Level 7 [Omega Protocol]: The Missions

In this final installment of the LEVEL 7 [OMEGA PROTOCOL] series, I’ll focus on how missions work.

At the beginning of the design process we had a long meeting to decide what would happen in the game’s story. We wanted a much more detailed plot than LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE], but at this point in the process the only element we’d established was that a team of commandos was going in to Subterra Bravo to clean up the mess from the previous game. I had already created some general structures for the missions: one would be a chase, one would be a hold-out, etc. At the end of that meeting we had a framework for the missions that supported the story and mechanics we wanted, so I sat down to start writing their rules.

An important part of my thought processes for everything from this point on was the idea of secrecy. I’ve talked in the past about how important replayability is. In any game where you explore a map there are two kinds of secrets, and these contribute a lot to replayability. The first is what you don’t know because you haven’t played a mission before. This can be a lot of fun the first time you go through a mission, but with each replay it becomes less important. The second kind of secret is what can be different each time you play, and as the missions took shape in my head I built many of the mechanics to take advantage of this.

When the commandos begin a mission they know their goal and the shape of the map, but they do not always know where that goal is located. The overseer fills in the details of the map and tries to guess how the commandos will react to each room. He needs to plan how he would like the mission to play out but must also consider how things might go wrong. This is another aspect of the game in which the concepts we talked about last week come into play. The overseer has a lot of options, but he also has limits. These options lie in the doors and room stacks that the mission guide allows him to work with.

We considered using standees to represent doors but decided it would be better to use markers placed on the map instead. This allowed us to give every door its own secret rule, which means some doors will be unlocked and opened easily while others will present a problem. After the rule is resolved the marker is discarded, so doors can’t be closed again. Being unable to shut doors makes the commandos feel more threatened and forces them to move forward. The mission guide lists which doors the overseer can use for the mission, but it doesn’t generally dictate where he has to place them. This, like many other aspects of setup, lets him vary his approach each time a mission is played.

The room stacks are where most of the important secrets in the game are hidden. The commandos get a safe room to start in, but almost every other room on the map gets a stack of cards. These stacks are made up of cards that spawn enemies, change the room in some way (like placing clouds of toxic gas), place an objective in the room, or flip a tile to activate its special rule. The room stacks are determined by the mission guide and are placed where the overseer chooses. Room cards indicating where the commandos will find objectives are placed into stacks of the overseer’s choosing, so he can guard an objective with a group of clones one game and try something entirely different the next time the same mission is played again.

At this point we had a way to build missions that guaranteed a high level of replayability and allowed the overseer to have fun by trying to outsmart the commandos. Things didn’t feel complete yet, so we had one more thing to work out: there needed to be something driving the commandos to accomplish their tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible. We also needed something for the overseer to work toward. The goals for the commandos vary by mission, but in most missions the overseer’s only goal is to stop the commandos. To address this problem we took a last bit of inspiration from LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE]. That game has a countdown timer to push the players and threaten them at the same time. For LEVEL 7 [OMEGA PROTOCOL] we needed something similar, so we created the idea of the Crisis Point. Each mission has a Crisis Point that is triggered when the commandos find a certain objective or when the timer token on the round tracker reaches a certain number. This forces the commandos to push themselves and take risks while creating a finale for each mission to raise their anxiety a bit.

The Crisis Point also makes the game harder for the commandos in two ways. It gives the overseer a benefit of some sort, such as cheaper enemy activations or more dice in attack rolls, and it also makes it possible for a commando to be killed. Normally commandos are only incapacitated when they are fully damaged. In this downed state a commando can crawl a short distance each turn, enemies cannot attack him, and an ally can revive him. Once the Crisis Point has been triggered, however, downed commandos can be attacked and killed. The Crisis Point creates a sense of urgency for the commandos and a goal for the overseer. If he can stall the commandos’ progress the Crisis Point will trigger in the middle of the mission instead of at the end, and the commandos will probably not survive to reach their goal.

I’m very happy with how all of the elements of this game came together to give you the experience we’d hoped for. Soon you’ll be able see it for yourself by challenging the dangers of Subterra Bravo as a team of highly trained commandos or by taking on the role of the inhuman monster that wants to stop them.

That's the end of my series on the development of LEVEL 7 [OMEGA PROTOCOL], but I do have one more exciting preview to share. There's no better way to get a feel for the game than to read its rules, so we're publishing the rulebook today! If you’d like to read the rules before the game is released in September, download the PDF rulebook now!