Greg's Design Blog

A collection of posts by game designer Gregory Carslaw, including mirrors of all of his blogs maintained for particular projects. A complete index of posts can be found here: https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/58777/index
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Meet the games: Wizard Academy

Greg
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Original post (with over 100% more pictures) http://3dtotalgames.com/meet-the-games-wizard-academy/

Time to introduce the second game: Wizard Academy! After the ceaseless violence that was Murder:TV, this game is much more cooperative. The premise is that you play as dangerously undereducated students in a wizard academy trying to put an end to some problem before it spirals out of control. Unfortunately you don't know what any of the spells do so there's a bit of trial and error.

Setup

Todays prototype materials are brought to you by Betrayal at House on the Hill. A game famed for the (poor) quality of its components. There are things to recommend it though, give it a look if you like games to have a decent narrative and some suprising elements and if you aren't too fussed about whether there's a strong relationship between what you do and whether you win.

The game starts by randomising the spellbook and layout of the academy. Some things are fixed (for instance the runes that cast level one spells are always in accessible rooms and the runes for level two spells are always in an ice filled room and a guarded room) but the details change between games. The players get an option to swap a few adjacent rooms to prevent important rooms from being inaccessible, in this setup these moves were used to move the rooms with low level runes close to the starting location.

The players all start on a big mage crystal, that's the thing with all of the glass beads on it. Whenever someone would die, the academy saves them, losing a gem in the process. If the last gem is used up the building will fall down and everyone loses. If the players solve their objective everyone wins. The game has no traitor or solo win condition; it's a totally cooperative game. In this case, the objective is to close a single imp portal and remove any imps that might have wondered in from the premises

Getting Started

The players scattered and started collecting runes. In a bit of luck, the "bind rune" spell was found early allowing players to link with rooms in order to collect their associated runes without having to be present (represented here by prone models matching the character bound to the room). The orange samurai player went to the library and recorded the group's finds, turning the associated spell cards permanently face up and preventing them from being re-randomised.

In the process of these discoveries, someone accidentally plunged one of the rooms into darkness making it hard to move through, which forced the orange player to flee an imp in the wrong direction. He's now isolated to the north and is short on runes making it unlikely he'll cast any spells for a couple of turns. A fire started close to the main crystal and the group decided to use the crystal's power to extinguish it, taking double damage but negating the problem. A few imps have come through the portal, but have either wandered around harmlessly on the far side of the board of have been dispatched with vigorous application of attack spells. Things are going well.

A Tough Decision

Over the next few turns the players increase their supply of runes and deal with problems as they come up, until a small fire becomes a large fire and before long, half of the building is on fire and the group is faced with a tough choice. The fire has spread to the main crystal so they'll lose a gem, but they could lose two to put out the whole fire. On the other hand, the fire is also next to a room that's frozen in ice, if they wait a little longer the fire could melt the ice to access one of the runes for second level spells. Ultimately the fire could hit the main crystal two or three more times and there will be plenty of chances to deal with the ice later, so the players opt to put out the fire.

A quick note about this board position, you might be able to see that one of the rooms is dark and also on fire. Besides making it a terrible place to be, it does bring into question the games logic. Do I wave my hands and say "magical darkness" or do I add a rule to make fire negate the effect of dark? Something to think about.

Solving Problems

The players imp and fire problems are solved! Now the board has trolls, which eat imps and portals to the water dimension - an excellent firefighting tool. Unfortunately now the board has trolls, which break rooms and portals to the water dimension - the number one cause of flooding in magical learning institutions. There's a troll blocking access to the slime rune, which in turn means they can't get at the only known attack spell to be rid of him and the sealed room is filling with water, which is a problem in the long run.

On the plus side the awesome "create robes" spell has been discovered, allowing the players to forge themselves magic robes to make them immune to fire (or water, or ice, but only one set can be worn at a time). So valuable was this discovery that the player represented by the drunken guard has run into the flaming library to record the knowledge before the spellbook was randomised again and it was lost - saving his life from the fire cost the crystal another gem.

Endgame

The group manages to deck itself out in fireproof robes, but struggles to find new spells. The remaining facedown spell they can access turns out to be "summon troll" which they decide isn't worth the trouble to lock in. The water problem gets much worse and a flood puts out most of the fire on the map, before costing two of the remaining three gems to solve. Player two has the bright idea of using the bend dimensions spell to move the ice over room to a more central location in the hope the fire will spread there and melt the ice. Lack of access to that rune has stalled all progress for several turns, but by sheer bad luck all of the fires refuse to spread in its direction. With one gem left and no access to new spells it seems like the end must be near.

Game Over

(The glass beads outside of the crystal ball room represent additional water, as I ran out of water counters during this test run)

Finally the fire melts the ice and the players can access the all important tentacle rune. They immediately discover the most dangerous possible uses for it, opening new portals to both the fire and water dimension. With only two spells left they need to discover teleport. This would allow them to access the sealed room and with i,t the possibility of discovering the freeze spell which could put an end to the flood threatening the academy. Sadly, before this can happen the flood spreads to the central crystal and destroys the last gem. The building collapses, leaving some very dejected (and soggy) would-be wizards in it's wake.

Hopefully that gives a picture of what this one's all about and how it plays. Again there are plenty of things to come back to look at in detail later and lots of notes to be made about important aspects to improve.

Notes:

The game cannot progress if the players cannot get to a new rune. Melting the ice to reach the third rune should be something the players are able to do once they learn how to start fires.
Trolls locking off rooms is all well and good, but in theory a troll could block off the ability to kill trolls, which would be a disappointing (and unstoppable) way to lose.
The game can stall in the early stages if the players are unwilling to cast the higher level spells. It might even become a dominant strategy to build up a huge supply of runes before upping the stakes. Effective, but not very fun - it would be good to encourage different behaviour.
Perhaps there should be some way to deliberately unlock and randomise spells if access to a particular rune is causing trouble. There are rooms with no special powers that could be allocated this function.
I need to be clearer on how the tiles line up. Ruling that doors must face each other to be passable was functional enough, but might make it possible to completely isolate the crystal, so no fires etc. can spread to it. Combine that with some decent robes and the group can be all but immune to losing. On the other hand, ruling that it is always connected to adjacent spaces means it could be placed adjacent to the sealed room to open it without teleport.
Nobody summoned a demon all game. This makes me sad.
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