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Medusa’s Lair is an unpublished prototype game designed by my classmate Ethan Cyr. The goal of the game is to explore and loot your way through the den of Medusa, kill the monster herself and then escape with the most money. The game can be played by up to five players, four being Heroes seeking to kill Medusa, and the fifth playing as Medusa.
The gameplay was really interesting, because in all technicalities you are competing against the other players. However, Medusa is incredibly powerful, and one cannot hope to beat her one on one, and thus some amount of cooperation is required. In our play test session, I played as Medusa, and faced three other Heroes.
Before I get too deep into the details, I should speak more to the general overview of the game’s mechanics. It plays in a lot of ways very similarly to a table-top RPG or combat game—Dungeon’s and Dragon’s Miniatures is what comes most immediately to mind, though to be fair it’s the only one I have much experience with. Characters don’t have stats however, the Heroes all start out with 25 health and hand to hand combat which does 1d4 damage. The way Heroes get to distinguish themselves and change up the game is by buying equipment before beginning the game. Equipment all costs money of course, so the more you buy, the more in debt you start out at the beginning of the game.
Debt is an interesting balancer for the game. All players start out 50 gold in debt, without making any purchases. The goal is to escape the dungeon with enough loot to pay off your debt (and also to kill Medusa in the process), so in theory by not buying anything you won’t have to loot nearly as much to win the game. Of course, by not buying anything, you severely reduce your chances of actually surviving and pretty much guarantee that you won’t put so much as a scratch on Medusa. Players have to find a sort of balance then, buying what they feel is enough to survive and increase their chances of killing Medusa, but not too much that they’ll die in the dungeon before looting enough to settle their debt. This choice is left up to the player, and I thought it was a really cool mechanic.
The board for the game looked like this:
Like I mentioned before, Medusa is incredibly powerful in this game, and wields abilities designed to make the game as hard as possible for the Heroes. She starts out with something like 100 health, and has a melee attack as well as a weaker ranged one. At the time of my playing, she also has a passive ability that halved the movement speed of anyone within her line of sight in any direction. Players all only roll 1d8 to determine movement for the round, so avoiding Medusa’s glare ended up being absolutely critical in staying out of her range.
As if this wasn’t enough, she also has Broods under her control which get to move independently from her and can attack the heroes as well. They didn’t have to roll for movement—they had a consistent 6 movement every turn—but they also only dealt 1d4 damage with their attacks and had only 6 health. Any time one of them died, Medusa was dealt 6 damage.
Using the Broods strategically was one of my favorite parts of the game. Rather than go in head first with Medusa and chasing the players back and forth across the board, I opted to try corralling them with the Broods, poking them for little amounts of damage here and there and trapping them when I was ready to close in. The broods usually died in one hit, but they were really effective for keeping players hesitant about going in certain directions. Not only that, but they could be used to body block the Heroes, since they couldn’t walk through the broods without killing them first. My favorite moment in the game was when I managed to trap a Hero who had gotten separated from the others by making a wall of three Broods lined up, completely blockading one end of a corridor. Having to take an extra turn to try and kill them didn’t leave him with enough time to escape Medusa, and I was able to close in and finish him off shortly.
After the game ended (I won, murdered the Heroes pretty good when they tried to split up), we talked a lot about ways of balancing the odds against Medusa. There was definitely no question about her being too powerful in that iteration—Even though the players managed to deal something like 40 damage to me throughout the game, I still wasn’t anywhere near death. Something that decidedly needed nerfing was Medusa’s line of sight movement debuff, which could in some spots catch a player three-quarters of the way across the board. There was also some discussion of making some more incentive for players to work together at first, and perhaps some kind of scaling on Medusa based on how many Heroes are playing.
All in all, the game was pretty fun, and has the architecture for a really cool game experience. With some more adjustments to diversify the dungeon and make the game a little more reasonably fair, Medusa’s Lair may well turn out to be a great finished game product.