Hall or Nothing Productions Ltd: March 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sneaking Past The Watcher in the Water, Part One

From the original FFG article here:

“The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”    –Elrond, The Fellowship of the Ring
Through The Redhorn Gate and along the Road to Rivendell, Arwen and the heroes of Middle-earth have been taxed nearly to their limits by snowstorms, perilous mountain passes, and wave after wave of ferocious ambushes. Now, at long last they have arrived safely at the Last Homely House. Though some of the heroes may hope their journeys through the Dwarrowdelf have come to an end, the truth is that they’ve only just begun.
Elrond, the master of Rivendell, is troubled by the great numbers of Orcs that once again infest the Misty Mountains. Many years have passed since the Orcs posed such a threat, and their return is troubling. Accordingly, Elrond asks the heroes of Middle-earth to explore the mines of Moria for the source of the increased Orc activity. But before the heroes can explore Moria’s vast network of tunnels, they must first gain entrance…
Beneath the gaze of the great
As we look forward to the release of The Watcher in the Water, the third Adventure Pack in the Dwarrowdelf cycle for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, we’ll take a close, practical, three-part look at the game’s new Secrecy mechanic, concluding with a deck list featuring the pack’s new hero.
While we’ve already learned how the mechanic works in an article on deck-building and received design insights in apreview of The Redhorn Gate, these haven’t been “practical” explorations of the mechanic. Why? The game hadn’t yet reached the critical mass of Secrecy cards and effects to make a Secrecy deck viable. The Secrecy cards introduced with the first two Dwarrowdelf Adventure Packs may present some excellent, cost-effective benefits for players who can keep their threat at 20 or below, but they don’t, on their own, offer enough reward to encourage decks built specifically to take advantage of Secrecy discounts.
That may change with The Watcher in the Water. This Adventure Pack introduces only one new card with the Secrecy keyword, but it bolsters the strategy with a number of exciting new cards that provide the card draw, resource acceleration, and threat manipulation that Secrecy decks need.
The aid of the Last Homely House
The master of Rivendell and his daughter lend their aid in The Watcher in the Water. Elrond lends your heroes his counsel before they set forth into the wild, and Arwen Undómiel (The Watcher in the Water, 58), having just traveled with the heroes across the Misty Mountains, offers to travel with them once more as an ally.
Though Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water, 59) may soon form a core component of most Secrecy decks, it can easily fit into any deck with a Spirit hero. For the cost only of the card draw, Elrond’s Counsel both boosts a character’s Willpower by one and reduces your threat by three. Threat reduction is always good, and additional Willpower is always welcome, too.
Elrond’s Counsel put to the test
So what’s the catch? First of all, you need to control a unique Noldor character. While the new Arwen ally happens to be a Noldor from the Spirit sphere, she’s the only one. The only Noldor characters currently in the game include her brothers Elrohir (The Redhorn Gate, 1) and Elladan (Road to Rivendell, 28). They belong, respectively, to the Leadership and Tactics spheres. Then, there are only two more unique Noldor characters, Glorfindel (Core Set, 11) and Gildor Inglorion (The Hills of Emyn Muil, 79). This means the most reliable way to receive the benefits of Elrond’s Counsel is to start the game with a Noldor hero paired alongside a Spirit hero. Since the majority of the game’s Secrecy cards currently belong to the Leadership and Lore spheres, a two-hero Secrecy deck might be able to make good use of either Elrohir or Glorfindel.
Pairing Elrohir with a character like Éowyn (Core Set, 7) means you start both with considerable Willpower to apply toward the quest, as well as the ability to ready a defender to attack. Elrohir’s Leadership icon allows you to make use of the fantastic event, Timely Aid (The Redhorn Gate, 3), and though it’s true Elrohir doesn’t have the greatest Defense Strength without Elladan in play, it’s still possible to bolster his defense with Dúnedain Warning (Conflict at the Carrock, 26) and Arwen’s ability.
Alternatively, you could pair Glorfindel with Frodo Baggins (Conflict at the Carrock, 25) or Dúnhere (Core Set, 9), either one of whom grants extra action potential, either by soaking wounds as threat and releasing you from the need of assigning a defender in certain situations, or by attacking enemies in the staging area, releasing you from the need to defend them. Meanwhile, the Lore sphere benefits from such Secrecy cards as Needful to Know (The Redhorn Gate, 9) and Out of the Wild (Road to Rivendell, 36).
If you build the right support into your deck, any of these starting fellowships provides you the means to push forward on your quest – all while remaining beneath the notice of most enemies. Your enemies might build up in the staging area, and you’ll need to confront them eventually, but if you adopt a good measure of Secrecy and heed Elrond’s Counsel, you should be able to recruit enough allies to your cause to deal with the enemies when the time is right.
Thus ends the first part of our look at how Secrecy hits critical mass in The Watcher in the Water. Check back over the next couple weeks for more previews and a Secrecy-focused deck list!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lords of Waterdeep - NinjaDorg gets his arse kicked

Her irony loaded words filled me with a heady mixture of expectation management but also pride:

“Okay then, let’s get this boring board game over with so we can watch another episode of The Walking Dead.”

My wife is not a gamer. Not by any stretch. And I wouldn't have it any other way. She kind of benignly sees my board game addiction as a much more preferable alternative to me getting sloshed down the pub every Saturday watching footie with the lads. So once every blue moon she’ll indulge me when a new title lands and I can’t wait until Thursday game night to break it out.

After struggling to resist a nebulous magnetism in Merric’s early preview reports on Lords of Waterdeep - and failing miserably it has to be said - I pulled the trigger on an Amazon pre-order. When Lords of Waterdeep arrived at my FLGS and sat there taunting me after Amazon had said it would be two more weeks before delivery, I paid the extra few quid and picked up a copy of LoW there and then, and cancelled my Amazon pre-order.

As an ardent Brit-trasher I’d been looking for a decent Euro for a long time and the theme of this one was irresistible. Especially considering the many hours of my youth I’d given over to travelling this imaginary city or indeed hosting adventures in it. Or reading books about it. Yeah Waterdeep figures pretty heavily in that respect. So when I laid out the map board for this new game I got a weird nostalgia rush for the old City System Waterdeep boxed set, and an old AD&D campaign I ran where the players invaded the city’s keep. Great days.

Well here we were now fighting to save the city and exercise control over it. My wife was blissfully oblivious to all of this back story of course, it was just coloured cube gathering and card playing. I ran through the simple rules quickly and dealt out the Lord cards, then had an ‘oops’ moment. I’d drawn Larissa Neathal – the one ‘different’ Lord who gives bonus points for Buildings at the end of the game.

“So you’ll see you’ve got two types of quest there that you need to aim for without telling me what they are. Oh, and by the way there’s also a Lord who gives bonuses for building buildings too, just so’s you knows...”

I briefly mulled over the consequences of beating her mercilessly by just buying buildings the whole game whilst she struggled for quests. Well if off the back of that she decided never to play again we’d always have Forbidden Island (which went over quite well that one time we played it all those months ago) or, um, Walking Dead season 2. In any case it was her first game of LoW but I decided not to hold back as it was my first game too.

As first player I* decided to try and grab gold to get some buildings going, so I popped a little wooden dude down at Aurora’s and added four gold to my supply.

With her first move she bought a building.


Okay, not a problem, there are seven more rounds to go yet, and other ways to get buildings too.

As the game moved swiftly on we took turns to place our little guys and grab coloured cubes and the ‘theme’ of the game slipped away pretty quickly – I still don’t know which coloured guys are which. Although the fighters all inexplicably wear orange iirc. Basically, it may as well have been a bunch of farmers and sheep, though I probably would not have bought the game if it were...

My wife was completing an alarming number of quests, and especially plot quests, and seemed to somehow be getting cubes faster than I could. Her VP token was ahead of mine for the whole game and I realised I still needed to complete regular quests to win. As I focussed on questing she handily yoinked the first player token from me and kept it for the rest of the game.

So I hit her back with a few intrigue cards as and when I could to keep her in check.

“Bam - give me your purple cube!”

Then she started to hit me back with her own intrigue cards, nicking my guys and plopping annoying mandatory quests on top of me.

“Bam yourself – stop being a dick!”

Suddenly it was round 5 and our fifth agents came into the game – time was really flying. I only had a couple of buildings and gold was hard to come by, so I focussed almost exclusively on dominating the Builder’s Hall. As I got increasingly desperate for effective moves she seemed to be breezing through and completing quests which had really big requirements and gave really big rewards. Soon she had her 100 VP token whilst I straggled behind. I took solace as I put the finishing touches to my fifth building, completed another quest and passed the 100VP mark myself. I decided my game would come together in the final scoring stages.

Soon enough the game did come to an end in under an hour and we totted up the final scores. I made a sort of ‘sorry’ face as I revealed my Lord, explained her bonus and bounced along the VP track, over-taking her marker and landing on 139 total Victory Points for the game. Un-phased she revealed her own Lord: Durnan the Wanderer, whose principal interests were Commerce and Warfare. For dramatic effect she revealed her quests one by one. Every single one of her completed quests had been Commerce or Warfare. She hopped along the VP track and landed on 141 Victory Points!

I checked and re-checked the final scores about four times and realised with growing trepidation that I had just been soundly and thoroughly arse-whupped.

“That wasn’t bad - it was a bit like Forbidden Island, not one of those long boring ones you always play. Shall we go and watch the season finale then?” she smiled.

I need to step up my skills before game night on Thursday!

Some notes on Lords of Waterdeep...


The box is great, the insert is fantastic – probably the first insert that I will not throw away. You can turn the box upside down and shake it about and everything stays in place (except for the 100VP tokens, no big deal though).

Cards seem great, the linen texture is fine, another game that I don’t think I’ll need to sleeve any time soon, which is nice. Plus they have artwork on the cards! After the disappointingly bland D&D Adventure System games’ cards this was a lovely step up in quality.

The layout of the game feels very organic, it’s easy to see what goes where on the map and the map itself is good. Although fairly colourless it serves its purpose beautifully and speeds the game up too.

The gameplay is easy to pick up, we didn’t have any rules questions in this first play, and it goes by very quickly.

The art for the locations is really nice, and the players’ Tavern cards look sweet.


Generally, the art itself is not really great however. I’d have loved to see some of the old 1st and 2nd edition D&D art recycled for this, or just good art generally in that style. But it’s all very cartoony and Magic: The Gathering-y. In fact my wife was crying laughing at Durnan’s ugly mug but couldn’t tell me why she was laughing until after the game finished. In fact pretty much all of the characters are quite ugly. Even the pretty ones. FFG has spoilt us in this respect.

Wooden cubes! I don’t see the attraction, or the need, or the why, or the how. They’re supposed to be people? I don’t get it!!! Surely potential Euro gamers attracted to the wooden cubes will be put off by ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ written on the cover! Even the agent meeples look a bit dumb. But they stand up well and are durable as hell.

The theme is nice and everything - it's what drew me in after all - but it's a struggle to keep it in your head as you play. For example, you'll be much more concerned about how many oranges and whites you have and how many blacks and purples you need.


I really enjoyed Lords of Waterdeep and it sped by at a great pace. I can’t wait to break this out with my group and see how they take to it. Might even be able to get my wife to play again some time...

* what? it’s not an etiquette thing, I’d just got back from a shoot in London, it’s in the rules dammit, whoever went to another city most recently goes first!! 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dungeons & Dragons Official Home Page - Design Article (Lords of Waterdeep)

Lords of Waterdeep
Design & Development
Rodney Thompson and Peter Lee

Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Official Home Page - Article (Lords of Waterdeep):

'via Blog this'

ords of Waterdeep is a new strategy board game set in the world of Dungeons & Dragons, debuting this month. In this Euro-style game, players send off their Agents to recruit Adventurers and recruit Quests. In this article, designers Rodney Thompson and Peter Lee describe the prototyping process and how the early, simple prototypes evolved into the high-end board game you can find in stores now.

Prototype Design

Rodney: Today we want to talk a little bit about the prototyping process for Lords of Waterdeep, and give you an idea of just how far the game has come from those early days.
One of the most important things I've learned from the process of working on Lords of Waterdeep is that, until it's time for the game to go to press, you should focus most of your efforts on perfecting the game's design. Function beats form during design and development, and our early prototypes really reflected that.
Our very first prototype consisted of an 8" x 10" dungeon tile covered in stickers, several 4" x 4" dungeon tiles with stickers on them for the Buildings, a bunch of Star Wars and D&D miniatures for the Agents, and the scoring track from Carcassonne to monitor our scores during play. Our card decks made by layering stickers over foreign language Magic and Duel Masterscards. To say it looked "cobbled-together" would be putting it nicely. However, I think this lack of polish early on actually helped a lot in that we never got too attached to the design's physical form.
Pete: When we started work on Lords of Waterdeep, I was playing weekly board games with my Dungeon Command co-designer Kevin Tatroe and his family. Earlier in the year, they gave me a gift from a local teacher supply store, a box of one thousand plastic cubes in ten different colors—a prototyper's dream! These became the Adventurers we needed for the game. I also had a supply of yellow tokens that we used for Gold.
Rodney: In this first prototype, we used red cubes for Rogues (because Rogues create blood splatters), black cubes for Fighters, green cubes for Clerics, and blue cubes for Wizards. Now when we play the finished game, Peter and I both still sometimes mix up Rogues and Fighters, because Fighters were represented by black cubes for so long that it became ingrained in our minds.

Rodney: That first game was playable to completion and, despite the speed with which the eclectic collection of prototyping materials had been put together, we were able to jump right into the iterative design process. As I mentioned earlier, not getting too attached to the game's components was very, very important to iteration. When Peter or I would make a suggestion for how to fix something, we'd take a pen and write on the sticker immediately, and then play with the change. In my mind, that kind of rapid iteration is critical to the design of a board game, and one of the reasons the Waterdeep design and development process went so well.
So, if there's some advice I'd give to any budding board game designers out there, it's to save the fancy prototype design for after your game is done. You need to be able to write on everything, change rules on the fly, and be ready to throw out entire groups of components if need be, so don't spend too much time making things pretty.
Pete: We knew we had a kernel of a good game, but we had a long way to go. For the next version of the game board, I was interested in usability. In a perfect world, the game board has enough visual cues that you can look at it and understand how to play. While such an ideal is nearly impossible for a game with any complexity, I still wanted to get as close as possible.
Rodney: In fact, one test I ended up putting the board through near the end of the process was to take the board, show it to a friend who was a board gamer but had not yet played (or even seen) the game, and asking him to tell me how he thought the game played. Based on his reactions, I was able to make some slight tweaks to the board to make sure the game board communicated to the player more intuitively. Thanks to the work Peter put in at this stage of the process, my friend was able to guess about 80% of the game play just by looking at the board, which was a great start.
Pete: Rodney and I also discussed how we imagined the board. We both wanted an isometric view of the city. I found a map of Waterdeep from the 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, photocopied it, and taped it to the back of half anAxis & Allies board.
I quickly constructed board elements on the computer and printed them out. Using the highly technical skills I learned back in kindergarten, I created the second board.

This is the board we played on the most. The elements were all attached by tape, making it easy to update and modify after each game. Working on this board taught us a lot about how the components needed to be laid out for the best play experience.
  • Quests for drafting needed to be at the top to make it easier for the players whose spot at the table might force them to read cards upside down.
  • Basic and Advanced Buildings needed be close together to make it easy to see all the available actions.
  • The Quest-drafting Building needed to be close to the Quests.
  • Likewise, the Building-drafting Building needed to be close to the Buildings that could be purchased.
  • The turn tracker needed to be near the Buildings availabl to be purchased.
  • For story reasons, the basic Buildings needed to be located in approximately their canonically correct places in the city.
Rodney: Around this time we were also starting to consider color issues. Color blindness is something we wanted to be aware of in the design of the game, so we needed to get rid of the green color for Clerics (a color that many color-blind people have difficulty distinguishing from shades of red). Likewise, we knew at this point that having our Agents (and, thus, Faction colors) the same color as some of our Adventurer resources was problematic; sometimes people would lose track of their Agents when Adventurers of a similar color were nearby. That's why, in the final game, only one Faction shares its color with an Adventurer color.
Pete: We were getting ready to start discussions with our graphic production team, so it was time to take all the things we learned from this version and update the board. So far, both Intrigue cards and Quest cards were handled in a landscape form. This worked great for the Quests, but it didn't make as much sense for the Intrigue cards since you hold them in your hand. We decided to change the orientation of the card.
At 14.5 inches by 19.5 inches, this board was too small. We were still using the separate Carcassonne board to keep score. Purchased Advanced Buildings sat on the side of the board, putting them a short distance from the central Building squares. Quest cards sat above the board.
A lot of space was taken up by having the resources on the board. It made round preparation easier as all the players could help move resources to the proper Building spaces. Each yellow arrow showed how many cubes needed to move. When we decided to remove the resource accrual mechanic, it was time to design the next major board iteration.

The new board increased to about 20 inches by 24 inches. Everything that we wanted on the board now fit. We brought in art director Keven Smith to work on the final version.
Rodney: I can't say enough good things about the work Keven did taking out primitive prototypes and transforming them into something visually impressive. One of the first things Keven did for us was to create a "wire frame" version of the board, which had the action spaces, blank spots for Buildings, and so forth, but contained no art and only some very limited graphic design. This was a critical step in the prototyping process, despite actually being a step in the game's graphic design process; because we were able to take the wire frame and play on it, we were able to quickly identify any areas that would produce an unsatisfying or unclear experience. We could move different action spaces around, and it was at this time that we started matching up action space names with city locations, which further helped us figure out where to place things. For example, Aurora's Realms Shop was placed where it was to continue the circular arc of basic resource spaces that starts with Blackstaff Tower and moves clockwise around the outer areas of the city, creating a better information flow for where to find basic resources.

As we reached the end of the design process, we had to make some decisions about what our final components would be. Peter and I discussed it and decided that we wanted wooden pieces for the game, specifically cubes for the Adventurers, because we were trying to create a specific type of experience. Fans of strategy board games (aka Euro games) are accustomed to high quality games having wooden pieces, and we wanted to deliver components that met their expectations. For our Agents, Keven's team managed to create a shape that evoked the human form (that of your Agent moving out into the city) that also was exceptionally stable and had some heft to it, so that it was unlikely to tip over during play or be lost while setting up or putting away the game. From there, all that remained was to convert our primitive cards into their final form, and then let Keven and his team construct the gorgeous game you see today.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Fantasy Quest Official Sound Track - songs now available!

Philip Glass' Dracula was a huge influence on us and I love the elegance and simplicity of a purely piano score.  We listened to a lot of music whilst developing and play-testing Fantasy Quest and I really liked the idea of a sound track that tied directly into the story of the game because great music enhances literally everything.  With that in mind I asked Francesca if she would compose a theme that tied into the game and she went a gigantic step further and put together an entire album of brilliant piano music.

Whilst this won’t be included with the game itself it will be made available as an optional extra for those who want the full ‘Gloom of Kilforth’ experience.

And you can now download the first four tracks from Francesca's home page under "Singles" here:


For the princely sum of 40p each!  

The following track ‘Final Battle’ is one of my personal favourites, dramatic and exciting, and it’s here for your listening pleasure:


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

FFG News - Ambushed on the Road to Rivendell

Fantasy Flight Games [News] - Ambushed on the Road to Rivendell: "Road to Rivendell "

'via Blog this'

Suddenly Aragorn leapt to his feet. “How the wind howls!” he cried. “It is howling with wolf-voices. The Wargs have come west of the Mountains!”
    –The Fellowship of the Ring
Having barely pushed their way through the raging snowstorms along The Redhorn Gate, the heroes of Middle-earth continue their journey to Rivendell, heading down the westward slopes of the Misty Mountains. Though they leave the drifting snow and wintry weather behind them, the Road to Rivendell is not yet clear. Wargs, goblins, and other ferocious enemies lie in waiting to spring their ambushes upon the weary fellowship!
Ambushed on the Road to Rivendell
When we first announced the upcoming release of Road to Rivendell, we mentioned the Adventure Pack would be the first to introduce the new Ambush mechanic. This deadly new mechanic changes the way you encounter enemies, especially in multiplayer games. It forces the first player to tread lightly as your heroes journey westward and northward through the hills west of the Misty Mountains.
Each time an enemy with the Ambush keyword is revealed from the encounter deck, each player makes an immediate engagement check with it, starting with the first player, and players who fail to keep their threat low can quickly find themselves surrounded by enemies. In a four-player game, it’s possible to reveal four enemies and watch with terror as your heroes stumble into the middle of their ambush.
Of course, if an enemy leaps out of the staging area to engage you during the quest phase, it doesn’t oppose your progress with its threat. But before you start thinking that Ambush is a blessing in disguise, consider the true threat posed by an enemy like the Wild Bear (Road to Rivendell, 52). This ferocious predator bears your heroes no malice. The Dark Lord of Mordor does not guide its attacks. Instead, it’s driven by hunger alone, and it adds zero threat while in the staging area. However, if a player gets up to 34 threat, its Ambush keyword means this ravenous beast immediately engages a player, and its Forced response means that it attacks immediately. If a Wild Bear attacks due to Ambush, you cannot fool it with a Feint (Core Set, 34). You cannot remove the threat with a Quick Strike (Core Set, 35). You must simply defend against it or face the consequences.
Wicked tricks and snares
There are plenty of wicked little tricks and snares waiting for your heroes in Road to Rivendell. A Wild Bear attack during the quest phase may lead into the shadow effect of a Sleeping Sentry (Road to Rivendell, 46), triggering the discard of all exhausted characters, including the one who just exhausted to defend the Wild Bear. Or in a multiplayer game, one player may draw the Wild Bear right before the Sleeping Sentry wounds each exhausted character and exhausts each readied character.
Additionally, the first player to draw an Ambush may struggle to defeat multiple foes, and with multiple combatants pressing their attacks each round, the likelihood becomes greater and greater that you may face one of the scenario’s devastating shadow effects. Without a lot of Ranged and Sentinel characters, a multiplayer table will quickly learn that the threat of Ambush quickly outweighs the benefits you gain by drawing enemies out of the staging area during the quest phase.
Scouting ahead
The best way to avoid an ambush may be to send scouts ahead of the main party, and Road to Rivendell introduces an exciting Lore card that can help you navigate around some of the encounter deck’s nastiest surprises. Out of the Wild (Road to Rivendell, 36) can remove some of the encounter deck’s worst threats before you ever face them. At three cost, it’s a little expensive, but nothing unreasonable for a deck that runs a good measure of resource acceleration. Moreover, Out of the Wild features Secrecy 2, meaning if you can keep your threat at or below twenty, you can pick apart the encounter deck for a mere one resource.
Obviously, if you aren’t running A Test of Will (Core Set, 50) or Hasty Stroke (Core Set, 48), the Sleeping Sentry is a good candidate to remove from the deck, but Out of the Wild can do more than help you avoid the most troublesome encounter effects. In scenarios like The Hills of Emyn Muil or The Redhorn Gate, where you need to draw into the encounter deck’s victory points, Out of the Wild can filter out the cards that will just cost you extra turns. Remove encounter cards without victory points, and the chances increase that you’ll draw into cards that have victory points.
The Road to Rivendell is long and full of peril. You’ll need to remain wary to avoid Ambush, but there’s little time left for you to delay. The time is coming to resume your escort mission as you seek to bring Arwen safely home to Rivendell.

FFG News - The Horror Continues: Monster minis for Arkham Horror

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Dungeons & Dragons Lords of Waterdeep Design Article

Interesting design article on Lords of Waterdeep, looking forward to this one...

Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Official Home Page - Article (Lords of Waterdeep):

'via Blog this'

ords of Waterdeep is a new Dungeons & Dragons strategy board game, debuting this month. In this game, players send off their agents to recruit adventurers and recruit quests. In this article, designers Rodney Thompson and Peter Lee describe how this new D&D board game was designed.

Two Halves Make a Whole

Peter: Immediately after Gen Con 2008, I was travelling back to Wisconsin for the first time since joining Wizards. On the car ride between Indianapolis and Madison, I was discussing a few board game ideas with my old gaming group. The only game that stuck in my subconscious was a music producing game. In this hypothetical game, a player took on the role of a music producer tasked to create music hits. A hit song would be made by recruiting musicians. For example, a rock song might require a drummer, a singer, and three guitarists.
Fast forward to early August 2010. Castle Ravenloft proved we were able to create compelling board games set in the D&D universe. I was finishing up development on Conquest of Nerath and starting to lay the plans for the design of Legend of Drizzt. I was chatting with Rodney about board games we'd like to do, and I mentioned the music game and how we'd be able to easily put a D&D spin on it by changing it to a game where you were hiring adventurers to send off on quests. Unfortunately, it was only half a game. Every system has inputs and outputs. I had the resource output but I didn't have the input. How does a player get adventurers and quests?
Rodney: During that same conversation, I'd been talking with Peter about the kinds of games I'd like to see. At the time, I really was into action drafting games, with Agricola sitting at the top of my list. However, nothing I was playing at the time was fully satisfying me, and I wanted something that used the core action drafting mechanic I liked, but had less set-up time and a shorter play time.
Unfortunately, Peter and I didn't have a lot of time to talk about our ideas before I got on the Game Train to GenCon. This was the first year that some of us traveled by train from Seattle to Chicago (and then on to Indy for GenCon), so we were just playing games and enjoying the scenery going by. Still, the ideas that Pete and I had been chatting about stuck in my brain, and one morning after breakfast I found myself sitting in a train car speeding through somewhere in Montana, typing furiously on my laptop as I designed the basics of an action drafting game using the quests idea that Peter had. Once I started typing, the design quickly fell into place.
One thing I don't love about some action drafting games is their lack of interaction; many can feel like you're playing four-player solitaire, and I wanted a game that felt like you were really interacting with other people. Another thing I really wanted was for the players, not the game, to introduce more actions into the game. Yet another goal was simple set-up and break-down; I wanted people to get into the game quickly and start playing, rather than spending a lot of time figuring out which component goes where on the game board.
I'd also recently been working on the Dark Sun campaign setting for the D&D roleplaying game, and so naturally I was thinking all about that world. The initial design that I cooked up on the train was called Ambition of the Sorcerer-Kings and was set on Athas, the world of Dark Sun. The adventurers were fighters, rogues, psions and druids, not clerics since Dark Sun doesn't have divine magic. The psion also replaced the wizard, as they are more common in Dark Sun. Your agents in the city would be your templars, and you took on the role of a sorcerer-king.
By the time I got off of the train, I had a design document and sample cards, buildings and quests that would form the foundation of the first prototype. There was only one thing missing: I needed to build the math behind the game.
Pete: Any game like this is deals with a lot of resource transmutation. To facilitate design, we need a base resource; if you figure out the math of the game first, the design process is so much easier. For this game, we chose victory points (VP). Every action that you took was worth some number of VP. I felt rogues and fighters needed to be more common, so you'd get two of them for one action. You'd only get one cleric or psion per action, so they'd be worth more VP each. Finally, gold was assigned a value less than any of the adventurers. Surprisingly, this formula remained the same for the entire lifetime of the design process.

The First Prototype

Rodney: Once we'd figured out the math behind the game, I had a real urge to get a prototype made. Over the course of a single weekend, I took the math that Pete had helped work out, along with my initial design document, and created a full prototype for the game. The first prototype was primitive, to say the least; stickers on dungeon tiles made up our base board and buildings, and the cards were leftovers from another game I'd been working on earlier in the year.
That weekend, all of the components really started falling into place and had a strong purpose. Quests are how you score victory points; they are the driving factor in winning the game. Intrigue cards are how you interact with other players directly. Buildings bring new actions into the game, but they also provide their owner with some benefit so that choosing to take a building's action is a calculated risk.
Another piece of the puzzle that fell quickly into place was the issue of play time. I wanted a target play time of about an hour, and Pete and I had noodled around in our heads that the game should take about 8 rounds to play to hit that hour mark.
That Monday I grabbed Pete and made him sit down and try out the prototype. A couple of rounds into the game, Pete was scowling at the board, and for about five rounds neither of us said a single word other than those necessary to communicate with each other as players of the game. We played through the full game, and then both of us sat back and looked at each other. There was a long silence during which I was convinced that Pete hated the game, and that I'd wasted a weekend putting it together.
Pete: It turns out my "I'm thinking" face looks pretty much the same as my "I hate it" face. Normally, the first time I play a design of any new board game, it falls apart pretty quickly. I was amazed that we were able to play through a whole game and that it was fun!
While I like Dark Sun, it didn't thrill me as a location for the game. I really felt this game would be more exciting as a core D&D experience. I felt it should focus on the core D&D classes: fighters, rogues, clerics, and wizards. I also felt it needed to be in the Forgotten Realms, and we quickly determined Waterdeep would be the best location.
Re-theming the components were pretty easy. Instead of assigning Templars, you assign Agents. Instead of taking on the role of a sorcerer-king, you were one of the Lords of Waterdeep.

Preliminary Design

Rodney: Luckily, Pete didn't hate it, and I was amiable to the idea of making it a Forgotten Realms game. We were both a little shocked that we had a fully functional, playable game. In fact, that first prototype was so solid that we probably could have published it unchanged and had a decent, if not memorable game.
Pete: Our wheels immediately started to turn. Since this didn't start as an assigned project, we found time during lunches to play and talk. Many meals were spent at the "secret cafeteria" (a cafeteria in a building across the street from the office) discussing this game. There were quite a few fundamental differences at the start of the design from what you see in the final game.

Quests and the Tavern

Pete: Lots of things changed throughout the design process. One of the biggest changes was how you gained resources. At first, the tavern didn't exist. Instead, when you gained an adventurer, you placed that adventurer directly on one of your quest. Whenever you had enough adventurers on a quest, you immediately completed it—even if it wasn't your turn!
Rodney: In the very first design, Quests were both the objective and the "holding pen" for adventurers that you had recruited with your agents. They were like buckets that, as soon as they filled up, emptied out. This created a couple of problems; first, there was no real sense of progression, since you were just obtaining, and then spending, resources with no real potential for building up any kind of engine for yourself. Additionally, other people we recruited into playing the game wanted to move adventurers from one quest to another. We realized that trying to assign adventurers to quests as you take them was creating a layer of distraction that pulled you out of the main action drafting strategy of the game. People were spending too much time figuring out which quest to put adventurers on, which created a lot of static when added to the choice of what space to draft.
To address the first issue (the lack of progression), we created some quests that provided ongoing benefits once you completed them. The problem we kept running into was that, since you completed so many quests (and not always on your turn), you would end up with these cascading benefits every time you completed a quest. This slowed down the game as everyone had to stop while you resolved the quest completion, sometimes in the middle of another player's turn.
At this point, we removed all quests with lingering benefits from the game and instead created a new mechanic, the tavern, based on an idea we had from an early quest—Summon Aid from Luskan (see below). The way the tavern worked at first was that every time you completed a quest, you got to pick one adventurer from that quest to "save" and put into your tavern. Depending on the type of adventurer you saved, you got some small benefit. If you saved a fighter, you also got to save a second adventurer. If you saved a rogue, you got two gold. If you saved a cleric, you got to draw a quest. If you saved a wizard, you got to draw an Intrigue card. The adventurers in your tavern could be moved out and onto a quest at any time, but not vice versa; once an adventurer was on a quest, it stayed on that quest until completed.
With the tavern mechanic in place, we also created a number of new quest rewards that played off your tavern; for example, one quest gave you 1 VP for every cleric in your tavern at the time when you completed the quest. Unfortunately, this was having another side effect: people were hoarding adventurers, and then completing quests all in a rush at the end of the game. We tried to compensate for this by creating Intrigue cards that removed adventurers from the opponent's tavern, but too many of these ended up creating a lot of "feel-bad" in the game, where the game clearly encouraged you to do one thing (hoard adventurers) while punishing you for doing that via Intrigue cards. Plus, too much direct conflict was pulling us away from the strategy board game roots we wanted to adhere to.
Pete: After the original three-month design, we had to wait a couple of months to start development. During the design period, I often functioned as a development sounding board for Rodney's design, so I also joined the team of the developers led by Joe Huber, one of the guys on the Magic side of R&D.
Allowing the game to sit for a couple of months let me clear my mind of the design. We realized that placing Adventurers directly on quests actually lessened the draft tension. For example, if you were the only player that had a quest requiring Wizards, you knew that no other player would take the Blackstaff Tower location. About the same time, Joe realized that there was one major mechanic too many in the game, and something had to be removed.
When iterating on a game design, whenever I am faced with a list of issues, the solution that solves the most issues is usually the correct change. At this point, here are the problems we were facing:
  • Too many quests were being completed at once, slowing down the game with long action resolution steps.
  • Placing Adventurers directly on quests lessened draft tension.
  • Saving an Adventurer after each quest also lessened draft tension.
  • Gaining a boon after saving an Adventurer caused the game to slow down with nearly inconsequential analysis. Games were starting to go longer than an hour.
We made three changes to solve most of these problems:
  • We cut out the mechanic that allowed you to save an Adventurer after each completed quest.
  • When you drafted adventurers, they now went straight to your tavern.
  • At the end of each action, you could complete one and only one quest.
Unfortunately, this meant that all the quests that gave you bonuses for things in your tavern had to be removed—it was too easy to get things in your tavern, after all!
Fortunately, I remembered the lingering-effect quests that we had done in an early design. The game had evolved a lot since then, so we thought it would be worth trying them again. We designed three for each quest type, renamed them "Plot Quests", and the game finally gelled into what you see today.

That's it. . . for this week!

We have a lot we can talk about it—and trust me, if you get us talking about this game, we can't stop—so there will be more next time!

Fortune and Glory - New Dangers Deck PDFs

Here are the printable PDFs of the new Dangers deck for Fortune and Glory, enjoy!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Fantasy Quest Official Sound Track

The brilliant composer Francesca L Hall has produced two more tracks for the awesome Fantasy Quest sound track, nothing gets me more excited about this game's development:

The Veil:


Though these tracks will not be included with the game the CD will be made available for those who wish to enjoy the full experience of the game!

Monday, March 05, 2012

Shadow and Flame - the climactic final Adventure Pack of the Dwarrowdelf saga!

With a rush it leaped across the fissure. The flames roared up to greet it, and wreathed about it; and a black smoke swirled in the air. Its streaming mane kindled, and blazed behind it. In its right hand was a blade like a stabbing tongue of fire; in its left it held a whip of many thongs.
    “Ai! ai!” wailed Legolas. “A Balrog! A Balrog is come!”
    Gimli stared with wide eyes. “Durin’s Bane!” he cried, and letting his axe fall he covered his face.

   –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
In the Dwarrowdelf cycle of Adventure Packs for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, the heroes of Middle-earth have been tasked by Elrond to find the root of the increased Orc activity in the Misty Mountains. Through treacherous mountain passes, goblin ambushes, dark tunnels, and underground waterways, their journey leads them at last to the depths of Moria… and the terrible discovery that awaits them!
Fantasy Flight Games is delighted to announce the upcoming release of Shadow and Flame, the climactic final Adventure Pack in the epic Dwarrowdelf saga!
Durin’s Bane
In Shadow and Flame, the heroes of Middle-earth learn to their horror what power has gathered the Orcs of Moria and the Misty Mountains–the ancient power known as “Durin’s Bane,” a Balrog, a demon from the days of Morgoth!
Shadow and Flame marks the thrilling conclusion of the Dwarrowdelf saga, but how the narrative unfolds is up to you. Is it a heroic tale of overcoming unthinkable odds? Or is it a tragedy? This Adventure Pack unleashes the Balrog’s unrelenting fury upon the heroes of Middle-earth in truly ferocious combat!
Gone are the days of the First and Second Ages when legendary heroes fought Balrogs in single combat. Still, the heroes undertaking Elrond’s quest number among some of Middle-earth’s most powerful individuals. With no recourse but to fight or die, can they survive the demon’s onslaught?
Forge your destiny with sharpened steel
In Shadow and Flame, your heroes must face fiery swords, flaming whips, goblins, darkened caverns, and the fearsome Balrog in the greatest fight of their lives. Will they concern themselves with the success of their original mission while their very survival is at stake?
The player cards of Shadow and Flame provide your desperate heroes with exciting new means of clinging to life. They can try to maintain their Secrecy and add to their power with new events, allies, and attachments, including one of the three Elven Rings of Power! In this desperate hour, will it finally be time for the Ring’s owner to draw openly upon its power? Can you risk drawing the Eye of Sauron?
Rise to the challenge. Survive the greatest fight of your life. Confront the demon of Shadow and Flame.
The Dwarrowdelf cycle reaches its thrilling climax late in the second quarter of 2012!