Siege SCG Blog The developers of Siege official musings

11Mar/131

Squandering all the fun by Razing down the village

After Matt spoiled the rules update (Matt edit: Sorry! I was excited!) with his epic game run down, I feel like I can get away with being a little heavy handed on the title...probably not. There are some good things to talk about on the rules front though. And the aforementioned game wasn't the origin of these changes, but it was the final nudge that made us spend some time to address some things that could have become issues.

Potential Issue 1: The never ending stalemate

I'll be honest that this issue has been lingering in my mind for awhile. The reason this issue hasn't been addressed more head on in the past is that these sort of stalemates all manifest the same way, and it's fairly rare for those scenarios to come up. In brief, they start when two players reach a sort of Nash Equilibrium - where if either player attempts to improve their position they actually help the other player (or hurt themselves). This results in periods of passivity where neither player can do much if anything to change their position in the game.

I'll be frank that I don't want to remove this from the game unilaterally. It's amazingly interesting when two players trade blows only to end in a standoff of two armies that can't advance into either other without the blowback crushing them. That's part of warfare, that's part of history, and it should be part of the game. What I don't want though is for this to ever become a dominant strategy, or something a player could try to create because it has the potential to be extremely non interactive.

Something I tried to address in designing the win condition in Siege is the issue of "winning by not playing" that you see in some other games. The idea being that you can win the game without ever really interacting with the other player. These sort of stalemates tend to work out that way since both players just draw their entire decks out waiting for the other player to move.

And that's the issue I wanted to prevent. The reason these sort of stalemates don't ever resolve is because both players are in a position where the strongest thing they can do is draw a card and hold their position. I think the reason for this is that there is always benefit in any card game to have extra cards in hand, and Siege is very relaxed in a sense that you don't have a maximum hand size, and there isn't any penalty for drawing out your deck. So if you have the option between "Advance into certain defeat" or "Draw a card that may help later" you'll always choose the latter because there is no downside.

So addressing this issue was tricky because like I said I really wanted defensive play to be possible in siege still. And hunkering down with an army and trying to weather the storm is healthy for the metagame and prevents powerful cards from just steamrolling a smart player. The solution, in my opinion, had to have a delayed onset and it had to be crippling enough that neither player would want it to go that far. That solution is Squander.

Squander: If you attempt to draw a card and cannot, discard a card and -1 friendly Morale.

Squander is a very simple rule that changes what I said above. Before squander was a thing, Siege had no penalty to drawing out your deck. I think this was a perfect opportunity to introduce a mechanic that heavily discourages stalling all game (and like most rules in Siege it has some surprising side effects that I think help the game balance as well). It also respects the Siege values by being a gradual change and not an instant one. You don't instantly go to 0 Morale, you don't discard your whole hand. You just start to squander your hand, and your Morale suffers for it.

What's the impact of this? For starters, waiting to draw your deck out now comes with a huge risk associated. If you try to play passively too long you'll find yourself in a position where the other player could potentially boss you around. If you don't have the Morale edge, it would really behoove you to start moving your forces and trying to change the tables. Otherwise, you'll have a hand of cards you can't play and our opponent will still be breathing down your neck. Secondly, it puts a gas pedal to the late game. This morale loss combines with effects from laying siege, and all other sources. It's like overtime where players know that if they can't act soon, they will lose the opportunity.

The impact to the game is actually very nominal. I think in the testing since we introduced the rule we've seen in come up once, maybe twice. And I think that's proof it's working. The point of the rule is not to see play. It's to discourage players from waiting, and to make sure that playing to win is the dominant strategy. Playing to not lose in Siege will get you beat, and that's good for the game. Squandering ensures this by making passivity synonymous with weakness.

Potential Issue 2: Structures are really good chump blockers

This issue is much more cut and dry. Structures used to serve as some of the best chump blockers in the game. You played them mostly for free, and if the enemy was in your support they had to spend 2-3 turns typically destroying them all before the army could advance on your home territory. This presented a huge issue where a player could be stuck trying to kill what are essentially resource cards and not get to finish the game off. The real issue wasn't balance though, it was just not fun to have a huge army stuck in a territory because a single Lumberyard prevented their advance on he main city.

It didn't make sense thematically, and it was really frustrating as the attacking player who for whatever reason has to divert their entire empire's attention to go burn down a basic structure. There is also the weird issue that a structure with high enough armor could be invincible to certain armies, even if that structure wasn't defended. This comes up sometimes when a tiny army is trying to burn down an opposing City and can't. The solution is pretty simple I think. Make structures vulnerable to armies at a rules level. The end result is pretty fun.

Raze:For each friendly battlefield structure that does not have a friendly local army, deal one wound to that structure each season.

What does this look like in practice? It means if there is any enemy army in your support or home territory, and you don't have any armies to defend your structures, they all take one wound each season. It means that any army, any size, can kill any structure if that structure doesn't have anybody to protect it. And this is has already proved to be an amazing upgrade to the game.

Now defending your support territory isn't just important, it's almost vital. Razing feels so viscerally satisfying as an attacking player. Getting to your opponent's support territory is a huge feat. Getting it clear of armies is another. And the reward now is you get to set fire to the territory and just go on a spree of destruction. It's incredibly cool and it helps games resolve faster and in a more enjoyable way (for both players honestly). As nifty as it was to use my Mines to prevent an enemy advance, I knew in the back of my mind that it was a silly tactic, and i'm glad that it's not a possibility anymore.

All that said, these two rules together do something really important: make the game more fun. They encourage active play and push players to be aggressive and take risks. The smart players will find ways to use tactics and effects to convert these rules changes into crippling leverage over their opponent. And both rules work within the existing structure of Siege and don't add burden or cumbersome overhead to the play.

That's all I have today, I'll be back shortly to update on some of the changes I've been making to the Siege Demo App.

~Brad

14Mar/120

The First of Possibly Many…

Hello,

I wanted a place to introduce people to the game, the rules, and the mechanics of Siege.  As well as a place to talk with the minute possibility of people listening.  This page has accomplished the first, the second is still in the works.

So a crash course on Siege: the history.

It's a collectible card game set in the time of ancient empires (think Greece and Rome), that is much like every other collectible card game out there (MtG, pokemon, vs, etc), with the major difference in that I, with the help of some others, made it from scratch.  It's was meant from the beginning to be a tactics heavy, expert level, card game for people who liked games like the aforementioned MtG but wanted a more, adult, game.  A game that rewarded great play over deep pockets, adept card usage over blind top decking, smart deck building over "GoodCard.dec."

Sure like any card game, there will be great cards, there will be luck, there will be bad players who beat good players with nothing but a bad bluff, but I wanted from the start to make a game that tried at it's core to be about skill.

I think we did okay honestly.  And the game has gone through 4 major phases of it's development or version to get to where it is today, where I think it's likely to end up.  Because outside of comprehensive proof reading, I have for the first time in the history of the game written all of the rules down. Up until this point at least some portion of the rulebook has always existed solely in my mind, this is dangerous for an number of reasons. Now, it is finally in a state where the rules are on paper and set (Note to all: It is entirely likely I will renege on this claim and start from scratch later, but I shouldn't because I like the game as it is now).

I had a couple of key mechanics in mind when I started Siege.  One was the mechanic that is still to this day the backbone of the game: Territories.  Most card games don't deal with physical distance, it's a lot to manage on a table top.  Some games have space represented like front and back rows of a set up, but the space between players is arbitrary.  Not so in Siege, in Siege there are 7 territories laid out between players that represent actual, physical, traverse-able space that cards can and must move through before they come into contact with each other.  The idea arose because I wanted a game like tabletop games (Warhammer 40K, for example), but represented in a card game.  Also physical space was a must if ancient armies were to battle.  The spacing and tactics required in correctly deploying forces was necessary.

The 2nd idea I wanted to have was simultaneous turns.  This one was more obscure since it wasn't really about tactics, more about purity of gameplay.  I didn't want one player to have any advantage over the other at the start of the game, I wanted it to be a true test of skill.  So I did it like this.

Another tenant of gameplay is what I'll refer to as "permanence." What I mean by that is your decisions and actions don't merely impact that turn but have lasting effects on the game and where each player stands.  Games like Magic for example have very little permanence. When you start a turn everything resets and you get to untap all of your cards and start new, it doesn't matter if you used a land last turn or not, you can still use it this turn.  Same for combat, it doesn't really matter if you attacked or what you did last turn, if you got a creature, it attacks this turn if you want it to.  I didn't like that sort of short term planning.  I wanted Siege to require long term goals, incremental change, slow developing conflict.

It may sound odd, but this concept is easily the most differentiating thing about Siege from other games I've played, at least in the way the game "feels." Armies who enter combat may take several turns before they fall, even if they are taking damage the whole time, possibly an army in combat could hold down the fort until you can recruit reinforcements.  This idea of time, of permanence, changes the way you think about the game.  You are always force to think ahead, to plan, to survey and predict.  "Do I advance an army now or save him for a counter attack?" or "Do I build up my resource stockpile to play a larger army down the road or can I not wait?"  I want you to make decisions in Siege that may not see their impacts until the final turns of the game.  I've finished so many games with friends that end with, "Man, 15 turns ago had I just advanced my armies to stop your assault this would have ended differently, I would have had a chance."

This is fun to me, always fighting for the upper hand, slowly trying to enforce your empire's will on the other player's, calculated combat with permanence. I know this first post was a long one, and in the future they should get shorter and sweeter now that the meat of the introduction is out of the way.  Next time I post I'll dive into the rules and hopefully start getting to why Siege does what Siege does.