Your Combat Game Sucks

The "combat game" is the most common type of prototype I encounter.

I will be your game designer and artisan for today, guiding you through a four-player basic game of my masterpiece "The Trials of Zonglor!" The "!" is part of the name!

In this game, we'll be an assortment of characters, battling it out. That's how my favourite game works. We'll all be on the same team, and fight against amazing and tactical enemies.

Will this be a simple, abstracted game, focussed on an interesting and novel combat system?

Of course not!

I have a cool map, that players move around, according to a set of rules. This alone adds rules complexity, thinkiness, manufacturing cost, and comprehension weight to the game. It does leave space for a very simple and well-designed spatial game on top. That's very nice, but I'm not interested in simple or small. This is my first game. This game will be epic! I have ranged attacks, area effects, line of sight, and loads more! Grab that ruler and the manual, and let's go!

As with the question of whether to have a map or not, all other similar questions are answered with a "yes". Why would I not want to have everything possible in my game? Why have a cake with one layer of icing, when it can have ten layers of icing?

Are there cards?


Are there dice?


Are there unique player powers?


Are there traitors and hidden identities?


It's time to play!

After an hour of rules explanation, we're all ready to go.

Don't worry. You'll pick up the rest as we play.

Okay, it's time to consider all the ten different characters. Which one would you like? Please consider their interactions with each other.

"Umm... the shaman one."

The Zonglorian Ice Shaman of Palindros?

"Yes, please."

And which ARCANE PATH does your character choose? That character has seven.

"Umm... what's good?"

Ten minutes of explanation later...

"Ok, I'll just choose the 'fire' one."

The first turn

Which way would you like to move?

"Umm... towards the enemy."

Great! Now, you're only three turns' walk away from encountering something.

Now, for your action.

You can choose from six different actions. Since you can't attack yet, I advise you to take an action that augments one of your scores, or provides an ongoing benefit that you couldn't possibly appreciate yet. Just do it. It will become clearer as the game goes on.

Three minutes later: Hey, you forgot to pay energy for that action and movement! Everything costs energy to do. You have to remember that. You have 80 energy points. Think carefully about how you spend it.

the other players' turns

The other players know how to play, so they do the same moves they always do. Mercifully, they're fast.

"Time for my next turn?"

No! Of course not.

Now, three automated bad guys must take their turns. They move according to a highly-intelligent list of criteria, based on their surroundings.

"Time for my turn, now?"

No, it's time to draw an event card.

'Boggy Terrain!' Next round, all movement is reduced by half, rounded down. Don't ever forget this, or we'll have to undo everyone's turns.

You can have your turn... after we do a bit of housekeeping. All cards with ongoing effects (I've marked these with dice) are reduced by one pip. Each of your four different scores regenerates, but not above its maximum! (The maximum scores are four different numbers you keep track of.) Curses, stuns, bonuses, and other tokens wear off, and are discarded. Hang on, I need to check some interactions here.

Your second turn

An enemy has strayed within reach! How will you deal with this enemy? The fun part is beginning!

Which way will you move?

"Umm... towards the enemy, again."

"Then, I will attack the enemy."


A three! You have done well. The Zonglor loses three health.

"Great! Plus two for my special power!"

No, that power only works against Beasts. Read it again. This Zonglor is a Monster Elite Legendary — Warrior Hellspawn Fiend.

The Zonglor goes from 50 health down to 47.

Two hours later...

Everyone has banded together against the Zonglor. After eight turns of rolling a die and doing busy work, the Zonglor is dead. You really didn't do much. It was mostly the Space Barbarian, who was doing about six damage per turn.

You could've killed the Zonglor much faster, but it was important that you spend most of your turns using abilities that heal everyone else, and give them statistical benefits. Hey, you can't have the fun of rolling a die every turn. Some turns you need to stand still and do "Healing Power: A player of your choice gains 5 health." To do otherwise would be irresponsible!

Now, it's time to upgrade your character!

Please take a look through this deck of upgrade cards, and choose one. Read each card carefully. THIS CHOICE MATTERS!

Here, let me choose for you.

"I thought this was the end..."

No, there are five bosses in the short version. That one was just the first boss. The next one is...

*draws three cards from Advanced Opponents Realm B deck...*

*rolls four twenty-sided dice...*

*rerolls one of them...*

*checks "Danger Level" track...*

*consults rulebook...*

ARMORSAURUS! His special ability is that he has 500 health points!

"Umm... I might have to go soon..."

That's okay. I will control your character.

The other two players are my friends, and seem highly invested in the game. They want to keep playing.

Feedback time

"This seems very long."

Yeah, there was a lot of explaining to do. With four experienced players, we can usually get it done in under four hours.

"This seems very complicated, and there's an awful lot of stuff going on. Could you streamline it somehow?"

I did remove the weather effects five revisions ago. I want to maintain the amazing strategic nature of the game, and everything that's currently in the game is essential for that strategy. Also, I just paid for $2,000 worth of art.

"Okay, well thanks for showing me your game. It was very interesting. I liked the hexagonal tokens."

No problems, man. See ya 'round.

"Before I go, could I ask... do you have a publisher in mind?"

No, this game is going to Kickstarter.

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