Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Infamous: a new game design

After a fairly long hiatus from this design blog, I'm happy to announce that I've signed a contract with Eagle Gryphon Games (EGG) to publish my second board game design.  As such, I'm going to start posting on here more regularly, to talk through some of the design choices and roadblocks I encounter through this next year's development process.  But let's start this off right!  Let me give you a quick summary.

Infamous (working title) is a strategy board game for 2-5 players that plays in around 2 hours.  It's a medium-light design - perhaps a "4" on a 1-10 scale - and while it sports some sleek, Eurogame mechanics, I'd say it falls firmly and confidently within the Ameritrash family.

In Infamous, you take on the role of a comic-book supervillain.  You goals are to build a secret base, recruit henchmen, and then use those henchmen to complete nefarious contracts around the world. Successfully doing so will earn you money and infamy points.  The player with the most infamy at the end of three turns wins the game.

Current prototype
There are four phases in each turn.

Base Building Phase

Prototype only (art stolen from internet)
The base building phase is primarily composed of a draft.  Each player is dealt 4 Secret Base Room cards.  They secretly decide to either build or sell one card.  The players reveal their decisions simultaneously, pass their remaining cards clockwise, and repeat two more times.  Thus, it is possible to add 3 new rooms to your base during each Base Building Phase.  These rooms are important for two reasons.  First, each room gives you "attraction points" for various types of henchmen.  For example, if you build a Money Laundering Facility, you will immediately earn 6 Criminal attraction points.  Criminals will now want to come live in your base!  You can also build rooms to attract Beasts, Scientists, and Mystics.  The second reason why rooms are important is that many of them have special powers that can be activated during the Contract Phase.  These powers might spell the difference between a successful mission and a failed one.

Henchmen Phase

Sample Henchmen card (prototype)
During the Henchmen Phase, each player will (hopefully) recruit henchmen to their side, depending upon how attractive their base is. Beasts, Criminals, Scientists, and Mystics will be drawn to the player who scores highest in attraction for that henchmen type. There are some additional subtleties to this, but the feel of it is that the Henchmen Phase flows directly out of the Base Building Phase and just takes a couple minutes to resolve. You'll immediately get feedback on whether your base is successfully competing with everyone else's for the henchmen's attention. The more henchmen you recruit, the better. Having a diverse crew will give you a lot more flexibility during the Contract Phase.

Contract Phase

This is the meat of the game. There's a big map of the world in front of you. Six (or seven, depending on player count) continent locations, each with a different Contract card. These contracts represent missions to which you can assign your henchmen. During this phase, players will take turns choosing contracts, forming teams of henchmen, and then rolling dice to see whether they succeed or fail. If you succeed, you'll earn cash and infamy. If you fail, your henchmen might get injured or captured. Then again, sometimes your henchmen will fail but end up receiving a cool, new Superpower (e.g., caught in a radioactive explosion)! In future entries, I'll spell out more of the rules for the Contract Phase. There's some fun strategy on display here, in addition to fistfuls of custom dice.

World Map board (prototype)

Sample Contract card (prototype)
Clean-Up Phase

It's not very exciting, but it's necessary.  You've got to pay your henchmen (including your Lackey), refresh any of them that are exhausted, and re-seed the world map with contracts.  Quick and easy. After three turns, the game ends!

The Story So Far

I've been working on Infamous for the past 6 months or so.  I would say it was around early December (2015) when I hit on a set of ideas that would eventually evolve into this game. My initial point of inspiration was actually from the mechanics end of things. For a while now, I've been pondering how I could adapt the "attract a hero" mechanic featured in the small card game, Boss Monster, into a bigger game. And make it a bit more interesting, to be honest, by having the people attracted be positive (members of your team, not enemies) and persistent. In some weird unconscious back-alley, this idea got mashed with the 2004 PC game, Evil Genius. I've always liked "dungeon"-building sims (Dungeon Keeper, etc.), and once I hit upon the idea of using room cards to attract different types of henchmen, the rest of the game started to fall into place. The hardest part was the Contract Phase - but I'll save that story for another post.

I got a solid ruleset and prototype in place around March or so. Initial playtesting was extremely positive. Kept working on it and polishing the proto until I felt it was ready to show to a couple publishers. I wanted it to be ready before Origins, since I thought that would be my best opportunity to pitch it to a number of different companies. But I first sent an email to Eagle (who published my last design, Clockwork Wars), and they asked me to send a copy of the prototype to the Gathering of Friends. They checked it out there, loved it right away, and offered me a contract. I happily accepted, and we'll be starting development within the next couple months. I expect a long road ahead, but after having gone through years and years of waiting and development work for Clockwork Wars, I have a much better understanding of the process this time around. I'm looking forward to the work and have really high hopes for this game.

Needless to say, I really love this game. It is so fun, and surprising, and constantly throws small but interesting decisions at you. The narrative you and your opponents create will set you laughing. The tone is playful, but the gameplay is consistently tense and engaging. In very broad terms, imagine a mash-up between:  Boss Monster, Among the Stars, & Eldritch Horror. It's a very different design from Clockwork Wars, but I think that's a good thing! I think it will appeal to many types of gamers, especially those who like (slightly heavier) beer & pretzels-type experiences, an emphasis on theme and narrative, and the conceit of playing a villain.