Outing Innie

It's been some time since I've said or written anything substantive about any of my new projects. One has more or less taken the slot of lead design, primarily as I have more ideas for it and was able to answer sufficient questions to push it forward.

I haven't quite made it to the prototyping stage yet, but I'm about 90% finished with my first draft of the rules. I've discussed much of this with a friend, Chevee Dodd, via instant messenger, but I'd like to broaden the audience and gather early feedback. Many of the elements in the current design have gone through several iterative passes already, more than is typical for an early game of mine, so I'm hoping that pays off with some early success in the prototype phase.

My hope is to finish the rules tonight or tomorrow, develop the card content, then build the prototype. From there, test test test. For this post, I'm going to highlight a few of the game's neat elements, followed by my thought process, concerns, and anything else that's relevant.

What is Innie? This is the current abbreviated name I'm using for the game. It's thematically about an insurrection against an interstellar empire. The game will combine drafting and tactics for 2 or 4 players in hopefully about 45 minutes. Note that those 2 or 4 players will be divided into two teams. I really love the team oriented play of Academy's Birth of America series and I wanted to take a stab at it.

Drafting is really the overarching thought for the game. I was really inspired by some elements of Seasons, which did some neat stuff with drafting, but also buried it under many disparate elements. I want to use drafting, which I find to be a very simple and elegant mechanic in new ways and do so throughout the game. You will draft, and you will draft all the time. To be clear, I don't think I'm innovating with the mechanic itself, but how it's used. Hopefully.

One of the best things about drafting is that it keeps turns relatively simple and quick. You select a single card and do what it says. A big takeaway from Empire is that multi-step turns are both overly complicated and take too long. People get impatient and lose interest waiting for their turns. Drafting lets me keep the pacing brisk. Ideally.

And now, onto some of the features...

Territory...on the ground and from space

Developing a map for Empire was a PAIN. I really didn't want to do that again (call me lazy), but I wanted terrain and spatial relationships. It's difficult to do a tactical game otherwise. Another feature I left out of Empire that I wanted to incorporate was terrain type. How to make these things work?

A few things led me to my current design. Firstly, how can I incorporate territories into drafting? Can I draft a territory? Secondly, what if I just had a randomized set of spaces. Could the territories literally be cards?

I went to Google Drawing and created this grid that you see:

A simple 4x4 grid of what I envision to ultimately be punch board cards like in Forbidden Island. I gave each a simple symbol, many shared. This is its terrain type. I'll go into this more later. I had to answer the question of how this would work for the FLEET player and how it would work for the GROUND player. Each team has one of each.

Ultimately, this is what I decided upon. A player on the ground must use orthogonally  adjacent spaces.

The fleet player is in orbit. He should have greater range and accessibility to territories, but nothing unlimited. For them, I went with this:

You'll see here the blue fleet on the right is "adjacent" to all of the blue squares. The red fleet on the bottom is adjacent to the red squares. Both are adjacent to the purple squares. Essentially, fleets can access the 4 territories near their current side (fleets can only move to one of the four sides) and the 2 center cards facing them.

In summary, in every game you will have 16 territory cards that are arranged at random in a 4x4 grid. Players can access spaces differently based on their role. Territories have a property that will be used in the game. And, the territories can be drafted.

Drafting Territories

The game will be broken into rounds (approx. 4?) in which teams will draft 8 cards. I say teams, because the draft will take place as both teams will conduct and intra-team draft from a set of 8 cards. This was an idea that emerged as a way to make team play interesting, yet also a subtle part of the strategy. Can you intuit your teammate's actions without speaking aloud? Can you watch what they draft and work together? I'm hoping to capture a little of the classic card game vibe that my grandparents would have enjoyed. It's a solution to table talk without being heavy handed.

Cards will be drafted for their Actions and played: I draft, opponent 1 drafts, my teammate drafts, opponent 2 drafts, my turn again. These cards will be played to territories. At the start of a player's turn, they select a territory on which to play their card. By selecting it, you prevent anyone else from selecting it, at least until you move your piece (which you must do on your turn). When a territory is drafted, you place its card (not the one from the map, but a separate card) onto a timeline. Your action is then played to this territory.

When all the cards are drafted, the phase ends and the actions will all be resolved, one at a time, in the order that they were played. I'm calling this the Action timeline.

In the (awful) diagram above, you can see that things are resolved from left to right. In the center with the orange arrow, multiple cards are played to a single territory. These are resolved from bottom to top (first in), then you go from left to right again with the blue arrow.

I think this will be neat and play out briskly. Players will play cards based on their desires, their positioning (remember the adjacency from above), but also in reaction to an opponent's play. Players can also draft territories to use and block opponents, i.e. if I have it currently you can't have it.

There are two variances that may or may not make it. One is that you can play a card face down, i.e. stealthily. To do this, you must discard an additional card from your hand. Essentially, you're giving up an action to do one secretly. The other choice is that you can remove a card and play it face down. These cards will be used to bolster your chance to win a battle. Again, giving up an action to make one more effective.

Everyone will draft one at a time, then cards will quickly resolve. I hope this leads to a fast-paced, yet compelling team environment.

Card Mechanics

I have been working to bake a lot of potency and power into the cards WITHOUT a lot of complexity and fiddly content. I'm trying to build off the simple dual use of Empire in a way that works for this game. The cards in Innie will have a few properties.

Firstly, they'll work with the territories. Instead of designing rules for the territories, things you needed to learn or re-reference, I'm going to bake it into the Action card content. Cards will have things like:

  • Required Territory: Card MUST be played to the specified territory.
  • Restricted Territory: Card CANNOT be played to the specified territory.
  • Bonus Territory: Card is more effective if played to the specified territory.

To use these cards, it'll literally be a case of matching symbols. You don't need to know what the comm center is, just that you need to play it to there. This gives me a way by which to balance and diversify the cards, give territories different properties, and make the territory richer thematically WITHOUT greatly complicating things.

Cards will also have a simple number in the top left corner. I'm calling this the Action Number. Currently it is used for a variety of simple things, like effectiveness of the card, Movement, improving your chances in battle, and hopefully more. If you don't want to use the card's Action, you can instead play it for its number. This is how I can (hopefully) make every card interesting while still giving them flexibility in their use. I want to avoid that "This card is only useful in this circumstance" scenario.

Finally, in case you haven't gathered, cards will have Actions. Here's a quick mock of a card. Ignore the content, focus instead on what I'm trying to do with layout and these variables I've discussed:

Strateg...er... Bluffing into a Fight

I really like Stratego. It's ridiculously simple and fun. I wanted to continue what I started with Empire with my simple, one of a kind units. I also wanted a way to have an element of "fog of war" and hidden information as you maneuver on the battlefield and in space.

Therefore, the ground players for each team will have a limited set of two types of chips: Unit and Decoy. The Units will be worth 1 Unit apiece. The decoys will be worth 0. Chips will be played in a stack face down, so your opponent will know how many Units you might have, but not a precise number. My current thinking is that you'll have limited quanties of each (15 Units/5 Decoys?). However, whereas decoys removed can be used again, Units are one time use. Once destroyed, they're out of the game. Use your chips wisely.

Still to Solve

I have a few questions I need to resolve. I feel like I have an understanding for how ground combat will work. I need to figure out how the fleets factor into the game. Currently I have a lot of content envisioned for the fleets in a support role. Drop troops from orbit, move troops around, shell the enemy positions, send in bomber waves. But, how do the fleets engage each other? And, how can the fleet have an equal role with the ground units, not just a servant in the sky?

I have some hunches for the victory conditions, but I really need to nail this down. Otherwise, why are we fighting?

Those aren't the only unknowns, of course, nor have I revealed everything, but I'm nearing 2000 words, which is about 1000 too many! Did anything seem interesting? Are there some holes you'd like me to address? Did anything seem boring? Have I blatantly ripped off a game of which I'm unaware? Fill me in with the comments below!

Comments

So, in the design above, which I clearly glossed over a bit, yes, there IS a functional difference. However, I've been IM'ing with Matt Worden about this design for about 2 days (since I wrote the post) and a great simplification has taken place. I will probably write a follow up.

Sounds interesting.

Is there a functional difference between doing the whole round of drafting first and then playing the cards second? Could players just play the cards as soon as they draft them?