A 1-on-1 space combat strategy game with a whole lotta dice.
Intergalactic Rescue Squad is a Game Design 1 final project, the result of 4 weeks of work. We wanted to make a game that has the dice mechanics and lightheartedness of King of Tokyo but with more strategic decision making. Each face on the dice represents an action, either attack, move, reinforce, or mine. Players simultaneously assign actions to their pilots behind a screen, before then revealing them and playing them out on the board one by one, having to adapt their tactics on the fly.
My role in the 5-person team was mainly the design of game mechanics, managing playtesting sessions, and writing the game’s rules.
The game was featured at the NYU Game Center End of Year Student Show and at Indiecade East 2015.
Design Process statement:
For our final project, we wanted to take the dice system of King of Tokyo, taking actions based on rolling a lot of dice, and create a more strategic game with those mechanics, with more meaningful choices and less luck. We were also looking to create a game set in space, but that had the same lighthearted feel of King of Tokyo. Because of that, we wanted to spend a good amount of time on aesthetics to really emphasize the humorous, cartoony tone of the game, compared to the more hardcore, gritty, science fiction board games on the market.
There were elements that were settled on early in the process, and have been in every iteration of the game. These are having unique ships with their own roles and abilities in a team, hexagonal spaces on the board, asteroids that players have to mine resources from and bring back to their mothership, a lot of dice, and a “battle screen” blocking the other player’s actions from view until both players decided on their actions. Originally, the goal of the game was simply to bring a certain number of resources to your mothership.
We playtested the game numerous times, and ran into a wide variety of issues that we had to fix. The first set of problems were related to dice. We initially used regular 6-sided dice to determine actions, with the ship the player places the dice on deciding the nature of the action, and the number rolled determining the strength of the action. Once the screen was removed between the two players, there was a huge amount of info to process. In addition, re-rolling the dice was not a strategic decision but a necessity, as rolling a 3 was always better than rolling a 1, and a 5 was better than both of those. A second issue was the position of the motherships on the board. They used to be placed at both ends, with each player’s mothership on their own side. This led to players rarely engaging in combat, turning the game into a simple race.
The way we went about solving those issues is by creating easy-to-grasp custom images on the dice, each representing an action, and allowing all ships to use the actions in a similar way. The differences between the ships would not come from the dice, but abilities and “free actions” separate from them. By removing the varying strength of an action, we reduced luck and emphasized creating different tactics based on the actions a player got. With regards to the motherships, we placed them in the middle of the board, with each player’s mothership being on the opponent’s side. This made conflict almost inevitable, as it was difficult to get to a player’s mothership without running into opposition. We added simple respawning to fix the issue of games snowballing in one person’s favor, and we went through several iterations tweaking the different ships to find the right balance between them, as some would feel useless while others would end up overpowered or outright broken. One of the last problems we found out about was that the victory condition was closely tied with rolling a specific action. Losing a one hour long strategy game because of one unlucky roll is a terrible feeling, and we changed the mechanic from having to roll a “charge” action to fill up the mothership, to being able to use any face to do it. This way, when a player had actions they didn’t want to take, they could place them in the mothership to get a small step closer to victory.
The final change we made to the game was adding action cards to add variety to the game, and give players access to interesting combinations of actions. Action cards were in discussion from the very beginning, but we decided not to implement them until the core gameplay was polished and had no fundamental problems. Having come up with the game’s basic ideas very early on, we managed to get a lot of playtesting done. Playtesters were enjoying our hour-long game. At first we tried to make changes to reduce the length (we were aiming for 30-45 minutes), but then decided against this, especially since playtesters did not seem bothered by the length and remained engaged throughout. We realized by accident during one of our playtests that removing asteroids that have been mined really speeds up the game as it goes on, as the board would gradually open up. This is why it takes half an hour for the first shot at the opposing mothership, and an average of 4 shots happening in the second half hour.
In the end, we managed to create the game we set out to make: A tense, competitive, tactical game, in space, with good-looking characters and components, and a whole lot of dice. There are some things we could still improve, such as the awkwardness of moving so many components on the table and better ways to remind players of smaller details and rules, but all in all we’ve created something we’re proud of and we’re positive players will enjoy.
Intergalactic Rescue Squad
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