NaGaDeMon 2012: Gods & Champions Part 4: Actual playtesting

Previous postsPart 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

As National Game Design Month (NaGaDeMon) rolls on, I’m working on a new board game, Gods & Champions. Each player gets to be a God, acting through a Champion to claim Followers. The God with the most Followers at the end of three Ages wins the game.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent more of my game development time on the expansion to Chaos & Alchemy and less on Gods & Champions, but I haven’t totally abandoned my game development. As a matter of fact, I had a fantastically helpful playtesting session this past Sunday with some new friends.

Current state of the rules

Here’s the way things work right now:

  • Each player randomly gets a secret God card, which they can either keep secret throughout the game and reveal at the end for bonus points, or reveal at any point to activate the God’s ability, giving up the bonus points. (I haven’t actually played with the God cards at all so far; I want to make sure the Champions work first).
  • Each player gets a face-up Champion card, most likely through some type of opening hand size bidding mechanism (still under development – for now, initial Champion assignment is random).
  • In the first Age of the game, five Follower tokens per player (so, 15 tokens in a three-player game) are put on the board. (I’m currently using white poker chips for Followers.) The Age will end when all of the Followers are gone. (I’ve also experimented with rules that give everyone three turns per Age and rules that let you keep claiming Followers after the pool is empty until everyone has had an equal number of turns, but I find it more interesting to deal with the fixed pool of Followers).
  • After each Age, the player who claimed the most Followers in that Age gets some bonus Followers. Then there is a re-draft of Champions, starting with the player in last place.
  • The Second Age cards are shuffled into the deck at the beginning of the second Age,  and the Third Age cards are introduced at the start of the third Age. (I’m also experimenting with entirely replacing the prior Age’s cards rather than shuffling them together.)
  • The second Age has 10 Followers per player available, and the third Age has 15 per player (this might end up at 20 per player). Each Age awards bonus Followers to the winner of the Age, and is followed by a re-draft of Champions.
  • The Champions are worth points at the end of the game (rules still under development; it will probably be based on the total value of Blessings on the Champion).
  • There are some Quest cards available that your God can claim if certain circumstances are met. (I haven’t playtested these at all yet; they’ll probably be an advanced rules module for later.)

These rules are still a bit in flux, but I’m getting close here. Of course, the big question is, what do you do on your turn?

Turn order

  1. Receive 2 Power (currently represented by red poker chips) from the bank. In the second Age, this increases to 3 Power. In the third Age,  it’s 4 Power.
  2. Use each ability of your Champion once (skipping any abilities you don’t wish to use), in any order you like.
  3. Claim 1 card from the board. You can either take the card in the free slot, pay 1 Power for the card in the 1-power-slot, pay 2 Power for the card in the 2-power-slot slot, or pay 1 Power to draw a random card from the deck. The cards then get cheaper (shift them down one space, discarding the free-slot card if a card was drawn from the deck) and a new card shows up in the 2-power-slot.
  4. Play any number of cards from your hand, paying the Power cost for each card. Most of these are Blessings that give your Champion new abilities for future turns, but there are also Miracles that have one-shot effects on the board right away.

In addition, there are two things that you can do at any time on your turn, as often as you wish:

  • Discard two cards to gain 1 Power
  • Pay 2 Power to claim 1 Follower

When it comes to Champions, they each have three slots for Blessings. If you want to replace an old Blessing with a new one, you can essentially “sell” the old Blessing for half its original cost (probably rounded down, but I’m experimenting with rounding up, too) and pay the difference for the new one. You can’t downgrade a Blessing to a less expensive card in order to downgrade your Champion near the end of an Age (since someone else might get that Champion for the next Age).

Open issues

The game is actually fun right now, largely thanks to the theme (it’s fun to be a God – who knew?). The mechanics are okay, but there are ares for improvement:

  • Some of the cards, especially the later Age cards, are out of whack in cost compared to their power level (too cheap or too expensive). This is pretty easy to tweak.
  • A lot of my cards don’t have names yet. Not that hard to fix, but the flavor is going to be really important in this game, so I have to do a good job here.
  • The whole business of re-drafting Champions each Age is what I originally wanted to explore but, as I feared, it might not be that much fun in the end. If I ditch it, I’ll need a new catch-up mechanic.
  • Card selection is currently not that important. If you have five cards in your hand, you don’t much care what most of them do, since you’re only going to be playing one or two each turn. The rest will be discarded for Power. This is a problem. It might be solvable by letting you do other things with cards in hand (perhaps you can discard them for more Power if they’re more expensive). Alternatively, I might make it so that you just don’t get all that many cards, though I like having the exchanges between the three currencies (cards, Power, Followers).

Next steps

From here, I’m hoping to find time for some more rules tweaking this week, followed by more playtesting later in the week. I don’t know that the game will be “finished” by the end of November, but I think I can at least put something playable up here on the blog by December 1. I’ll continue working on it from there, but I think I should be able to declare at least a partial victory on NaGaDeMon 2012 by the end of the week.

-Michael the OnlineDM

NaGaDeMon 2012: Gods & Champions Part 3: Solo playtesting

Previous posts: Part 1 / Part 2

As National Game Design Month (NaGaDeMon) rolls on, I’m continuing to work on my new board game idea, Gods & Champions.

Quick recap: Gods & Champions is mainly a card game. Each player represents an ancient God, and the Gods act through their Champions to claim Followers and ultimately win the game. At the end of each Age of the game, the Champions can change allegiance via a drafting mechanic. This means that the Gods want to invest cards to build up their Champions, but it’s possible that a different God may claim that Champion in a later round, thus introducing tension. This is what I want to explore via the game design process – can this tension be fun?

Trying it out

Last time, I talked about the Blessing cards that you can play to improve your Champion. I got some great feedback from readers – thank you for that! I made a few tweaks, but I realized that I had no idea how good or bad various cards would be until I actually played with them. At the same time, I didn’t feel like the game was even close to being ready to try out with another person, not even my wife.

Solution: Solo playtesting!

I printed out the cards, sleeved them with Magic cards and tried things out with just myself. I played two different Gods, each with its own Champion. Right from the start, I found myself tweaking things.

It’s hard to see how much fun a game is when you play alone, but you can see if it’s completely broken or not. Gods & Champions in its initial form was indeed completely broken. It just didn’t work. Fifteen minutes of actually playing with the cards revealed what sitting in front of my computer could not.

It can be fixed

Fortunately, solutions to the problems suggested themselves quickly.

First, the Champions were completely unbalanced in their initial forms. Some of them were great and some of them were worthless. A varying power level is okay, but I don’t ever want a situation where one of the Champions just feels terrible to have. I could adjust this easily enough.

Second, it was clear that I was going to need way more cards, and more variety in them. The big insight here came from a game that one of my friends had made up in which the available cards would change as you move through the game. In the case of Gods & Champions, there will be a First Age deck, a Second Age deck and a Third Age deck. When you move to a new Age, you shuffle in the new cards (or perhaps completely replace them; I haven’t decided yet).

Third, just drawing cards didn’t present enough interesting decisions, so I added  a “pay to pick” mechanic. (Coincidentally, Daniel Solis was looking for a name for this mechanic on Twitter the day after I added it to my game.) This means that there will be three cards available to choose from when it’s time to “draw” a card. One of them is free, one of them costs 1 Power Point and one of them costs 2 Power Points. I’m also including the option to draw the top card of the deck for 1 Power Point.

Fourth, things were a little too chaotic. The rules I had in mind would have players getting power points, drawing a card, playing cards and using the cards they had on the table, in any order they wished. The problem was that it became messy to remember what I had done and what I hadn’t done if I could do them in any order. I needed an order of phases within the turn, which is currently:

  1. Gain Power Points
  2. Use the cards on the table
  3. Draw one new card
  4. Play cards from hand

I also have a rule that says you can buy a Follower for 2 Power Points at any time, but I might restrict that to phase 4 of the turn.


I learned a lot from a little bit of solo playtesting, and I used that knowledge to make a very different set of cards for my next playtest, which would come Sunday night with my wife. More on that one later!

-Michael the OnlineDM

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NaGaDeMon 2012 Part 2: Gods & Champions Blessings

Previous post: Part 1

As National Game Design Month (NaGaDeMon) rolls on, I’m continuing to work on my new board game idea, Gods & Champions.

Quick recap: Gods & Champions is mainly a card game. Each player represents an ancient God, and the Gods act through their Champions to claim Followers and ultimately win the game. At the end of each Age of the game, the Champions can change allegiance via a drafting mechanic. This means that the Gods want to invest cards to build up their Champions, but it’s possible that a different God may claim that Champion in a later round, thus introducing tension. This is what I want to explore via the game design process – can this tension be fun?

A brief word on mechanics

My current thinking is that players will begin with a God card (which they may keep hidden, a la Lords of Waterdeep) and will draft a Champion at the beginning of the first age. The Champion will come with one ability to do each turn, plus slots for three Blessings to be added.

On a player’s turn, the Champion will receive 2 Power Points (poker chips) and will be allowed to carry out each of the Champion’s actions a single time (the base action plus each Blessing action). Also, a Champion may always spend 1 Power Point to draw a card or 2 Power Points to claim a follower from the pool. Any unused Power Points carry over to future rounds (so a Champion may save up for something big).

The cards in the deck are Blessings and Miracles, and each of them costs a certain number of Power Points to play.

Today’s topic: Blessings

Most of the cards in the game are going to be Blessings that the Gods can bestow upon their Champions, thus giving the Champions more and better abilities. Each card has a Power Point cost to play it, and once they’re on the Champion’s board they can be used for free every turn. This makes Blessings an investment: the cost to play a Blessing that lets you draw one card will typically be higher than the cost of drawing one card directly, since you’ll be able to use the Blessing every turn in the future.

However, there is another, more subtle cost to playing a Blessing to your Champion: That’s one less open Blessing slot. Each Champion can only have three Blessing cards in addition to the base Champion ability. There will be rules for upgrading a Blessing to a better one, but I’ll get into that later.

I definitely want there to be Blessings that cost more than 2 Power Points, which means that you’ll only be able to play them if you save up over multiple turns or if your Champion has ways of getting extra Power Points. However, I also want there to be some Blessings that cost just 1 or 2 Power Points (or possibly even zero), thus creating some interesting tension between getting a lesser Blessing on your Champion immediately and saving up for a better Blessing later.

Below are some ideas for Blessing cards. I haven’t designed any super-expensive Blessings yet; this batch tops out at a cost of 4 Power Points (the number in the upper right corner is the cost). I could definitely see a cost of 5, but I don’t know that I want to go beyond that. I haven’t playtested any of this yet, and I’m sure that will be what determines the way to cost these things.


My hope is that Champions will be able to build up engines via combinations of Blessings and the inherent Champion abilities. One Blessing lets you draw more cards; another lets you turn cards into extra Power Points; a third lets you turn Power Points into more Followers. You basically have these three currencies in the game (cards, Power Points and Followers) and  I like games that let you change one resource into another at better exchange rates as a way to move toward victory.

What do you think?

Now that you can see a little bit of how the game is shaping up, what are your thoughts? What’s fun or unfun about Gods & Champions so far? Where might I be missing something that needs attention early on?

I have to admit that I’m excited to get to the point of actually trying this idea out! Maybe this weekend.

-Michael the OnlineDM