I always find it interesting reading about design changes and decisions, especially knowing which things didn’t work and the reasons for changing. No matter how good a game is, it never arrives fully formed, and so I don’t see any reason to pretend Die of the Dead did either. If this kind of thing interests you then I hope you enjoy reading about a few of the design decisions we didn‘t stick with when designing Die of the Dead.
Numbered player boards
In very early iterations players had 5 (and also 6) spaces on their player board, all of them numbered. When the second casket was shaken, players could only prepare souls in spaces shown on their dice.
Why was it removed? Firstly, it made the second casket incredibly overpowered when a player had lots of dice in there. It was a nice idea to tie the dice results to the boards, but it just rewarded too much those players who had dice in the casket. The other reason was having 5 or 6 prepared dice was just too many. A player with that many dice in the caskets had too few left, was likely to win all rolls, and that just left them with too few purposeful choices.
When a player’s dice showed a ‘6’ they gained a gem. They could then spend the gems to buy bonuses, improve their odds and more.
Why was it removed? Some players ended up with dozens of gems, the more you had the more you got. And then forgot to spend them. Essentially it was an extra layer of complexity and another component to account for, which only served to make the game more complex without making it more fun.
Having a board in place of the steps
Before we had the marigold steps for the souls we had boards for them to be placed on. This included a grid which awarded points based upon how many you had in a row, and a track, which sometimes had players retreive earlier dice they placed, and rewarded bonuses if the numbers matched.
Why was it removed? When designing any game it’s important to work out what you want players to attend to. With Die of the Dead the thought and fun came from shaking the dice in the caskets, whenever we tried to divert people’s attention to considering more complex dice placement the game just slowed, and that thinking wasn’t fun. The grid placement was moot- generally whoever had the most dice won, and there was no catching up quite quickly. The track was better, but the idea of matching values to gain bonuses was another unecessary layer, as was the retrieval step (which confused players). Additionally, having numbers over the bonus icons was just unreadable. In the end we stuck with the race track but elevated it, literally, by making it a physical structure which worked thematically and allowed all players to see it. Note- the icons here were very early, before we hired a cultural consultant, hence the ‘halloween’ feel to them.
Casket 3 was much more complicated
Casket 3 was the last casket we finalised, because it was the one which didn’t immediately jump to mind. 1- get souls in caskets, 2- prepare souls, 4- ascend souls, 3-?
This iteration of 3 lasted a suprisingly long time given its complexity. The idea was always to make 3 a casket of trials, and the idea of removing souls is represented a the top. The rest allowed the current player to ascend a soul, and for all players to gain a bonus depending upon the value shown on their souls.
Why was it removed? Look at it. In playtests this casket was chosen a fraction of the amount of the others. Playtesters were put off by the amount of things it did, and couldn’t parse quickly if it was a good choice. Additionally, the ability to ascend a soul from casket 3 made it too powerful when combined with two candles, and detracted form casket 4. In the end we just simplified it, and it got chosen a lot more.
The 5th Casket Board
Early on with the conveyor belt mechanic it was possible for players souls to seemingly sweep through the game constantly, without leaving the caskets. The 5th casket board was in place to stop this, activating immediately when the caskets moved, and causing one players soul to ascend. Putting a timer on the game.
Why was it removed? When simplified casket 3, with it being chosen more frequently and able to remove souls we had already changed the game to prevent a player loading all their souls into a casket and just watching them go around. Additionally, there was no reason for a player with one soul in casket 4 to bother choosing it. This weakened both those caskets too much, and was eventually nerfed so only certain values could be ascended. By this point there was just too much overhead, and so we tested it with it removed and it played like a charm. Essentially, this was a lot of rules overhead introduced to solve a problem, which we then proceeded to solve anyway, so became redundant.
So, these are some of the things we left along the way of our journey to make Die of the Dead the best game it could be. We have less than a week left on the campaign, so if you haven’t checked it out yet please click here to do so: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/radical8games/die-of-the-dead