The Long Journey part 3: Leveling Up Our Design

Today will be a shorter post, I swear! I will go over what drove me to continue and reveal Gordian Layers at more stages in development. Getting through basic military training was by no means easy, but compared to the struggles of trying to be independent with no job? I was being fed and I did not have to worry about where I was going to sleep or if I would have hot water so sure, I can deal with the getting yelled at and told what to do all day.

Every free moment of my time there I spent thinking about Gordian Layers. We had a third person and the ideas were flying! My imagination was unhinged and I would wind up spending more paper creating cards than writing letters to home. I would be marching to this or that and my mind would be wondering through the the Oceans of Geysir or the scrapyards of Nen. I need not explain my life after that point but three major things happened that are relevant to the rest of my story: 1) Me, Jack and Daniel would learn a lot about responsibility and discipline 2) we would find our soulmates. (the love of my life would create one of our most original worlds, Daku) and 3) I would become a father.

I wanted to get off on the right track from the start, so I organized e-conferences at regular intervals as was practical for my partners. Then there was the gameplay. It took a lot of playtesting but I started to understand what felt off about our game:

1) The victory conditions, earning 30 influence or destroying your opponent’s hero, felt uninspired.

2) playing cards in response to one another would get messy but having structured trap card system felt no better. You felt punished for taking risks you could not play around.

3) Drawing up to 8 cards every turn to be used as resource and options created a situation where players were taking a really really long time to read everything.

4) To make matters worse, our cards were getting quite wordy even to explain easy abilities.

Our more unique gameplay elements were strong reasons to continue. Having monster type cards that acted as cheaper but temporary characters you could play in response felt good. Another thing was the one stat for everything approach we were taking and lastly the unwavering dedication to the faction specific abilities that felt distinct from one another and added spice to every game. Not to mention our resource system still felt better than similar systems cropping up in board games. Not only that but our resource to stat ratio was balanced in a very good way, cheap things felt small but big things felt worth the investment without overpowering the swarm strategy.

I would design in my free time and my wife was one of my biggest supporters. It was with her help I would find the answers to some of these problems.

1) Instead of one hero, you would get heroes at set intervals, Locations would be played in-between all players and would be bought with influence

2) It took awhile to address this one, but I ultimately pushed to get rid of the in your face surprises challenge cards offered. (Plus it felt too much like yu-gi-oh) Instead, the game ended up with slightly imperfect information but allows you to answer your opponent in a way that feels fair for both sides.

3) We played around a lot with what felt right and ultimately settled on 3 cards per turn.

4) I came up with an idea that merged the game closer to the casual board game style play; Having keywords that were explained on the back of the rulebook.

My wife even came up with a game mat:


We then took locations out of the decks all together and made them the primary focus of the game, you would shuffle 4 that went with your faction into a deck of 6 basic ones, which was intended to add some predictability in the victory condition. Destroying Heroes no longer guaranteed victory but losing one still felt like a big determining factor in a loss. Snowballing never really slowed until I reluctantly voted for one key design change: we added another stat.

The addition of Charisma allowed us to stop the win more effect of having the one stat. Instead of playing the biggest baddest guy you got you had a choice to play someone smaller who was able to talk better than your opponent! Though spending influence to buy your victory condition still felt as if you were better off killing everything instead of being strategic. This is when we came up with the Diplo-map.


While this was an exciting addition, it added more analysis-paralysis than intended and did not address the problem that losing combat put you further behind than was healthy for the game. We had to settle for only the most used map options to get their own tracks. We finally had something that I felt was close to where we wanted to be. We had to scrap too many ideas to count over the years. The industry just happened to be asking themselves the same questions we were and coming up with the same answers. A prime example, we had an ability called Finesse, which at first was an ability that gave you bonuses whenever you played a gotcha card. This was paralleled in magic the gather with the keyword Prowess (ugh!) that did the same thing for instants and sorceries. We changed the ability to grant you guaranteed bonus influence if it survived combat. This rework did not have enough counterplay in the base game mechanics to be anything other than a win more ability.

What we ended up with is something we could finally be proud of; something unique enough to feel different than any similar game being played and at the same time something that feels impossibly fun with its incredibly simple turn structure. The system is incredibly deep, and I will share some of that depth with you soon…

By: Jonathan Hansen

The story continues in Part 4: The Future for the Game

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