Recommend
49 
 Thumb up
 Hide
89 Posts
1 , 2 , 3 , 4  Next »   | 

Root» Forums » News

Subject: Development Diary - The Corvids as a Cautionary Tale rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Cole Wehrle
United States
St. Paul
Minnesota
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
"Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb


This Friday we'll be releasing a new print-and-play kit for Root: the Underworld expansion. The kit represents the end of our present development stage and marks the start of the game's final testing cycle.

Most of the changes that we've made since the Kickstarter campaign are small. Several of the cards of the new deck have been punched up in one way or another. The moles got a few adjustments and some changes to their physical layout. We've also made a couple adjustments to the new maps. It's all more-or-less what you'd expect.

There is a critical exception to this steady progress. Over the past several weeks, the Corvid Conspiracy has seen a somewhat dramatic redevelopment. This shouldn't be a huge surprise to anyone who has followed the development of Root and Vast: the Mysterious Manor. One of the things I love about working at Leder Games is that very little is sacred when it comes to the development process. If you have a way to make something better, you just do it. This can make for a sometimes ego-bruising environment at the office. Most of the work that gets done gets thrown away, my work included! But, at the end of the day, everything is done at the service of having a better game.

Today, I wanted to take some time to talk about how the Corvid Conspiracy has changed and describe the current design. I should say right at the start that my own role in their development was mostly as an observer and occasional adviser/developer. I've done my best to give Underworld's primary developer, Nick Brachmann, as much latitude as possible while working with Patrick's original submission and getting it to fit in with the spirit of Root. I think that this gives me a nice vantage point to write about the process.

Let's start with a few basics about our general workflow when it comes to game design and development. Obviously, every project is singular when it comes to the details, but most games follow a similar course. First, we generally take each project through three broad steps. First, there is “primary design” which takes a game from an idea to a prototype, which can be played and evaluated. Once there, the game enters development. Development is a far ranging process that includes both relatively straightforward things like balancing and stress testing to fully-fledged design work. Finally, we move the game into a finishing stage. Here we work on the graphics and prepare the files for printing while doing usability testing to hash things like wording, player-board presentation and bring in professional proofreaders.

As you might guess, the barriers between design, development, and finishing are rarely clear cut. Certain elements of a production will get ahead of others and others will lag behind. As I mentioned, one of my favorite things about the studio's general design philosophy is that we don't fall into the sunk cost fallacy when it comes to games. No matter how far along a design asset gets, if we're not fully confident in it, we're always willing to go back to the drawing board.

These reversals and rollbacks are pretty common at the office, and I think everyone on the staff has gotten good at taking them in stride. That doesn't mean this cuts are easy. The hardest and best game design advice out there is to not be enchanted by a clever thought from yesterday. The elements of your design that you are most proud of are also going to be the biggest barriers to your game's growth. As the old saying goes, you need to kill your darlings.



The original Corvid Conspiracy was built around an especially darling conceit: what if a player's hand could be turned against them? Everyone in the office was enchanted by this idea and we played dozens of iterations before settling on the version that we released to the public during the Underworld Kickstarter. Some versions were more baroque then others, but, from iteration to iteration the invasive agent cards remained in the design.

The goal was to create moments where players had to feel as if they were being held ransom. Most of us were Netrunner players and we consistently brought up those moments where a player was forced to play rashly: a corp frantically setting traps or a tagged runner risking it all on a madcap dash. That spirit fit right in with the character of Root. Much of the game is about managing your pace and the pace of others. At it's heart, the game is about tempo and momentum. For that reason, I was delighted to see a faction push this sense of ransoming to the center of their identity. That this could be done by holding a player's hand hostage with agent cards seemed perfect, almost impossibly clean.

We knew that the agent cards would present many design challenges. The core problem could be summarized simply: every player uses their hand in very different ways. So, we had to create a somewhat flexible system for managing these agent cards that, while asymmetric, didn't present an undue burden on anyone. On the other hand, we didn't want to water the interaction down or create a mountain of exceptions. Root's rules are modular and clean, and we wanted to keep them that way.

The version we released in the first print-and-play was the result of many compromises, but, through it all, we had done our best to keep the agent cards in the design. We all enjoyed them too much! By this point we felt that the Corvids were putting an interesting pressure on the rest of the design, while not tilting things too much. The result was that the Corvid player lost a little of the agency (and flavor) of earlier versions in order to make the faction more flexible. At least that was the hope.

Instead, what we found was that the new Corvids, while producing interesting games for other players, became a little flat after a few plays. Furthermore, the system that we thought was flexible enough to handle a variety of factions and map configurations proved too brittle. After a couple weeks of testing, it was clear that we needed to go back to the drawing board.



This time, instead of starting with a mechanism that we wanted to keep, we decided collectively that it the Corvids should capture the feeling of nefarious agents holding powerful factions ransom. The precise mechanism didn't matter, only the feeling. To that end Nick brought me into the development and all three of us started rapidly iterating different Corvid designs. The designs were as varied as anything else in Root. There were Corvids that used worker placement, agent tokens, infiltrated pieces, and even a roundel! Most of these versions could have been developed into perfectly viable factions. In fact, one that used infiltrated warriors I liked so much that I'm going to probably revisit it in a future expansion. But, none of them captured the tricky spirit of Patrick's original design.

During this process all three of us had tried, at various times, to shift the effects of agent cards on to specific tokens. Mostly these designs never got off the ground, but Nick chose to revisit the idea late in the process and concocted a new version of the Corvids built entirely around the idea of hiding and revealing plots.



Nick's version worked for two reasons. First, he had nailed the Corvid's internal economics. They have a powerful recruiting system (one card places one warrior in each matching clearing), but it produces a diffuse military footprint that stops them from easily consolidating. The other thing that stops them from gathering their forces is the fact that they must exchange their warriors for plot tokens.

Plot tokens are central to both the Corvid's scoring system and how they interact with the other players in the game. Scoring is pretty straightforward. Whenever you reveal a plot token, you score points for each face-up plot token on the board. The interactions they offer are a little more complicated. The Corvid player has four different kinds of plot tokens (two of each). The powers associated with these tokens range from extra draws (or the option to pull cards from other players) and clearing whipping bombs that are reminiscent of the Woodland Alliance's revolts. Like the Alliance, these moves are telegraphed so that players have a turn to decide if the threat they present is benign or if it warrants a response.

There are good reasons why they should let the token be. If the token was a raid token, it's removal will trigger an extra recruit—essentially giving the Corvid player a “free” card. This creates some moments reminiscent of the “Battle of Wits” scene from the Princess Bride where players are encouraged to try to get into the heads of their opponents.



One problem that we ran into here was that not all factions are able to fight that “Battle” with the same ease. Some factions can easily clean up enemy tokens while others will struggle to eliminate a single token. Of course a portion of this is to be expected: Root is an asymmetric game after all! But, because the tension here could be so lovely, we wanted to make sure as many players as possible could play the double-guessing game.

Here, Josh Yearsley (our editor) came up with a lovely mechanism: exposure. Basically, on an opponent's turn, they can attempt to guess the Corvids face down plot token by giving them a matching card. If correct, the token is removed without a fight. If not, the token remains (face-down) and the guesser has gained a little bit of information. In either case the Corvid end's the day a card richer. In practice this gives less aggressive factions like the Lizard Cult a good measure of agency against the Corvids without knocking the wind out of the Corvid's sails.

Of course, we haven't officially locked in the design yet. We're still adjusting the balance and fine tuning the language and physical presentation of the faction. And it's possible certain elements of the design might change. At the same time, the Corvid Conspiracy has enjoyed relative stability since Nick showed us this version and I thought that was something worth celebrating.

In developing this iteration, I think Nick nicely leaned into the many lessons that the studio at large has learned about how to work within Root. And, what's more, I think it's development is a pretty good example of how we tend to work at this stage of the process. It's critical to maintain a healthy sense of dissatisfaction in your own work and not be afraid to bring in help to push a design forward. At the same time, while rapid iteration and committee-style brainstorms are useful, this process also reminds me of the importance of initiative in creating something special. After a couple weeks of spinning in the dirt with the rest of us, Nick developed a very clear vision of what the design needed, and he took it upon himself to deliver. And, I think his version worked well because he understood the true spirit of the faction, and was willing to move beyond yesterday's best idea.

When we release the print-and-play kit tomorrow I'll be sure to release it here and in a KS update. In the meantime, I'm happy to field any questions anyone might have about the Corvids or other other elements of the game design that we're currently finishing up.
94 
 Thumb up
0.01
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Cole Wehrle
United States
St. Paul
Minnesota
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
"Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Also, we are planning on doing a live stream tomorrow around 2pm with the new Corvids so you can see them in action. I'll be sure to link to that as well.
11 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Abram Towle
United States
Milwaukee
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb

This is really interesting, and I'm excited for the changes! Just to see if I'm interpreting it correctly:

1. If a plot token is removed from the board via Exposure, does it return to the Corvid player to be used again?

2. As it doesn't mention anything about face-down plots, the Trick action can swap any combination of two face-down/face-up plots, correct?

Can't wait for the livestream - thanks for the development update!
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Muhanad Talib
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
flag msg tools
Looks good/crazy interesting, keep up the good work! (I'm gonna predict more changes to come possibly)
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Cole Wehrle
United States
St. Paul
Minnesota
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
"Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
OrigamiGoblin wrote:

This is really interesting, and I'm excited for the changes! Just to see if I'm interpreting it correctly:

1. If a plot token is removed from the board via Exposure, does it return to the Corvid player to be used again?

2. As it doesn't mention anything about face-down plots, the Trick action can swap any combination of two face-down/face-up plots, correct?

Can't wait for the livestream - thanks for the development update!


1. Yup!

2. Yup! Snares are espeically useful in this regard as they can be swapped into key clearings and really muck up the works.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Byron S
United States
Ventura
California
flag msg tools
I don't remember what I ate last night
badge
but I can spout off obscure rules to all sorts of games like nobody's business!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
How many of each plot token are there?
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Thomas Brendel
United States
Dunwoody
Georgia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I think if both plots are face-down, Trick should be a Mascarade "swap or not"—take both tokens under the table, put them back on the board. Did you swap them? Only you know. (Often when I'm playing Mascarade, I don't know either.)


Edit to add: Does removing a plot via exposure score 1VP?
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
A S
United States
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Thanks for the update!

I'm almost as anxious to hear what (if any) adjustments are going to be made to the Moles so that their Lords aren't sanctified right out of the game by the Lizards. Any adjustments to the Price of Failure?
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Abdiel Xordium
msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
runtsta wrote:
How many of each plot token are there?


Cole Wehrle wrote:
The Corvid player has four different kinds of plot tokens (two of each).
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Cole Wehrle
United States
St. Paul
Minnesota
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
"Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Squidd wrote:
I think if both plots are face-down, Trick should be a Mascarade "swap or not"—take both tokens under the table, put them back on the board. Did you swap them? Only you know. (Often when I'm playing Mascarade, I don't know either.)


Edit to add: Does removing a plot via exposure score 1VP?


That's how I'd switch two face-down tokens too. And yup, it's a token so you get a VP for removing it.

MoviinTarget wrote:

I'm almost as anxious to hear what (if any) adjustments are going to be me to the Moles so that their Lords aren't sanctified right out of the game by the Lizards. Any adjustments to the Price of Failure?


This is something we have a watch on but it hasn't been a big enough factor to deserve a specific design consideration. In practice the difficultly of destroying a mole building is about the same of the Lizards as the other factions with the exception that in certain circumstances they might be able to wreck havoc.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
A S
United States
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Also, how many warriors will the Corvids have?
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Abram Towle
United States
Milwaukee
Wisconsin
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Squidd wrote:
I think if both plots are face-down, Trick should be a Mascarade "swap or not"—take both tokens under the table, put them back on the board. Did you swap them? Only you know.

I really like this idea! Adds a level of intrigue to the whole thing.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Cole Wehrle
United States
St. Paul
Minnesota
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
"Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
MoviinTarget wrote:
Also, how many warriors will the Corvids have?


We're at 15 currently which may be a hair too many, but we'll see.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Keith Pishnery
United States
Lakewood
Ohio
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Interesting. The original card mechanic is actually made me finally back this KS and get into Root. It just sounded like such a nifty mechanic. Shame it didn’t pan out.

Looking forward to trying the new version.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Michael Ptak
United States
Livermore
California
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I loved the original mechanic too, I have one draft of a fan faction that re-uses the 'put-into-play-and-complete' plot cards that need to use suite cards to complete, instead of returned agent cards.

That's one of the wonderful things about Root, there's so much that you can do with an individual faction. There's segregation between the core mechanics and individual factions that Root's almost a plug-and-play if there are enough factions to pick from.

I'm eager to see the Crows in their current form. Cole, care to share details about how the Roundel version worked? I'm curious.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Bishop
United States
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmb
Liking the New Design of the Corvid Conspiracy.

Looking forward to trying them out!!
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jessie Thomas
United States
Georgia
flag msg tools
Does Exposure trigger Raid? Is it triggered while upside down? Finally, when you place Plot tokens, can you place them face up if you want?
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Bishop
United States
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmb
Norsehound wrote:
Cole, care to share details about how the Roundel version worked? I'm curious.


I'm interested in Cole's thoughts on the Roundel as well.
Thanks!
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Joshua Yearsley
United States
Northampton
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Calisto wrote:
Does Exposure trigger Raid? Is it triggered while upside down? Finally, when you place Plot tokens, can you place them face up if you want?


Yes on exposure, no on placing face up, though (spoiler alert) I might lobby for exposure to not trigger raid.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jessie Thomas
United States
Georgia
flag msg tools
Caedar wrote:
Calisto wrote:
Does Exposure trigger Raid? Is it triggered while upside down? Finally, when you place Plot tokens, can you place them face up if you want?


Yes on exposure, no on placing face up, though (spoiler alert) I might lobby for exposure to not trigger raid.


Cool. It's probably best that they can't place face up, though it maybe should specify face down On plot to clear up confusion

Edit: also, i assume raid can be triggered while face down, but others can't? While that's what makes sense to me, could maybe be spelled out.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Gábor Both
msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Very exciting! I like this more than the agent card version. It seems to offer many opportunities for scheming, making big plays, and being a thorn in the sides of others. Very thematic, can't wait to give it a try.

A little worried about the tokens - if one shows a bit of wear or something, it will affect gameplay. Maybe put in a spare of each we can keep with our extra tokens from Riverfolk?
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jing Wen Tham
Singapore
flag msg tools
mb
Zoju wrote:
A little worried about the tokens - if one shows a bit of wear or something, it will affect gameplay. Maybe put in a spare of each we can keep with our extra tokens from Riverfolk?


Yeah I agree, it would be nice to have spare tokens, or even have the tokens made out of wood/plastic, since there are only 8 of them.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Anjovi Kulam
Canada
Prince George
British Columbia
flag msg tools
Zoju wrote:
Very exciting! I like this more than the agent card version. It seems to offer many opportunities for scheming, making big plays, and being a thorn in the sides of others. Very thematic, can't wait to give it a try.

A little worried about the tokens - if one shows a bit of wear or something, it will affect gameplay. Maybe put in a spare of each we can keep with our extra tokens from Riverfolk?


Totally agree! I feel like this could be a good alternative to the river folks eccentricity in how it applies a very novel variant to the game dynamics.

For the otter's wares, I can see the Corvid's schemes as being a very global effect that can potentially direct gameplay.

I like the idea of corvids being a faction that has plots which need to be unraveled by the group from time to time. Kind of a looming threat as opposed to the benefit that the otters wares give.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jefferson Freitas
Brazil
flag msg tools
Can enemies move into ensnared clearings?
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeff Warrender
United States
Averill Park
New York
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Disclaimer: I've not played or purchased Root in any incarnation so I'm mostly just interested in the design discussion.

It's interesting to me to see how different designers'/developers' processes work. I can well imagine that the time pressure imposed by doing development post-funding fuels the creative engine. Nothing like urgency to force the issue. But what would worry me about this approach, for my own process, would be the absence of time, maybe even long periods of time, for things to marinate. Sometimes, after spinning my wheels for a while on a problem, I just have to stop and come back to it after a few months. Other times when I think I've found the solution to a problem, I have to let it sit for weeks or months and then check back in and see if it still makes sense with the perspective of time. In the meantime I'm tinkering with other projects and the solutions to problems in those projects shapes the way I think about the project that's currently marinating and lets me bring new insight to it when I return to it.

It seems that the post-KS development approach wouldn't really allow for a cycle, and certainly not multiple cycles, of letting things sit in this way. Do you find that this kind of 'marinating' is a part of your design process generally, at least when time is no barrier?
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
1 , 2 , 3 , 4  Next »   | 
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.