Welcome to part 2 of the Developer Notes for encounters in Dungeon Quest: Adventure. Last time we went into how the Encounter Deck(s) came to be designed the way that they are. Now though, we get the opportunity to venture into the dark wilds of multiplayer game design.
First, a quick update is in order. I’ve been working on getting the Tabletopia port online, and it’s is coming along great. My cards are now the correct size, are legible and can be inserted into decks. What’s cute/needed for DQA to work is that on the Tabletopia platform cards are discreet objects, and once the game is started do not have any real connection to the decks/piles they were in when they started. So I can pull cards and add them to different decks. You know, the core concept that Dungeon Quest: Adventure is built on. Good news.
I’ve also gone ahead and designed a board. I’ve resisted the concept since day 1 since I want DQA to fit into an oversized cardbox for cost reasons. I also wanted a purely card driven game. But, since I can set up a board in Tabletopia and playing a card game on the internet needs all of the interface help it can get, I went ahead and started putting one together. It’s almost done, so art / placeholder art incoming. Maybe, if I decide that I like it, I’ll add a giant neoprene one as a stretch goal or something.
Now, let’s go play in game design land. At its base, Dungeon Quest: Adventure is designed to be a cooperative game for up to 5 players. “Wait!” I can hear you bellow through the internet (and compared to when I write this – from the future) “Dungeon Quest only has 3 players!” Well, yes. Yes it does only have 3 players – now. But I wanted the game to be flexible enough so that it could handle more players if I wanted it to in the future.
Plus, I wanted DQA to be a game that you could run solo. I’ve played it that way quite a bit, and it’s fascinating as a solitaire experience. It’s also, like, really difficult with the base rules, so there are some minor alterations for the solo rules. But that means that the encounters needed to work for everything between 1 and 5 players.
With that in mind, we need to recognize that the main thing that additional players bring to the table are additional actions. 2 players play twice the cards as 1 player after all. That also includes the fact that the actions of these extra players will be powerful almost by default. It’s not like player 2 is tossing out 1 drops only. They are going to use their most powerful effects, and since the card effects for DQA aren’t linear, that’s a lot of extra power on the table. Extra players also make the fail state of the game more difficult to achieve since they have a lot more HP.
The easy fix would be to just add more enemies, and this works up to a point. But it totally falls apart when you are playing solo since it renders each encounter into a 1 vs 1 affair, like the original Dragon Warrior. That’s fine? I guess? But Dungeon Quest: Adventure has placement rules and tactics designed around that, which would mean that the solo version would suffer. We don’t want that. Besides, 2 vs 2 isn’t really much better, and then the best case of 3 vs 3 would be a little dull.
And…that’s not really what I want. Ideally I would like an encounter to have between 3 and 7 enemies all at once. The answer came about from a single card with the playtest name of Goblin Chieftain. It had an effect that looked at the top cards of the deck and dropped them into play. In other words, he came with friends. Now in early games the above solution was used (where there were an equal number of players and enemies all of the time) But whenever that Chieftain showed up, it changed the entire nature of the encounter and made these early encounters really exciting.
With that, I went ahead and added Ally numbers to all of the enemies. This was before I had created the tiers, so the very first playtest that popped up had an enemy with 4 friends and the top of the deck of full to the brim with high powered violence. It was, um, gory. After that misfortune, I sorted the encounter cards by type (a kind of proto-tier if you would) and we tried again. It showed me a couple of things. First, it was really fun. Second, that certain player cards were useless. Third, it could really get out of hand from a number of goons perspective.
But those are balance issues, not mechanic problems. So I started tweaking the numbers and the way that it works. So now when you are playing you pull the top cards equal to the number of people playing. Then you look to see which enemy has the highest Ally number, and add that many more. So in a 3 player game you would draw 3, and then check the highest Ally number. Let’s say it’s a 2. You would add 2 more enemies bringing the total up to 5. Now, tough enemies have lower numbers (or 0). Other types (like our Goblin Chieftain for example) have higher numbers. On balance, this system tends to create situations with good challenge, either from monster quality or quantity, and works for multiple player counts.
There was an odd issue that appeared with this system though. In the earliest playtests there were the occasionally “Boss” monsters. On several occasional due to the shuffle, the Boss would appear after being summoned up from an Ally. That wasn’t great. So I put a different mark on the back of those cards so that you wouldn’t treat it like a normal encounter.
Well that worked fine, but then even if a monster is tough, if it’s by itself it’s not all that threatening. So during a playtest one of my testers said, “We’re doing well, let’s make it harder,” and we added more enemies. I liked the idea so much I added the concept of Minions to the Boss battles, and once I had that I went back to the idea curated encounters. After all here were an explicit number of enemies that would always be encountered as a set. It allowed me to create these set piece encounters that honestly, play great so far.
In the meantime, I’ve got to get them into Tabletopia so you can all see what I see.