Blockade’s Story Development


Post by: Grant Rodiek

Crafting an exciting, coherent story is something very important to me for Blockade. I honestly believe the game can stand on its own without such a feature, but I think the game lends itself to scenario gameplay and therefore, why not try to craft a story? It’s a creative challenge I wish to undertake and a way to differentiate my offering.

RPG gamers will giggle and scoff at my efforts as they’ve been embracing story for decades. But, it’s still not a terribly common feature for many board games. The games I’ve played that incorporate story heavily are:

  • Risk Legacy
  • Mice and Mystics
  • Memoir ’44

All of them do so in a very different way, so before we move forward, I’m going to succinctly break them down.


Risk Legacy’s story is built entirely by the players. The designer brilliantly crafted plot points, laid the foundation, then put it on the players to enjoy it and experience it. YOU are the characters and villains. In the game, when specified events take place, you crack open envelopes that permanently change the world and introduce new mechanics and scenarios. Little fiction is presented in the traditional sense, but it wholeheartedly embraces the notion that the game is an interactive experience and instead of telling you the story, you are the story.

Mice and Mystics is probably the most traditional example of game storytelling out of these three. You control characters who are a part of the story and move through a predetermined narrative path. Now, being great designers, Plaid Hat fills the story with opportunities for variance. You’ll fight different enemies, the dice will cause you to fail dramatically or succeed decisively. You’ll alter the makeup of your adventuring party. My favorite, is that you’ll have epic boss fights, like the appearance of Brodie the cat, or be given side-path opportunities within the mission.


You can see the score sheets and mission trees for Memoir.

Memoir ’44 is an interesting hybrid of pre-determined narrative structure and mechanical variance. The game is historically based, but the historical scenarios could be swapped with the fictional stories of Mice and Mystics. Where Memoir is most interesting is that, like Risk, there is persistence between your missions. Mice and Mystics is largely binary: you move forward or you don’t. In Memoir, your performance will dictate the next scenario in how many extra units you can bring forth, as well as your need to gain more points (play riskily and aggressively) or play it slowly (more conservatively).

For Blockade, I seek to merge a bit of a mix of Mice and Mystics’ narrative style and optional objectives with Memoir’s streamlined, persistent progression. As much as I love Risk, I want to be a bit more heavy handed with my narrative AND avoid the “one time use” component issue (which didn’t bother me as a consumer, for what it’s worth).

Here are the details and style choices I’m working with so far.

  • I will create nameless main characters who have ranks (to recognize them), but no gender or names. My hope is that YOU feel it’s YOUR story.
  • The point of view may alter between sides. Sometimes it’ll be from the perspective of the Martian player, others the Terran player. And perhaps, even other characters, like members of the Jovian Confederation and so forth.
  • Other characters in the game WILL have names. I will try to make you care about them so that if I kill them (from your actions), it means something.
  • Every mission will be designed to be played by two players squaring off, or 2 teams of 2 players. In some cases, I may alter the tuning to be more fun for more players (typically just more Units to control).
  • There will be (hopefully) 2 main campaigns. Each campaign will feature a series of 3-4 short stories, which will be 3-4 scenarios apiece.
  • I intend to design more campaigns over time. Even better, I’d love to work with a community to do so as well (wishful thinking?).
  • When you play a campaign, you will play the designed missions in order.
  • Players can play these short stories individually or full campaigns that tie them all together.
  • Your decisions and performance in previous mission will alter these missions. So, you start with Mission 1, then you’ll play Mission 2a or 2b, then play Mission 3a or 3b or 3c, and so forth.
  • Variations can be pre-defined (you get this many ships because you won) or varied (roll this many dice, for every direct hit, add a gun emplacement to the map). My design goal is to reward you for your successes and add reasons to replay the scenarios. Note I don’t intend to have a runaway leader issue.
  • The scenarios will be made available in a PDF or, depending on manufacturing options, in a book. Players will scan/copy the pages and mark them up to log progress and info as it’ll factor into the campaign.
  • Scenarios will vary gameplay by altering fleet compositions and starting positions, objectives, environmental affects (asteroids blocking sections, hitting ships, nebula scrambling radars), new objects (merchant ships, a ship to salvage or capture, defense platforms, star bases).
  • I’ll be using games like Starcraft and TIE Fighter as inspirations to alter the scenarios in tiny ways. The game will still revolve around blowing up enemy ships, but with simple twists.
  • Setup time will be quick. Place these ships. Place this small handful of environmental things. GO.


I previously sought to create an incredibly open, varied, choose your own adventure style campaign. Unfortunately, this just wasn’t very feasible for a variety of reasons. I wrote the first three missions, which I’ll now edit and modify to work with the new direction. If you want to read them, with the understanding they are works in progress, feel free to do so here!

Read the Current Campaign

Thoughts? Concerns? Questions?

2 thoughts on “Blockade’s Story Development

  1. This is a great idea, and I’d love to see more designers take on the challenge to bring narrative structures to their games!

    Overall I think your implementation is fine, although the one point I’d argue is that the nameless player character trope doesn’t work so well for immersion in a predefined narrative. In games with emergent gameplay or social structures, roles are more important than character, but as soon as you add authorial intent to your narrative, a written playable character is a lot easier for the player to latch on to and care about.

    The example I’d use for this is Arkham Horror, wherein they could have quite easily left the character sheets as roles (“The Professor”, “The Scientist”, etc.). Instead they are fully developed characters, of which certain subcultures of players now write their own fan fic based on their gaming sessions.

    I haven’t (yet) played Mice & Mystics, but my understanding is that the characters are designed and written as well.

    Compare this to a game like Forbidden Island, which embraces the concepts of roles, but doesn’t attach character to them. The game has a gorgeous theme with lush illustrations that creates a very tense atmosphere ripe for some juicy storytelling, but no one gives two diddly-squats about filling the shoes of their character – you’re only playing a role, an ability that differentiates you from the other players.

    • Well, the Forbidden Island comparison is a bit strange as I’m not giving you a generic role, but a character in the narrative.

      The thing I’m trying to get across is that YOU are in the story. The other thing is that I don’t want to write a male lead, then female players are turned off. Or write a female lead, then male players are turned off.

      I think you make fantastic arguments and honestly, I may have to give them names and fully flesh them out. This is new territory for me and I’ll definitely need some iteration.

      One thing I might do, which worked well for Bioware with Mass Effect, is give the character a last name, but no first name. This way, the narrative works for Admiral , who can be a man or woman, etc. I give you the frame, you fill in the rest.


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