Siege SCG Blog The developers of Siege official musings

5Apr/120

Lines and Spheres

So as I stated in the first entry, the first idea I really had oh so long ago for this game hinged on the idea of territories as a core mechanic for a card game.  Territories that weren't so rules heavy they overloaded players, but still complex enough to really allow for a new style of game play.

This was difficult and I wrestled with many (many many) slightly different iterations of it before setting on what Siege has now.  But surprisingly, the basics were always the same, which is one of the few mechanics in the game that was never really completely overhauled.  Hopefully this is a testament to it's solidity and not my stupidity, but time will tell.

The core is simple.  Instead of playing cards to zones on the table that are of arbitrary distance and relation to each other as in most ccgs, territories in Siege are all connected one to the other in a row stretching between one player to the other.  After some trial and error we settled on 7 territories, all laid out linearly (so the physical space is in this regard 1 dimensional).  We toyed with the idea of having rows and columns so that they territories were essentially on a grid.  The issue with any of these proposals was it was too rules heavy.  It burdened players with card management, was difficult to keep track of when using actual cards, and in general was just more trouble than it was worth (even if some depth of tactics was lost).  This was part of the process of finding the sweet spot between "completely tactical sim" and "game I actually want to play," and it took a lot of work to fine tune, and I'm sure we'll never really be done.  Plus, by having a 1D layout of cards, it allowed for much easier sorting for players since they only have to worry about a cards relation to others in one direction to determine which territory it is in, very helpful.

But the 7 territories.  What's great about this is that you can start defining things in the game by their spacial relation to each other.  So for example in Magic, you can really on define things by what type of card it is (it's color, it's types, subtypes, etc).  Basically you can only define a card by what is actually printed on the card.  By entering a physical space you can begin to define cards by where they are.  In this regard two completely identical cards could be different based solely off of where they are positioned.  This was meat and potatoes stuff for me, something I really wanted the game to highlight over and over.

It allows me as a card designer to design simple, elegant cards and still allow for diversity of game play.  I don't necessarily have to design complex cards in order to achieve complex and deep game play situations.  This is crucial to the theme as well, since we wanted to stick to a more realistic card designs that were ground in reality.  Reality doesn't really beget super complex card design like you see in other fantasy or sci-fi games.

But the 7 territories.  Early on I decided the win condition on the game would be simple: Control all 7 Territories.  This started a whole snow ball in my brain that lead to what is now the idea of who controls territories.  Each territory is defined in two ways. First is it's position in relation to each player, and second by which player owns cards in it.  So the first territory closest to you is your "Home" territory and the next is your "Support". The same is true for your opponent's first 2 territories.  The middle 3 territories are all "Expanse."  So using these simple labels for territories allows us to start creating rules for who controls what territories just based on where they are.

Now the idea of what is in each territory is different.  Basically we use the territory's space from you to determine what you can and can't do there.  You can only build armies and structures in your home and support.  This creates a great way to slow down the pacing of the game. Each army in the game may move 1 territory a turn so essentially any army you recruit has to wait 3 turns before it can reach the opponent's "base." By using this sort of forced "summoning sickness" it allows for a great catch up mechanic.  The closer you are to winning, the longer it takes to deploy forces to the front lines, it also means everything you build when you're on the defense is that much closer to having an impact (It's great when mechanics lead to balance in your game, even when they aren't designed to do so directly.).

 So with the idea of territories firmly in place, and their definitions defined, the way this impacts the card design is also of note.  As previously mentioned you can really only define cards in games like Magic by what type of card it is.  It's printed identity.  Sure you can do things with the graveyard and while it's in your hand, but that is by far the exception to the rule that in general the only place a creature card matters is in play.  Take that idea to the next level and start asking, "where in play is this creature?" or better yet, "where in play is this creature in relation to other cards in play?" and you begin to see how fun this idea can get.

Take for instance the first keyword-ed mechanic I created for this game: Phalanx. Phalanx reads, "+1 Armor while there is another friendly local phalanx force." A little insight into the terms, "Local" means in the same territory and "force" is any army or structure.  This simple idea, the idea that it matters not just if you have two phalanx armies, but where they are in relation to each other, opened the door for I would say 60% of the card design to follow.  So as a player you now need to not only worry about when to play phalanx armies, and when to attack and when to sit back, but you are now managing the battle on a much higher level, you have to make sure that when you are advancing two phalanx armies that they arrive at the fight at the same time, because otherwise they are more vulnerable to attack.  As an opposing player you are trying to keep them seperated, make sure they don't get there.  A very simple mechanic leading to very tactical gameplay.

So the idea doesn't simply end with cards that benefit themselves.  You can begin to define global effects in more interesting ways.  No longer do "enchantment" like effects (to steal from Magic terminology again) have to effect everything or nothing.  Now you can begin to say "Cards adjacent to this card get +1 Attack" or "Local armies have some effect."  These sort of effects are described under a blanket term called "Sphere of Influence" (I take no credit for the term). Basically each effect isn't global, it's always only impacting the cards within it's sphere of influence.  So since structures, which can't move about the field, are always in your first two territories it allows some really neat "castle building" where players will stack certain effects in that area to grant their armies close to home extra bonuses.  Or possibly leaders (which are effect grant cards that attach to other cards) have effects that impact armies near them, so you could create an empowered front row of fighters, all with one effect.  But from a balance standpoint, this effect doesn't effect everyone, creating a great way as a card designer to design complex and powerful abilities, but limit their impact to the game in a tactical way.

I'll wrap up here for today.  The idea of simple to understand territories has done more to set to course for the rest of the game design than any other single idea.  Nearly every mechanic in one way or another builds of the idea of physical space.  Every card has clearly defined roles that relate to where it's at, or where it's at in relation to other cards. This one set of rules, this one mechanic, creates the foundation for the tactical elements in Siege that I strove for from the games inception.  Next we'll probably go over some specifics to simultaneous turns because that's interesting from a game design standpoint because of the hurdles we had to overcome to make it work.

Thanks for reading

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