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Subject: Designer Diary: The Post-post Apocalypse! rss

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Travis R. Chance
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Next month, on Thursday March 12th, the biggest game I have personally ever designed hits Kickstarter. Ruination is a love letter to my many obsessions--as with all games that I design. Before said launch, I thought it prudent to share some insights about the theme, the design, and what makes this a dudes on a map game that gives you more of what you love while doing a few things you never knew you wanted!

Let's begin at very best place: the end of the world...

THE THEME


What Star Wars is for many is what Mad Max is for me. I still remember the first time I watched a Mad Max movie. It was Beyond Thunderdome, the entire time my father scoffing at Tina Turner as a villain and how silly the story was. But I was in awe, this world the carcass of the one that I knew. I loved everything about it: the weapons, the names of the characters, the costume design, the vehicles, and yes the story. Flash forward to Fury Road, which I saw in the theater 5 times. This appreciation has only deepened with time. So naturally I wanted to write a love letter in the form of a game.

This is the part where I mention I already had a post-apocalyptic car combat game in the works with my good buddy Jessey Wright: Diesel Punk Apocalypse. I try and go wide with themes, so when I came up with a nifty action engine for an area control game, the last thing I was thinking was another post-apoc theme. So I had the core of a game that worked right out of the gate, but no world for it to occupy.

At the time, John Clowdus and I had been kicking around some ideas for historical themes for future projects. One that came up was Genghis Khan. After some research, I was wholly fascinated by the Mongols, but wasn’t sure that this was the story I wanted the game to tell--historical or not. So then I pivoted to feudal Japan as a theme. For a hot minute the game was called Ketsueki, but my partner Arnaud pointed out that the theme would inevitably be compared to Rising Sun. He was right.

On a team call, out of nowhere, I just declared, I am changing the theme to a post-apocalyptic version of Genghis Khan. “No cars, no petrol, no guns, just horses and swords and archery.” There was a moment of silence on the call, and then Arnaud chimed in, “I like this.” So, after nearly a year of the game being tested under different themes and names, Ruination was born.

Once Roland joined the team, the world of the game came to life. He drew heavy inspiration from the Eurasian setting, pouring hours of love into each piece in the game. The Khan and much of the Mongol inspiration made its way into the game, only in updated Mad Max form. Roland’s designs for the minis were beyond inspired, which Chad only brought further to life. Our hope was to show people things they have yet to see while doing right by our cultural inspirations. Everything in the game, down to the individual icons, were considered at the highest level. Of anything I have made, this is the game of which I am absolutely the most proud.

Board Game: Ruination



THE DESIGN


Area control is admittedly my favorite type of game. I had taken a stab with Path of Light and Shadow, but that was a pretty far departure in many ways from what most expect from a conflict game. I wanted Ruination to be unique while recognizable. I wanted it to have a quick cadence of play with big rewarding moments. Of course there would be tactics, but also strategy in how you built out the engine to your horde and which line of play you would pursue.

From gallery of TRChance


A player’s turn in Ruination is easy. You select one of the three possible actions:

Recruit: put units on the board
Move: move units on the board
Scavenge: use units on the board to gain resources.

Each of these actions has a deck associated with it. That deck is face up. Each of the decks have seven different cards with two copies of each. All of the cards have some sort of bonus and favor and/or glory--two tracks in the game that offer very different rewards.

When a player takes an action, they choose how to sequence this information: basic action, bonus on card, and favor/glory. This sequencing often leads to big memorable moments of play.

From gallery of TRChance


For example, a player might choose to gain the glory on the action card first, which triggers a glory track bonus to Recruit 2 to each of their starting territories. They then resolve the bonus on the action card to Move 2 units to another of their starting territories. Now they have 6 units in that territory, which they use to scavenge 6 resources. They already have 1 of that resource, which means they hit the cap of 6 and gain 1 blessing token and 1VP. They then use those resources to acquire an advantage card.

Favor and glory are a continuance of my obsession with tracks in games. Favor represents your standing with the Khan. This track provides VP at specific margins, as well as a bastion to the first player to reach the 4th and 8th space. But most importantly, the most favored player in each battle will roll the favor die, which has awesome rewards.

The glory track is your horde’s personal reputation. Every other reward space provides players with the ability to bolster their forces, essentially taking free Recruit actions--and you’ll need units to do about everything in the game. Then the alternating reward spaces allow players to score VP for bastions, which are simply the outposts built in the honor of the khan. Bastions have no intrinsic value or benefit, but many action cards refer to them for additional bonuses. They also provide a lot of opportunities for scoring--such as at the end of the game.

From gallery of TRChance


Kemet was a huge inspiration for me also. The advantage cards in Ruination are akin to the power tiles in Kemet. There are three tiers to these cards and each is unique. These cards also have an incremental effect, like most things in the game, where the value layers with other effects to create big unique moments.

From gallery of TRChance


Advantage cards have two purposes in the game. Most provide an ongoing effect that reinforces lines of play. They also provide a tactic ability that is used in battles. These tactic abilities layer with the slot tactics on your player board, meaning you can customize your horde. Each slot requires a different amount of special results to activate the ability. Two of the three slots also have an additional resource cost to place an advantage there, as they require less dice and therefore can be used for their tactic ability more frequently.

In the example below, the Dire Hyena advantage has the tactic ability of inflicting 1 additional casualty at the end of a battle. Placing this in the 1 slot would mean the ability could be used twice per battle for a single die, in addition to gaining 1 strength in the battle. Or, if placed in the 2 slot, it would inflict 2 casualties for 2 dice--not quite as good as the 1 slot, but it costs 1 resource less to place. Or in the 3 slot, which has no additional cost, but requires 3 dice to activate the tactic--which does provide a favor or a glory.

From gallery of TRChance


Players will only ever have 3 advantage cards at most, so they must choose wisely. It’s important to mention also that all of the tier 3 advantages have an immediate bonus when acquired, as well as an end game scoring option. All of the tactics on the tier 3 advantages are the same: gain 1VP. But in a game with this much conflict, timing when to acquire these advantages, and what advantages to sculpt your strategy, is paramount.

I feel comfortable stating that Ruination might have the highest conflict of any game of this variety for your dollar. A big part of this is the design of the map, where adjacency is quite liberal. There are 5 regions in the game, each region containing 3 territories. The center region is the Khan’s region, which provides wild resources. Each region is separated by the Wasteland, which is not a territory or space players can occupy, but rather a zone players move through which will cost them 1 resource or 1 unit. This means that players can easily navigate the map, with the farthest possible destination being 3 moves away.

And while battles are beyond commonplace, the refractory period for those trying to rebuild their forces is generous. Because of the quick clip of the game, a player that has lost every one of their units on the board can easily amass a max size army in one to two turns and reenter the fray. But how do battles work, you might be asking.

The battle system in Ruination is dice-driven. There are basic battle dice and a few special ones. Each player will roll 1 battle die for each type of unit they have in their army: brute, grunt, raider, and exile. Exiles are special units that must be acquired like advantage cards, only they have an immediate bonus effect, have a strength value for battles, and often contribute additional dice beyond their unit type. The other units are basic, but each have slightly different benefits:

Grunts cost 1 recruit point and are 1 strength.
Brutes cost 2 recruit points and are 2 strength.
Raiders cost 2 recruit points and are 1 strength, but inflict 1 casualty at the end of each battle.

Board Game: Ruination


Battles occur when units from 2 different players are in the same territory--or if a player has entered a territory with a nomad token, which is essentially an NPC speed bump placed during setup. Each player will calculate their initial strength and the casualties they will deal at the end of the battle on the battle board. They then roll dice. The player with the highest favor on the favor track in the battle rolls the favor die--which grants blessings, resources, or VP.

From gallery of TRChance


Players check for any start of battle bonuses they may have. Then they roll dice. After dice are rolled, players take battle activations with their dice. Strength results increase your army’s strength. Tactic results allow players to use the basic tactic abilities on their player board, as well as any advantage cards in the same slot. Blanks, well, they do nothing… until the end of the battle.

Players continue this way until both players pass. Once a player passes, they can take no further battle activations. Players then compare their strength. The highest strength wins the battle and, if it is the current player who won, they gain VP equal to the number of units in the army they just defeated. They also increase their casualties by 1.

The loser must retreat, which could mean traversing the Wasteland--costing them another resource or unit (or allowing them to kill of their last unit for fear of it being attacked again later). Both players then suffer casualties equal to the other player’s casualty value for the battle. And lastly, the players each gain 1 blessing token for each blank die result.

What are blessing tokens? Well, thematically they represent the Khan’s support. But in game terms, they allow players to reroll. That’s right, there are no inherit rerolls in the game. A player can spend blessings as follows:

Spend 1 blessing to reroll 1 of your dice.
Spend 2 blessings to reroll any number of your dice.
Spend 3 blessings to set 1 of your dice to a result of your choice.

So a player that rolls poorly in one battle, may gather the blessing needed to win the next. Blessings are not easy to come by, as the Khan is not easily impressed. So use them wisely!

What I love about this system is there is always an incentive. A player with even a single unit in a battle can potentially seize the opportunity to utilize their tactics. They could grief their attacker with an additional casualty. They might gain resources or bolster another army. Moreover, the incentive to attack weak armies is low since VP is awarded on how many units are in the army. I’ve even seen players rush a couple of units into their deaths simply hoping to use blessings to gain favor or glory. There’s so many lines of play, even when a lot of the game boils down fights.

At the end of each player’s turn, all players must check their army limit. No army can hold more than six units… unless they have an ability that allows otherwise.

Play will continue like this, each player taking an action, sequencing it how they please, resolving battles, and then checking their army limit until the Khan’s Fury has been invoked. The Khan’s Fury can be invoked in a number of ways:

A player reaches 10 or more favor and/or glory.
A player reaches 30 or more VP.
A player discards the last card in an action card deck and causes the deck to be reshuffled.

Once one of these conditions has been tripped, the end of the game begins. There is an immediate scoring of bastions. Each player will start with one bastion, but they can be added through various game effects--not to mention the two bastions in the dead center of the board. Players complete the round and play one more full round. Bastions will be scored once more and then final scoring occurs. Only the player with the most VP will reign beside the Khan over this empire of ruin.

THE END...


Designing this game, the world in which it inhabits, and working with talented people like Roland, Chris Byer, Kevin Haemmerle, Mike Mihealsick, and Chad Hoverter has made this one of the very best design experiences I have had in my career. It’s always magical to see what starts as a simple idea (3 face up decks of action cards) come to life in its final form. I hope to see all of you over on the launch March 12th, 2020 at 10am. This happens to be my 42nd birthday, which makes it all the more cool for a launch.

Thanks for reading and I am happy to provide any answers to folks below curious about the game.

Board Game: Ruination



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Michael Mihealsick
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I love what the art team has done with the components and production. Looking forward to seeing this one on Kickstarter!
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Jason Brown
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Looks and sounds amazing, can’t wait for March 12th (and happy birthday in advance)!
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Mark Burke (The Chubby Meeple)
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This sounds incredible. Can't wait to check it out!
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Derek Bowen
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I love this insight. Roland's art is spectacular in what's been shown so far, and the theme sounds incredibly fun. The premise in the BGG entry reminds me a little of Six String Samurai (if you get the reference, you've seen some bad movies, as have I). Please share more details like this if you can, if not, I guess I'll read all about it on March 12th.
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Travis R. Chance
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Oh I’m familiar with this movie. And bad movies are often the best ones!!! Thanks for the comments, everyone!
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Michael Myers
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Count me in! Can't wait for this Kickstarter and Game!

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JT Schiavo
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Details!

Thanks for the insights.

So, what was the motivation to add blessings to the formula? I guess they function as a catchup/luck mitigation element, but it seems like an odd twist to include a bonus for getting the "bad roll."
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crinaya wrote:
Details!

Thanks for the insights.

So, what was the motivation to add blessings to the formula? I guess they function as a catchup/luck mitigation element, but it seems like an odd twist to include a bonus for getting the "bad roll."
Blessings were always important to the economy of the game. I wanted blanks for the variance and theme. But blanks such. But they're necessary. But...

There use to be a battle track that awarded blessings, but it just wasn't necessary in the end, so I cut it. I tried stapling blessings on to all kinds of other effects, but in a game where most things are unique... well, they stop feeling that way if the reward usually includes blessings.

So, we tried this end of combat consolation model and worked great. Yes, then and there as you stare at your blanks and are like "there is no god..." it doesn't help. But when you roll into the next battle with tricks, which help you to edge and win, then that last experience didn't seem so bad.
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Sascha Heib
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Looks amazing. But the strange decisions and component quality of Mezo as well as the handling of Eclipse Second Dawn drove me away from Kolossal...

But still, this looks so good, i might not be able to hold back and peek into the Kickstarter Campaign...
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Travis R. Chance
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NemesisWhip wrote:
Looks amazing. But the strange decisions and component quality of Mezo as well as the handling of Eclipse Second Dawn drove me away from Kolossal...

But still, this looks so good, i might not be able to hold back and peek into the Kickstarter Campaign...
Hoping you give this one a chance. Game is a lot of fun!
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Sascha Heib
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TRChance wrote:
NemesisWhip wrote:
Looks amazing. But the strange decisions and component quality of Mezo as well as the handling of Eclipse Second Dawn drove me away from Kolossal...

But still, this looks so good, i might not be able to hold back and peek into the Kickstarter Campaign...
Hoping you give this one a chance. Game is a lot of fun!
Mezo is a lot of fun, too. But the color selection (green & teal) as well as the very thin carboard for the game boxes, the fiddly and small markers and the useless insert leave a bad taste. But there's always room for improvement.

Can you say anything about the possibility of an insert? Will everything fit in one box? Will there be paid add-ons? Wooden Ressources? Any rough idea about pricing yet?
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Travis R. Chance
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NemesisWhip wrote:
TRChance wrote:
NemesisWhip wrote:
Looks amazing. But the strange decisions and component quality of Mezo as well as the handling of Eclipse Second Dawn drove me away from Kolossal...

But still, this looks so good, i might not be able to hold back and peek into the Kickstarter Campaign...
Hoping you give this one a chance. Game is a lot of fun!
Mezo is a lot of fun, too. But the color selection (green & teal) as well as the very thin carboard for the game boxes, the fiddly and small markers and the useless insert leave a bad taste. But there's always room for improvement.

Can you say anything about the possibility of an insert? Will everything fit in one box? Will there be paid add-ons? Wooden Ressources? Any rough idea about pricing yet?
There will be an insert, but what kind I am not sure. Everything will easily fit in the box—same size as Mezo with no gigantoid minis. No paid add-on or wooden bits. Resources are tracked on your player board. There will be a stretch goal expansion that is built out that will have more minis and a ton of modules.

As far as the other comments, you can persuade the image gallery to get a sense of the colors and look of the game.
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Sascha Heib
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Thanks a lot. Definitely interested!
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Thank you!
 
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