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Subject: Path to Design Part One: Cruelty, Mercy, and Commonfolk rss

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Travis R. Chance
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As the launch for Path of Light and Shadow draws near, I thought it cogent to begin a series of posts here on BGG about the game, how it works, the inspiration behind it, and the massive two-year joint undertaking that was bringing it to life. My hope is to provide context for the game prior to our May 9th launch on Kickstarter, as it is, by all accounts, the largest and most ambitious game Action Phase and/or Indie Boards and Cards has ever made.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN


Two years ago, I was parked at a traffic light and thinking about Daenerys from Game of Thrones. In particular, I was thinking about her story in the world of Esos, as she gathered influence and supporters to her eventual march on Westeros. What I found, and still find, fascinating about this is that while many of her rivals had legions comprised of living legends and vast resources, she instead commanded the respect of the common people: the dregs of the Dothraki culture, liberated slaves, and even peasants. Through the faith and loyalty of those unlikely followers, she was able to slowly build the momentum needed to take back the throne.

I asked myself, why is there not a game that really captures this idea? And not a moment later, Nick and I had the first conversation of many about the game that would become Path.

Now, I have only been making games since 2011. All things considered, that is a relatively short amount of time considering how long the process can be. Two years ago, I consider myself quite a different designer and developer. I hungered to make a massive, sprawling games that were love letters to my often fanatical interests. Nick has always been the advocate for sanity in our duo, often yanking the rope as I run fleeing into the unknown. But this time, he found the concept intriguing, though daunting.

Months passed and we were still in the concept phase. No prototype had been made. Just a solid idea in a vacuum. Enter Jon Gilmour.

After driving down to pitch a few games, he asked what we had in the pipeline. When I shared the ideas for Path, Jon’s eyes went wide, saying, ‘I want to be a part of this.’ As Nick and I could not find the proverbial ball to get it rolling, we accepted Jon’s offer.

The rest, as they say, is history.

HOW IT WORKS


Path of Light and Shadow
is a big game, so big in fact that the only way to really explain it is to parse it all out, one post at a time. As this is the first post, let’s talk about the core conceit of the game: morality.

If you were in Daenery’s position, what kind of a leader would you be? Would you champion the forgotten, or become mad with power? This is a question that is posed in each game. And while the image below may at first glance just seem like a track with numbered spaces, it is in fact interwoven into nearly everything in the game.




At the start of the game, each players’ empire is represented by a deck of 10 cards. Four of these are Trusted Followers, much like Dany’s most faithful supporters. Three are Steadfast Conscripts, able-bodied defenders better suited to fighting. Specifically, Followers and Conscripts are Commonfolk, one of five non-player factions in the game. They are simple farmers, peasants, and rabble of a world divided. You will also start with a unique advisor and two randomly recruited cards based on your starting placement, but we will cover this in a future post.

One of the unique mechanisms in Path is the recruiting mechanism. Though it is largely an area control game, each player will only ever have one piece on the board: your leader miniature. At the end of each of the 12 turns in the game, each player will recruit one card based on the which of the four realms they occupy. If they so wish, they may recruit one additional card at the end of their turn and gain 1 mercy.

There are four realms in the game, each comprised of three provinces: one village, one city, and one stronghold. Each realm deck has a dominant faction, a median faction, and then 6 Numerai cards—we will also cover this in a future post. In this way, a player can never truly be certain which card(s) they will be recruiting. Since players only inherently have one movement per turn, it is important in which realm you end up.



Don’t think of this as deck-building; think of this as deck management. Each faction has three basic unit cards, each of which that can be promoted into an elite unit, and finally a single unique legend. Even the basic cards are useful for the myriad options each turn, but players must choose how to best utilize these supporters. Some cards you will promote throughout the game, perhaps racing to obtain the single legend of that particular type. If you are a cruel leader, perhaps you will cull unwanted supporters from your deck, straying further into the dark.

Naturally, each faction focuses on specific strategies and mechanisms. While others require you to be specifically cruel or merciful, the Commonfolk simply require you have strong conviction, no matter which path you deem fit. The more cruel or merciful you are, the more powerful Commonfolk cards become. A cruel player will use their Loyalist for conquering, while a merciful player will garner stronger labor from the unit.



We have covered two of the basic units for this Commonfolk: Followers and Conscripts. The third is the Outland Beggar, which encourages you to make a definitive moral choice: cull it for additional cruelty, or promote it for additional mercy. Do you lift up the meek, from Beggar to Settler to Noble? Or will only the strong rise in your ranks?



Commonfolk also have a number of useful structures that can be built throughout the game. To build a structure a player must commit units to a build action. Not only must they have the requisite labor to complete the structure, they must also have at least one unit from the corresponding faction.

The first two Commonfolk structures provide synergy for the promote action. Their level one structure allows you to gain 1 cruelty or 1 mercy after you promote. Their level two structure, reduces the promotion cost of a unit by one—the cost (labor, strength, or a combination of the two), can be seen at the bottom of a card. Their level three structure is a workaround for dice in combat, turning each blank result into a strength 2. Finally, their level four structure, like all level four structures, provides influence (victory points), one for each cruelty or mercy you have (to a maximum of 12). It is also worth mentioning that each point of cruelty or mercy a player would gain beyond 12 throughout the game immediately score them 1 influence instead.



Choosing which moral path to take will help to define your strategy and decisions throughout the game. Next time we will discuss the Hordes of Zurd, their cruelty, and how combat works in the game! Thanks for reading! Please feel free to ask questions and comment below. We are more than excited to bring this game to the world!

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Tom
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Can't wait for the kickstarter to launch!
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Ian Moss
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I dig the updated box art and card layouts. Can easily say I've been waiting to see the final version of this game for 2 years.
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Ryan Schoon
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I've been playing quite a bit of this recently and it's fantastic. Definitely one of my top empire builder / area control games.
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Jeff Lee
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Is cruel/mercy a binary choice? Or are there benefits for being more neutral?

How committed are you to that choice once you make it? Or are we expected to see a single player's cruel/merciful meter change a few times through a single playthrough?
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Travis R. Chance
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You can certainly switch. The last game I played I was at eight mercy and decided I wanted to become cool and quickly switched into a different role and nearly won. It's all relative to the cards you recruit and how you adopt your strategy to other players. There is no real benefit to flip-flopping for being lower in one as opposed to trying to reach the cap and start scoring points
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Maciej Perkowski
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Does it mean that being neutral is less profitable than going to the extreme?
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Travis R. Chance
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perkoz8 wrote:
Does it mean that being neutral is less profitable than going to the extreme?


You start neutral, but once you choose a path you are always either cruel or merciful. There is no neutral. You can skirt back and forth if you have the right Numerai--as they have two different abilities. But most often, trying to progress toward 12 either way is the best option.

I did not quite cover this yet, but cruel and merciful are not, per se, strategies. Each faction works with one another in very interesting ways. The Numerai, once promoted, are all unique. What structures you build will give you new powers. What other leaders (public objectives) you earn will grant new powers. You could play this game 20 times and still not see everything there is to see in terms of strategy, synergy, and opportunity.
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Corey mcculloch
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Hey! I've been following the teaser posts and am pretty excited for the game, really dig the downplaying of luck and more emphasis on strategy

I am wondering about how it will play 2 player wise. In a 2 player game, will the two opposing players be forced to butt heads and be directly confrontational the entire game? Or are there indirect means of influencing the board / the other player that don't feel as outright aggressive? Both my wife and myself love playing strategy heavy games, but she tends to take it personally if I decide to roll over and wreck half of her stuff
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A. B. West
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I do love these insider stories. Looking forward to the KS!
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Travis R. Chance
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mrmcculloch wrote:
Hey! I've been following the teaser posts and am pretty excited for the game, really dig the downplaying of luck and more emphasis on strategy

I am wondering about how it will play 2 player wise. In a 2 player game, will the two opposing players be forced to butt heads and be directly confrontational the entire game? Or are there indirect means of influencing the board / the other player that don't feel as outright aggressive? Both my wife and myself love playing strategy heavy games, but she tends to take it personally if I decide to roll over and wreck half of her stuff


A player's final score in this game, as with most area control/civ games, is emblematic of how much they police their rivals--the leader in particular. In a two player game, the necessity of interacting and providing obstacles for your opponent is implicit. Sure, the dynamic with more players allows for some subtlety and hopeful sneakiness, but truthfully ALL player counts work well in this game.

To this end, we like to think of this game as the best of both worlds when it comes to player interaction and the ability to execute a strategy. It's not JUST an area control game, which means you aren't just pounding each others stuff over and over. Launching an incursion against a rival takes planning. By removing the use of units on board and putting them in your deck, it helps to remove the feel bad of "all my guys were there and they died when you destroyed my face." Losses feel less punitive than say in a game like Kemet. You don't have to struggle with HOW to maintain control of a territory as much as in these other games--esp since your opponent may not know which defenders you have at the ready.

Your deck is the engine of your empire, not some little plastic fellas you hope don't die
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Corey mcculloch
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Thanks Travis, that sounds fantastic, looking forward to the kickstarter even more now
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bobit the bob
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Action Phase wrote:
There is no real benefit to flip-flopping


Wouldn't being able to switch Numerai abilities more easily be a real benefit? Since most Numerai cards say Cruel:X / Merciful:X

Looks like a cool game btw, basically interactive Dominion.
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Travis R. Chance
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One could def use Numerai this way.

I gotta say, I think the game has nothing much in common with Dominion. No fixed market, game is not abstracted into just Card play. No offense taken, just wanna clarify for other readers. This is closer to something like Kemet or Scythe
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Darrell Goodridge
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Coming back to re-read all these design posts now that it's live.

The Castle Barracks seems odd to me. I don't know what the "you have" is doing in that sentence. Unless it should be after the blank die face.
 
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Nick Little
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Cardboardjunkie wrote:
Coming back to re-read all these design posts now that it's live.

The Castle Barracks seems odd to me. I don't know what the "you have" is doing in that sentence. Unless it should be after the blank die face.


Good catch. That is a typo.
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