Is it an expansion or is it a new game?

It’s Cedric’s fault. We met in a hotel in Essen, in 2008 – two people from Portal and three people from IELLO, and discussed our publishing plans. I told them about a game I wanted to design – I told them about Stronghold. It was October 2008, the very beginning of my work on that game. I spoke about the huge numbers of troops, about hordes of skeletons and orcs storming the castle.

In the end the skeletons didn’t make it to the game, orcs did. The game was shown in Essen and I had a lot of fun with it.

I met Cedric again in October 2009. We discussed publishing plans again. I told him about a Stronghold expansion. I told him I was considering replacing the orc cubes in the Invader’s army with the undead.

”That’s it!” he exclaimed. ”The last time you spoke about Stronghold I imagined hordes of skeletons. It’s going to be great. I’d wished you had included skeletons back then!”

I came back home and started working on the expansion. I wanted to make the expansion similar to those modules for Race for the Galaxy. You buy a box with four, five sets of new rules inside, pick the ones you like and ignore the rest.

I started with making 8 new Heroes fighting in the stronghold. That was easy since Stronghold’s realm, the realm of Monastyr, is very rich. It didn’t take me long to think of distinctive features for Heroes from Kord, Gord or Doria, interesting rules would immediately come to my mind. Some two weeks later the first part of the expansion was ready for testing – a new set of game transforming Heroes.

Next in line were the Invader’s cubes. I looked at the white, green and red cubes thinking what I could do. The white ones became Phantoms, the red ones became Vampires and the green ones… The green ones were Skeletons. Rotten Skeletons, sort of, but Skeleton nevertheless. What do Phantoms do? They… fly. Bang! A rule just got created – white Invader’s cubes don’t need free spots at the walls since they don’t need ladders to fight. Vampires? They spread vampiric power and strengthen the Phantoms. Skeletons? You kill one and its bones return to the game. It’s not discarded but reused (back then I didn’t know in what way yet).

There you go, nice and easy.

I looked at all Invader’s actions very closely to check whether they fitted the undead army. Some of them were inconsistent with the plot, I mean, do Vampires use Saboteurs? Do Skeletons use Saps?

At some point I should have given up on analysing whether Skeletons make Poisons, build ladders or Trebuchets.

I didn’t. I went into it.

Does a Necromancer send his troops to build machines? No. He casts spells and uses powerful magic to summon nightmarish ballistas and catapults. He doesn’t need wood or nails, he doesn’t send ghosts to paints banners. He summons it all with his magic. Very interesting possibilities started to appear. I was entering a fascinating world of spells. There were Warhammer Battle books with Vampire armies on my table and galleries of undead artwork opened on the computer screen. Wherever I looked, there were cemeteries and skeletons.

I couldn’t stop myself, I would create, write down new ideas. The board started to fill up with cemeteries, strigas, mists, ghost illusions… The situation was getting out of hand, especially when I looked into the castle one day. How about new ways of defending against the undead? I created Priests, Exorcisms, stakes for the vampires and tower crossbows…

After a few weeks it turned out that the whole idea of modules of different new rules in this expansion might as well be scrapped. The Undead would grow and expand with every working day, slowly taking over the whole expansion. There was no more room for anything else. I would create new Invader’s actions, new actions in the Castle and slowly realize that this idea is big enough to simply dominate the expansion.

Today the testers don’t say that Undead is a good expansion. Today they say that they’re playing Stronghold 2. An entirely new game. And that it’s great. Much better than the first one.