ungeon Command is a new miniature combat board game that debuts in July with two faction packs: Heart of Cormyr and Sting of Lolth. In this, the last of four articles looking at the creation of Dungeon Command, designer Chris Dupuis talks about the Dungeon Command public playtest, and how the Vault and Supply systems, turned into the Morale and Leadership that appear in the final version. Be sure to check out articles one, two, and three in the series!
The response from the public playtest of Dungeon Command was great. It gave us some excellent feedback directly from the fans, and we watched the forums regularly, discussing in depth many of the topics you all brought up. Not only that, it helped us answer a lot of logistical questions, answers that are being put to good use in the playtest for D&D Next.
Hit Points Are Key
One thing that changed directly because of feedback was the hit point system. When the playtest went out, we had a system built on increments of 5 HP. It wasn't something that we really focused on; it's just the way the math was built initially. However, many of you pointed out that a 10 HP system would be easier to calculate and assess from the other side of the table, and you were absolutely right. Soon after the playtest began, we tweaked our internal playtest files to be based on increments of 10 HP instead of 5, and that stuck around all the way to the final product.
The playtest version of the Elf Archer and the final version of the Character card.
Vault and Supply
In the comments on the playtest board, many of you remarked that you enjoyed the Vault and Supply systems. However, while fleshing out the actual rulebook here at Wizards, we'd come across a problem with them. While Vault and Supply was set up as a simple tracking and comeback mechanic, we couldn't figure out how we were going to tie them together into a compelling narrative:
Why did I bring a big chunk of my treasury into this random dungeon? Why do I get access to more of my own money when my minions die? If I knew this was going to be a difficult fight, why I didn't just bring more gold to the battle?
One of the main reasons I disliked the Vault and Supply system was the mixed message that it sent. On any given turn, I was killing my opponents' troops thus draining their resources, but those resources immediately became available for them to spend on reinforcements. In our playtests, players spent too many turns thinking that they were better off sitting back and doing nothing—bluffing that they had Immediate actions, rather than leaving their troops in a vulnerable position. I felt that we needed to find a way to obfuscate the fact that killing an opponent's creatures is also overtly giving that opponent fuel to rebuild (because we still wanted the system to serve as a comeback mechanic).
Another negative point for me was that the tokens for gold moved through three different tracking locations throughout the game. The Vault, the Supply, and the Spent areas. We already had plenty of things going on, and I wanted to get rid of the tokens if we could.
Morale Came First
We tried to focus on the flavor of what we were doing as opponents. We were warring commanders, sending our troops out not so much to take control of an area, but more to beat the opposing commander. What better way to defeat an opponent than by breaking the spirits of his or her fighters? So using dwindling morale as the winning condition, instead of a shrinking vault of gold, definitely made more sense. As an added bonus, that gave us a chance to introduce a Cowering mechanic (sacrificing morale to negate damage) later on.
So you started at a certain morale value, and each time a creature died, you lost its level worth of morale. But how would you track what you've already spent on creatures, and how much you have available for more creatures? We needed a way to track what used to be called Supply—the resource (formerly gold) that was available to spend on reinforcements.
The idea for Leadership hit us as we started to look at the set-up rules. We had a problem with having similar starts every game, and we knew we wanted to fix that. The previous rules were really specific: you had to start with up to seven levels worth of creatures, but those creatures couldn't be higher than Level 3. As the game went on, you'd earn 1 gold from the Vault each turn. Combining those two concepts gave us the basis for Leadership, a track that started at 7, and went up by 1 each turn.
Leadership was a quick way to measure how many total creatures you could have on the battlefield at any time. If you lost any creatures in a turn, you'd just look at your current Leadership value, subtract the levels of creatures remaining on the battlefield, and you'd know how many levels worth of new creatures you could deploy. As an added bonus, we started teaching the concept of Leadership during set-up, which is always better than having a core concept that doesn't come into play until the game is underway.
Now, the only problem was that we lost the game's timer. However, we found that we didn't really need it. Storywise, instead of fighting against the clock that was the dwindling gold in your Vault, you were fighting against your opponent to destroy his or her morale. It led to a much more satisfying endgame.
Sometimes we do what's called top-down design (which is where story informs mechanics) and sometimes its bottom-up design (where the mechanics build a story), but I believe a healthy dose of both creates a game that feels flavorful and mechanically unique. With the story that Morale and Leadership told, we finally had a way to make each commander feel unique—varying the scores created an implied personality, which helped to tell what type of leader each Commander is. As the icing on the cake, we added a Commander-specific powers to each one, solidifying that personality.
In the end, I think we created a fun and engaging game, and I hope you all enjoy the game as much as we do.