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Subject: WIP: Stalwart -- Solitaire Fortress Defense rss

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Herschel Jeffrey
United States
Ohio
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Greetings, BGG!

Just a quick disclaimer: this is *not* an entry in the Solitaire PnP contest, as I have a tad too much on my plate over the next several weeks to bang out a test-worthy prototype. That being said, best of luck to all the fine folks who've submitted so far! I'm new to the forums (but a long-time prowler of the site), and I hope to get an opportunity to test your creations soon.

My project, Stalwart, is currently deep into the idea phase, and I'm hoping to get some fresh perspectives on its overall structure, as well as its prominent mechanics. And as reciprocity is the soul of forumsmanship, I plan to pitch in with my own (hopefully helpful) observations on several of the recent WIP's over the next few days. I'm looking forward to meeting all of you!

Stalwart is a solitaire survival game set deep within a dwarf stronghold, and takes its name from its hero: a champion of Clan Stalwart. The champion finds himself smack in the middle of an invasion, as the Wicked Warlord and four of his most vicious warbands assault the mountain fortress of Hammerhold. He must work alongside the dwarfs of Hammerhold to thwart the invasion, and time is of the essence as the dwarfs lose valuable ground each turn.

Hammerhold is represented by thirty-six chamber tiles randomly dealt face-down to form a six-by-six grid. This grid fits within a square border, and each corner of this outer border features a key location in the fortress: a temple, and three workshops (the forge, the runeworks, and the stockpile). The thirty-six inner chambers, where the champion will spend nearly all of his time, consist of battle encounters, breaches (entry points for the Warlord's expendable minion-level servants), mineral deposits, and mighty gears that can affect the tiles around them. These chambers are revealed chiefly through direct exploration, and comprise a balanced mixture of two-, three-, and four-way intersections that clever players can manipulate to their advantage.

Each turn consists of three phases. The first two phases are relatively brief and represent the progress of the Warlord's incursion into Hammerhold. The third phase -- the meat of the game -- challenges the player to react to that progress while furthering his or her strategy. In this phase, the player receives six action chips: two that must be used by the champion, two that must be used by Hammerhold's defenders in the temple and workshops, and two "wild" action chips, each of which can be used by either group. The champion's primary actions will involve exploration and combat, and will help clear the way to valuable resources. The defenders' primary actions will involve harvesting those resources, supplying the champion with equipment and upgrades, providing followers for the champion to enlist, and controlling Hammerhold's mechanical defenses.

There is only one win condition: the champion must defeat the Wicked Warlord in combat. However, the road to this combat can consist of one or more of several viable strategies. The player must also strike a balance between enduring the invasion long enough to gain sufficient power to challenge the Warlord, and allowing the Warlord's forces too much time to overrun Hammerhold's defenses. The invaders' progress is controlled by an event deck containing both positive and negative events, and that deck slowly but surely weeds out positive cards as the game progresses; success against a fully bled-out deck is nigh impossible. The invaders will also gain power incrementally through the application of threat cards (which the player must attach to invading creatures).

Combat is a major facet of Stalwart's gameplay. During setup, and optionally at certain points during the invasion, the player must choose six tactics cards from a pool of thirteen. These six cards are placed side-by-side in a specified order (1 through 6), and each card shows two or three symbols of various combinations of the following tactics: attack, defense, and power. During combat, the player rolls a certain amount of d6's (generally between two and four), then scores each tactics card indicated by the rolled results. Suffering wounds in combat can lock out certain tactics cards, limiting the champion's combat options. Enlisting followers allows the player to roll custom d6's alongside the champion's dice, adding tactics results and conferring unique bonuses (such as the soldier's ability to take damage in the champion's stead, or the smith's ability to reduce the activation cost of magical weapons and armor). Success in combat will earn the champion a token from his opponent's warband. These tokens can be redeemed at the temple for powerful blessings which often mimic signature abilities of creatures from that warband.

The game's three resources -- blue, red, and yellow crystals -- are used in the workshops to craft weapons, armor, runes, explosives, and several other useful items. As the workshops produce items, they grow in power and develop better methods of combating the Warlord's minions. Fully upgrading all three workshops severely inhibits the Warlord's combat abilities and as such constitutes one viable path to victory.

If this overview sounds dense and choked with mechanics, that is because I've always intended Stalwart for the hardcore gamer (or at the very least, those who consider AP the equivalent of a zen state). With clever play on its default difficulty setting, the invasion should be survival roughly 75-90% of the time. At tougher levels, perhaps as low as 30-40%, with endgame scoring as a measure of the champion's heroic final stand. I believe that I've struck a decent balance so far between the engine that drives the invasion and the various wrenches canny players can throw into it, and as my work progresses, I hope that the BGG community can find a few ways to break it completely and send me back to my favorite drawing board.

If anyone is interested to hear more, or to dig into the specifics of one or more mechanics, I'd welcome any observations or questions. I'm eager to get good, honest feedback and bounce some ideas around. Above all else, I want the finished product to tell a story -- a narrative scripted partly by the game's random elements and chiefly by the impact of the player's decisions. Thanks in advance for reading (and if you've read this far, you deserve a cookie!), and I look forward to talking shop with you.
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Chad Mestdagh
Canada
Edmonton
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Seems like a really good game so far. It seems like you have already done a fair amount of work developing the game mechanics. Now you just have to create all the components and then balance the game.

Technically the contest deadline is July 31 ... so that would leave quite a few weeks available to pound out a game. Even if it is not completely balanced, the primary advantage of the contest is play-testers and a deadline that forces you to make real progress instead of just thinking about it.
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Nate K
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First of all, this sounds like a lot of fun.

Second of all, this sounds like there will be quite a few components involved.

Third of all, I would love a cookie!
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William Smith
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I love tower defense games, I love solitaire games, and have played with the idea as a board / card game several times, but never to my satisfaction.

I am very interested in this. I've read your description over twice and am still left with "I'd have to play it to understand this", but that is how I am with games generally, so not a fault with the way that you've laid it out.

If nothing else, I will be following this thread - so know that you have interested parties wanting you to succeed.
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Herschel Jeffrey
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Thanks for the encouragement!

Chad, I'd love to commit to the PnP contest, but my wife and I are expecting a son within the next few weeks. Although I'll definitely, by some point, have a functional prototype posted, I can't say with any certainty when that might be.

Nate, there are about 1,543 components. Not quite, but I am struggling with component overload and making some tough streamlining decisions. I'm not averse to designing with a moderate component count in mind, but in its current state, Stalwart has something in the order of 125-150 components including cards, chamber tiles, invader tokens, resource rings, and other such madness. I feel as though it would make a great resume bullet point were I to apply to work for FFG, but is perhaps not the best way to go for a solitaire project.

William, I hope I won't disappoint! Stalwart does feature a pretty prominent "defenders vs. minions" sub-game to complement the champion's one-on-one battles with the invaders, and within this system are a few notable similarities to the tower defense genre. Each minion follows a predetermined path toward workshops, and each minion boasts a signature ability, such as the Shade's ability to ignore chamber walls when moving, and the Goblin's ability to render all nearby chambers immune to the effects of gears (more on those pesky gears later). If a minion reaches a workshop, it damages the rate of production by adding a sabotage token, which not only takes up valuable resource space but also costs an action to repair.

I'm glad to see that you fellows have expressed interest in Stalwart! I'd like to write some specific posts over the next couple of days concerning each game mechanic in greater detail, but I'm going to do a bit of snooping around the forums first to get a feel for the etiquette of that process. I'm also taking a hard look at a few mechanics that appeal to me personally but might not benefit the game enough to make the cut. Thanks for your consideration -- I will make arrangements for cookie delivery forthwith.
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Herschel Jeffrey
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Stalwart -- The Theme (the Fluff?)
Over the next few days, I'll post a separate entry for each major component of Stalwart. This post concerns the theme on which all the following elements will be hung. Although theme and function are closely married in this project, I'm going to try my best in this post to refrain from discussing any specific game mechanics and concentrate instead on the flavor. For those of you interested in getting into the nuts and bolts of Stalwart's gameplay, I promise this will be followed fairly closely by some actual metrics for you to evaluate, discuss, and attack (!).

THE GIST

The grand scope of the world in which Stalwart takes place ... is not terribly important. The entirety of the game takes place within the large but enclosed confines of Hammerhold, a dwarf fortress within a big mountain. The goings-on of the outside world are as removed from the gameplay as they are from the minds of the dwarfs who labor within the fortress. Suffice it to say that somewhere out in that world lives the Wicked Warlord, and the Wicked Warlord wants to get his hands on Dimfiddle's Hammer, and Dimfiddle's Hammer resides in a magically protected vault underneath Hammerhold.

The Wicked Warlord is so named for two good reasons:

a) his enduring wickedness
b) his command of the Warbands
not c) his penchant for creative titles

The Warbands -- the scourge of that little-mentioned outside world -- are numerous and terrible, and the Warlord has brought six of them to bear against Hammerhold. While two of these Warbands assault the outer defenses of the fortress, the remaining four blast their way into the inner chambers to set the stage for their master's arrival. Should they succeed in disrupting Hammerhold's magical defenses, the Wicked Warlord will manifest within its walls and lay waste to the proud dwarfs who inhabit it. Such a plan, coupled with the Warlord's brash and stunning tactics, would normally guarantee victory for the villainous invaders; however, the bad guys didn't count on Stalwart.

THE HERO

The pilgrimage to Hammerhold, resting place of fabled relic Dimfiddle's Hammer, is a sacred journey few dwarfs ever get the honor to make. For Stalwart, it's more of a punishment. Stripped of his military command and sentenced to hard labor in the mines of Everdark over an ale-fueled (albeit merited) instance of insubordination, Stalwart won an unlikely reprieve several weeks prior when a high-ranking sage of Clan Thunderbeard hand-picked him to deliver a sealed message to Dragon Priest Thorgrak of Hammerhold. Choking down his pride, as well as his deep-seated mistrust of the Dragon Priests, Stalwart wisely accepted the mission, and finds himself smack in the middle of Hammerhold when the walls are breached and the Warbands flood the corridors. Can he put aside his preconceptions of all things draconic (including Hammerhold's kobold allies), and can the overwhelmed soldiers of Hammerhold place their trust in a once-hailed commander now fallen from grace? We'd better hope so.

Stalwart enjoys drinking contests, driving his enemies before him, and the company of his flintlock pistol, Ol' Reliable.

THE 'HOLD

Hammerhold is more than just a glorified storeroom for a legendary smithing tool. It's even more than a lucrative mine staffed by world-famous craftspeople. Hammerhold's leadership -- a military force led by one of the world's only ordained Dragon Priests -- represents a bold new age for the dwarf race. Here, dwarfs work alongside kobolds: reptilian creatures known for their cunning, ingenuity, and unswerving fealty to dragons. Dragon Priest Thorgrak (formerly High Priest Thorgrim) commands dwarf and kobold alike, and he and his council of sages wield arcane powers previously denied to dwarfs -- powers derived from drinking the blood of the kobolds' patron dragon, Xeverak. This magic, coupled with the dwarfs' near-preternatural ability to work metal, allows the workshops of Hammerhold to produce items of wondrous power coveted the world over.

Defensively, the fortress is no pushover. Every chamber in the inner expanse is connected through a complex mechanical system that can be manipulated from the bordering workshops. Would-be invaders who manage to breach these inner chambers soon find themselves contending against the very walls of the fortress as they shift, rotate, and vent scalding steam. Dwarf defenders include the stoic soldier, the hammer-wielding smith, and the arcane-attuned scholar, and woe to the enemy indeed should one of the fearsome sages step forth from the temple to take the field. Hammerhold's kobolds do their part as well, their sappers slinking through the corridors to ambush, harry, and occasionally (nearly almost purposefully) explode their enemies. These defenses are so impressive, in fact, that there wouldn't be a game at all were it not for the sheer dastardliness of the Wicked Warbands.

THE WARBANDS

The Black Brood: Those irrepressible dwarfs did it again. They "delved too greedily and too deep" into the earth, and unwittingly released an ancient organism into the realms of the under-dwellers. The Black Brood consists of all manner of slimes and oozes, as well as the unfortunate humanoids they have infested. The Brood seemingly exists only to replicate itself, consuming and assimilating nearly all it touches. How the Wicked Warlord has bent the Broodmother to his service remains unknown, but his conquests have certainly kept her well fed.

The Clockwork Legion: Rust-ridden survivors of a war long forgotten, the soldiers of the Clockwork Legion have found new purpose under the Warlord's banner. Ruthless and calculating in combat, these automatons know neither fear nor pain, and march in perfect time to the commands of the Tin General.

The Deep Elves: Pale-skinned. Half-starved. Cave-blind. Despite such natural disadvantages, the Deep Elves somehow manage to pull off supermodel good looks and deadly battle prowess. Led by the notoriously cruel Sable Queen, this cabal of ne'er-do-wells mixes swords and sorcery for a rollicking fun time that just might leave you paralyzed.

The Greenscale Tribe: Hailing from those steamy equatorial jungles, this tribe of lizard-folk sports the most savage warriors ever to paint up and wield spears. Under the spiritual guidance of the Hex Matron, the warriors of the Greenscale Tribe attack with wicked weapons and deadly poisons, relying on natural armor and regeneration to bolster their defenses.

The Mountain Orcs: The ancestral enemies of dwarfs the world over, the Mountain Orcs stand among the fiercest and most disciplined warriors of the savage races. Having learned long ago to harness the rage within them and direct it into explosive combat styles, these proud fighters follow their Chieftain unquestioningly into glorious battle.

The Shadow Host: Little is known about the organization, purpose, or origin of this Warband, and that's just the way they like it. Comprised of a motley assortment of doppelgangers, shades, and phantoms, the Shadow Host confounds and undoes its foes through trickery and magic. The leader of the Host, the enigmatic Lord of Masks, has sworn temporary allegiance to the Wicked Warlord; to what end, only the Shadow Host knows. And very probably the Warlord.

THE WRAP-UP

So ends a brief look at the background, the hero, the setting, and the villains. I hope to post more soon regarding Stalwart's gameplay. I hope to hear your thoughts/concerns/suggestions on this and future topics. Thanks for reading!
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