‘Lord of Dominion’ Postmortem: A practise of game design

In my last semester in Entertainment Technology Center, I took the course Game Design Fundamentals from Stone Librande. It was a great class where we learned theories and methods of developing different parts of a game such as the balance system, the reward system, levels and so on through practice of analyzing existing games and designing/redesigning small part of the systems of boardgame. The final assignment is to design a boardgame which can be introduced and finished in 15 to 20 minutes from scratch individually. Milestones of the assignment were split throughout the semester so that we can build the game step by step based on what we currently learned from the course. This article is going to talk about how I made Lord of Dominion, a 2-player strategy boardgame, as my final project. However, there are limitations due to the requirements and the fact that it is a boardgame, which prevents me from implementing some more complicated features. Therefore, recently, I’m converting and polishing it into a Unity version in my spare time.

Final showcase of Lord of Dominion

Dominion

The idea of the game is inspired by a virtual game Dungeon Dice Monsters (D.D.M) from the manga Yu-Gi-Oh!. D.D.M has complicated rules, which prevents it from being popular as Duel Monster, a well-known card game that also comes from Yu-Gi-Oh!. Inspired by D.D.M’s concepts of “Dimension” and “Monster Lord”, the core concepts of “Dominion” and “Lord” in Lord of Dominion were set.

Dungeon Dice Monsters from Yu-Gi-Oh!

The concept of “Dominion” also comes from strategy games with the idea of “borders”, such as Civilization and Empire Earth.

In Lord of Dominion, dominating Dominions was once a separating step in the game, just as D.D.M did. However, making it a separating step increases the complexity of the game. During playtests, players found it harder to learn and to remember. Hence, it was integrated into the General’s abilities later.

Theme

Starting from “Dominion”, the game needs a proper theme to match with. Dungeon style was considered, but a lord of a dungeon doesn’t need “dominions”. At last, the medieval fantasy style, with aggressive lords and their troops, was chosen.

Gameboard

D.D.M is played on a 13 x 19 tile board (13 tiles wide), with a “Monster Lord” (which is also the attack target of each player) sits on the 7th tile from each side on the row closest to the players. The vertical design of the board makes the dimension pieces tend to squeeze in the middle part of the board, leaving the left and the right sides to be blank.

Gameboard of D.D.M

Inspired by MOBA games, Lord of Dominion set the attack targets, the 2 Forts, on the diagonal corner of the board instead to make better use of the whole game board. Referring to the concept of “Jungle” from MOBA, Lord of Dominion sets 5 Strongholds evenly on the board. The Lord who occupies a stronghold will have more advantages, which encourage players to spread their dominions to conquer strongholds instead of squeezing in the shortcut to their enemy’s fort.

A classic type of map in MOBA

Random Factors

D.D.M has random factors like card deck and dice rolling, which makes the game relying on luck. Lord of Dominion doesn’t.  In Lord of Dominion, players should rely on their understanding and experience of the rules instead of luck and surprise.

Dice of D.D.M

 

Characters

Character design takes the classic DND and RPG settings as references. Warrior, Ranger, and Sorcerer are the first 3 characters created for the game.

Warrior

Warrior is the basic attack unit in the game. As most of the games normally do, it was set as a balanced character, with average attack and average defense. However, later when the destructive unit Knight was introduced in the game, the original design of the Warrior became mediocre. They didn’t have enough power to sweep away the enemies and were not strong enough to withstand the attack. Therefore, he was modified to be more defensive, with average damage which can take down fragile units such as ranger and sorcerer, and low movability. Most importantly, the passive to protect friendly units around him makes him a critical strategy defensive unit.

Ranger

Ranger is a final combination of 2 characters, Archer, the unit with long attack range, and Ranger, a unity who can sneak into spaces that are not dominated. However, the sneaking ability turned out to be overpowered in the playtests. Also, the calculation of moving cost is confusing when the Ranger moves between dominions and neutral spaces. Therefore, later the 2 characters who are both expected to be the Guerrilla of the troop, were integrated together, becoming a unit with long-range attack and high movability. (Note: I might still want to separate them into 2 different classes in the digital version though. I love the idea of sneaking into the place that other units cant step in.)

Sorcerer

The name “Sorcerer” was picked to distinguish it from the traditional Wizard. Instead of being another attacking unit with magic, it was designed to create chaos in the battlefield without dealing any actual damage. Therefore, it was gifted with the power of swapping the tiles of the board. Considering dominions are closely related to tiles, Sorcerer is expected to be a potential threat which player might ignore easily. Later, in most of the playtests, they did make troubles for players who planned to command their knights to dash over everything.

Knight

Knight was designed as the most powerful unit with high movability, high damage but high cost and limited by the terrain. As the restraint of his astonishing power, his unique ability costs a lot and has a great restriction of the terrain – the longer distance he dashes straightly, the more threat he deals.

General

General is designed as a substitute for the dominating action. He needs to be outstanding, rare and strategical that cannot be additionally recruited.

Lesson

Inevitably, as a big fan of strategy video game since I was young, I was influenced by the classical strategy games such as Fire Emblem when I wrote the rules. However, lots of the original conceptions were proved to be not achievable for a boardgame that needs to be understood and finished within 20 minutes for naive guests. The board was too big, rules and steps were too complicated to be remembered correctly, calculations of damage were too hard to track for every Character (so that I had to limit the number of the Characters on board)… I didn’t even notice these problems until the first few playtests I made since they are easily solved and hidden in video games through UI and techniques.

Besides, designing game components became a tremendous challenge to me as well. I was planning to design a card deck for each lord, but it turned out to be way more workload including balancing than I thought. Therefore, I ended up with forgetting the card part totally, but more focusing on the relationship between tiles and pieces.

The layout of cardboard and card I designed to indicate and track the status of the units.

The final design of the token and how they mark the HP of the unit.

When converting to the digital version, however, some of my original ideas may be restored. For example, I’m planning to implement more types of unit. With the help of UI in the game, the rule and effect of a character or an ability should be conveniently indicated to the player. All things that once bothered the boardgame players will be solved by the computer.

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