In this final look at the creation process of LEVEL 7 [INVASION], we focus on the rules for the Hydra invaders and how humanity fights to save Earth.
One of the fundamental building blocks of INVASION that we were sure about from the beginning was that the players work together to win the game. We wanted to create another semi-cooperative game in the LEVEL 7 setting, and we knew this game would require much more cooperation than LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE]. To achieve this, the Hydra needed to be controlled by the rules of the game, and this system had to be one of the first things designed so we would know what humanity was up against.
As I mentioned previously, we also knew we wanted to produce a game using a lot of miniatures to portray the battle for Earth. Once I had a working prototype of the map at a size close to what we thought we wanted, I dug around in the playtest supplies for as many red glass beads as I could find. As I pushed beads around on the map, the way the Hydra forces worked came together in my head.
The way invader units get spread around the board follows set rules, but I wanted the spawning of the units to be unpredictable. So, I created a deck of cards that listed where each invader unit spawned. Once I had these cards, I decided they should also be used for something else, and the event deck as it exists in the final game began to take shape.
In addition to marching troops across the planet, we also wanted the Hydra to bomb cities and target food-producing regions. The event cards were a perfect place to incorporate this concept. As we playtested the first prototype, I noticed the number of player choices was a little too low in the latter half of the round, so I decided to use the event cards to add more choices. This also presented an opportunity to force players to make decisions that might not be best for the group, reinforcing the semi-cooperative aspects of the game we were aiming for. The first draft of the event cards with choices worked very well, and this didn’t change very much once the game was finished.
The biggest change between what I first imagined and how the game looks today is the drop ship mechanic. Initially I was convinced that the invaders establishing beachheads on the planet and spreading from there would work. I had a system for only spawning invaders in the three dead zones I talked about in the first entry in this series.
One of the biggest hurdles you can encounter when designing a game is being too close to it to see when something should be dropped in favor of a different idea. The rules for spreading Hydra from the three dead zones got very complicated in the first few weeks of design because they were not working the way I wanted them to. The war wasn’t fluid enough, and there were too many territories that felt too safe. I was beginning to get the feeling another system would work better. but I wasn’t ready to give up on what I had yet. During the next week, at least two conversations came up after playtests in which different people brought up the idea of drop ships. I had also begun thinking in that direction because I wanted the warfronts to shift more. After I heard it from multiple people who had played the game, I decided drop ships were the way to go.
Now we had a good way for the Hydra forces to populate the world, but how players would fight them went through a few more revisions before I was happy with the system. All I knew when I began designing the game was that I wanted to create a unique combat system and that the Hydra should begin the game with a military advantage over the humans.
I started out with the simple idea that the level of Hydra military power begins the game higher than the coalition’s military power. Then I incorporated ways for both sides to increase their respective military strength. The technology cards were an obvious place to put the coalition power upgrades, and I also already knew the Hydra would be upgraded during the game with the Adaptation deck. Next I had to create a combat resolution mechanic that used those power values.
I’m a big fan of custom dice. As other aspects of the game came together, it became obvious that dice rolls would be instrumental in many of those aspects. It was also a design goal to use only one or two kinds of dice in the game. I went through a few different designs, but all of them had a mix of simple odds in them. I wanted dice that could easily roll for a 1:6, a 1:3, or 50:50 chances. The early combat systems also required the dice to have additional symbols. As combat was refined, the requirements of the combat die became simpler, and we were able to use just one die design for all the resolution rolls.
After the dice design was finalized, there was still one small part of the combat system that wasn’t quite right. Some playtesters were overly discouraged by the power deficit the coalitions faced. They would either increase their military power or ignore it completely. The solution to this problem was already a part of the game—I just didn’t know it yet. By incorporating the number of figures on each side of a battle, I gave players a reason to keep their military power close to the Hydra’s, and everything finally clicked.
In the end, we created a system in which the humans face overwhelming odds at times but still have a chance to gain the upper hand on the Hydra.
Thanks for reading my development diaries on LEVEL 7 [INVASION]. I hope you enjoyed them. LEVEL 7 [INVASION] releases on September 24, but you will also be able to find it at Gen Con. To prepare for the invasion, you can check out the tutorial video a PDF of the rulebook, and an excerpt from the soon to be released short story prelude to LEVEL 7 [INVASION], "Danger Close."