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Rise of Vigil – Developer’s Diary

My name is Patrick Sullivan, and the first Ascension set I ever worked on was Chronicle of the Godslayer.  By “worked on”, I mean Justin Gary showed me an extremely alpha version of the game sometime in the mid-2000’s.  It was a house party, and I’d had many drinks prior to Justin showing me his new game.  I didn’t give much feedback beyond “show me this kind of stuff earlier in the evening”, but even with the little I played I knew he was on to something.

The second set I worked on was Rise of Vigil, our newest release.  I was hired by Stone Blade Entertainment on October 1st, 2012, mid-way through the development process for the set.  By this point, the energy mechanic was firmly in place, though many mechanics had been tried in its place prior to my arrival.  Energy presented a bunch of unique opportunities and challenges, and the overall texture of the file went through numerous iterations in the few months I spent working on the set.

Ascension is a deck building game, and deck building games are at their most fun when it feels like you’re building a deck, not accumulating a disparate set of cards.  That’s a huge part of the reason that things like Unite or the synergies between Mechana constructs are so important—when you acquire cards because they fit your specific plan, it adds way more replayability to the experience than just taking the most efficient stuff.  For the sake of complexity and elegance we can’t make every single card say “If you’ve played another Void hero this turn,” but the more we can make the experience about synergies, the better.

Energy isn’t explicitly synergistic in the way that, say, Avatar Golem and Cog Maw are, but it accomplishes a lot of the same goals.  The amount of energy that appears in a given game varies, as does the energy enablTablet-of-the-Dreamerers, and which individual cards appear in the center row with energy under them.  The cumulative result of all of this variation is that the cards you choose to acquire or defeat changes a lot from each game.  How powerful is Tablet of the Dreamer, which allows you to acquire or defeat a card each turn if you hit its energize threshold?  Obviously, that’s impossible to answer in the abstract; it depends very much on the amount of energy you have, the amount of energy you anticipate having as the game progresses, and your opponent’s ability to utilize the card.  Are you willing to acquire or defeat a lesser card because it has some energy under it, or do you take something with more immediate upside?  These valuations occur all the time, and since the answer is different each time, Rise of Vigil has an extremely high amount of replayability.

Energy also increases the amount of cards drawn per turn.  This sounds obvious, but there are some implications to having a bunch of Arha Initiates in everyone’s decks.  The first is turn duration.  The problem here is twofold.  One, turns just take longer when people are drawing a bunch of cards.  The second, more subtle issue is that energy in your hand prevents you from processing the Elder-Skepticnumber of resources you have before your turn starts (this is more of an issue with physical play than online).  This isn’t to say one person playing an Energy Shard creates burdensome turns, but in large amounts it can start making turns and games take a greater-than-ideal amount of time.  This concern was not enough for us to consider cutting energy, but it did influence the types of designs we found tolerable.  For example, we had an Elder Skeptic type of design in the file for a long time that we ultimately ended up cutting.  One reason was the total sum of card drawing in the file due to energy.  Another reason was the discard choice was especially challenging when you were drawing energy shards, meaning you didn’t have full information on the resources you might have when you had to choose what to discard.  This is a good example of a design that’s simple and easy to process in many sets, but with energy the design was unpalatable.

Another challenge we identified was people getting frozen out of energy.  Sometimes, a player just doesn’t get their hands on any energy throughout the course of the game.  Since most of the fun stuff is predicated onEnergy-Shard-STARTING getting at least some energy, this could lead to some unpleasant games.  The frequency that this happened was fairly low, but it happened enough that it was identified as a potential issue.  We tried messing around with the amount of energy in the center deck, but this didn’t necessarily solve the problem and added to the game duration concerns.  Justin had a fairly last minute idea of adding an Energy Shard to everyone’s starting deck, and after playing with it some we decided to go to print with it.  It takes a little getting used to playing with a new starting deck, but it ensures no one is ever totally locked out of getting energy.  These are both fairly minor trade-offs, but if nothing else I think it’s cool to switch up the starting decks a little bit.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up being tool we use for future expansions in different ways.

For all the conversations, and even arguments, that went into creating Rise of Vigil, I went to work every day pretty excited to play games with the new expansion, and I hope that experience is re-created out in the real world.  Playing the set is full of drama and exciting moments, and I think that’s the core experience that makes playing games fun.  This was the first project I got to contribute to at Stone Blade Entertainment, and I’m really happy with the final result.  Hopefully you’ll find the first and hundredth game of Rise of Vigil as fun to play as I did.

 

2 Comments

  1. flamejuggler on said:

    would love to hear about how some non-energy aspects of the set were arrived at.

    in particular, the strength of anti-construct monsters combined with a very limited amount of “banish” cards and zero monsters that banish seems a deliberate choice that feels very different than previous sets…

    there are also very very few “do something, draw a card” cantrips compared to old sets. this is clearly due to energy eating up that space, but the fact you cant get small incremental effects that dont cost you a card (other than energy, and occassionaly some VP when an energy card is on top of deck via that life bound card) does make the set play pretty differently than other blocks.

    void is clearly the “we make energy” faction. how was that decided? and how would you characterize lifebound and enlightned as far as their relation to energy? mechana clearly benefit greatly from the mechanic, doing more than ever before when powered up, but often doing nothing…

  2. Sneak on said:

    I’ve played maybe six games and it seems like a fascinating set.

    Flamejuggler, the irregular Monster selection was one of my takeaways as well. Mordant Widow and Protean Sea Slug are both the best variations of the big and small Construct removal monsters we have seen. Rise of Vigil is the set featuring the fewest of these monsters, with only 4 total ways to destroy constructs. Coupled with the lack of banish effects, they don’t come up as often. I haven’t played enough to draw any firm conclusions, but in my games I found that when I wanted to destroy an opposing Construct, I had difficulty due to the increase in the size of these Monsters. I had to make a significant investment into Power in order to kill them and it may very well have been best to just ignore the Monsters. Time will tell.

    It may have been the case that there wasn’t enough room for Monsters that banish and cheap Construct destruction with the inclusion of Serpent Siren and Vault Sphinx. They’re unique since they are the first monsters to offer the same Honor as killing the Cultist an appropriate number of times, but they help alleviate some of the randomness of draws when it comes to Energy.

    Related to the lack of banish effects, my valuation of Truth Seeker has gone way up. The two copies of this Hero are the only cards that can banish in the entire set.

    I am a touch disappointed in Lifebound from a flavor perspective. I liked the “buddy system” theme that the faction has been building since Runic Lycanthrope and Snapdragon in CotG. This is the first set not to have something that benefits from playing a Lifebound hero.

    Lifebound Muse and Righteous Templar (great art!) are fantastic. I was never happy acquiring Arha Templar or Druids of the Stone Circle in the early game… or really at all. Flipping one of them as a Soul Gem often felt like winning a booby prize in Immortal Heroes. I wasn’t convinced it was possible to make a version of these “standalone” Heroes that I liked, but these are excellent. Honorable mention goes to Terrus for making it so I stop getting Apprentices when I defeat the Duke of Lies.

    A minor nitpick that nobody but me pays attention to: Illiya is missing the comma after her name that all other similarly named unique Heroes possess.

    Thanks for your contribution to the set, Patrick. I was delighted when I saw that you joined the Stone Blade team. It made my Kickstarting that much more of a foregone conclusion.

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