Renegade began life in early 2011. Yes, I know, nearly 4 years ago. But oh, it has come a long way since then !
In 2011 it wasn’t a game about hacking in a cyberpunk future. No it was about hacking with sword and horse in dark ages England. Why the big leap ? We’ll come to that shortly…
One of the biggest lessons to learn, or perhaps hurdle to overcome, is throwing away lots of hard work. But I can tell you there is a lot of hard work in the bin. Well, I fished some of it out and put it away in a drawer, because there is still an Anglo-Saxons game in me wrestling to get out!
The evolution was actually simpler than you might imagine. I’ll tell you about the development of the game mechanics in a moment, but the short answer to the theme change is “because the publisher asked for it.” That’s right. When it comes to developing your game, expect your beautiful and cherished design to get pulled apart and put back together to make it more appealing to the market.
There is a market for medieval, but there is a bigger gap in the market for cyberpunk-hacker. And it worked. There were many challenges with the re-theme, primarily because the game started life with theme-first / mechanics second. That’s how I like to approach it. I know what I want my game to be about and then the mechanisms that drive home the theme come along.
So, for example, my starting remit was “Briton, through the dark ages from 410-1066 AD”. And now we develop the design.
England, at the time, was divided into a heptarchy – seven kingdoms. There was no England. England was born from these seven kingdoms and the struggles of their kings to expand their influence and unite the heptarchy into a single dominion.
During the re-theme those seven kingdoms became five, and a kingdom instead become a computer Server. Each kingdom was divided into 3 to 6 regions. These regions became the 6 partitions we see now on the 5 servers in Renegade. Those numbers became important to me. They gave me a baseline to work to, and a way to scale the game, not just for the sake of game-play, but also for the sake of economics. What you’ll find is that when I designed the Anglo-Saxon game, the number 7 came out as a common denominator: 7 kingdoms, 28 regions, 49 britons, 7 game phases. The game ended up being called “Seofan”, Anglo-Saxon for “seven”. You can still find it on BGG, and a vassal module was created for it if you want to play. In Renegade the common denominator is five: 5 servers, 25 sparks, 15 command cards, 5 installations of 5 different types, 1-4 players (!) – shoot ! Well, there’s room for a 5th player expansion…
But the Anglo-Saxon game had problems. Number one, it was long. Six hours to play ?! It was an egotistic project that would never see production.
So, in came the knife, and I started to slash and dice and take away everything that drove the game to take a long time without giving a lot to the game experience. The worse part was a deck of 60 “event” cards, which I had invested hours/days/weeks in research so that the game told the story of 600 years of English history. I’m taking away the back-bone of the game!
The game, I always knew, had to be playable solitaire or co-operatively, with no traitor element, no semi-co-op. This is the area I want to play in, so it makes sense to design something you’re going to want to play yourself, right ? I wanted to incorporate mechanisms I enjoy from other games: push-your-luck, hand-management, deck-building, area-control, action-point systems. But I wanted to combine them in a new way. In 2011 it really did feel like a new way ! My game wasn’t going to be all euro, or all thematic. It wasn’t going to fit into an existing genre. It wasn’t going to be just another average game. I wanted it to be new. I wanted it to be unlike anything else. I wanted it to be something I’d want to keep in my collection. I hope that’s where we have ended up. It feels like the game I wanted it to be, so I’m still feeling positive. Better than that, I still want to get it on the table and played! I hope you will too.
So, for example, how do I approach the deck-building mechanic and make it feel different ? Well, let’s make sure that when we get new cards they don’t go to a discard pile, let’s make them available straight away in your hand. Nice. Tick to the one thing I wanted from a deck-builder. (I know other games have since done this, but hey, I was putting this together 4 years ago). Next, I don’t want all that shuffling. Let’s not start with a small deck and make it bigger, then have to work to cut away the chaff from it. Let’s stick with a fixed deck of 20 cards (soon to become 15 as the streamlining knife got to work!) that you can swap cards in and out of, so it’s always 20 cards. A fixed deck meant I knew, as the designer, how many rounds it would take to get through the day, and I could better control game length and flow. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere !
Now we have a deck, what does that deck do for you ? It gives you the power to influence the board ! I found a winning combination. Yes, I know, other games have done this since…. Trains was one of the first, then I saw Asgard’s Chosen, and I’m sure there have been more. It’s funny how designers tend to come up with the same ideas at the same time. Another thing to get used to as a designer: whatever you think of , there’s a good chance someone else is thinking it too! But, as we stand, fingers crossed, Renegade has still put a combination of mechanisms together in such a way that we have not seen before.
So to the board. It started life as a map of England, with the seven kingdoms. We saw event cards driving events that placed our enemies and had them causing uprisings ; Britons and invading Vikings who we were fighting to gain [area] control of the towns in those kingdoms.
The Britons are now “sparks”, the computer’s countermeasures. They still feel like little armies, but oh, they are so much more threatening as Renegade Countermeasures than they were as farming, trading, preaching Britons. Now they are driven by AI, they clump together, they spread out, they swarm, they flood, they attack and explode.
And now we hit the re-theme challenges. Many of the mechanisms from the Anglo-Saxons game were driven by the theme. They just didn’t make sense anymore. The enemy units had to behave in this way, because “vikings invaded from the sea” or “oppression leads to uprisings”. And so the mechanisms we see in Renegade today are but a faint shadow of what they were in the Anglo-Saxon game. Viruses have to infect, deceptive attacks have to alter behaviours, cognitive attacks have to seek to influence & control, information has to allow you to access systems more easily. These thematic changes drove the mechanism changes that give us the list of actions and contaminants we can use today (or possibly late 2015!) as renegade hackers.
But this was only the start. We were crafting ideas and mechanisms, but we need the game to have structure, winning conditions, losing conditions; we had to take away, alter, streamline, adapt to make it feel like we, as players, are actually hackers, solving a problem and fighting an intelligent enemy.
Next time I’ll talk more about how the re-theme made the game, and how I approached some of the problems board game designing throws at you….