July 26, 2017

True Messiah July 2017 update

Hey guys–I have exciting news! Those of you keeping track of True Messiah progress may recall my update from March discussing the logistics of launching a second Kickstarter campaign. I’ve spent the past few months waiting to hear back from Blackbox and quietly working on a new video game engine in the meantime.

Yesterday, however, I finally got word that Blackbox is once again available and willing to handle shipping and fulfillment for True Messiah, which means that I can finally go ahead and schedule the second Kickstarter campaign! This will be happening in 2018, so I’ll most likely be scheduling the second Kickstarter attempt for early that year–keep an ear to the ground for a future announcement of the official date!

Now, those of you who’ve been following me for a long time already know that I love going back and improving my old designs. It’s more a compulsion than anything–an itch that springs up in the back of my brain. “What if I did this? What if I did that?” New ideas surface, and I have to try them out or else they’ll remain half-submerged, bugging me in perpetuity.

And so it is that I recently got the itch to go back and make further improvements to True Messiah. More specifically, I got the itch to make one big improvement in particular: killing off the low unit count mechanic.

So what is the low unit count, again? It’s a mechanic that requires all players to count their low units (followers and nonbelievers) on the board at the end of every turn, then get rid of temples until they possess no more than one temple per 4 low units they have on the board. (Have 2 temples but only 7 low units at the end of a turn? Wave that second temple goodbye.)

The low unit count serves as a constraint on player expansion as well as a lever with which to crack open a turtling player’s source of reinforcements. And it works–but it has some less-than-ideal side effects. In practice, the low unit count is somewhat tedious. It tends to slow down the game–and worse, it actively discourages high levels of player aggression (particularly in games with 3 or more players), as the number of casualties necessary to mount a large offensive will typically cause the attacker to lose temples of their own in the process!

So I’ve been exploring replacements for this mechanic. One particularly promising contender is to strip the low unit count out of the end phase and just make it a front-loaded requirement for temple building. That is: if you have the right population size when it comes to the Build Temples portion of the beginning phase, your temples will complete as advertised. And if you don’t…they won’t.

This should be just as effective for preventing hyper-expansion as the old rule, but with less of a burden posed on players (after all, you’d only need to count once per round, at most). And while this still discourages players with lots of temples from taking heavy losses, it doesn’t actively prevent them from recovering their lost troops afterwards (provided that they can hold onto their existing temples in the face of a counterattack). I’ve been testing this out, and thus far the results are encouraging–I’ll be continuing to test it out in the coming months.

Now, there’s another consideration: leveraging the low unit count has historically been the easiest (if also the least satisfying) way to take out enemy temples. With that option out of the picture, I’ll need to make certain that players can still trash each others’ temples on the regular.

The best approach, I think, will be to make it easier for players to capture or destroy each others’ temples directly using their units. There are a number of ways I could accomplish this, such as adding more Providence-style miracles into the deck. However, True Messiah is already pretty flush with those, and has comparatively few low-cost destruction miracles (which can economically clear a path to holy spaces) and high units (who can outlive combat against any number of low units with a sufficiently large escort, and thereby take holy spaces). So I’m going to try putting more high units and more low-cost destruction spells into the deck (especially since this will have the beneficial side effect of increasing strategic variety).

I’m starting small by boosting the number of Create Avatar and Lightning Bolt miracles in the marketplace deck from 1 apiece to 2 apiece (and removing 2 Tithes cards from the deck in order to make room for them). I’m also making Create Avatar a smidge easier to obtain by dropping its cost from 7 to 6, and making it a bit easier to use by removing its range requirement. (While I’m at it, I’ve also renamed Lightning Bolt to Smite, albeit purely for thematic reasons.)

In order to make up for the loss of coin-generating miracles, I’m also toying with the idea of creating coin-generating tiles that remain on the board and build up coins each round, to be captured by whichever player has units on them when the Market begins. In addition to providing a new source of coins, this should provide a few additional benefits: more in the way of variable terrain, side objectives that further encourage board control, and a way to help players earlier in the turn order make up for their lost ability to leverage the low unit count against later-moving players. I’ll be testing this out as well over the next few months.

Until next time!

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