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  • Designer Journal presents the weekly musings and ramblings of GoT designer Eric Lang.

    Past Weeks' Entries:
    A Teaser of Swords 11/12/2004
    Welcome one, welcome all! It’s time to start talking about the next expansion of our wonderful little game, A Tourney of Swords.

    Beginning next week, I’ll be spoiling one card at a time, just like before, hoping to shed some light on many of the different themes we’re exploring in this set. From the very title of this expansion, I’m sure many of you have figured out what we’re talking about. Knights and tourneys. The glory days of contest, combat and reward … and all of the neat stuff that accompanies it.

    If you’re into the whole Knight thing, you’ll love this set to death. If you’re not, you’ll still enjoy the really powerful cards that expand upon a surprising breadth of deck types. We’re also going to have some fun with challenges, and expand on the “attachments” part of the Valyrian block design document. You’ll see what I mean.

    The design statement for ATOS is: Knights, Challenges, and Attachments.

    And the card you’re looking at is a small part of the “Knights” portion of said statement. It was originally going to show up in VED, but it was pretty obvious that it would be much more interesting after ATOS introduced a whole ton of new Knights to the scene.

    Backstory: Theme’s the Thing …
    Here’s an interesting tidbit: the original concept for this set was something I was playing around with way back during Westeros edition development. At that time, I was thinking about all the different themes we could explore with this game, and how long it would take before we “ran out of ideas” and would have to start cheating. Even then I had conceptualized this neat set about knights, tourneys and all the glorious wretched excess that would accompany. I may be wrong, but somewhere in my old design files I’m fairly sure I even called it “A Tourney of Swords.”

    But the set needed a reason to be. It needed to fit in with the block. And what could be more romantic than tourney season? Once I had solidified the thematic idea behind the Valyrian block, this set was a perfect fit. I also knew that we’d need to take a break from doing the “X matters” expansions in order to avoid falling into a predictable pattern. Hence, the theme set.

    ATOS is the first set that is driven entirely from the top down; that is, I came up with the theme first and designed every major mechanic in the set to match the theme. Top-down design is a very dangerous thing, as “real Westeros” only imitates game theory to a point, and if we adhered too closely to theme, we’d end up with a scripted game that would end up either ultimately unsatisfying (“play the books or DIE!”) or a random mishmash of completely unrelated but vaguely interesting effects (which would only become interesting when played out just like the stories – because good stories are not nearly as interesting when told any other way). And, in the opinion of your humble scribe, scripted games suck.

    Top-down design is, on the one hand, the easiest type of design to do. Simulating real life using game mechanics is so simple I could do it in my sleep. On the other hand, developing top-down design – making sure it plays well as a game as well as adhering to a theme – is the most difficult kind. There’s a lot of tension between real world simulation and the meritocratic ritual of game play. So for this set, there were actually two development periods: my original design (which is barely recognizable), my own first draft of development (which is very close to what you’ll see in the boosters) and the Casey/playtesting final (which is exactly what you’ll see in the boosters). On the gripping hand, when both design and development for a top-down set come together, the result is something fun and rewarding. ATOS is a slightly different kind of set, but not too different that you won’t enjoy it (especially paired up with VED!).

    Lemme tell ya, my first draft design would have made the Neds sing with glee … until they actually tried playing with the cards. My initial development had me redesigning the entire thing three times, each time keeping the theme intact, while removing one layer of “hard simulation” (that’s the kind where the card does exactly what it would do in the books, nothing more, nothing less. Yuck!). When I was done with the set, I handed it over to Casey (this is his first development work for GOT, by the way!) to make sure there was enough in there for non-Neds to enjoy.

    I think we succeeded in spades. Hopefully ATOS will be known as the “fun set,” with the Jaimes of the world proclaiming, “Hey, they finally made the and themes matter in tournament play!”

    (As an aside: I did in fact determine exactly when we’d run out of ideas and need to start cheating. Assuming George never wrote another Song of Ice and Fire novel, we’d probably start stretching the boundaries in the fall of 2010. Now, the question you’ve got to be asking yourself is: “Is the man kidding?”)

    Knights of the Realm
    There isn’t a huge amount I can say about this card. One thing you’ll notice right away is that it’s different from the VED agendas in design style. Where the original four agendas gave you a straight-up boost in exchange for a five power penalty, this one you can stick on to any House that wants to race quickly for power, and worry only about its game state effect.

    And it’s a really simple one: have more Knights, get more cards. Have fewer, get fewer. This agenda does technically charge you a “deckbuilding fee” for playing it (you obviously want to play with a lot of Knights in your deck to really capitalize on the advantage and avoid the drawback), but that’s a small price to pay for the built-in advantage. Just wait until you see it in action.

    Tease, Tease, Tease!
    So now you’ve seen the agenda, and are looking forward to some actual spoilers in the coming weeks. But first, the obligatory teasers. Check this out:

    • Three new unique Baratheon characters with the “Rainbow Guard” trait.
    • A new set of Kingsguard. Hey, you knew they were coming, right?
    • A new version of Thoros of Myr with the “Brotherhood” trait. Imagine that!
    • A hugely powerful new cycle of events that ties into the influence “tug-of-war.”
    • Another agenda, this one also not requiring 5 extra power to win!

      That’s it for this week! From here on in, we’re actually talking spoilers. I can’t wait.

      Join me next time, when we have some fun with challenges.