One of the main themes to explore with the design of A Druid’s Duel is how dynamic boards can present new challenges to experienced players who all have access to the same resources. That means the game rules and resources available to the player need to remain the same regardless of the board or map layout. In support of exploring this primary theme, I’ve chosen to limit the number of unit types to something manageable over a relatively small game board. The pieces available to each player are also identical to their opponents, as in chess, so the difference in how they are utilized is one of the few indicators of a player’s true tactical skill.
The first issue is in allowing the map to change during gameplay. There is already an option each player has to build bridges over open spaces each and every turn. It costs Mana, but otherwise is a solid option (see the previous post and video for a look at the game board). Previously, I had also planned on the player being able to acquire power-up items that would allow them to change the land spaces and obstacles (trees, shrubs, etc) a few times per game. But in adding a second ranged class, the Waywalker, I feel I have opened up a better way for the player to directly manipulate the map layout. Possibly every single turn! The Waywalker’s entire purpose is to add or remove both land spaces and obstacles, while not being able to directly attack anyone. This is far more interesting and means that the entire game is played with the druids on the board, not by a combination of board pieces and quasi-direct actions the player takes like some omniscient overlord.
Druid Waywalker – has the ability to alter the game map in dramatic ways.
On top of allowing for a good way to manipulate the map during the game, I was also concerned the base units were a little stale. In playtesting the prototype with only the barest of units (what are currently called soldier, archer, and knight), I found they produced longer games, often with a certain amount of time in the mid-game that was very much a stalemate, where lots of inexpensive weaker units are replenished onto the board. The animal forms will speed this up, as well as add some great thematic elements. Even with one animal form implemented (the bear), gameplay has quickened dramatically, while simultaneously forcing a player to be more conscious of how they spend Mana each turn. I found myself not just blindly throwing a bunch of soldier druids down, but really considering how the super-powerful bear could help bring an end to the game or if needed, get me out of a jam.
With the introduction of the animal forms and the Waywalker class, the game now boasts eight classes. While the animal forms are temporary, they have different abilities, and so I’m counting them as a whole class here
The doubling of unit types once again begs me to consider something I had tossed out a while ago – allowing permanent unit promotion.
In early designs, I had wanted to limit players to only being able to actually place soldiers. Then, during their turn, they would be able to upgrade any soldier unit into an archer or a knight. This would add an element of trade-off decision making to each turn, as the player would choose to make use of the soldiers or upgrade them into more specialized classes. The upgrades would be permanent and only available to soldiers. That means a soldier would become an archer or a knight. And that archers and knights would be stuck in that form until victory or defeat.
Only soldiers could be placed but they could be promoted into a ranged archer or a more powerful knight.
With the waywalker and animal units added, and a distinction between a melee combatant and a ranged unit, the Promotion Option would be organized like this:
All units stem from either a soldier or an archer. Animal forms are temporary while units are permanent.
Players can only place soldiers or knights onto the board. Then, spending Mana (everything has a cost!), they can choose to promote some of them already in play, either temporarily with animal forms or permanently with other unit classes. You could not, for instance, get a knight from an archer. Only a soldier can become a knight.
To be honest, I really like this idea. It takes a relatively small number of units (compared to other tactical games) and presents them in a tech-chainesque manner, with all the tradeoffs or gambits that come with it. It is also a unique element, something designers always strive for. Of course, this approach creates additional complexity in a game designed to be simplified and it’s possible players would find it cumbersome just to achieve so few unit types.
The alternative option, which I simply call the Flat Option, is how the protoype is currently designed and built. As I mentioned above, I had forgone the idea of unit promotion with only three types, as it just seemed to add complexity for no reason.
All unit types are available all the time. Each has access to temporary animal abilities.
This option is intriguing in that it is straight-forward and simple. Each unit addition decision is easier, as you do not have to weigh the short-term use of a melee or ranged unit against long term access to powerful casting or powerful animal forms. You need an archer, you buy one. Need a better soldier? Buy a knight. Need fodder? Get some soldiers. Very easy.
In the end, it will be the players that help decide. The prototype is already walking down the Flat Option path (largely because it’s about 70% complete already) and the first round of playtesting will use it. However, I still have a strong attraction to the notion of unit promotion and will ultimately find a way to playtest that as well.