem as Damage, it was not a resource to be spent.

In other words the main problem was that there was no economy based on the resources that players gathered and needed to spend in order to achieve goals and upgrade their player boards. In a sense, we only had 2 types of resources, Health and Damage, which essentially were not enough or interesting to build a game around.

 

VB: Defense was the most awkward of them all. It didn’t help you win – it just prevented the damage you would be getting. While it could be important in the game (for example a character could play the role of the “tank” and absorb damage while the rest of the players would attack the enemies) it wasn’t very fun to play with and it also wasn’t a viable strategy on its own – you couldn’t play solo and win just with a “defender”.

This inconsistency in the resources also made creating new abilities problematic. While it was normal to say “I have 5 mana” it was weird to say “I have 5 Melee Damage”. Damage should be the outcome of your actions, not something you accumulate to spend. Moreover, the way mana worked, also had some issues. The spells you had on your character required mana to be used. That meant that not only did you have to land on them, you also had to land on mana producing spaces with your other dice, to cast them. Double the work for something that should be much simpler.

We knew we could do better so we decided to start from scratch and try a different approach.

prototype 2 enemy card

prototype 2 player boards

prototype 2 cards

VB: For our second attempt, we decided to examine everything from the beginning. The basic goals were still there but the approach could be anything we wanted – we wouldn’t be tied to the previous version. The brainstorming started with what was creating the most problems last time: the resources. They had to be thematic and fit with the dungeon-crawling theme and they had to allow for different strategies. A fighter and a wizard for example would focus on different ones but they should both be able to defeat enemies and win the game somehow.

AG: When something doesn’t work you go back to basics. The goal now was that each player would chose a different class (basic archetypes: fighter, wizard, cleric, rogue) and all together would fight the big bad boss at the end of the game. We agreed on Combat, Dexterity, Magic, Holy, and Cunning as the resources that would be used based on what the characters could produce and what they would need to defeat the monsters. Those 5 attributes could create various combos and thus different sets of actions for each class allowing each player to interact in different ways with the monsters.

 

VB: For the monsters, we decided to go with a very different approach. Enemy cards would be drawn each round and they would have 3 options on them: Evade, Push, Defeat. Evade (which would require very few resources) would just allow the players to prevent the damage the monster would deal. Push (costing slightly more) would be a temporary solution to the problem – you would scare the monster off but you would have to deal with it later on. Finally, Defeat would be a permanent solution – it would get rid of the monster forever but would require the most resources to do it. The concept behind this approach was that each monster would ask for different “resources” on each level which in turn would allow each character to deal with them differently. Some of the monsters for example would require a lot of Combat in order to be defeated, which the fighter would be able to easily provide. The wizard however would have a hard time defeating them through combat, but would be able to drive them away via magic or just evade them. On the other hand, against monsters like ghosts the combat would be useless but magic or holy would be very useful. Depending on how you dealt with each monster, you would draw cards that would be the upgrades going on the players’ characters.

When the final boss would appear, it would be accompanied by all the monsters the players pushed. It would have to be dealt with differently compared to the monsters but the players would still be provided with some options (so that each class would have a chance against it).

AG: This implementation was closer to what we wanted and the feeling was much better. Now the players were focusing on how to advance their characters and how to interact with the monsters which was closer to the basic concept of Dice Crafting: Roll the Dice, Do something (in our case: Fight the Monsters), Upgrade your character.

 

VB:  We did various tests with this build but once again, the actual game turned out differently compared to what sounded cool in theory. If you made the monsters easy to defeat for one class, the others would struggle too much. If we made monsters meant to be defeated by all classes (containing different combinations of all the resources) then every class would struggle since they wouldn’t be able to produce everything. Therefore there would be enemies that could not be defeated and would have to either be evaded constantly or driven away, only to make it harder at the end.

AG: Welcome to asymmetric balancing! In RPGs, every player usually has a different role that works in different ways from the others. Players should feel important during the game no matter the role they play and characters must be balanced and most importantly, feel balanced even when they do totally different things. RPGs usually are played in groups of 4-5 players plus a narrator and in my groups when someone is missing we play a board game or do something else because the absence of that player will have a significant impact in our game.

Board games of 2-4 players on the other hand must give the same gaming experience whether you play it with 2 or 4 players. That means that with 2 players you are lacking 2 characters and what they bring to the party. Usually this is not a problem but when a game wants to be theme-driven and has different roles, then you have issues that need to be addressed.

Another issue was the resources that our characters were producing. Although closer to our goal, the economy of the game was again not solid. Removing a class was weakening a resource. The classes that were played were trying to match up the lack of other classes but not very effectively and that lead to weaker characters overall, characters that could not interact in a proper way with the game.

 

VB: Essentially what we had was not necessarily resources but different types of attacks. It still was a bit weird to say “I get 5 Holy” but if everything else played alright we would have worked with it. Unfortunately, everything else didn’t play like we wanted. Players weren’t as excited as we’d like and it gave the impression that it was lacking something.

Back to the drawing board…

 

in progress!

VB: Once again, we started from scratch and again the brainstorming focused on the resources. We knew that it was the most crucial part of the game and if we could fix that, the rest would easily follow from the theme. We needed resources that you could gather. Resources that made sense having a lot of them, that it was intuitive to say “I have 3 of X”. Up to now, the only one that came close to that description was mana. With that as a basis we decided to explore the option of having different types of mana. We could go the “elemental warrior” path which would mean 4 different types of mana (earth, fire, water, air). The players’ abilities would then all be spells, each requiring different mana and focusing on different aspects. This also meant a change in the theme. Instead of “sword-and-sorcery” fantasy we would go to eastern fantasy with focus on the elements and different types of magic. That was not necessarily a bad thing since sword-and-sorcery has been overused in gaming and something different would look more appealing.

As far as the mechanics were concerned we also tried another approach. Dice City had a system with 3 resources and it worked. You would spend those resources to get new cards on your board (which in turn did not require resources to use them). You could also use those resources to get closer to winning (Trade Ships). The abilities you got on the other hand would grant you other things (like Army strength or VP) which would also lead you to win through other means. Was there a way this approach could be applied to this game? Why try to re-invent the wheel when you have something that works well?

We started with the abilities. Each would cost an amount of mana to “build” on your character just like in Dice City. Some of these abilities would generate damage which would be used against minions, a similar approach to the army strength and the minions of Dice City. This covered one way to win but there needed to be more. An interesting thought we had was that of large spells that in order to be cast you had to spend a big amount of mana and they would provide a big effect. This was something similar to the way Trade Ships in Dice City made use of resources. In the end we changed it a bit and instead of them being spells, we had the cards represent Magical Seals that granted abilities to the boss, making it uber-powerful. You would be able to break these Seals before reaching the boss, thus weaking it enough to kill it more easily. That added another strategy. Could we do one more?

Dice City also has the cultural strategy. Building locations that don’t do something when you land on them, they just grant you many victory points. Since we wanted to have a rogue-like character, we combined the two and ended up with another strategy: What if you were able to search the dungeon you were in and come up with magical artifacts? You would add them to your character and they would grant passive abilities (like deal 1 damage for free wherever you want, get free mana etc). It made sense thematically and it if you were to focus on it you would become powerful enough to overcome even the boss.

So, the basis of the game was this:

  1. Players explore a dungeon and each round they are in a different area/room.
  2. They are attacked by minions which they need to destroy.
  3. They can search the rooms they are in to find artifacts.
  4. They can break magical seals that make the boss very powerful.
  5. After a finite amount of time, they come upon the boss and they must destroy it.

AG: Abandoning the classic path of fantasy RPGs was the right call and it was not the only one. Keeping basic mechanics from Dice City actually solved most of our problems. This affected a lot the way we designed the game. If we wanted to have different roles, equally important in the game, we needed to create different ways to interact with it.

In the end, we had 4 different types of resources and 3 key characteristics that players advanced in to interact with the game: Damage, Insight and Health.  Based on that we instantly knew that we had created four distinctive roles in the game:

  • The character that would focus on damage. They would deal with the minions and apply a lot of pressure to the final boss, despite it being very powerful.
  • The character that would focus on gathering mana. They would break the boss’ seals and make it much weaker.
  • The character that would focus on items. They would search each room, getting a lot of magical artifacts that would “work on their own”. Effectively he would become “Robocop” (as Vangelis used to joke) before getting to the boss, dealing damage and generating mana without even needing to roll the dice.
  • The character that would focus on the Group’s Health. They wpuld ensure that the party would reach the boss in a good enough shape to have a chance defeating it.

Although this is almost the classic archetype of fantasy RPG (wizard, fighter, rogue and cleric) our characters were using different types of mana that they needed to produce and spend in different ways to activate their cool powers.

 

VB: After some tests it was clear we were on the right path. Going with mana solved all the problems we had with resources and the different paths to explore made each character unique and interesting to play with. That was obviously the way to go.

But there were still many things ahead of us…

AG: The theme was ready and now more issues needed to be addressed:

  1. Could we play without a class (a game of 2 for example)?
  2. Were all the classes fun to play with after several sessions or compared to each other?
  3. Were we going to dictate a certain setup of heroes based on the number of players or were we going to allow players to choose any characters regardless of the number of players?
  4. How were we going to address the character build up? Would it be totally random, totally balanced or thematically driven?

to be continued…

Check back next week for the final installment in this Designer Focus!

The Masters’ Trials: The Wrath of Magmaroth is a co-operative dice placement game for 1 to 4 players. On sale in November with Pre-release at Spiel Essen in October!

Mystic Vale: Mana Storm Article – Glorus

Sep 14 2017

This article features the new leader Glorus from the Mana Storm expansion and a bonus preview of a new vale. Click here to check it out!

The Masters’ Trials: Design Diary Introduction – How it all Began

Sep 13 2017

After designing Dice City I knew that the “dice-crafting” mechanism it had could find many uses in other games as well. That’s why, even before Dice City was actually released, I began to explore other options and see where I could go with this “system” I had come up with.

At its core, the mechanism in Dice City is about “crafting” your dice. Each die is represented by 6 cards (one for each side) and by putting new cards on your board, on top of the existing ones, you are effectively changing the faces of your die. As a concept, this could theoretically apply to all kinds of games that use dice.

The idea that I initially wanted to explore was that of a dungeon-crawler. Going with that idea would also define the first characteristic of the game: This would be a cooperative game (as opposed to the competitve nature of Dice City). The players would not compete with each other but they would work together instead. In turn, this would allow the core mechanism to be tweaked a bit, to give players the option to interact more with each other. For example, you could spend one of your dice to move one of another player’s if needed.

Another key characteristic also came from the theme. Since the dice would correspond to various attributes of the characters (like speed, combat, magic etc) why have a single board for all of them and not separate ones? If one die for example was the race, another one the class, another the weapon etc, why not allow the possibility of mix-and-match? Not only would it increase replayability, it made perfect sense with the theme – each player would be able to create their own character (similarly to an RPG), a hero with the attributes they ‘d want.

I made a rough prototype and started testing the idea. I sketched some rooms with tiles, I came up with rules for their placement, I made a few quick enemies and some simple player abilities and started playing. Although, way too early in the process, the experience was fun and I knew this could lead to something good. To check if I was on the right track, I showed it to some people and explained the concept behind it. EVERYONE loved the idea behind the modular boards. It was really cool and seemed very promising. However, they weren’t thrilled with the dungeon board. As one friend put it: “There are actually 2 games on the table. One here (pointing to the player boards with the dice and the character abilities) and one there (pointing to the board with the mockup enemies)”. There was simply too much stuff going on for the game to be viable. Not only would it be insane production-wise (tons of boards, cards, miniatures etc – less than half of the game was more than all of Dice City) it would also ask a lot from the players, especially in their first games.

Thus, a decision was made to make the “dungeon-crawling” a bit simpler. Perhaps just cards that would be drawn or something along those lines, in order to keep the focus on the advancement of the character in front of you.

So, the goals of the game were more or less set:

  • Dungeon-Crawling Theme
  • Cooperative Game
  • Modular Player Boards (and as a consequence Variable Player Powers)
  • Relatively simple (card-based perhaps?) mechanism for the dungeon/enemies.
  • Multiple Paths to Victory

And that’s how this journey began… For more developments on this journey, check back next week!

Vangelis Bagiartakis

The Masters’ Trials: The Wrath of Magmaroth is a co-operative dice placement game for 1 to 4 players. On sale in November with Pre-release at Spiel Essen in October!

The Masters’ Trials: The Wrath of Magmaroth The Prophecies Are True

Sep 7 2017

The legend used to say that in a time of grave danger, masters of the elemental orders would leave their ancestral retreats and join forces to restore peace to the world.

From the once-dormant Tekirin volcano that towers over the peaceful entrance valley, the vengeful Magmaroth has emerged. Born of earth and fire, its goal is to cleanse the world and mold it to its image : primal and ruthless. Left unchecked, there will soon be nothing left.

To deal with this great threat, four masters have arrived.

Traveling under cover of the night from the burning southern desert came an ageless man with a glowing staff at his hand. The villagers recognised him as a Loremaster from the introspective Order of the Blazing Winds. He slowly approached the volcano, closed his eyes, and an eerie glow appeared around him.

 

 

 

 

 

A woman then came from the endless northern steppes. From her clothing it was clear she was coming from the old monastery of the Order of the Glowing Embers. The fire in her eyes, on the other hand, made it obvious she had trained as an Avenger and had mastered the martial arts of old.

 

 

 

 

From the western peaks, a handsome young man rode the great river, pausing frequently to contemplate and embrace the elements around him, as Mystics from the Order of the Everlasting Waterfall have been trained to do.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, an enigmatic girl emerged from the shores of the tumultuous eastern sea, sporting a dangerous chainball over her shoulder and manipulating the water as only Wardens are known to do. She could only be coming from the Order of the Celestial Tide, an Order many had thought existed no more.

 

 

 

 

 

The four heroes met at the foot of the volcano, and paused for a minute. They looked in silence at each other and then one by one, they entered Magmaroth’s lair, determined to face this trial.

Magmaroth would have to be defeated quickly or everyone would be doomed…

The Masters’ Trials: The Wrath of Magmaroth is a co-operative dice placement game for 1 to 4 players. On sale in November with Pre-release at Spiel Essen in October!

Mystic Vale: Mana Storm article – Xanos

Sep 5 2017

This article features the new leader Xanos from the Mana Storm expansion and a bonus preview of a new vale. Click here to check it out!