With the fifth faction almost kinda done-ish, I thought I would go into how I make factions, and what is different about the Warriors.
First, let me look at the early stages of /TACTIC/, back when it was called Monster Chess and the setting was Generic Fantasy #6051. In this game, I had two factions, the Humans and the Orcs. Today, those factions are the Furries and the Trolls.
Back in the early days, many things were different. The default board size was smaller, only 5×5, there were only 4 units a faction, and there was no King, just a weird system of treasures and keeps and stuff. The factions were made up of the Human Knight (Furry Bear), Human Archer (Eagle), Human Scout (Fox), and Human Fencer (Badger) with the Orcs having the Grunt (Grunt), Archer (Sniper), Scout (Scout), and Thief (Thief), with their respective healing units (Shaman and Healer) added later. One thing that you may notice is that both factions are very similar, they both have a pattern with one tough guy, one ranged guy, one speedy guy, one healing guy and one unique guy. This has remained true for all four finished factions, with the Warriors being slightly different. Now, they don’t necessarily follow this formula, with some factions having multiple speedy, ranged, healing or tough guys, and each faction has multiple unique elements. But each faction always has that “core five” which helps develop their personality as a faction.
So, let’s take my personal favourite faction, the Noobs, and see how it evolved over time. I added this faction back in the Monster Chess days under the name Lizard Wizards. Shut up, I thought it was clever. I’m also going to talk about another failed faction, the Ponies.
Step 1: The Identity
This is the most important part of the process. How do I want the faction to be played? What type of strategies do I want utilized? How does it relate to the other factions? Is it too similar to anything existing? How much can I do with that Identity? For my Lizards Wizards, it was simple: faster, stronger, harder and weaker. An entire army of glass cannons on rocket boots, punching you straight in the face. The Ponies were a “Comradery is Arcane” faction that took a downside (being clumped together), and turned it to an upside.
Anyways, I first made the Lizard Wizards with a Scout, Archer, Healer and Bomber. The Scout was a 3/1 with Dash 2, the Archer was a 3/2 with Ranged 2, the Healer was a 3/1 with Heal -1, and the Bomber was a 1/3 with Sac 5. As you can see, I wanted this to be the aggressive faction, the opposite of the Orcs, with quick, intense matches. There was a problem, the units had no staying power and games rarely went 2 turns without one side being completely annihilated. But I couldn’t just throw a 1/7 in there, because that didn’t fit. I needed some way for a unit to be tough, but damaging at the same time.
The Ponies were slightly easier to make, but looked ugly from a design standpoint. I wanted each unit to have an “Aura” ability that affected adjacent units. So, the “Scout” unit gave every adjacent +1 AT and Dash 1, the tough unit gave +2 HP, the range unit gave +1 Range, and the healing unit gave +1 Heal. Unfortunately, it quickly grew too powerful. Imagine, 4 2/12 units with Heal 1, and a 1/8 unit with heal 2. Or, you have that 12/4 Dash 4 unit that can obliterate anything in its way.
Step 2: Adding Units
I always like to add units, not remove them. It’s a simple fact that adding is so much more satisfying to build, play and compete with as compared to removing. When developing a faction, you need to find its weaknesses and fill them with a big slab of unit. What I like to do is try to find a unit that the faction “wished” it had. So, for the Noobs, I saw that when playing, I really wanted to use the Bear from the Furries, a 2/6 bruiser that could hold the front line.
When adding a unit, I like to mod existing units from other factions. So, in the Noobs case, I took the bear and listed what it did compared to what the Noobs needed. The Bear had a large HP pool and capable damaging prowess, but it was still the weakest. There had to be a way to increase the damage without changing the numbers, as I quickly found out a 3 AT unit was incredibly powerful. I took inspiration from Magic with the Double Strike ability, which allowed a creature to hit twice. So, I morphed that idea into what I use today, an ability to attack 2 units at once. This allows for a whole slew of interesting combat choices, as AT modifiers are essentially double for this unit. An Annoyer (at the time just a concept) reduces the damage dealt by a Hydra (the new unit) by 2 instead of just 1.
For the Ponies, this was at the point that I had thrown them out. I had tried various way to fill the gaps for the faction, a unit whose aura prevented damage from non-adjacent units, an aura that prevented units from attacking but that unit was very powerful, and so on. I had realized there was no way to scale the values in the way I was envisioning. So, instead of adding units, I decided to change the whole faction into something else.
Step 3: Changing Existing Units
Once I think a faction has enough units, I then look to the task of fixing the horrible mistakes I made. In every faction, there are units that are too strong, or too central, that no one ever plays without them. There are also units that are too weak, that they are never picked. And also, there are units that are the right power, they just don’t fit with the faction. And sometimes, I have to change an entire faction, like I did with the ponies.
Speaking of the Ponies, I had made the choice to completely re-tool the faction, dropping the name, style and identity. But, I kept one thing, the idea of turning a weakness into a strength. Right now there were three weaknesses a player could have: numbers, position and health. Numbers referred to the number of units, and conversely the amount of threat you can sustain. If you lose too many units, you are not threatening, and the enemy can do with you as they please. With bad position, you cannot use any numbers you have to their fullest extent. And with poor health, any units you do have are fragile and risk being killed themselves, so they cannot provide as much threat.
To turn one of those things into a strength was difficult. Positioning failed, as I imagined that numbers would do as well. So, my only recourse was to look at health and see how I could play with that. The Spiteful was actually the first unit that I made for this new faction, but back then it started as a 0/6. I saw that the unit itself was great, it was just unthreatening until it got significantly damaged, and no player could waste time attacking their own unit that early in the game.
The Noobs followed a simpler change, in fact I changed just one unit, and I didn’t even change the stats of the card. The Scout (That’s the 3/1 with Dash 2) was absurdly powerful. As a Noobs player, I could essentially use it to kill any unit I wished. But, changing any value killed it. Making it a 2/1 made it a worse Fox, while making it a 3/0 was just stupid. So, I made it into a “rare” unit that cost 2 instead of 1. It was also the first rare unit of the game, which lead to the creation of some of my favourite units, like the Chain, the Dragon and the Queen.
Step 4: Repeat
Once those three steps are done, I do ’em all over again. Balancing is not a one time thing, and there are always new concepts to play with, and new units to add. Adding a faction does get harder and harder for each new one, as I have to find a new niche both gameplay-wise and “lore”-wise. For my next faction, I do want to play with the idea of a hacker faction that doubles as a necromantic faction, raising the dead as small pawns while cursing the living enemies.