I Created a Board Game

Before the pandemic wreaked havoc on our livelihoods and sanity, I started building a board game after finding some games I became very passionate about. Games like Carcassone, Dominion, King Domino, Smallworld, and Forbidden Island were on my rotation frequently and I wanted to build something that I wanted to play.

Before I go too deep, you can buy the game (I’m serious!) from my manufacturer here: https://tgc.link/paths2aegis

A quick introduction of the game:

Backstory

My wife and I had played a couple of games with friends and she said to me once, “We should create a game.” So, we did. It was a card game that was fun and we played it a few times with friends. Then, I embarked on a bigger project after I played a video game called “Wizard of Legend“. It’s a rogue-lite game where you take your character into randomly generated dungeons, die, and try again. Almost every time before you died you gained some kind of enhancement to help you the next time. Eventually, those enhancements built up so it was easier to beat the game. I thought to myself after playing this game, “What if someone did something like this but with board games?”

I thought deeply about the kind of game I wanted because I didn’t particularly enjoy some popular games like Settlers of Catan, Risk, or Monopoly. Why? What was specific about those games that made me – quite honestly – hate them? And why were other games so much more enjoyable?

What I realized was that those games I disliked felt like a snowball effect where once one player had enough power, they could steamroll everyone else fairly quickly after that. In Monopoly, the first person who gets a hotel is usually the person who wins. The worst part is that it occurs somewhere in the middle of the game, meaning the rest of the game is a struggle for everyone else. The same applies to Risk and Settlers of Catan. To some extent, Smallworld suffers from this.

Why was Smallworld different despite one player becoming overpowered? Their civilization had to collapse. You only have so many pieces, so keeping one civilization more than two or three turns is unattainable. I kept this in mind.

Other games like Dominion and Forbidden Island are built around playing against the odds. More than the odds of a die roll, your decision-making helps or hurts those odds. In Dominion, for example, you have to draw cards from your own deck and if you buy only victory cards then you have nothing to help yourself or hurt other players. If you have too many coin cards, it’s difficult to buy any more expensive items or the more expensive victory cards because you need action cards to give you that push. But, buy no victory cards and you lose the game. Likewise, in Forbidden Island you have to choose what you will do each turn: do you let that piece of land drown in the water, or do you spend the effort to keep it afloat so you can cross it to get somewhere else?

The power of decision was ultimately a core part of my game along with balance. When I think of my favorite video game growing up, SimCity, Will Wright, the producer, stated that he wanted to build a game where every action reacted both positively and negatively. Many of the board games I loved had an equal balance that never felt unfair. In King Domino, choosing a higher-income piece also meant you got to choose last for the next piece. You had to choose between sacrificing choice over power. In Smallworld, you had to sacrifice losing your civilization and its gold earned per round versus a new civilization and gaining less gold initially, but more later.

Creating the game

I knew from the beginning that I had to somehow create a randomized “dungeon” for the players, and I wanted them to work together. The concept hit that having tiles (or boards) with spaces that the player moved would work best. As I played with several designs, I landed on each board having 7×7 spaces, because it allowed me the flexibility to have each tile connected on all four sides by having the next moveable space in the middle on each side. The connections needed to be in the middle because the player can’t see the boards until they’re flipped over, so having a connecting point somewhere else made it look awkward. A 7×7 grid gave me enough spaces to have a dozen different design concepts.

I also knew that I wanted to create character cards that would ultimately fight enemies similar to another rogue-lite card-based video game called Slay the Spire. In it, the player is given a deck of cards to fight various enemies and use those cards to either attack or defend. Each victory gains newer and better card, and the next battle gets more difficult. I decided that the player could (and should) die just like in Wizard of Legend, but they got to keep their cards and half their coins. This gave the incentive to reset the boards, build a new dungeon, and run through it again until they could beat the final boss.

Keeping in mind what Will Wright said about balance, I had to think about characters that had something equally good and bad about them. A summoner, for example, could move another player directly next to your piece to help in your battle. However, the summoned player loses half of their current life. Ultimately, I didn’t stick with that design. Instead, I chose that each enemy had a “type”, and each player would excel at one type. For example, a Paladin was strong against beasts, but not so strong against any other type. I also assigned each character a “special” ability that would give them a unique boost. I got this idea from another card game called “Expedition“, along with the ability to track life as my original plan was keeping track of health points with more cards, or a mobile app, but then I felt there were too many cards and wanted to stay away from technology with board games.

Each turn had an equal balance of something good and something bad happening. When the player rolled the die, I figured that a certain number would allow them to fight in battle. In the beginning, I was set on having a higher number allow the player to move further, but had to fight an enemy. In the end I switched it around where lower numbers produce a battle and a higher number makes you move further. The reason is that you earn gold at the end of a battle.

Another reason for this was I added an incentive to explore the map based on playtests. The incentive was simple: discovering a new board – reaching the end of one and the beginning of another – rewarded the player with coins. So, they can earn coins by going far or by fighting. Since the boards would reset upon a player’s death, there was always time for exploring a new dungeon.

Like characters, enemies had to have a balance implemented too. I added a standard attack when the player rolls a die and acts on behalf of the enemy they’re fighting. But, when a certain number is rolled, each enemy can do something more powerful, just like the player can when they draw the right card.

I had to be fairly clever because a die only has 6 numbers and there were more than 6 enemies. Some enemies had a special ability that activated on odd numbers, while others activated on numbers after four. Some had none!

Adding levels allows players to increase their difficulty and power. My initial design had a player draw five cards for each battle and use 3 or 4 of them. That didn’t seem to work very well from a difficult standpoint, so I changed it based on the player’s level. At the beginning, each player is Level 1 and they draw five cards and play one. They also fight one enemy. When they upgrade to Level 2, they can play two cards, but they also fight two enemies. And so forth. The game actually gets easier as you level up because you have more choices on how to handle your hand such as using a potion to refill health and another card to destroy an enemy. Since you can only draw five cards, there’s no sense in going further than Level 5.

Playtesting

Initially, players could buy new cards at any given time. This quickly changed when there wasn’t much challenge after a few battles during playtests, nor encouragement to explore other boards. So, I implemented spaces on a couple of the boards with a Market icon. The player had to land on the market to buy new cards and sell old ones. Like Dominion, players buy cards and place them in their own draw pile. What cards they choose is entirely up to them, but will their choices be good enough to help them survive the game?

There were also some concerns about traveling so far to get from one board to potentially helping out a friend on another board. Three boards added a “Tunnel” where landing on it allowed you to traverse to another board with a tunnel. So, 2 of the 8 boards have markets and 3 of the remaining 6 boards have a tunnel. 2 other boards have nothing unique, and one final board is the boss fight.

In the initial playtests, you had to land on the boss space on the boss board to fight them, but there wasn’t this overwhelming fear of the boss as it seemed something you could ignore until you felt strong enough. This was eliminated by adding a boss piece that would activate when the board was discovered. The boss piece moved toward the player until it caught up, usually killing them the first few times. The game can be beaten at Level 3 with some difficulty, and Level 5 easily.

As a kicker, I also added a piece called “The Goblin” that would randomly appear as an enemy. The Goblin would take half your coins and run away with them. Keeping balance in mind, I made sure you had a chance to catch the goblin and get your coins back, but you could also lose them permanently.

It took a dozen playtests and two failed Kickstarter campaigns, but I hope you love this game as much as my friends and I did playing it. You may buy it here: https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/paths-to-aegis