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Subject: WIP - Cults of Arkham rss

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mads l. brynnum
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Cults of Arkham
- a game about ending the world your way


I’m working on this game. I hope to make it for a Danish convention next year, but it all depends on what I end up with. So far I’ve worked with the game by writing rules, making prototype components, and a couple of solo tests, and this is an attempt to both document the design process and to gather notes and ideas into a single document. So this is somewhat a work in progress thread, somewhat design/rules document, and somewhat a way of showing a game idea as it gradually matures. You are more than welcome to ask questions, comment, or suggest stuff. I hope it makes sense :-)

Overview
The players (3-4) each control a team of cultists trying to awaken their favourite ancient horror thus becoming the last to be devoured as the world ends.

Each player has a number of missions to fulfill such as finding specific artefacts, summoning lesser monsters, killing other cultists, and so on. Each game round the players roll dice and use them to move cultists, activate different locations in Arkham, cast spells, and fight. You can, of course, reroll your dice a number of times, but the more madness your cultists gain from casting spells and other sinister deeds, the less rerolls you’ll get.

The action dice
The dice have the following symbols:
Arrow – move
Explosion – fight
Magnifying glass – clue/move investigators
Hand – interact
Star – Mythos

Some sides have more than one symbol, but you can only use one. For instance one side has hand/double arrows which can either be used to move two times or to interact with a location. Each player has five dice.

The game board
Arkham is made up by seven locations in a circle around Hangman’s Hill which is in the centre. You can move around from one location to the next, and the hill is also connected to two locations making it a sort of shortcut. Right now I build the board like this, but in principle it could be a board with fixed locations rather than individual cards. This is a sample of some of the locations:



Other components
Each player has a player sheet, five cultist figures, and a monster (which has to be summoned).
12 Spell cards (like the one used to summon a monster)
12 Items cards (weapons and such)
24 Special item cards (like tomes and artefacts – they have no abilities, but are used to fulfil missions).
An investigator figure and investigator sheet.

The game round
The game round is divided into different phases.

Phase one – upkeep
Each player receives rerolls depending on the amount of madness they have. The more madness, the less rerolls. These rerolls can be used in this round only. The first player token is moved one space clockwise.

Phase two – Actions
Now the first player rolls his/her dice and may immediately use any number of rerolls. Then he/she selects one die to use. Arrows can be used to move cultists either from your reserves to any location, or between locations. If you have a cultist on a location (they are placed between the square spaces) you can place a die that matches the requirement on a space in order to activate that space later. If you place a fight die on a given location (also requires a cultist), you’ll later start a fight on that location.

Now the second players rolls, maybe rerolls and uses a die and so forth until everybody has passed.

Phase three – Investigators
Now the investigators move. During the action phase you can place clues on the investigator sheet. The one with the most clues placed may move the investigators one space. In case of a tie the one that placed his/her die first decides. The investigators will fight all cultists in a given location.

Phase four – fights
Now fights are resolved. Every location with at least one fight die and/or the investigators has a fight. In a fight you roll a number of dice equal to the number of cultists on the space hitting on a 5 or 6. Sixes may be rolled again, and you can have equipment or spells that help. Also, having a fight die on the location will give some sort of benefit (maybe 5 and 6 explodes or some such). Each hit lets you kill another cultist, but they all get to roll dice (much like in Chaos in the Old World). Investigators strike first and roll a certain number of dice against each player on the location. This number will most likely increase during the game.

Now, if all of a player’s cultist on a given location die, he/she must remove all dice placed on that location. This could leave one of the small squares open for another player, so even if all the dice squares are filled, you can place a die “in line” during the action phase if you hope to kill off the opposition.

Phase five – activate
Now the first player activates one location by using dice placed earlier. Note that Madness (an eye icon) and Mythos does not require dice to be placed. Mythos can be paid by spending dice you have in front of you, and madness is simply gained on your player sheet.

Missions
Each player has a number of missions. Right now they are set, but I hope to make them somewhat random. A mission could be “spend 5 mythos” or “kill a cultist with your monster”, but a lot of them has to do with special equipment you can find different places in Arkham. The first player to fulfil three missions wins the game and manages to summon their favourite abomination.

Status
I’ve done some solo testing and so far things seem to work out. Of course, with individual missions, lots of cards with specific effects, and so on, the game will have to be tweaked and tweaked, but I hope that the basics will survive the first meeting with real playtesters sometime soon.

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Jiří Petruželka
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Arkham, great! So basicly it's AH reversed (theme)? I like it. Some questions:

1) What most puzzles me is the actions mechanic, do I understand corrently that: player has 1 action per round ("Then he/she selects one die to use") and she can choose from actions that are rolled on her dice and can reroll some of the dice? Not having playing this is only my theorycrafting, but it sounds like I would know what action I would like to take each turn, so I hope it will be on dice. Then I spend all rerolls trying to get the action I want and either be content or do an action I'd see as secondary. But considering 5 dice and a number of rerolls I should be getting what I want pretty much certainly anyway.
This sounds a bit as if I am being played by the game, that I'm not really in control and making decisions about my team ... how was this mechanic in an actual play? I am aware it can differ significantly (and not trying to put down your design).

2) Is there 1 or more investigators? You sometimes use plural and sometimes singular ... or is it a single team of investigators acting as unit?
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mads l. brynnum
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I think I've explained it badly. The idea is that you keep taking actions one player at a time until everyone has passed. So first player takes an action, then second player, third player, then back to first player, etc. But yes, as the game progresses you'll have less control since you can't be certain to get what you want. However, at that time you'll most likely have more spells and equipment that can help you in other ways which should, I hope, mitigate the luck a bit.

And the investigators represent a group, but are represented with a single figure/token.
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Chad Mestdagh
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When you mentioned working on this game, I thought you were still working on your dice of arkham game. Now I understand.
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mads l. brynnum
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I have some ideas for new scenarios, investigators, and so on for Dice of Arkham, but truth be told I'm more interested in new designs. Now, if someone was to suggest making an app based on Dice of Arkham, I'd be happy to develop new material for it, but right now the joy of finishing something new is more of a motivator for me.
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Chad Mestdagh
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It is actually still on my short list of games that I want to try. Of course there is this whole new contest of solitaire games going on right now. AUURGHH!! To many games!
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mads l. brynnum
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After some solo tests I've decided to make two major changes before presenting the game to real testers.

First of all I'm gonna change the goals a bit. Rather than winning by completing three missions, each mission will give you a certain number of points. The game will then end "when the stars are right", and the player with the most points wins. However, if the combined number of points is not high enough, the investigators end up winning. I like this solution for thematic reasons, but it also makes it easier to balance the missions, since some of the more difficult for instance can net you two or maybe even three points.

Secondly I'm gonna change the way rerolls work. Rather than obtaining a number of rerolls each turn based on your current madness, you simply gain a madness every time you use a reroll. This is, I think, much easier.

Finally I'm gonna finetune the locations a bit to make sure all the abilites make sense and are useful.

Stay tuned for more info.
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mads l. brynnum
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I've run a few tests with other players and it seems like the core game is quite solid. Of course we haven't finished a game yet, and it's still far from balanced, but I'm very optimistic about the stuff I've put into it so far.

One of the biggest changes I've made recently is to introduce a couple of locations that give victory points if you hold them. That gives the players something to fight over on the board which I personally like. Also I've removed the spell needed to summon your monster and instead made it a location ability. That way monsters can enter the game quicker and make mor of an impact.

Next item on the list is to try a full game in order to learn a bit about pacing and balance. But prior to that I need to make a few small fixes:

1. Madness should really be called sanity.
2. The missions need different VP values. Even if they will be even less balanced than now when they all just award one point, it will allow testers to get a better feel of how they should play.
3. I need some rules for how the investigators fight. Right now they first fight all cultists, and then the cultists can fight, but I'm not sure I like that. For now I think I'll just settle one some simple rules, but later on I'll be aiming for cards somewhat like the final battle cards from Arkham

I don't know if anybody's actually following these design notes, so I write them mostly for my own sake. Or in other words: if you read this and find it too "notey" and want more info, feel free to ask.
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Manuel Ingeland
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I've subscribed. No option for 1-2 players is a minus, though..
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mads l. brynnum
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I can't see it working as a solo game in any way. But maybe, just maybe, it could work with two players if the board could somehow be made smaller. Which is, btw., easy to do during prototyping since I'm just using location cards and not an actual board.
 
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Manuel Ingeland
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Not sure about rule details yet..but could it work as a 2p game when adding a 3rd ghost player?
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Vandel Arden
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Hmmm I am working on a similar project named Abysmal Cults. But its a card game with player mats, so its very different from your design, also it plays in Europe 1923, not Arkham.
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mads l. brynnum
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I think, Manuel, that it would work better with just at few closed locations so as to make the board more crowded. My gut feeling is that it wouldn't quite work (just like Chaos in the old world doesn't), but nothing's certain yet.

Sounds cool, Josephe. Wanna share a bit more info?
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mads l. brynnum
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It just dawned on me that rather than calling the game Cults of Arkham, maybe I should go for Nameless Cults. It will make the Arkham/Lovecraft reference a bit less obvious, but that is not neccesarily bad. However, it's a bit close to the game you, Josephe, are working on so let me know what you think.

And the rest of y'all are welcome to chime in as well.

Also I've found an illustrator whom I think can make some really cool stuff. More on that in a future post.
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Vandel Arden
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mads b. wrote:
I think, Manuel, that it would work better with just at few closed locations so as to make the board more crowded. My gut feeling is that it wouldn't quite work (just like Chaos in the old world doesn't), but nothing's certain yet.

Sounds cool, Josephe. Wanna share a bit more info?


I basicly got inspired by the old game Mystic War to try to fit some of its mechanics into a Cthulhuid theme and it looks well so far.
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mads l. brynnum
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I just got the first illustration from my illustrator. I like it.

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Asger Harding Granerud
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Stunning artwork!
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Really like the art work. Would like to have seen Nyar with some sort of background (woods, cemetery any old cliché) which I think would make him scarier by placing him in a real world context. But saying that, excellent illustration and if this is the base standard of the artwork you are well on the way! Subscribed.
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mads l. brynnum
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Actually he is in a forest clearing. It's just not all that obvious because of the cropping.
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mads l. brynnum
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Some more testing done, and as a tester said: I'm in a dangerous place right now. The game works quite well and with minor adjustments I could call it a day. But the thing is that it's not awesome yet, so more tweaking is needed.

First of all I'm gonna revisit the objectives/missions. Right now you get points by holding specific locations and by completing secret missions which are tied to board position, fights, your monster, equipment, and so on. For the next test I'll try and keep the VP locations (they give the players something to fight about on the board), but then give each player two missions which are tied to specific things they can do with their dudes (including the monster). They are still secret, but in addition I'll try and have a track of two or maybe three public missions, one of which will be discarded each turn after which you draw a new. Maybe only one can qualify, maybe all can, but the important part is that they'll allso depend on speciel items. These items used to have no game effect other than being part of many missions. Now I'll try and give them a small effect so that you'll want to draw them both for the effect and for the potential points.
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mads l. brynnum
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In case somebody is still following this thread I could really use some info. After some more testing I'm leaning towards making the game a race towards X VPs. Each player still has a secret mission, but apart from that three missions will be available at all times. They will probably be split into two decks so that you begin with relatively easy and low scoring missions and then start drawing the heavier ones. Much like in Twilight Imperium 3, for instance.

What I need help with is to find out what the most interesting missions from my short list are. So without further ado I give you a long list and ask you to please point out a couple of the best ones. Of course the techical part can be difficult as you guys don't have the board in front of you, but I hope you can picture it anyways. And, importantly, the players will also have the opportunity of scoring points by controlling one or more of the two VP locations. That was more ado than planned, here's the list.

(note: ingredients, Tomes, Artifacts, and Elements are socalled special items. They can be used or discarded for an effect, but are also used in many missions. Mythos is a resource you can gain. Also: all missions will of course have a title to give it some flavour or hint as to what it entails.)

1. Have a cultist on Hangman’s Hill and four other locations. Then discard Ingredient.

2. Discard two of the following: Ingredient, Tome, and/or Element.
3. Have a cultist and your monster on River Docks. Then discard an Artifact.

4.Spend three Mythos.

5.Your monster must fight the investigators and survive.

6. Your monster must fight and kill another monster.

7. Discard two of the following: Artifact, Element, and/or Tome.

8.Discard two of the following: Ingredient, Element, and/or Artifact.

9. Kill any one other player’s last cultist on the board.

10. Kill figures from two or more oppenents in a combat.

11. Kill two enemy cultists with your monster in a combat.

12. Sacrifice two cultists from East Side. Then discard an Element.

13. Have cultist on Miscatonic U. Then discard two Tomes.

14. Have your monster and all your cultists on the board.

15. Have two cultists on Hangman’s Hill. Then pay Mythos and discard a Tome or an Ingredient

16. Destroy an opponents monster

17. Control both VP locations

18. Dominate the ley lines – control three spaces. (control means no enemy figures on the space)

19. Remove an oppenents die by battling him (which means killing a player’s last cultist on a space he’d planned to do something later this turn)

20. Master of knowledge – dominate Miscatonic U. and The Black Lodge

21. Cultists on Hangman’s Hill and two other locations which must be directly connected

22. Have three spells and three special items

23. Kill at least three enemy figures in one combat

24. Spend 1 mythos. Then reveal three different kinds of special items

25. Master of commerce: Dominate Merchant District and River Docks

Thank you. And here's a picture, btw., of the dudes you get to parade around the board.


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Pablo Schulman
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4, 5, 6, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 22
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