Beware. I have a gun!
I love factions in games. They are like super spice to any game. With Imperial Settlers I definitely wanted it to be a game with factions. I wanted four nations and I wanted them to work differently – to score differently, to develop the Empire differently, to provide different game experience and unique feeling.
And since the very beginning I knew – that was like entering a hell. Like asking for 4 times more work to do. Like adding additional hundred hours of balancing and polishing. Like the most stupid dream I could ever had.
And yet, I decided to go for it.
We will start with Vampire: the Masquarade Role Playing Game. Super successful game published in 90′. It was constructed like a perfect machine. Machine that had only one goal – steal heart of a gamer. With a brilliant clan system, with numerous choices during a character creation it was designed by a genius. It influenced hundreds of other games, including my two designs – Neuroshima RPG and Monastyr RPG.
Vampire was one of many examples that clans, races and factions are the best bullets if you want to hit precisely into gamer heart. Let’s face it – all biggest games of our times are all built with a great clan / race / faction system.
Armies in Warhammer Battle. Colors in Magic: the Gathering. Races in Dungeons & Dragons. It’s all the same. Faction system.
The truth is – there are few types of players:
There are 'dwarf’ players. Those who like to hold fast, those who like high stamina, great armory. Defender player in Strongold. Jaina players in Hearthstone.
There are 'elf’ players. Those who like high initiative. Fast movement. Guerrilla combat. The Outpost army in Neuroshima. Unicorn clan in L5R
There are 'tricky’ players. Those who like nasty play. Those who like dark magic. Dark elves in Warhammer Battle. Black deck in M:tG. Tangarian in AGoT…
You look at games and you will see there is one common pattern. Designers change clothes, but the underneath it’s one old song over and over – one time we call them Dwarfs other time we call them Crab clan. One time it’s Elf, other time it is called The Outpost soldier. One time we call them Tangarians, other time we call them Dark elves…
But this is all the same. This is well designed bullet that aims directly into heart of particular type of gamer. Because, believe it or not, you are one of those types we designers aim at. And yes, we can aim and shoot precisely to get you hooked into the game.
You probably already knew this. So let’s get back to Imperial Settlers and 51st State…
In 51st State there is New York faction. Their strength is to build many Locations. There is Merchant’s Guild faction and their strength is to sign Deals. There is Mutants faction and their strength is fire power. There is also Appalachian but these folks didn’t make it to the Imperial Settlers. These factions differ on mechanisms levels, but they don’t aim at heart of a gamer. There is not too much 'cool factor’ in playing Merchant’s Guild. I tried to fix this a little bit in Imperial Settlers. I begin with transforming them step by step…
New York transformed into Rome. Mighty Empire that builds great buildings, roads, aqueducts and of course Colosseum… Yes, Romans looked like perfect implementation of New York faction.
Mutants transformed easily into Barbarians. That was no rocket science. They attack, they burn, they pillage, they are bad, ugly and hungry. Barbarians!
Merchant’s Guild transformed into Japanese faction. They are from far east, they are merchants who wants to trade with new lands and expand their influence. At the beginning I worked on The Phoenicians but common knowledge about this culture is not that huge. So I shifted to far east and here we have – Ninjas and Samurai… and merchants… I know, it doesn’t make perfect sense, but hey, use some imagination!
And then there is forth faction. It wasn’t inspired by 51st State. It is a brand new invention designed exactly for Imperial Settlers. Egyptians. Mysterious faction, with dark magic, with slaves, scorpions and many nasty tricks in hand.
Good direction but not enough cool factor yet.
But at some point I found the solution…
In 51st State you have 4 factions and they differ only by a Base Card and 3 Contact Cards – these 4 cards describe unique abilities of each faction. The first change I decided to make in Imperial Settlers was to differ factions in much greater extend. I decided to design a separate deck of cards for each faction. It made both thematic and game play sense – each faction builds different buildings, buildings that represent their character and origins. That way during the game each player’s Empire will develop in a different way and with no doubt, just by one look at the table we will be able to see who’s playing Romans and who’s playing Egypt. It looked like we have a chance to have a cool factor here..
Romans are great at building action. They produce stone and they have many cards that produce even more stone. They have many cards that give them Gold or Victory Points for building cards – so you build and build and then build even more and your Empire is growing like crazy. When you play Romans you feel power of your Empire, you see your table full of great stone buildings and you have no doubt – Rome it is! The experience was very thematic and unique.
Barbarians are frenzied locust. They have many workers and they can produce much more workers from their cards and they use these workers to attack opponents in so many different ways. They steal resources. They steal people. They burn buildings. They are pain in the ass. Aggressive and always hungry. Something very different from Rome. Thematic and unique.
Japanese are all about trades routes and merchants. They produce food and with food they sign a Deal one after another. Their production is growing like crazy with so many deals – and with that, they can move in many directions. Use resources to build. Use resources to gain VP. Use resources to activate unique abilities. They are traders. They have so many options. They are so damn flexible.
Egypt is nasty. This is dark magic. This is Tangerian deck. This is black M:tG deck. They send Scorpions to other players locations to block them. They use magic to take control over other players locations. They can repeat actions of locations. They can break any rule there is. Thematic. Unique.
It looked like I finally got this. Cool factor was here…
Factions in Imperial Settlers play differently. They are unique. They have their character and style. They offer different game experience. And what is cool – they attract different players – some prefer to play Egypt, other prefers Rome. I bet you will have your favorite too.
And you know… If you do have your favorite, that means that my bullet hit precisely where I was aiming.
At your heart, my beloved gamer.
At your heart…
Thank you for all the insight you provide in your blog. I just played Imperial Settlers for the first time with my wife last night and we had a fun experience.
I really appreciate the details on the design concept behind each of the factions. It has been much easier to summarize the general play style of each faction to others who are trying to get an idea what to do when presented with so many choices.