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Subject: Designer Diary #2 - The World of TED Grows rss

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Scott Almes
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Hello everybody! Scott here, the designer of Tiny Epic Defenders. Today I’m happy to talk about how TED continued to grow into the game it is today.

In the first designer diary, I talked about how TED started – specifically why it’s themed the way it is, and how the central mechanic came about. But, that was only step one. That game was still missing many of the elements that you see today.

A lot of times when I design a game, there’s a certain feel I’m going for. For “Kings of Air and Steam”, player’s needed to feel like they were actually planning effective routes, not just flying by the seat of their pants. For “Of Mice and Lemmings” I wanted players to feel like had a puzzle of playing out their hand in the right way (and to have the feeling of general sneakiness). For “Tiny Epic Kingdoms”, I wanted people to feel like they were growing an empire.

For Tiny Epic Defenders, there was a certain feeling that the game was missing. The game ramped up, and things certainly got direr as the game went on. Players needed to work as a team to win, so that element was there. But, what was missing was the epic finish. That high five moment when you’ve officially beat the game.

Enter the Epic Foe…

Final bosses are a mainstay of gaming. From the old 2d side-scrollers with evil bosses that filled your television screen to the modern board game incarnations you see in games like “Arkham Horror”, the idea of having a final foe makes for a very epic game. It’s the same at the end of any epic movie. There is always a battle with the ‘big bad’ at the end. It’s not over until it’s defeated. This is the kind of feeling I wanted for TED. It worked well thematically, too. You are facing an oncoming army, and it makes sense for there to be a leader of some sort. Thus, the Epic Foe was born.

After you completed building your turn deck, the Epic Foe reared its ugly head. He mixed the game up with powerful effects, and kept the game going until he was defeated. And, at this point, the deck is overwhelming your players, so having to handle this additional battle is quite the challenge. After all, the Epic Foe doesn’t fall easily, or without proper coordination.

So, this completed the story arc that the game needed. Things start off easy, increase, and then end with defeating the game’s big bad, the Epic Foe. But, still, there was something missing…

In TEK, one thing I was very proud of was how everybody was constantly involved every turn. In a cooperative game like TED, this comes naturally. Players discuss strategies, give recommendations, etc. But, I wanted a mechanical element that allowed players to take actions out of turn. It didn’t have to be something with a major choice, per se, but I wanted there to be something they would care about on a character level between turns. (On a macro level, players care greatly about the overall health of their kingdoms, but I wanted something focused on their characters)

The idea was to have something the characters can do out of turn. That started a train of thought. What affects a character out of turn? What could they do out of turn, since actions are limited to their own turn card? If it’s a bonus action, how could you balance bonus actions affectively?

Once I planted this seed of out-of-turn actions, the game instantly revealed the solution. During a solo test, I drew a horde card and attacked a region that a player was in. The question instantly popped into my head “If he’s already there, why can’t he do anything about it?”

For those who have explored the game, you realize that this is now the “Defend” action came about.

It made sense very quickly. If a player is in a region that’s attacked, he can do something to prevent that damage. But, just having a player defend a horde card wasn’t balanced. It was too easy. So, the idea of sacrificing a health point came about. It already made sense that an HP equals an action, as that was shown during a normal turn. (During a normal turn, a player may sacrifice a HP in order to gain one Action) So, now, when an enemy card was drawn a player can spend an HP to repel the attack.

A simple little idea, but it ended up adding a lot to the game. It gives a lot of weight to not only how a player spends their actions during their turn, but also where they end their turn. There was another layer to that decision making. You needed to pay even closer attention to your deck. If you notice a region getting pounded on, you now have another avenue to halt the attack – you can plan to have players there to defend it.

Now Tiny Epic Defenders was really taking shape. We had a good arc. Players were involved throughout the game. The decision making for your actions was even deeper.

The only thing left was some finishing touches. Dire enemies and artifacts… but, we’ll talk about those next time
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Nathaniel Hobbes
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Thank you for this insight into your design process. It seems the Epic Foe and defending flowed very naturally from the core turn deck and card/region decisions.

I have to ask, though, what was health really for before defending? If you can only spend one health per turn on an extra action, and only some one dire foe in the basic PnP does damage (and dire foes have not even entered the picture yet), it seems heroes would hardly ever have to go back to the capital to heal.

I'm just asking because in all the games I've played, we all view health as "capacity to defend" before any other considerations.

Awesome article. Thanks again.
 
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Scott Almes
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hobbesvii wrote:
I have to ask, though, what was health really for before defending? If you can only spend one health per turn on an extra action, and only some one dire foe in the basic PnP does damage (and dire foes have not even entered the picture yet), it seems heroes would hardly ever have to go back to the capital to heal.


Back then, you could use as much health in the turn as you wanted. But, that led to some loopholes (players most often just exhausted their HP to get back to the Capital City to heal). There was also a version without health for a while (lame).
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Nathaniel Hobbes
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Not having health is what I was thinking of, and it does sound a bit lame.

When you could spend as much health as you wanted every turn, did you still have actions, or did health basically equal actions at that point?

Thanks for the reply!
 
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Scott Almes
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hobbesvii wrote:
Not having health is what I was thinking of, and it does sound a bit lame.

When you could spend as much health as you wanted every turn, did you still have actions, or did health basically equal actions at that point?

Thanks for the reply!


Yeah, it was lame. I designed a lot of crappy versions of TED before we arrived at what we have today

When you could spend as much health, there were additional rules that required healing at the Capital City, that made it harder to heal. There were several, and none of them really worked. But, basically, a player would heal every 2 rounds like clockwork, and their health just became floating actions that they could allocate between those two turns. It felt too scripted and obvious. Hence the move to today's system.

At this point in time, you were also still able to fight at zero health. But you weren't able to defend, or sacrifice health for actions.

From a design standpoint, I don't like limitations or extra rules (Like only use One Health a round). They can be easy to miss in the rules, and hard to remember when explaining the game. However, this particular one does improve the game, so it's stayed in. Sometimes these limitations are necessary. The game is better with this one.
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Nathaniel Hobbes
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scottbalmes wrote:
Yeah, it was lame. I designed a lot of crappy versions of TED before we arrived at what we have today

That's why design is a process, right?

scottbalmes wrote:
their health just became floating actions that they could allocate between those two turns. It felt too scripted and obvious. Hence the move to today's system.

That's really interesting. I can see it working well for some themes, and the ability to choose on which turn to spend your actions makes it unique. The current system is, to me, clearly more thematic and intuitive for the current state of the game.

scottbalmes wrote:
Sometimes these limitations are necessary. The game is better with this one.

As above, I think this rule is thematically appropriate and tactically interesting. First, it's easy to visualize a hero pushing herself past bodily limits to exhaustion in her quest to save the capital city. Second, the option to exchange defense capacity for extra actions on your turn is a fantastic choice that adds a lot of tough decisions to the game play. My group is always trying to maximize efficiency, counting how to spend our last health to move into the capital city on our turns. There is also the situation where you really want to spend that last action, but by doing so, you lose the ability to defend against a dire foe (and also to gain an artifact by doing so). It might be an extra rule, but it's a good one.
 
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