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Designer Diary: Attacking in Relic Knights

Designer Diary: Attacking in Relic Knights

Designer Diary:

Attacking in Relic Knights

The most important mechanic in any miniatures game is how attacks are resolved because they are inherently combat-driven games. So getting the attacks right in Relic Knights: 2nd edition was incredibly important to us. Of course, we started by looking at how Relic Knights first edition did things.

Relic Knights uses cards instead of dice to resolve actions. The deck is unique to Relic Knights, and each card has esper of a certain color on it. In first edition, when a unit took an action, you would play cards from your hand in order to meet the action’s cost and then the action would happen. If you couldn’t afford to pay for a unit’s actions, then you could choose to do nothing and gain a held esper — effectively a wildcard to be used on another turn. This meant that attacks in the game had no randomization. If you had the proper cards, you knew your attacks would hit. And if you didn’t, you would essentially skip that unit’s action. While this made the game feel more strategic and chess-like, it could also make the game feel stagnant and predetermined. There were no exciting moments where you got a lucky hit, and you could often calculate out who would win long before the game ended.

When we did Relic Knights 1.5, we attempted to solve the problem of the winner feeling predetermined by making scoring victory points random. You would complete your objective and then flip to see if you scored. This kept players on the edge of their seat until the game was over. However, many players felt the randomness was in the wrong place. Players felt that, once they had done the work of accomplishing their objectives, they should just get their victory points.

We knew we needed some degree of randomness to create tension and to put players in situations they couldn’t predict so that they would have to think on their feet a bit. Finally, we determined that the best place for randomness was on the attack actions themselves. In second edition, when a unit attacks, you flip a number of cards from the top of your deck depending on that unit’s skill (the better it is in combat, the more cards it gets to flip) and it must pay for the esper cost of the action it is attempting from the randomly flipped cards. You may still pay for the action from the cards in your hand if you can’t pay for it from the cards flipped. In this way, there is a healthy dose of randomness. You can try for a big attack and risk missing, so your unit never spends a turn doing nothing other than building held esper. But you have a hand of cards to make sure that the really important attacks succeed. Of course, the cards in your hand are limited and you need to be careful where you spend them, so Relic Knights has some fun and tense resource management.

We still felt that there was a bit too much predetermination in the game, even when you flipped to pay for actions. Each attack did a set amount of damage, and the defender’s armor reduced a set amount of damage. Damage was never randomized, so if you hit, you always knew the exact result. So we also changed up how armor worked. In 2nd edition, when a unit takes damage, it flips a number of cards equal to its armor value and reduces the damage by one for each point of the appropriate esper type it flips. In this way, there is still some uncertainty, even when you are holding all the cards in your hand to make your big attack hit.

It was clear that Relic Knights first edition needed some form of randomness. However, when we updated it to 1.5, we put the randomness in the wrong place. Now in 2nd edition, rather than a unit sitting on an objective and hoping it can flip the proper cards to score, the unit sits on the objective and hopes it can flip the proper cards for its armor value in order to survive the incoming attacks it will surely receive! This gives both players an active role in every point scored, with the aggressor trying to get to the objectives and the defender hoping he or she can beat them back. In this way, Relic Knights is tense and thrilling to the very last victory point!

Relic Knights is returning with a brand new edition!

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