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Subject: Designer Diary - Building to Scale rss

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Cole Wehrle
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I had planned on typing this up earlier, but it turns out getting a Kickstarter ready to launch is awfully time-consuming and we’ve been quite busy here at the Leder Games office. Don’t worry, everything is on schedule, but I didn’t have much time for reflection today. Anyway, I’m home now, and the kids are asleep, so it’s time to put some words on the page.

Today I had planned on starting my tour through the factions, but I thought I’d instead use this post to provide a little overview of the factions and talk a little about scalability, since I’ve been getting a lot of questions about those things.

Root has four factions. The first three are what I would consider “core” factions: the invading Cats, the old order of the Eyrie, and the upstart Alliance. Each of these core factions represents a different political posture.


The invading Cats are state-builders. Their concerns are chiefly logistical. They begin the game with overwhelming force, but will quickly have to pick their battles carefully if they are to survive. To play the Cats well you need to balance growth vs stability.


The old order of the Eyrie represents the traditional aristocracy of the woods. They are by far the most inflexible. In the course of the game, they are given few pivot points and must make the most of each that they are offered. In contrast to the Cat, they are chiefly concerned with internal stability and their ability to project power across the forest and content with their own inner turmoil.



The final core faction is the Alliance. These creatures are coalition builders. They mostly have to manage the relationships between the woodland populations and construct a defensible network of strongholds and hideouts across the map. While both the Cats and the Eyrie require a lot of space to flourish, the Alliance can do well with a modest footprint if they manage their resources well.

As I wrote a couple posts ago, when I set out to build this design, I made a conscious effort to separate out the political factions from the native creature groups in the forest. I also wanted to separate out the factions from any particular ideology. As much as I love Brian Jacques's Redwall books, his worldbuilding often pigeonholed his characters. The mice all tended to be good. The weasels tended to be bad. In fact, given the degree to which he was mapping populations of the UK on to his creatures, it was even a little racist in its implication.

I wanted to avoid all of that. In my earliest conversations with Kyle about this project, we both agreed that we should embrace complexity and avoid any 1:1 analogues. So, if the birds of prey served as the top rank of traditional woodland society, I wanted the game to show that group in all sorts of positions, as soldiers, kings, refugees, merchants, and workers.

For this reason, the core factions were not mapped to a specific ideological position. Instead, I tried to think of them as each having a different footing which put pressures on their organization and their aims. If the players want imagine the emergence of an ideology to fit that position or the narrative of a particular game they were free to. (Sidenote: One of the great insights of Twilight Struggle, I think, are the eerie homogenies between how the US and the USSR behaved on the global stage. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim any kind of equivalence, but the similarities are telling.)

I’ll get to the Vagabond in a second, but now I can safely say a thing or two about scalability. The game derives much of its tension from the interplay of these three factions. And, as a three-player game, Root plays wonderfully.

When you remove one of these factions something important is lost. This is why the two-player game deserved some special attention during development. In order to make the game work, artificial constraints need introduced to make up for the lost tension. So, one two player pits the Cat vs. the Eyrie. In this scenario the Eyrie needs to reach 40 victory points before a particular turn. The game is very much a race, with the Cat managing a tricky fighting withdrawal. In another scenario, the Eyrie and Alliance both attempt to carve out space for themselves win a map crowed with Cat forces which operate according to a couple of simple rules.

That’s what I mean when I say the two-player game is different from the rest of the modes. This brings me to the Vagabond. The Vagabond isn’t quite a core faction. He’s a balancer of sorts—a little like the Cave in Vast. Because he has robust lines of both support and antagonism with every other faction, he can be easily swapped out for any non-Cat role in the two-player game. In addition, one of our early stretch goals will provide players with both an alternative vagabond and the pieces they need to play Root as a five-player game with 3 core factions and two vagabonds. At this point the game starts to feel a little like Magic Realm-lite.

Alright, well I hope that answers some of your questions. Tomorrow I’ll get things going with a discussion of how the Cat works and how designing him allowed me to get out all of my frustrations with Eclipse-style empire builders.

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Luke
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Re: Building to Scale
Glad to hear that the game scales well to 3, 4 and that specific scenarios allow to have interesting 2-players game.

This game is an amazing mix of asymmetry (yay for me), appealing artwork (yay for my wife), and strategy (yay for anyone). But most of all I'm enachanted by the theme; specifically how you built the factions and the fact that they have a specific aim and a structure -> which motivates the mechanics and the way they play. I'm immersed in the theme just by reading your journal.
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Konrad P
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Re: Building to Scale
Relieved to hear the game plays well with 3. I was a bit concerned you might need 4 to have a proper experience (and I waste no opportunity to pull out Chaos in the Old World for an assymetrical 4 player game ). I assumed this wouldn't make a great duelling game, but thats not its selling point. If it plays well for 3-4 thats enough scalability for me.
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Ivor Bolakov
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Re: Building to Scale
Quote:
As much as I love Brian Jacques Redwall books, his worldbuilding often pigeonholed his characterization. The mice all tended to be good. The weasels tended to be bad. In fact, given the degree to which he was mapping populations of the UK on to his creatures, it was even a little racist in its implication.


My standard joke about Redwall is: "Were you racist before you read it, or did it make you racist afterwards?"
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Jussi-Pekka Jokinen
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Re: Building to Scale
Cole Wehrle wrote:
When you remove one of these factions something important is lost. This is why the two-player game deserved some special attention during development.


I really appreciate this. I have a weird and unusual love for Vast, but it is clear that the game suffers without the Knight, the Dragon or the Goblins. Now, don't get me wrong, they've done a really great job fitting all the possible combinations from solo play to a 5+ player extragavanza, but it still sucks when you can't use many of your role's abilities in a game.

Will there be only one scenario per 2-player set-up or do the rules allow for more variation/confusion?
 
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Cole Wehrle
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Re: Building to Scale
Thinsilver wrote:
Cole Wehrle wrote:
When you remove one of these factions something important is lost. This is why the two-player game deserved some special attention during development.


I really appreciate this. I have a weird and unusual love for Vast, but it is clear that the game suffers without the Knight, the Dragon or the Goblins. Now, don't get me wrong, they've done a really great job fitting all the possible combinations from solo play to a 5+ player extragavanza, but it still sucks when you can't use many of your role's abilities in a game.

Will there be only one scenario per 2-player set-up or do the rules allow for more variation/confusion?


That depends on how well the stretch goals do and how many development resources we can direct to it. Right now there are two 2-player scenarios.
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Jussi-Pekka Jokinen
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Re: Building to Scale
Cole Wehrle wrote:
That depends on how well the stretch goals do and how many development resources we can direct to it. Right now there are two 2-player scenarios.


I've been throwing money at the screen for a few days, but nothing is happening. cry
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Re: Building to Scale
Cole Wehrle wrote:
Thinsilver wrote:
Cole Wehrle wrote:
When you remove one of these factions something important is lost. This is why the two-player game deserved some special attention during development.


I really appreciate this. I have a weird and unusual love for Vast, but it is clear that the game suffers without the Knight, the Dragon or the Goblins. Now, don't get me wrong, they've done a really great job fitting all the possible combinations from solo play to a 5+ player extragavanza, but it still sucks when you can't use many of your role's abilities in a game.

Will there be only one scenario per 2-player set-up or do the rules allow for more variation/confusion?


That depends on how well the stretch goals do and how many development resources we can direct to it. Right now there are two 2-player scenarios.

I stand ready to do my part.

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Cole Wehrle wrote:

In addition, one of our early stretch goals will provide players with both an alternative vagabond and the pieces they need to play Root as a five-player game with 3 core factions and two vagabonds. At this point the game starts to feel a little like Magic Realm-lite.


How so? I don't see the connection, but I am very curious!
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Cole Wehrle
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Magic Realm has always struck me as by far the most open of adventure board games precisely because the world seems so alive (and so scary).

In Root, the "core" factions create that sense that the world is organic because the actions of those players form the background for the vagabond's moves. The vagabond is basically playing an adventure game. They will ally with some factions, and come to hate others. This intentionally builds on some of the space of Magic Realm with specific reference to how the game treats the npc populations of the realm.
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Cole Wehrle wrote:
Magic Realm has always struck me as by far the most open of adventure board games precisely because the world seems so alive (and so scary).

In Root, the "core" factions create that sense that the world is organic because the actions of those players form the background for the vagabond's moves. The vagabond is basically playing an adventure game. They will ally with some factions, and come to hate others. This intentionally builds on some of the space of Magic Realm with specific reference to how the game treats the npc populations of the realm.

Very cool.
 
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Patrick Leder
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The Vagabond is my favorite role right now. I really enjoy adventure games but I don't enjoy just moving to a space and drawing a card for too long ( I do confess to owning a lot of Talisman). Playing the Vagabond is great because I feel like I am navigating a real and scary world. It is a world that responds to you and might even attack you. It never left me with the impression that I just happen to be intersecting with a bunch of little stories. I can slow the game down but I can't stop them forever, I need to find an agenda and get on it. I really, really like playing the Vagabond.
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neko flying
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Cole Wehrle wrote:
Magic Realm has always struck me as by far the most open of adventure board games precisely because the world seems so alive (and so scary).

In Root, the "core" factions create that sense that the world is organic because the actions of those players form the background for the vagabond's moves. The vagabond is basically playing an adventure game. They will ally with some factions, and come to hate others. This intentionally builds on some of the space of Magic Realm with specific reference to how the game treats the npc populations of the realm.


That sounds really cool and innovative. Will the two Vagabonds get to interact with each other directly? Or will they just be pursuing their own competing agendas, interacting indirectly through the other players / factions?
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Cole Wehrle
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flying_neko wrote:
Cole Wehrle wrote:
Magic Realm has always struck me as by far the most open of adventure board games precisely because the world seems so alive (and so scary).

In Root, the "core" factions create that sense that the world is organic because the actions of those players form the background for the vagabond's moves. The vagabond is basically playing an adventure game. They will ally with some factions, and come to hate others. This intentionally builds on some of the space of Magic Realm with specific reference to how the game treats the npc populations of the realm.


That sounds really cool and innovative. Will the two Vagabonds get to interact with each other directly? Or will they just be pursuing their own competing agendas, interacting indirectly through the other players / factions?


They don't have an alignment with each other so there interactions aren't a direct way to get victory points, but there are plenty of ways for them to fight/help one another.
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