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Subject: "Elantris" Prototype Rules rss

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David Giles
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Hey guys,

I'm gonna try and trot out a super-rough, proof-of-concept prototype for my game group this week. I'm calling it "Elantris" after the book blurb that gave me the idea (Aside from the title, the game has nothing to do with the book, FYI). I'd like to have someone look over the rules to see if you can see any super-obvious flaws.

Plot:
The city of Elantris, lost for centuries in the sands of time, has just been re-discovered! Legends speak of mountains of gold and gems, ripe for the taking--and also about The Artifact, said to control the very fabric of reality itself! Every nation that can muster an expedition has sent troops to Elantris to try and take its treasure--and its Artifact--for themselves. Will you be the first to find it?

Basic Concept
Elantris is a game that shares strong similarities with both Risk and A&A. Players start outside the city, and, each turn, must move troops, attack, hire more troops, and loot treasure. In the center of the city is the entrance to a dungeon, with a number of unexplored rooms. Each room may contain a challenge (e.g. a trap or a monster), a treasure, or nothing at all. At the bottom of the dungeon, there are three high-level rooms, one of which contains the Artifact. Once recovered, the Artifact grants a bonus to all troops on its space, and must be escorted to the player's starting space. If the Artifact is "killed" by an enemy, the enemy gains control of it, and must now escort it to their home base. The winner is the first to successfully get it out of the city.

Troop Movement and Combat
Each turn, each individual troop can move one space (except for Knights, which move two).

If a player declares an attack against another player, battle ensues. Players remove all troops from the affected spaces and place them on a side board. Each combat round, both players roll a certain amount of d6's, as determined by the troops they have, and count up how many hits are scored (normally, a hit is scored on 4-6). Each hit eliminates a single unit from the opponents' board, the losing player's choice. Heroes and Artifacts cannot be killed unless there are no other troops present.

Monster Combat is a special subset of combat. Each monster has a specified number of hits and dice (hearts and claws?) marked on its card. Each turn, the monster rolls the specified number of dice, and scores hits normally unless otherwise noted. The attacking player must score as many hits as specified, over any number of rounds, in order to kill the monster. Monsters do not heal in between combat (unless otherwise noted).

Troops
Each army is composed of three troop types, as well as a single hero.

Pikemen cost 1 gold apiece, roll 1 die, and have no special ability.

Knights cost 2 gold apiece, roll 2 dice, and can move two spaces per turn (instead of the usual one).

Wizards cost 3 gold apiece, roll 3 dice, and can use scrolls (kept in the players' hand) to cast spells in combat.

Heroes roll 2 dice, and count as one of any other troop type for the purposes of passing challenges. In addition, each player can choose one of two special abilities for their hero at the beginning of the game. If the hero dies, the player may choose to select a new ability, and the hero respawns at the starting space on the players' next Recruit phase.

The Artifact is a special troop type which bears mentioning here. Once recovered, The Artifact is treated like a troop in all respects, except for the fact that it rolls no dice. The Artifact cannot be "killed" unless it is the only remaining unit in its stack; if it is "killed," it comes under the control of the player who "killed" it.

Hero Abilities
Each player chooses one of two special abilities for their hero at the beginning of the game. The special abilities are as follows:

Blue Player: Defensive
Healer: Grants Soak 2 to his stack (i.e. ignore the first two hits on each turn).
Shield: The enemy hits only on a 5 or 6 (instead of 4, 5, or 6).

Green Player: Offensive
Beserker: All pikemen hit on a 3, 4, 5, or 6 (instead of 4, 5, or 6; this ability and Shield, above, cancel each other out.
Mounted: The hero hits on 3-6, and can also move two spaces per turn.

Red Player: Magic
Sorcerer: The hero hits on 3-6 and can cast spells, like a Wizard.
Academic: Wizards in this stack hit on 3-6.

Yellow Player: Special
Assassin: This hero rolls one die, not the regular two. If the hero scores a hit, he chooses which unit dies--NOT the other player.
Looter: If this hero is on a space with coins during the Loot phase, the player takes two coins, not one.

The Dungeon
The dungeon is composed of a map showing a series of interconnected rooms. Each room starts with a face-down card on it with one of three challenge levels: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. If a player has troops next to the dungeon entrance, he can move troops, during his move phase, onto one of the top-level Bronze challenges, and, on every susequent move phase, can move troops to an adjacent room. If the player enters an unexplored room, he turns over the card, and does what the card indicates.

There are several varieties of challenges to be overcome, but most share similar terminology. A card may specify that a player must NEED, RISK, or LOSE a certain number of troops. NEED challenges are automatically passed when the player has that many troops on that card; an example might be clearing a blocked passage. RISK challenges ask the player to, well, risk a minimum number of troops, and roll dice for all risked troops, losing troops on rolls specified on the card. If the player has a certain number of troops surviving, the challenge passes. An example might be the sawblade corridor from The Last Crusade, which Indy can disable once he's safely on the other side. LOSE challenges force the player to immediately lose the specified amount of troops, and the challenge is complete immediatlely afterwards. This might, for example, be a collapsing hallway that kills everyone inside.

Cards might also contain treasure (either a one time lump sum, or create a new coin stack), contain a monster (as detailed in the combat section above), might be a blocked passage (which cannot be passed unless it can be removed), or might be an "Empty Corridor"--nothing at all. Many challenges become Empty Corridors once they are cleared.

A special card is The Artifact. Located in one of the three Gold cards at the bottom of the dungeon, the Artifact grants the player that discovers it control of The Artifact, and grants the player one of several special abilities, making it easier to escort. It might grant Soak to its stack, improve attack or defense rolls, or the Artifact itself might move two spaces a turn.

Income
Elantris is filled with all kinds of loot. When the game starts, the map is seeded with stacks of coins by the players, according to the following rules:

1) Each space may have only one stack of coins.
2) Each stack of coins must be seperated from every other stack by at least one space.
3) A player may not place a stack on a space they currently control.
4) Coins may only be placed on the city itself, not the dungeon--unless a room specifies otherwise.

During each income phase, players take three gold. Then, if they have troops on a space with a stack of coins, they take one coin from the stack. stack coins are worth 1, 3, or 5 gold, which is added immediately to the player's reserves.

(Optional Rule) Once per game, players can turn in a 5-gold coin to gain a Magic Item. These Items grant the hero a small special ability or bonus--for example, Slippers of Spider Climb might allow the hero, along with up to three Pikemen, move across a wall on the City Map. To be clear, these Items cannot be bought, they can only be traded for using the 5-gold coins. The idea is that the player has discovered a Magic item, and can opt to sell it for cash or to use it.

If a player exhausts a stack of coins, he immediately places another one according to the above rules.

Potential Problems
I see a couple of potential balancing issues already. Here are my thoughts:

Risk has a definite runaway leader problem, and, if a player gets lucky while looting, he might be able to sweep the board. However, he is unable to place new coins in his own territory, which will help favor other players, if he starts collecting too many.

Slow movement. Troops can only move one (or two) spaces per turn, which might make expansion very difficult. This serves as a balancing issue--if you expand too much, you have a hard time maintaining supply lines--but can also slow the game down dramatically.
This is doubly true for the Dungeon. The player needs to get troops to the center of the city, then down a bunch more spaces, which could take a long, long time--especially if there's topside combat. Moving the Artifact out of the dungeon will also take 3-5 turns (at minimum) which has strong potential to create a Raiders of the Lost Ark-type situation topside, in which an enemy player might be able to amass and army and steal the Artifact once it comes out.
One potential fix is that it takes some time for the enemy to recover an Artifact--one to three turns. Thematically, this time would be spent searching corpses for the Artifact, figuring out how to safely carry it, etc. This would leave him vulnerable to others, but might just cause the same problem again.
Another potential fix would be to have all troops move two spaces, and knights move three. This solves some of the problems, but then it makes the map too small. Hm... maybe each troop can move one space, and then either make a combat, loot, or move a second space... but then you run into issues of keeping track which troops have moved and which haven't... #ThinkingOutLoud

Wandering Mobs. There's little reason for a player to keep troops in territories they've moved through, which might result in a "deathball" of troops that just wanders the board.

(Related) Exploiting Coin Placement: if a player gets clever, he could manipulate the coin placement system. He might, for example, surround an empty space with troops. Once it's his turn, he places the stack of coins on the empty space, loots it, and then returns to his "holding pattern." Although legal, this is completely counter to what I had in mind for coin placement rules.

How do these rules sound? I recognize they're super-rough, but that's the point. I just want to see if this game has potential before I start developing it further.
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